Archives For The Wicker Man

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.

Last night, I went and saw “The Monuments Men,” a dramatization of the very real efforts to save Europe’s art and cultural history from Nazi looting and destruction.  As a fine art lover this is a historical event (an ongoing one) that has me riveted, so I am right in the target market for this film. However, while I love to see Bill Murray and George Clooney mugging for the camera as much as anyone, I left feeling disappointed and manipulated (and I wasn’t alone). It was so propagandistic that it could have been made in the 1950s, and you wouldn’t have had to change much. Meanwhile, the art itself takes a back seat (often literally, there are many scenes of crated art being pushed onto trucks), so the characters have to airily expound about the importance of art without, you know, showing people why it’s so important.

I bring this up because I believe most thinking Christians going to see “Son Of God,” currently in theaters, would feel much as I felt leaving that film. Because when you already believe in something, you become immune from many of the tricks of art used to get people to identify with a character or cause. You recognize it as a tool of evangelization, and you leave disappointed that you weren’t surprised, challenged, or shown some new way of seeing something you know intimately. As one secular critic put it, it’s a film about Jesus that makes you almost long for the over-the-top horror-show that was “Passion of the Christ.”

“Gibson’s barking mad Passion of the Christ at least had vigor, vision, madness — something to say, even if that thing was just “more wounds!” and “Jews!” Son of God is a narrative shambles, more thudding than thunderous, shot with no spirit or distinction, always feeling like a sprawling TV miniseries cut up to fit into theatrical running time. That’s no surprise, considering this is a distillation of The Bible, the basic-cable event from 2013. At the opening we see flashbacks, with voiceover, to the stories of Noah, Moses, and Abraham — surely the first time that the New Testament has kicked off with a ‘previously on . . .'”

Truly good religious films are difficult, because they are usually made by believers. Believers want to be accurate, they want to be true to the text, they want their protagonists (largely) unsullied and the villains clearly evil. That’s great when you’re making films about comic book characters, but it’s terrible when you want to strike for something deeper. Films about religion, by their very nature, promise to strike at something deeper. So when a film like this, quote, “treats the audience like first-timers, all but having a pastor step on screen to explain the meaning of every re-created parable — and the smugness of a parent serving broccoli” you know you’re making a disposable product (albeit one that will no doubt make a lot of money thanks to the millions of Christians in the United States).

All this said, I didn’t come here to pile on about the badness of “Son Of God,” but to serve a warning: A Pagan equivalent will no doubt be just as bad. Such a film, let’s call it “Horns Of Pan,” would no doubt fall into the same trap. Now, Pagans and polytheists have seen a growing number of fantasy films and television series that allude to gods, the occult, or religion in the ancient world, and there are more coming (at least if you believe Neil Gaiman). Eventually, enough points will converge, and a “real” Pagan film will roll into production. Will it be Starhawk’s “The Fifth Sacred Thing”? Or perhaps an adaptation of one of the many Pagan-themed novels that have done moderately well? I can’t say, but I feel fairly confident in my ability to predict its reception outside our interconnected communities (unless something truly remarkable happens).

Two of my favorite films about religion weren’t made for true believers: Wim Wenders’ “Wings of Desire,” and Robin Hardy/Anthony Shaffer’s “The Wicker Man” (though I love both for very different reasons). If either of these much-lauded classics had to run a gauntlet of pleasing a religious community, they would have either never been made, or would have turned out so different as to be unrecognizable. They certainly wouldn’t be picked up by new generations of film-lovers and held up for their artistry or ability to move us. So, as much as I love my religious community, I fear the day I have to watch and review a film of “ours” that’s “made it” to wide distribution.

For every good religious film, and I’ll leave you to make your own list, there are countless pious messes. When film stops being an artistic medium guided by visionaries, and instead starts serving a cause, you end up with movie goers attending out of duty, to prove some point instead of holding up excellence (or even entertainment).

“Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church is one of many religious leaders urging churchgoers to become moviegoers. ‘In fact, I told my church, ‘If you have to choose between church and movie, go see the movie this weekend,” he told CBS News’ John Blackstone. ‘Let’s send a message to Hollywood,” he said. ‘Not every movie has to be a Bible movie, but when they do come out, let’s support that, for sure.'”

That isn’t art. That’s activists mobilizing their purchasing power to enshrine a cultural product that doesn’t deserve it, and ten years from now, no one will be singing this work’s praises. No matter how rich the producers of “Son Of God” get off of Christian dollars, it won’t make much of a difference in the world of film, or in the world of Christianity. So I urge Pagans to be careful what they wish for, and what they work for. Let Pagan filmmakers craft their own visions, and if their work rises up to the mainstream on merit, then celebrate it. But let’s not fall into the “Son Of God” trap, because nobody wants to see “Horns Of Pan,” no matter how great the special effects are. I don’t want “Pagan” films, I want good films, great films.

Here are some quick updates on stories previously reported on at The Wild Hunt.

Shield_230x140.jpg_1951677811In July of last year, I reported on rumblings in the UK over the possibility that new governmental policies over filtering obscene adult content on the Internet would affect non-obscene sites, including occult-oriented pages. Now, these parental controls are indeed being shown to over-block sites that having nothing to do with porn, including a news site that deals with the world of torrenting and piracy. Quote: “What happened? The broader context is that the UK government’s launched a war on internet porn, with ISPs blocking porn sites unless users specifically opt-in to access them. but TorrentFreak says that lots of other sites are getting caught in the censorship net – ‘hate sites,’ gore, dating sites, and TorrentFreak itself.” TorrentFreak was officially un-blocked by the ISP, though that hasn’t stopped the site from calling these filters a “blunt instrument that is prone to causing collateral damage and known for failing to achieve its stated aims.” So far, from what I can tell, it doesn’t seem like Pagan or occult sites are being filtered (though this should be monitored by folks in the UK who use various ISPs), but these stories do point to the fact that initial concerns were not unfounded. We’ll keep an eye out for further developments.

Fran and Dan Keller — photo by Debbie Nathan

Fran and Dan Keller — photo by Debbie Nathan

Back in December I wrote about the release of several incarcerated victims accused of “Satanic” ritual abuse, and the ongoing, ugly, legacy of the Satanic Panics. Now, Slate has published an excellent, in-depth article about Fran and Dan Keller, recently freed after 20 years in prison, and moral panics that ruined hundreds of lives. Quote: “The seeds of the panic were planted with the 1980 publication of Michelle Remembers, the best-selling account of a Canadian psychotherapist’s work with a woman named Michelle Smith, who, under his care, began recalling forgotten memories of horrific childhood sexual abuse at the hands of her mother and others who were part of a devil-worshipping cult. The book, though riddled with fantastical claims (for example, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the Archangel Michael healed Smith’s physical scars), launched a cottage industry in recovering memories of satanic ritual abuse. (The psychotherapist and Smith later married.)” As the article mentions, the problem with panics is that most never realize they were in one until after the fact. Let’s hope that this particular panic has finally run its course in our society. You can read many of my thoughts, and reporting, on this topic, here.

-7e3949c270db2aa2I’ve recently highlighted, on a couple different occasions, that the famous tomb of Vodou/Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau in New Orelans was painted pink by an unknown person (though there are theories). Now, preservationists are unhappy with the restoration work being undertaken by the Archdiocese of New Orleans, alleging that the pressure washing techniques are causing damage. Quote: “Angie Green, executive director of Save Our Cemeteries, a nonprofit group that works to preserve historic cemeteries throughout the city, saw someone blasting Laveau’s tomb with a high-pressure water gun she said she immediately called the Archdiocese. ‘Pressure washing is terrible for any old building,’ Green said. [...] Green is also concerned that once the pink paint is removed, the Archdiocese will cover Laveau’s tomb in Portland cement, the most common kind of cement used around the world. The most effect technique used to repair tombs and preserve their historic look is by using lime-based mortar and plaster and then coating the tomb in a lime wash, Green said.” Laveau’s tomb is a tourist icon and place of religious pilgrimage in New Orleans, and that is making this process, no doubt, a more sensitive ordeal than a normal restoration job. As for the press attention, no doubt Marie Laveau’s recent pop-culture resurgence has made press outside of New Orleans take notice.

1979 re-release era poster.

1979 re-release era poster.

I just want to quickly mention that January 7th finally saw the U.S. blu-ray release of the restored “Final Cut” of 1973 cult cinema masterpiece “The Wicker Man.” This new, restored, version was announced back in July of 2013, and a special 3-disc edition was released at the end of 2013 in the U.K. (the lucky beggars). I’ve written about this film so often, that you could spend a good day going through the Wicker Man tag here at The Wild Hunt, so I’ll be brief. The new blu-ray is essentially the “middle” length version that played in art houses during the late 1970s and 1980s in America, it lacks the extended mainland sequence at the beginning, but does have scenes the “extended” version doesn’t have. The picture quality is superb (for a film of this era), and you’ll not get anything better in HD so long as the original masters remain lost to legend and rumor. I’m hoping that we Americans will see a multi-disc set eventually, so we can have a “branching” version that incorporates the lesser quality extended cut sequences, as the UK set includes. For now, however, this is well worth any fan of this film picking up and re-enjoying. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment to keep…

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.

Still from 1973's "The Wicker Man".

Still from 1973’s “The Wicker Man”.

  • With the new “final cut” of the 1973 cult film The Wicker Man debuting in British theaters, a number of outlets are running new reviews, and the Guardian runs down how the film was made. Quote: “Christopher Lee was the obvious choice for Lord Summerisle. He had a patrician air, and this wonderful voice for incantations to the gods. Casting Howie was much harder. Michael York turned it down, David Hemmings had other fish to fry. Edward Woodward had always played counter-establishment parts on TV, but actors are always pleased to be cast against their image. He understood the script perfectly and grew into the uptightness of the role beautifully – the consummate actor.” Here are a selection of recent reviews: The Guardian, The Scotsman,  WhatCulture!, The Hollywood Reporter, The Arts Desk, and Salon.com.
  • At The Atlantic, Benson Daitz writes about how he oversaw a Santeria-style exorcism for prison inmate, and why that was the right decision. Quote: “Ron placed a large brown grocery bag on the floor, from which he produced a beautiful king conch shell. We all walked into the exam room, and standing in front of Jose’s staring face, Ron lifted the conch shell above his head and smashed it into a hundred pieces on the floor. Then he picked up a sharp piece of shell, gripped Jose’s left wrist, and cut an X into his forearm, blood oozing out from the pattern. Then, with another piece of shell, he cut a matching X into his own left forearm. Jose did not flinch. Facing Jose, Ron bound their cut arms together, palm-to-palm, with a red bandana. They spent the night in the clinic like that, tied together.”
  • At Aeon Magazine, Nigel Warburton argues that conversation, not isolation, is essential to breakthroughs and innovations in philosophy. Quote: “Western philosophy has its origins in conversation, in face-to-face discussions about reality, our place in the cosmos, and how we should live. It began with a sense of mystery, wonder, and confusion, and the powerful desire to get beyond mere appearances to find truth or, if not that, at least some kind of wisdom or balance [...] Besides, why would a thinker cast seeds on barren soil? Surely it is better to sow then where they’re likely to grow, to share your ideas in the way most suited to the audience, to adapt what you say to whoever is in front of you.”
  • Guardian religion editor Andrew Brown poses the question: How do religions die? Quote: “Perhaps it is easier to think in terms of gods dying, rather than religions. And if we were to classify religions as involving different forms of worship, then you could certainly think that the extinction of worship towards a particular deity would count as the extinction of that religion. Certainly we can be sure that the religion of the Aztecs is dead with their gods, along with hundreds of thousands of others we can no longer reconstruct, and all the pre-literate ones whose existence we remain quite unaware of. Robert Bellah has a nice passage on this ‘Perhaps the end of Mesopotamian Civilization was marked, not by the last cuneiform document to be produced, but by the last prayer to be uttered to Marduk or Assur, but of that we have no record.'” Considering how many Pagans are devoted to reviving and reconstructing belief systems thought lost, this seems like a provocative question.
  • At the Religion in American History blog, John L. Crow takes a look at African-American esoteric religion. Quote: “One of the most significant African American religious tradition to fully incorporate a large variety of esoteric components, including portions from the Moorish Temple, is Dr. Malachi Zador (Dwight) York’s United Nuwaubian Nation. Operating for over 40 years, the Nuwaubian’s have an active presence in America, Canada, and the U.K. They have established temples and bookstores in a variety of cities, recruited tens of thousands of members, and yet, to date, there is only one monograph about them, The Nuwaubian Nation: Black Spirituality and State Control (Ashgate 2010) by Susan Palmer, and one significant essay in the JAAR, by Julius H. Bailey in 2006. Most other references in academic literature to the Nuwaubians are in passing, and usually only related to its incorporation of UFO and aliens in its religious teachings. Yet, UFOs only scratches the surface of how involved with esotericism the Nuwaubians are.” Fascinating stuff.
John Constantine. Art by Andrea Sorrentino.

John Constantine. Art by Andrea Sorrentino.

  • The occult comic character John Constintine, who was once dramatized on screen by Keanu Reeves, is in development for a television series at NBC. Quote: “NBC has ordered a script from Warner Bros. TV that’s based upon the DC Comics anti-hero John Constantine, an enigmatic and irreverent con man-turned-reluctant supernatural detective who is thrust into the role of defending citizens against dark forces.” I would like to take this opportunity to implore the writers to mine the early Jamie Delano years for material, instead of the crasser, and in my mind inferior (though more popular), Garth Ennis years.
  • Shoma Chaudhury writes about the role of women in India, and how they are trapped between the image of “slut” and Goddess. Quote: “The hopeful story about India is located elsewhere. The success of these women has a deeper foundation. Crucially, unlike almost every other democracy in the world – unlike either the US or UK – equal rights for women were enshrined in the very conception of the nation. Unlike First World countries, where women had to fight elemental battles for something as basic as suffrage rights, the Indian Constitution recognised equal rights for women from the very moment of India’s birth. No matter how imperfect the practice therefore, what we have as moral ammunition, are sublime articles of faith. It would’ve been wondrous if these articles of faith had worked as a miracle cure. But pitted against centuries-old social attitudes, they function rather as slow oxygen in the system. This oxygenation, however, should not be underestimated.” I think a crucial point here is that goddess worship, and legal rights, aren’t enough. That cultural attitudes must also change in order for women to be truly empowered.
  • Two accused “witches” in Zimbabwe are claiming in court that they are actresses hired by a local “prophet” to drum up business. It seems like it was a big con-job, one that authorities initially fell for. Quote: “A police source said: ‘His plan was to see people flocking to his so-called shrine – so spiritually powerful witches couldn’t fly over it. It was all a grand set-up.’ Police and prosecutors will face uncomfortable questions over how they took the women’s story at face value – even going to the extent of presenting them in court as witches.” Where-ever there’s a moral panic, there will be someone wanting to profit from it.
  • The Weekly Standard looks at the enduring popularity of supernatural fiction. Quote: “Nothing human is alien to supernatural fiction. Transgressive by definition, it ventures into the dark corners within all of us, probing our sexuality, religious beliefs, and family relationships, uncovering shameful yearnings and anxieties, questioning the meaning of life and death, even speculating about the nature of the cosmos. It’s no surprise that almost every canonical writer one can think of has occasionally, or more than occasionally, dabbled in ghostly fiction: Charles Dickens, Henry James, Somerset Maugham, Elizabeth Bowen, John Cheever, even Russell Kirk, to name just a few outstanding examples. The genre’s best stories are, after all, more than divertissements. They are works of art that make us think about who and what we are.”
  • Druid Ci Cyfarth poses the question: What can a Pagan learn from the Five Pillars of Islam?  Quote: “In this article and the next, I’ll be looking at my understanding of each of the Five Pillars of Islam, considering what the practices of modern Pagans might have in common with Islam, and thinking about how Islam might inspire us to explore new elements of our paths we may not have considered.” Here’s part two of the two-part series.

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.

The old "missing harvest photo" trick, get 'em every time.

The old “missing harvest photo” trick, gets ‘em every time.

  • Director Robin Hardy plans to move forward with the third installment in a thematic trilogy that includes 1973’s “The Wicker Man” and 2012’s “The Wicker Tree.” Quote: “Wicker Man director Robin Hardy has revealed that he is moving ahead with new feature Wrath Of The Gods, which will complete a trilogy of ‘Wicker’ films. [...] ‘I am just at the opening stages of financing it (Wrath Of The Gods) and hope to make it next year,’ said Hardy, who will also produce. The writer-director added: “The first two films are all (about) offers to the Gods. The third film is about the Gods.” Considering how long it took The Wicker Tree to get made, Hardy better hurry, he isn’t getting any younger. Meanwhile, the “final cut” of The Wicker Man is indeed coming to American theaters, though no official word on the blu ray release.
  • A “Satanic” horse sacrifice in the UK turned out to be not that Satanic after all. Quote: “Devon and Cornwall police concluded this week that the pony had died of natural causes. The much-discussed “mutilation” was not, in fact, mutilation at all, but instead the normal result of wild animals eating the pony’s organs and scattering its entrails. ‘Initial media reports linked the death of the pony to satanic cults and ritualistic killing,’ the police said in a statement. ‘The police have sought the advice of experts and have come to the view that the death of this pony was through natural causes. All the injuries can be attributed to those caused by other wild animals. This incident received significant media reporting, some of which was clearly sensationalist.'” Clearly. I’m sure this debunking will get just as much traffic as the headlines that scream “Satan,” right?
  • The trial of Rose Marks began this week, a psychic practitioner accused of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud, to the tune of millions of dollars. Already amazing claims of money and gold being destroying during 9/11 are being put forward. That said, judges have been critical of the prosecution’s work in this case, calling it “slipshod” and even “shameful.” Quote: “Prosecutors responded by filing additional charges against Marks, accusing her of filing false tax returns and not reporting the income, essentially going after her criminally under two theories — that she defrauded the money or earned it legitimately, but didn’t pay taxes on it either way. The latest version of the 15-count federal indictment charges Marks with mail and wire fraud conspiracy, money-laundering conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, money laundering and the income tax charges. If convicted of all charges, sentencing guidelines could send her to prison for about 18 years, her lawyer said.” I’ve reported on this case before, and we should keep a close on eye on it, to see how the verdict may impact divination services.
  • The Oklahoma Gazette profiles Sekhet Bast Ra Oasis, a local chapter of the OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis). Quote: “While one might think an occult organization in the Bible Belt would have difficulty thriving, local OTO members believe that ‘Oasis’ is more than just a title. ‘In this area of the state, the big majority of people are conservative Christian, and people who aren’t into that, they might see this area as a desert,’ David said. ‘But we’re one little oasis right here, so we’re available for those people who would like to commune with others of their kind, or close to their kind. We’re just one of many ways for people to find their true will, but the ultimate goal is to come in contact with the divine and become better human beings.'” You can see the official website for the Sekhet Bast Ra Oasis, here.
  • More news reports are emerging on the case of Pagan prison chaplain Jamyi J. Witch, who recently had criminal charges against her dropped after it was alleged she staged her own rape and hostage-taking by an inmate. The Oshkosh Northwestern, FOX 11, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel point out that the case fell apart as the inmate changed his story. Quote:  “On July 23, the inmate, John Washington, filed a motion for sentence modification in Milwaukee County based primarily on his cooperation with authorities in the Winnebago County case. In the motion, Washington’s account of the incident were a ‘radical departure’ from previous statements, according to the motion to dismiss that Ceman filed last week.” Witch has stated that she intends to sue the Department of Corrections.
  • NPR spotlights Baba Ifagbemi Faseye, an initiate and practitioner of Ifa and Orisa traditions, and the growing number of African Americans drawn to “ancient African religion.” Quote: “There’s a long table covered with pure white cloth and spread with sliced watermelon, bananas and gin — gifts to the divine. Along with a life of worship, Ifagbemi says part of his job as a full-time priest is to help people adapt this ancient religion to a modern, American reality. ‘We’re not African anymore,’ he says. ‘I need to sort of emphasize to a lot of African-Americans that yes, this is an African tradition, yes, we want to connect with our roots and whatever else. But our roots are here, too.'” I note that the NPR article calls the faith “Yoruba” even though Baba Ifagbemi Faseye quite clearly refers to his spiritual practice as Ifa.
Hell Money, the kind burned at The Ghost Festival. Photo: randomwire (Creative Commons).

Hell Money, the kind burned at The Ghost Festival. Photo: randomwire (Creative Commons).

  • The Ghost Festival, a Chinese ancestor holiday in which the deceased come to visit the living, was held this month. The Associated Press files a report. Quote: “To appease the hungry spirits, ethnic Chinese step up prayers, aided by giant colorful joss sticks shaped like dragons. They also burn mock currency and miniature paper television sets, mobile phones and furniture as offering to the ancestors for their use in the other world. For 15 days, neighborhoods hold nightly shows of shrill Chinese operas and pop concerts to entertain the dead. The shows are accompanied by lavish feasts of grilled pork, broiled chicken, rice and fruit. People appease the ghosts in the hopes that the spirits will help them with jobs, school exams or even the lottery. On the 15th day of the month – the most auspicious – families offer cooked food to the ghosts.”
  • A coalition of Navajo Medicine People have come out in opposition to horse slaughter by the Navajo Nation. Quote: “We see this mass execution of our relatives, the horses, as the bad seed that was planted in the minds of our children in the earlier days [...] Our children must be taught to value life, otherwise they will treat their own lives recklessly and be drawn toward substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide and other behaviors that are not in accordance with Our Way of Life.”  It should be noted that the issue of horse slaughter on tribal lands is a divisive one inside and outside of tribal nations. More on that, here.
  • South Coast Today columnist Jack Spillane shares his experiences with modern Pagans. Quote: “There’s something about the pagans and the direct connection of their ancient structures meant to concentrate the mind on the natural world — the change of the seasons, the rhythms of day and night, the connections of sky to land to sea — that’s awfully appealing. I was reminded again of this a few months ago when I happened to be at the First Unitarian Church when Karen Andersen, a contemporary Pagan (capital ‘P’ for the religion), gave a terrific talk about the struggles for religious acceptance of Pagans, at least for the ones who define themselves as religious.”
  • Right Wing Watch notes that Pat Robertson’s 700 Club has run another ex-gay segment, this one also happens to be an ex-Witch as well. Quote: “As I got deeper into spiritualism, a gift of discerning spirits was activated in me. At the time I was dating Diana, a practicing witch whom I had met at a New Age conference. Diana introduced me to demon worship and a new level of darkness. One evening as she began to seduce me, my spiritual eyes were opened, and I saw the demon in her sneering back at me. It horrified me! I jumped up, quickly got dressed, and ran out of there.” Wiccans, bringing you new levels of darkness, because apparently darkness has levels.
  • The Daily Beast profiles “Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison” by Joshua Dubler. Quote: “In one passage, we join Dubler and a Native American prisoner named Claw in a traditional smudging ritual, complete with an eagle wing, turtle shell, and sage and sweetgrass to smoke. In the corner of the prison yard next to the E Block section, the author stands next to Claw, Bobby Hawk, Lucas Sparrowhawk, and a few others as they pray for their families, the weather, and their friend Chipmunk, who’s in the hole.” I can’t tell if Dubler tackles modern Paganism behind bars, but it still might make fascinating reading.

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.

On Monday morning the film production and distribution company StudioCanal announced, via director Robin Hardy, that they have acquired an existing film print of 1973 cult film “The Wicker Man,” long missing, and are restoring the film, converting it to Blu-Ray format, and overseeing a short theatrical run in the Fall. For devotees of the film, which includes myself, this is exciting news. Up until now, the only versions of the film you could easily get were the mangled “Theatrical Version” (aka the “short” version) which is what usually pops up on streaming services and DVD, and “The Extended Version” (aka the director’s cut/the “long” version) which was included in the two-disc edition released in 2006 (and earlier VHS releases). The problem with the previously released extended version was that it melded film-quality material from the short version with NTSC tape of the additional footage, creating rather glaring differences in video (and audio) quality. Better than nothing, surely, but hardly optimal.

Robin Hardy

Robin Hardy

“I’m very pleased to announce that StudioCanal has been able to find an actual print of The Wicker Man, which is based on my original cut, working with Abraxas, the American distributors, all those years ago […] this version has never been restored before, has never been shown in UK theaters before, has never been released on Blu-Ray before. This version of The Wicker Man will be known, optimistically, as the ‘Final Cut.'”Robin Hardy, director of “The Wicker Man”

So what does this all mean? It most likely means some version of the extended “director’s” cut, but with top-notch audio/video quality (for a definitive run-down of the various “Wicker Man” versions out there, see this site). What it most likely doesn’t mean is a return of material from the original filming that never made it into any version of the film. So not the completists dream, the Platonic ideal of “The Wicker Man,” but still, exciting news. This “Final Cut,” according to SFX Magazine, “will be released in selected cinemas on 27 September, and will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on 14 October.”

Still from "The Wicker Man."

Still from “The Wicker Man.”

For modern Pagans, “The Wicker Man” can be a divisive film. Many Pagans, especially those who saw it in American theaters in 1979 when it was re-released in it’s “middle” cut version and became a cult sensation, love the way Summerisle was portrayed: a village of happy, fun-loving, musical, Pagans. A depiction that cut deep into the psyche of many Pagans longing for a society and culture that reflected their ideals. However, there has always been a vocal minority of Pagans who detest the film due to the small fact that the fun-loving Pagans perform a human sacrifice at the end, thus undercutting all the smiley-faced folk songs and revels. While I was not quite old enough to see “The Wicker Man” in the cinema, I was part of a coven that provided my first viewing of the film, and I’ll admit I fell in instant love. A Pagan thriller-musical-procedural that invited deeper questions about belief.

 

1979 re-release era poster.

1979 re-release era poster.

I have long felt that there are no “heroes” or “villains” in the piece, but two world views in crisis clashing with tragic results. The sting is in undercutting our expectations for both the Christian policeman “hero” and the, in theory, villainous Pagan village. Over the course of the film we find that the hero is a stuffy, priggish, and deeply flawed man who has a hard time separating his duties as a Christian from his duties as a police officer (indeed he sees them as one and the same, which in turn helps lead him to his doom). Likewise, the Pagan villagers, who would be portrayed as creepy and devious in a true b-movie picture, are shown to be rather wholesome and moral, at least within the context of their worldview (something truly unexpected for a thriller feature from the early 1970s). You find yourself quickly rooting for them, and against the traditional hero. Robin Hardy and screenwriter Anthony Shaffer were smart enough to give an ending that, in a sense, gives everyone what they “want” within a religious context.

Sergeant Neil Howie: No matter what you do, you can’t change the fact that I believe in the life eternal, as promised to us by our Lord, Jesus Christ. I believe in the life eternal, as promised to us by our Lord, Jesus Christ! Lord Summerisle: That is good, for believing what you do, we confer upon you a rare gift, these days – a martyr’s death. You will not only have life eternal, but you will sit with the saints among the elect. Come. It is time to keep your appointment with the Wicker man.”

The Wicker Man is the first truly excellent film to be made in a post Pagan revival world. It plays with the same sources and mythic themes that the actual Pagan community used in reconstructing their own faiths, and as such strikes at something honest almost by accident. It struck at a moment when the idea of a “Pagan Community” was still forming and in flux. This was before “Drawing Down the Moon,” before “The Spiral Dance,” and well before the Internet. If you view it in this context, you can understand why “The Wicker Man” was so beloved for its portrayal of a Pagan village, because it gave a vision of “us” as a community. Something that was, and largely still is, rare on the big screen (I’d argue the 1980s television series “Robin of Sherwood” is important for similar reasons). So despite the sacrifice at the end, it has been deeply embraced, and continues to be heralded. Even today, a new generation are sharing images and animated gifs of the film on Tumblr, celebrating the Pagan imagery.

One hopes this “final cut” will finally enable a mass audience to see the film as it was meant to be seen, and in high quality, taking its place in a pantheon of provocative 1970s films that explore the tensions between the dominant Christian paradigm, and a religious/cultural “other.” I have no doubt that come October, there will be many, many gatherings and parties to re-introduce this film, and one can only hope it will come to a movie theater near me in September. I don’t know about you, but I plan to keep my appointment with “The Wicker Man.”

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.

(Credit: Wikimedia/DarkGeometryStudios via Shutterstock/Salon)

(Credit: Wikimedia/DarkGeometryStudios via Shutterstock/Salon)

  • Let’s start off with Salon.com’s follow-up to the outing of rogue Wikipedia editor “Qworty,” which focuses on his strange vendetta against Pagan, esoteric, and occult pages. In the piece Andrew Leonard links to my run-down of the story, and manages to dig up some new information as well. Quote: “Every page deleted or altered by Young on grounds of self-promotion or conflict-of-interest clearly deserves a second look. And that great effort is already well under way. The Neo-Pagans are clamoring for the return of some of their deleted pages and scouring those that survived the purge to see which of Young’s cuts will be reverted. But Young didn’t confine himself to questions of notability or conflict-of-interest when tangling with the Pagans; he also challenged the basic tenets of Pagan spirituality. Wikipedia, he argued, should be debunking such things as Wiccan rituals or the exploration of drug-induced conciousness-raising, rather than reporting them.” This experience has left some Pagan Wikipedia editors disillusioned, to put it lightly. It will be interesting to see how things progress from this point. 
  • The branding of children as “witches” by pastors in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues. The BBC has a new documentary where a British citizen who was born in the DRC finds out her cousin has been accused of witchcraft and races to find her. Quote: “Journeying from her home in London to her birthplace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kevani tries to discover how ancient traditions have been hijacked in the name of Jesus, why families are singling out vulnerable children and hurting them and why toddlers are having to endure excruciating rituals in order to ‘rid them of demons’.” It should be noted that branding children as witches is illegal in the Congo now, but the pastors seem unconcerned.
  • The book “Ritual” by David Pinner, which inspired the 1973 film “The Wicker Man” is going to be getting a sequel. Pinner told Rue Morgue Magazine that he’s written a book set 30 years later entitled “The Wicca Woman.” Quote: “I’ve just completed the sequel to Ritual, after all these years, called The Wicca Womanthe children who are in Ritual are grown up in this. It’s set 30 years later just before the millennium. Wicker Man obsessives will no doubt want to keep an eye out for this one. Meanwhile, StudioCanal continues its hunt for lost footage from the 1973 film’s original cut in hopes of releasing a complete anniversary edition. 
  • Christianity in Britain could be declining faster than originally thought according to a new analysis of the 2011 UK census data. Quote: “A new analysis of the 2011 census shows that a decade of mass immigration helped mask the scale of decline in Christian affiliation among the British-born population – while driving a dramatic increase in Islam, particularly among the young. It suggests that only a minority of people will describe themselves as Christians within the next decade, for first time.” We may see a truly post-Christian Britain in our lifetimes. That new analysis is from the UK’s Office for National Statistics, by the way. 
  • John Macintyre, former president of the Scottish Pagan Federation, is interviewed by Patheos.com about the importance of Pagan involvement in interfaith. Quote: “Interfaith is not a threat, it doesn’t aim to change what Paganism is, still less to merge it into some kind of ‘one size fits all’ universal religion. It allows us to educate other faith groups and the wider society about the reality of modern Paganism, to challenge prejudice and negative stereotyping close to its sources, and to make a positive contribution as one of the many faith communities that make up our society.”
Santa Muerte

Santa Muerte

  • Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut, author of “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint,” writes about the Vatican’s ongoing battle with the cult of Santa Muerte. Quote: “In addition to theological objections, the current religious economy of Mexico and Latin America provides a compelling explanation not only for the condemnation of narco-saints but also for other dynamic religious competitors. For the past three decades both national bishops’ conferences and the Vatican have inveighed against the “invasion of the sects” in Latin America. Of course, Pentecostals, the most vibrant of the Church’s competitors, have been the primary object of condemnation, but Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Age groups and Spiritists have also been singled out.” 
  • PNC-Minnesota has an update on Pagan-initiated tornado relief efforts in Oklahoma. Quote: “As of Saturday, Solar Cross has collected $545 in donations and was able to send 400 N95 rated respirators, 58 pairs of work gloves, 50 safety goggles, 20 tarps, and 10 shovels. Tillison said, ‘Thank you thank you thank you! Your donations will be distributed within 24 hours of the time they arrive and sent out to Little Axe, Newcastle and the outlying areas that are not receiving the outpouring the greater area of Moore is.'” You can read my initial report on this, here.
  • When talking about legal protections, “who’s a journalist” is the wrong question. Quote: “When considering whether to grant legal protection for the gathering and dissemination of information, the question should not be the person performing those acts, i.e., “who is a journalist?,” but “is this an act of journalism?” Before the user-generated content revolution, focusing on journalists (i.e., people defined by their institutional affiliations) served as a functional if rough approximation of the true interests at stake (i.e., debate on issues of public concern). That is no longer the case.” This issue is an important one for all us Pagan media types who are not affiliated with a recognized institution. 
  • Paul Louis Metzger argues that sometimes Christians create the “idols” for modern Pagans out of ignorance of our actual beliefs and practices. Quote: “We Christians need to be on guard in our understanding of such movements as contemporary Paganism. We tend to lump all of modern Paganism into one general and distorted category. We often fail to account for the vast complexity within the movement and articulate Paganism accurately. For all our concern about pagan idolatry, we may be guilty at times of making their idols for them. We need to develop the practice of respect for understanding their practices, rituals, and beliefs.”
  • Wiccan love spells: sometimes they (kinda) work (at least for awhile). Quote: “Yes, I shed a few tears, but not because I was in love with him. I cried because the spell hadn’t worked, at least not all the way, and I was now forced to revert to being a Party of One after having had a brief, haunting reminder of the cozier aspects of being in a relationship.”

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.

Daniel LaPlante. Photo: The Boston Herald.

Daniel LaPlante. Photo: The Boston Herald.

  • A new documentary, The Art of Disappearing, tells the story of Haitian Voodoo priest Amon Fremon, who visited the People’s Republic of Poland in 1980. Quote: “What I did learn from the brief research I did on him, is that he believed that he was a descendant of Polish soldiers who were abandoned in Haiti, after the Haitian Revolution. They intermarried with Haitians, and may have established themselves at a settlement in Casales. And although they probably practiced Catholicism in the early days, some would later become practioners of Voodoo.” Sounds interesting!
  • The definition of who’s an Indian in the United States is causing some heartache (and fiscal strain) as the implementation of the Affordable Care Act rolls out. Quote: “The definition of “Indian” in the section of the law that deals with the insurance exemption appears to be the same as the one in 25 USC § 450b. That means only members of federally recognized tribes and shareholders in Alaska Native regional or village corporations are considered “Indian.” But that definition is narrower than the one found in the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which was made permanent by the ACA. For example, California Indians with allotments have long been considered eligible for IHS care.” A hearing is scheduled to address these concerns.
  • Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll is becoming this generation’s Pat Robertson. Quote: “He’s been heavily criticized by Christian voices across the spectrum, and according to reports, several attendees at the Catalyst Conference in Dallaswalked out during his talk. He’s even being marginalized by some Reformed Christians (i.e. Calvinists) who precipitated his rise to prominence. “I’m not a Mark Driscoll kind of Calvinist,” some have remarked to me.” There’s good money in being a divisive lightning rod if you can withstand the weather.
  • StudioCanal has initiated a worldwide search for long-missing footage from the 1973 cult-classic film “The Wicker Man.” Quote: “Director Robin Hardy has endorsed a worldwide appeal launched by StudioCanal to locate original film materials relating to cult horror classic The Wicker Man. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the film about a policeman (Edward Woodward) sent to a remote island village in search of a missing girl, whom the townsfolk claim never existed. It also stars Christopher Lee. StudioCanal intends to mark the occasion by releasing the ‘most complete version of the film possible’.” There’s a special Facebook page created for the hunt. There have been a number of attempts to get at the “original” directors cut, with an “extended” version released in 2001 (and later packed in a deluxe box set). I’d love to see a high-quality restored director’s cut. 
  • “Evil spiritual entities” is not a real diagnosis. There’s no evidence base. 
  • Druid leader King Arthur Pendragon (no, not that Arthur Pendragon) is protesting plans to display human remains at the Stonehenge visitors center in England. Quote: “This is out of step with the feelings of many of the people and groups I represent, who would rather the ancient dead were reburied and left to rest in peace and, where appropriate, samples kept for research and copies put on display [...]  We shall not take this development lightly and will oppose any such intention by English Heritage at Stonehenge. I cannot rule out non-violent direct action against the proposals.” As I’ve noted before on this site, there is no consensus among British Pagans on this issue, with many, most notably Pagans for Archeology, opposed to the reburial of ancient human remains. Read more about King Arthur, here.

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.

One of my favorite films is the 1973 cult-classic “The Wicker Man.” Set in a remote Scottish island, it pits a priggish Christian police officer against a population that has rejected Christianity in favor of a revived Paganism. As the policeman slowly unravels the mystery of a missing girl, he’s drawn ever tighter into a conspiracy that will seal his fate. While the slow-burning plot is serviceable, it’s really the atmospherics, songs, and attention to detail that make the film transcendent (by the way, if you aren’t watching the restored extended version of the film, you are truly missing out). Many modern Pagans have embraced “The Wicker Man” over the years for transmitting an idyllic vision of Pagan culture that portrayed the inhabitants as happy, cheerful, and well-adjusted. As Lord Summerisle says during the film: “We don’t commit murder hereWe’re a deeply religious people.” Indeed, in the minds of the inhabitants, Sgt. Howie’s dreadful fate isn’t murder at all, but the ramifications of choices he unwittingly made during the film.

Still from 1973's "The Wicker Man".

Still from 1973's "The Wicker Man".

Like many cult films, there had been talk for years about a sequel, or a remake. The remake happened in 2006, a disaster of a film starring an inane and overacting Nicolas Cage. The film managed to remove nuance and any sympathetic characters from its treatment, and is largely seen as an unintentional comedy today (despite that, Cage is talking sequel). Then came word that a follow-up to the 1973 film, written and directed by Robin Hardy, who also directed the original, was in the works. Originally titled “Cowboys For Christ,” the new film would be a spiritual “companion” to the original film, not a direct sequel.  In production for years, and beset by money problems early on, the film, renamed “The Wicker Tree,” finally hit the festival circuit in 2011. It got mixed reviews at Fantasia 2011 and FrightFest 2011, with Total Film complaining that the new film had a “near-absence of momentum or intrigue.”

Now, at the beginning of 2012, “The Wicker Tree” is finally seeing a limited theatrical release. Andy Webster at The New York Times gives it a sympathetic review, but notes that it can’t live up to the “raw, earthy and mythic power” of the original film.

“In “The Wicker Tree,” two born-again Texans, Beth (the fresh-faced if one-dimensional newcomer Brittania Nicol) and Steve (Henry Garrett, slightly better), bring drawls, a cowboy hat and door-to-door evangelizing to rural Scotland (played unconvincingly by genteel Oxford), only to be drawn into a similar conspiracy, led by the nuclear-power magnate Lachlan Morrison (Graham McTavish, vainly trying to match the presence of the original’s Christopher Lee, who makes a cameo here).

Again, the town’s natives are a randy lot, with Honeysuckle Weeks playing the Britt Ekland temptress role and providing abundant nudity. But the decadence is more restrained; the gore, as before, is minimal. Inside references — animal carcasses, a costume horse-head, a sun pendant — drop in amid innovations, like an amusing crow’s-eye perspective. But finding sympathy for the leads isn’t as easy as it was for the forceful if self-righteous Woodward. Still, “The Wicker Tree” does manage to leave you with a haunted, agreeable unease.”

But will Pagans enjoy this new version? Pagan author and philosopher Brendan Myers has seen it, and gives it a thoughtful, somewhat positive, review.

“In a way, the film is about the inexorability of fate: Lord Summerisle himself says as much in a cameo appearance. So the plot of the film is an unfolding of Beth and Steve’s fate. We as audience members know what is going to happen: all the mystery and surprise is in how it happens. In that sense the film is a bit like a prequel. [...] I must also say, there were some moments at the end I genuinely didn’t expect. Beth and Steve met their fate as we knew they would, but the shock you feel when director Robin Hardy’s thesis is revealed – the thesis that great evil can come when people’s beliefs in the rightness of their actions is strong enough – came from an unexpected direction. This too helped make up for the weaknesses of the film: the unstable union of comedy and tragedy, the wooden-ness (dare I say wicker-ness?) of some of the characters. I’d give the film three out of five stars, although somehow I feel as if I should be giving it more. There’s still lots of depth and richness to be explored in the world of the Wicker Man, and lots more terrors to be seen as well. Robin Hardy, if you’re reading this, I hereby volunteer to write the script for the third film.”

Most mainstream reviewers are pointing out that this new film simply can’t live up to the original film, and that Hardy’s sensibilities as a director are a touch out of step with modern mores. I predict the consensus will be that “The Wicker Tree” is a noble failure that tries and ultimately fails to capture the magic of “The Wicker Man.” Better, by far, than the remake, but still a flawed attempt to “update” the basic story for a modern audience. Still, I’m interested to see what the wider Pagan response to this new film will be, and I look forward to judging the picture for myself.

I think that “The Wicker Man” caught hold of something at just the right time, British psychedelic folk and folk-rock bands were still riding high, occult practices and modern Paganism were becoming something more than an oddity, and this film seemed like a tuning fork that vibrated to the tensions and possibilities of that era. It became a touchstone for those who recognized that tension within their own lives, the desire to create a new world, to live in a new context, to break from the “straight” Christian world. The intrusion of Howie, and his undoing, can be read as a parable for the irreconcilable differences between the mainstream and the counterculture, the end of a “fool” who thinks this society should play by his rules. In a way, it is much like “The Exorcist,” which also played on tensions between cultures, but for different reasons, and to different ends.

I’m generally not a fan of remakes, and I think attempts to bottle the magic of “The Wicker Man,” no matter how faithful or well-pedigreed, will run into problems. Put simply, we live in different times, and the nature of tensions between Christianity and competing faiths and philosophies are different.  I think an excellent film can be made about those tensions, but I fear “The Wicker Tree” will not be that film.

For those wanting to see the extended version of “The Wicker Man”, you can still get it used for a reasonable price.

This week has seen an unusually high number of high-profile deaths, from Apple co-founder Steve Jobs to civil rights icon Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, but perhaps lost among the many (deserved) tributes and remembrances are two other figures who have had an indirect but palpable influence on modern Pagan culture: Bert Jansch and Diane Cilento. Jansch, who died on Wednesday from lung cancer was a hugely influential guitarist and founding member of the British folk-rock band Pentangle. Pentangle, along with Fairport Convention, The Incredible String Band, and Nick Drake were part of a movement that re-contextualized and reinvigorated folk music and tradition in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They also, as historian Rob Young notes, had striking parallels with the emerging British Witchcraft traditions, and ended up providing an inspirational soundtrack for the nascent movement.

“In terms of their status in popular understanding, British Pagan Witchcraft and folk music are strikingly similar. Both are believed, even by many of the people who practice them, to afford a link to the distant medieval past or pre-Christian antiquity, but many of their identifying features are actually relatively modern inventions.”

Bert Jansch

Bert Jansch

During his career Jansch recorded at least 25 albums and toured consistently, inspiring Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Johnny Marr of The Smiths with his unique guitar style. Towards the end of his career he collaborated with contemporary artists like Hope Sandoval (of Mazzy Star), Beth Orton and Devendra Banhart, inspiring a new generation of psych-folk and “freak” folk performers. Still, to many of us, he’ll be remembered as part of that band with the pentagram logo, which, along with the mythological and folkloric themes in their music, was more than enough to consider them one of “our” bands in the Pagan movement’s early stirrings. For his deep contributions to music, and for all those he inspired, Bert Jansch will live on for generations to come.

Another death that will have reverberations among many modern Pagans is the passing of actress Diane Cilento, famous to many as the first wife of Sean Connery, but beloved to us as “Miss Rose” in the 1973 cult-classic film “The Wicker Man”.

Cilento would go on to marry “Wicker Man” writer Anthony Shaffer, and was a spiritual seeker who eventually studied Sufism.

Diane Cilento

Diane Cilento

“It doesn’t really matter what basically the religion is, it’s all the same thing. It’s all oneness. And I don’t think you can divorce or segregate or pigeonhole life in that way much. It is just life, and poetry’s part of that.”

Cilento was also the mother of Jason Connery, who played the second Robin Hood in the Pagan-drenched English series “Robin of Sherwood.” Her role in creating a “microcosm of what sacred and profane life in a village might be like if Christianity had never been imported to the Isles” will forever endear her to generations of modern Pagans. May her spirit be united with the oneness she sought in life.