Archives For Thor

rackham pictures

Four Arthur Rackham portraits. Clockwise from top right: Donner, Freia, Loge and Wotan meeting Alberich, and Wotan the Wanderer meeting Mime.
Also pictured: my runic yoga cheat sheets. Don’t judge me.

I come from carpenters. I’m not sure I would call it a family profession – more like the results of a long line of bull-headed men who couldn’t stand more than a few years of answering to a boss. Eventually, we all quit or got fired, picked up some tools, and starting putting up fences and building porches. We’ve never been the type to get certifications. My grandfather, even now, prefers to conduct as much of his business as possible in cash, a habit developed over decades of being paid under the table.

I am not a carpenter, now; in fact, when I was a teenager, first coming to terms with the kind of person I am, I would have nightmares about it. I would dream of waking up in my forties with a ruined back and a tapestry of scars woven across my forearms, the artistry of errant nails and utility knives. Even now, ten years out from the last time I spent a summer working with my grandfather as he hung gutters and tuck pointed a house, I sometimes wonder if this PHD I’m working on is just another way of running away from carpentry.

But there’s when it comes to driving nails, there is something in my blood, something in the musical collision of metal and drywall. I don’t do it often, but when I do, it’s holy. It’s no wonder that my god’s symbol is a hammer.

Today I am driving nails into the wall of my bedroom for picture frames. I eyeball everything. I don’t mind making crooked things: it’s a reminder of the human effort involved. To look at a row of pictures that are slightly off is to know that they are the work of human hands. (Writing, with all its inescapable errors and not-quite-right words, is much the same.)

The pictures are part of my altar area, which I am rebuilding yet again, despite having only put the altar up for the first time in this house a few months ago. My roommate found a wonderfully ugly old metal desk at the university surplus auction – or, more precisely, in the pile of things more valuable as scrap metal than as furniture – and so the end-table I had been using for a desk suddenly became available for better purposes. It’s just the right size for an altar – enough room to hold a variety of tools and statues without being too cluttered. It’s much better suited for this than for being a work desk – it barely held the monitor and a keyboard, much less the stacks of papers and overdue library books an English student tends to attract.

I took the pictures from an art book of Arthur Rackham’s illustrations of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. I cut them out with an X-Acto knife and a cutting board; having no straight-edges available, I cut free hand, leaving a slightly curving edge to most of the pictures. (But then, what’s the problem with a crooked picture in a crooked frame?) I hung up four of the plates – Wotan, Donner, Freia, and Loge — to watch over my altar. I can see them from my bed when I wake up: four portraits of a mythic world, a world nobody else has ever conceived in quite the way Rackham did.

Arthur Rackham was no heathen, of course; he was mainly an illustrator of children’s books, though he felt his illustrations to the Ring cycle were “not well suited for those lucky people who haven’t yet finished the delightful adventure of growing up.” Rackham considered his Ring illustrations to be among his masterpieces, but then, he created many masterpieces. If his drawings of Wotan and Brunhilde held any special place in his heart, it was because of the reverence attached to Wagner’s operas, not because he personally believed in the Aesir.

But I do. When I look at Rackham’s Freia, or Donner, or especially Loge, I see Freyja and Thor and Loki. I feel this way even though Rackham did not. I am cognizant of the disconnect between the intentions of the artist and my use of his art; I am even more cognizant of the fact that these drawings are many steps removed from the “truth” of these deities, filtered as they are through Snorri Sturluson and the other Eddic writers, through Wagner’s appropriation and reinvention of the Eddas, through Rackham’s interpretation of Wagner.

It's a pretty steamy scene.

Loge and the Rhinemaidens, Arthur Rackham.

In one picture – perhaps my favorite in the cycle – Loge sits at the edge of a pond, listening to the lament of the maidens of the Rhine for their lost treasure. Steam issues from all over Loge’s body; the water of the pond hisses into vapor at his touch. That’s because Loge, in the Ring, is a fire god, an assumption made based on how closely the words Loki and Loge resemble one another. But as any sufficiently pedantic heathen will tell you, there’s no evidence that Loki was ever considered connected to fire; it’s an accident, a deceitful homonym. Yet Loge’s association with fire is essential to the operas, such that the two most famous scenes, the endings of Die Walkure and Gotterdammerung, rely on Loge’s flames.

I know this, but still, when I look at Rackham’s pictures, I see my gods looking back. That may not have been what Rackham intended, but it is what I find. I cannot divorce the two.

This weekend, I will be going to see Thor: The Dark World with my fiancée. It’s our seventh anniversary, and we are dorks, so this is the kind of movie we are apt to see on such an occasion. I will be going into it as someone who grew up reading Marvel Comics, who still spends an unhealthy amount of money on them every month. But I will also be going into the theater as a heathen, as someone who wears a Thor’s hammer around his neck. As someone who, when he finds an excuse to pick up a hammer, immediately thinks of Mjolnir, and the labors of the god who wields it. If Rackham’s Donner is a distorted replica of the “real” Thor, then Marvel’s Thor is that replica run through about twelve generations of Xerox. But I can’t pretend it won’t have meaning to me. We are surrounded by portraits of our myths created by artists who do not believe as we do.

I do not know what they find in their work, but I find holiness – perhaps removed, perhaps distorted, but holy, still. Perhaps that is not what Rackham intended. I am certain it is not what Chris Hemsworth intends. But when I see a Rackham illustration, or hear a Wagner theme, or even shudder under the assault of a Marvel action scene… I see my gods in them. They are my contribution to the work.

When the pictures are finally hung, I note the imperfections. The portrait of the Wanderer sits slightly higher than the others. I have to adjust the pictures several times to fake the appearance of symmetry, even though that’s a futile task. I look at them and see the gods’ work, and Wagner’s work, and Rackham’s, and mine.

Work is holy. Carpenters know this.

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.

"Psychostasia" by Daemonia Nymphe

“Psychostasia” by Daemonia Nymphe

  • The great Greek Pagan band Daemonia Nymphe have announced that their new album, “Psychostasia,” will be officially released on May 10th.  Quote: “Six years after ‘Krataia Asterope’ (2007) and many Live dates in Europe, the Greeks led by the duet Spyros Giasafakis & Evi Stergiou are back with their new album ‘Psychostasia’ (the “weighing” of souls by Gods). Since its origins the band uses instruments recreated from the Greek Antiquity [...] ‘Psychostasia’ takes us into the journey of a Life, the journey of a Soul. It starts with Zephiros (the god of Wind), then comes ‘Pnoe’ the breath that animates each thing … During the trip, we will meet Gaia, the forces of Nature, the moon dances for Selene and Eros, to finish into Hypnos’s dreams.” You can order and hear samples of the new album at Prikosnovenie.
  • The reality television program “Wife Swap” aired another episode featuring a Pagan family last night, but according to participant Arana Fireheart, the process from his standpoint was not exploitive. Quote: “[The casting director] reassured me that we would be given the chance to present ourselves as a normal happy family that just happen to be Witches and I trusted that he would keep his word.” So did anyone watch it? How was it? Let us know in the comments. I think it’s fair to say that the show hasn’t the best track record regarding Pagan families, so I’m interested to see if things have evolved
  • Stonehenge is looking for a part-time Solstice manager, which has gotten a bit of press attention. One of the qualifications is an ability to maintain good relations with Druid groups and other “stakeholders” who access the stones for special events. Quote: “As English Heritage’s Tim Reeve told the BBC, one of the General Manager’s subsidiary jobs will be to liaise with neo-druid leaders, helping to oversee arrangements for the ceremonies that those leaders conduct to celebrate the summer and winter solstices. The General Manager will work to guarantee, essentially, that the rocks of the 21st century remain as faithful as possible to the rocks of prehistory. It’s ‘important,’ Reeve notes, ‘to ensure we keep the dignity of the stones.’” You guys are lucky I’m not a UK citizen, or I’d have this thing locked up. 
  • A retired Russian Orthodox bishop has been deposed after it was revealed that he was giving psychic counseling at a New Age center in Russia. It seems a fair cop. The Orthodox news site that reported on the incident is in English, but the lingo, acronyms, and haughty triumphalism make it nearly indecipherable to the casual reader (I suppose some could argue the same about my site, though I try to remain accessible). 
  • This story is supposed to be satire, but I can actually imagine certain Heathens saying something like what’s quoted in the “article.” Quote: “It’s an insult to our religion, it is bad enough they turned our God of Thunder into a blond pretty boy in a unitard, but the lack of bloodshed makes a mockery of our beliefs.” You laugh now, just wait until they turn The Morrigan into a superhero character… oh, wait.
Photo: Time Magazine / EFE / ZUMAPRESS

Photo: Time Magazine / EFE / ZUMAPRESS

  • In a move that should surprise no one, the Vatican has made it clear that they really, really, don’t like Santa Muerte. Quote: “The Mexican offensive against Santa Muerte (Saint Death) launched by former president, Felipe Calderon, has now gone global. In an interview last week with a Peruvian Catholic news site (Aciprensa), the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, condemned the cult of the skeleton saint as “sinister and infernal.” The Italian prelate, whom Vatican watcher John Allen recently called “the most interesting man in the Church” and even profiled as a candidate for the papacy, called for both Church and society to mobilize against devotion to Saint Death.” Chances that this will hinder the religious movement? I’d wager they are slim to none. 
  • The interfaith ceremony that took place after the Boston bombing attack excluded humanists and atheists. Quote: “We made it exceedingly easy for the Governor’s staff to find us and include us, but they chose not to do so. The exclusion of non-theists today no doubt deepened the hurt the people in the non-theist community are feeling. What principle was served by our exclusion, I don’t begin to understand.”
  • Come visit scenic Cornwall, we’ve got a really, really, big Celtic Cross. Quote: “We hope it will become an iconic landmark, our version of the Angel of the North, so people don’t just pass by Saltash, but go in.” Also, King Arthur was conceived there, but that’s not exactly a roadside attraction. 
  • Speaking of Stonehenge, here’s a new theory about it. Quote: “…the site, which was occupied continuously for 3,000 years, had evidence of burning, thousands of flint tool fragments and bones of wild aurochs, a type of extinct giant cow. That suggests the area near Stonehenge may have been an auroch migration route that became an ancient feasting site, drawing people together from across different cultures in the region, wrote lead researcher David Jacques of the Open University in the United Kingdom.”
  • My pal Cara Schulz (who also happens to be a Hellenic Pagan), is holding a Kickstarter for a cool-sounding luxury camping book, and in honor of reaching $1,500 of the $4,500 goal she shares a drink recipe on Youtube called the “Blue Gem.” With Summer festival season almost here, maybe we could all use this book? 

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.

I’d like to highlight three excellent essays worth checking out today.

In Defense of Magic: Andrew Sullivan points to an excellent essay by Jessa Crispin, editor and founder of Bookslut.com, that talks about the endurance of religion, of irrational beliefs, of magic, in a seemingly rational and increasingly secular age. In the process she discusses two new books, Ronald Hutton’s “Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain,” and Nevill Drury’s “Stealing Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Modern Western Magic”.

“Wasn’t the Enlightenment supposed to wash the world of its sins of superstition and religion? And yet humanity keeps clinging to its belief systems, its religious leaders, and its prayer. More than that, we’re dipping back into the magical realms — one would think that if superstition were to be eradicated through the power of reason and rationality, magic would be the first to go. It turns out our hunger for the irrational and the intuitive is more insatiable than previously assumed. We have our Kabbalah, our Chaos Magick, our Druids. We have our mystics and tarot card readers and our astrologers on morning news shows explaining why Kate and William are a match made by the gods. Wicca is a fast growing religion in the United States, and my German health insurance covers homeopathy and Reiki massage, both of which have always felt more like magic than science to me.”

The whole thing is well worth reading, a defense against the atheists who have trouble acknowledging that these beliefs fill a need in us, while owning the excesses and subconscious drives that fuel adherence to illogical practices.

Believing in Satan(ists): Erik Davis reprints an essay he wrote on religious Satanism, reviewing a 2009 scholarly anthology edited by Jesper Aagaard Petersen entitled “Contemporary Religious Satanism: A Critical Anthology”. I was particularly drawn to his critique of the elasticity of the term “Satanism”, and how that might matter to modern Pagans.

“While Peterson makes a good claim for the relative elasticity of the term Satanism, there are problems with the term that become more apparent the farther the topic departs from LaVey’s legacy. Though the figure of Satan has been drastically recontextualized, his name and essential iconography still fundamentally imply an oppositional or even parasitic relationship to the broader Judeo-Christian tradition. But as the transgression of Christian norms loses its spunk, and as the broad course of Neo-paganism and contemporary ritual magic reframe occult practice within more eclectic, global and, increasingly, “shamanic” contexts, it is inevitable that the specifically Satanic current loses some nominal coherence. In this sense, the splitting off of Michael Aquino’s Temple of Set from LaVey’s Church of Satan in 1975 is paradigmatic, as Aquino replaced LaVey’s cocktail-sipping devil with a more sober and recondite Egyptian god. Should Setians still be called “Satanists”? If the answer is yes, aren’t scholars running the risk of shoe-horning darkside practitioners and metaphysicians into a homogenous framework that unintentionally parrots fundamentalist Christian exegetes for whom Odin, Kali, and Harry Potter are all masks of a single Dark Lord? If the answer is no, does the “Satanic milieu” that the contributors to this volume have done such a fine job of clarifying lose broader explanatory power?”

The blurry ground between “post-Satanic” belief systems and modern Paganism hasn’t really been fully explored. “Dark” (or “Nocturnal”) Paganism has become a marketing term in recent years, and I believe more study is warranted on the intersections of subculture, Left-Hand Paths, post-Satanic systems, and modern Paganism. As for Davis, I highly recommend his most recent collection of essays entiled “Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica”.

The Substance of Thor (and Loki): Over at Killing the BuddhaEric Scott, who recently shared his mixed feelings over marketing Nordic gods in “Valhal-Mart,” shares his review of the Marvel Comics film “Thor.”

“My understanding of the ancient Germanic myths revolves around two themes. The first is that virtue consists of equal parts strength and wisdom. The second is the Germanic worldview of an entropic universe, where civilization will always fall into ruin. Beneath its hammy, explosion-filled superhero veneer, Thor deals with both of these themes. Thor’s character development exemplifies the first, as we watch the bold and foolish prince grow wise. Loki exemplifies the second: despite his good intentions, Loki falls, becoming a monster in the name of ending monsters.

So what should pagans take away from this movie? Certainly not mythological accuracy: if you only knew the myths, most of the film will probably seem nonsensical. I admit that the mythological discrepancies still leave me conflicted, if only because they drastically alter the relationships among some of these deities. But I left the theater feeling much better about Thor than I expected; while it may not get any of the surface right, it captures a surprising amount of the substance. Thor gives us the glories and the tragedies of Norse mythology, if we’re willing to abide a little trickery in the delivery. Loki would be proud.”

For more on “Thor” see my roundup of religiously-themed takes on  the film. You may also want to check out all of Eric Scott’s essays at KtB.

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

A few quick news notes for you on this Thursday Thor’s Day.

The Chief Godi in Translation: A couple days ago I featured a link to a story concerning the thoughts of Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, Chief Godi of Ásatrúarfélagið in Iceland, on the new “Thor” movie. I could only get a rough gist of the piece since it was in Icelandic, and asked for a translation. Now, thanks to the Old Norse Network (ONN), Dr. Jane Sibley, Ravynne, and Merrill Kaplan, I’ve received a couple of accurate (and understandable) translations of Hilmarsson’s comments.

“I‘d see it mostly as a fan of bad movies,” says Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, Allsherjargoði and leader of Iceland’s Ásatrúarfélag, when asked whether he had already or intended to see the newest Hollywood movie about the thunder god Thor. The movie is based on the Marvel comic book series and was premiered here in Iceland this week. He says that the Ásatrúarfélagið hadn’t taken any particular stance on literary and artistic works surrounding Ásatrú. “Then you’d have to begin in the eighteenth century. People have been drawing on this heritage for two, three hundred years. Sometimes it’s been successful and sometimes not. We can certainly be grateful that Edward Elgar composed beautiful music with these “motifs,” and Wagner did too. And naturally some heavy metal bands have appropriated it in much worse ways than will be the case in this film by Kenneth Branagh,” says Hilmar Örn. He said he didn’t regard the movie itself as any kind of misrepresentation of the faith. “If you take some kind of fundamentalist stance towards it, then some people are going to be offended. People have been drawing on this heritage for many hundreds of years, and we haven’t opted to organize any kind of protest about it the way it might happen in other religions. We’re a little more relaxed about it, I think,” says Hilmar Örn.

So there you are! Thanks to everyone who helped get me a translation. In addition, Kjell from the ONN list also points out reactions to Thor from Norway and Denmark (no translations, though). You might also be interested in this column from Religious New Service writer Cathleen Falsani.

COG and the Prayer Breakfast: The Covenant of the Goddess Interfaith Reports blog features a report from Don Frew on the Marin Interfaith Council Prayer Breakfast, at which Frew was a featured presenter. Here’s an excerpt from the talk Frew gave to an audience of over 180 local representatives of different faith communities.

“The easiest way to understand modern Neopaganism is to think of something like Nataive American spirituality or Japanese Shinto, but coming out of pre-Christian European and Mediterranean cultural settings.  There are Druids, reviving the religion of the ancient Celts.  There are Heathens, taking their inspiration from the religions of the Norse and Germanic peoples.  But by far the largest branch of Neopaganism is the Witches, coming out of the fusion of Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, and Graeco-Roman spiritualities that occurred in the British Isles.  This led many modern Witches to use Anglo-Saxon word – “Wicca” – instead “Witchcraft”.  Some found it easier to avoid one “w-word” by replacing it with another, especially when explaining things to their parents.  [chuckles]“

Apparently feedback for the presentation was very good, and most likely helped change some misconceptions that are held about our family of faiths. Congratulations to Don Frew on the successful interfaith experience. I encourage my readers to head over and give your feedback on the talk.

The Digital Divide on Native Reservations: MediaShift at PBS looks at the digital divide in Indian Country, and interviews Sascha Meinrath, director of New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative, about the struggle to bridge that divide and bring new media opportunities to tribal communities.

“You have a community that perhaps treasures media and cultural production more than almost any other constituency in the country, and you have an entire dearth of access to new media production and dissemination technology,” Meinrath said. Since 2009, New America Foundation has worked with Native Public Media, which supports and advocates for Native American media outlets, to help tribal communities take advantage of new media platforms. In January, the organizations formalized their partnership, and this fall, they plan to launch a media literacy pilot project that will train Native radio broadcasters in at least four communities to tell stories using digital tools.

This is a hugely important issue, and a chance to break “a pattern of historical exclusion from media and communication services” according to Loris Ann Taylor, president of Native Public Media. Amplifying and enriching indigenous voices is something that all of us should support and welcome, a road towards increasing self-determination and changing a dominant media narrative that often ignores the voices of Native Americans.

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.

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.

With apologies to all the mothers (divine or otherwise) out there, I thought I’d take the opportunity this Sunday morning to look at reactions to the new Marvel Comics movie “Thor”. I’ve already mentioned Eric Scott‘s take on the film’s merchandising blitz (“Valhal-Mart”), but what do other Pagans (and film critics for that matter) think of this latest mythological tale?

Thor in the 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.

At Patheos.com Pagan Portal manager Star Foster explains why “Thor” matters.

“I think we should look at this film as if we are a spiritually and culturally hungry person. As if we are a 16 year old young woman considering a military career and in need of a warrior ethic.  As if we are a homemaker taking her kids to an action-flick who is suddenly overwhelmed by Frigga. As if we are a man with a newborn who stumbled across Asatru looking up info on the film and is looking for a spiritual tradition for his family. Because those are the people who will be coming to us with questions. We shouldn’t dismiss them for referencing Thor like so many seekers were dismissed for coming to Wicca by way of The Craft. Maybe Thor will lead folks to their path, and maybe there will be folks who need to be gently dissuaded, but they all deserve positive, straightforward and enlightening answers.”

You can also read Star’s actual review of the movie. Meanwhile, Christopher Campbell at SPOUT is critical of how science and religion are mixed in the film.

“I never could get into the “Thor” comics as much as I wanted to, probably because in my youth I thought them a bastardization of the myths I loved. Now the movie goes a step further in stripping the spirit of those marvelous tales for something so scientifically precise—as in formulaically machinated to certain enjoyment by a mass audience—and so scientifically constructed—from the computer effects to the 3D presentation, a movie like “Thor” involves more technological input than creative. What was once considered movie magic seems now completely movie science.”

The Catholic News Service doesn’t seem to think “Thor” is very Pagan in its message.

“The potential blockbuster’s contributions to cinema, let alone to Western civilization, are negligible, yet it has enough positive qualities to constitute a commendable diversion. While no one will mistake the hammer-wielding protagonist for, say, Wagner’s Parsifal or Siegfried, the story’s Christian framework is readily discernable, even to moviegoers with less-than-Wagnerian attention spans. [...] The notion of a self-sacrificing hero who overcomes pride and takes redemptive action for others certainly registers. And because the narrative has many Christian echoes, “Thor” can’t be criticized for propagating a pagan worldview. Besides, the theological implications of the underlying myth are never seriously explored.”

This is echoed by World Magazine, a Christian publication that also has few theological problems with the movie.

Parents worried about the pagan source material can rest easy—this bastardization of ancient mythology is so silly that there’s little concern of anyone taking it any more seriously than Superman’s origin of falling from Krypton. In Marvel’s world, Thor, Odin, Loki, and the rest of the Norse deities are transformed into immortals. The movie explains that the Norsemen worshipped them as gods, but that they are really just supernatural beings from another realm. That’s not to say that anything here reflects a Christian understanding of the universe’s origins, but this is wink-and-nod fantasy with no overtures to anything more significant.”

The New York Times found nothing particularly magical about “Thor,” likening it to part of a Marvel-run Ponzi scheme.

“A howling turkey is at least something to laugh at, and maybe even something to see. But “Thor” is an example of the programmed triumph of commercial calculation over imagination. A postcredits teaser gives viewers who have lingered in the theater a taste of “The Avengers,” which at some future date will braid together the “Iron Man,” “Incredible Hulk” and “Thor” franchises under the eye-patched aegis of Samuel L. Jackson. Or something. This is franchise building of the kind that has long been practiced by comic book publishers to keep their long-running serials fresh and their readership hooked.”

That said, the movie did garner a “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes, so some critics are enjoying it. As are some Pagans, like Laura at The Juggler.

“I thought the most Pagan part of the film actually happened about a quarter of a way through the film. I mean, who among us has not tailgated at a Pagan Festival, drinking beer and trying to pull Mjolnir from the rock where it was lodged? [...] If you are a Pagan Geek like I am, Thor has something for everyone.  It is worth the highly inflated price of admission for the pure entertainment value.”

Have you seen “Thor” yet? What did you think? Was it a religious experience? Two hours of popcorn-y fun? Not worth the price of admission? Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts and impressions. Oh, and if you wanted to know the differences between the comic and mythological versions of Thor, Newsarama has you covered.

Just a few quick news notes for on this Thursday.

Aphrodite’s Middle Finger: Der Spiegel reports that nine employees of the German magazine Focus are being ordered to appear in an Athens court for “accusations of defamation, libel and the denigration of Greek national symbols.” Six Greek citizens are bringing the complaint, partially for the article, which discusses tax fraud and failed construction projects, and partially for the satirical cover image.

“The Focus cover featured a photograph of the famously armless statue Venus de Milo, which depicts the Greek goddess Aphrodite, that had been doctored so that the deity was showing her middle finger to the viewer. The story, titled “Swindlers in the Euro Family,” included a detailed description of what the authors claimed was “2000 years of decline” in Greece, including reports of tax fraud and failed construction projects. The six Greeks who are now suing the journalists maintain that the article included false claims and was also insulting to the Greek people.”

If I didn’t know better, you’d think the charge would be blasphemy and not “denigration of Greek national symbols.” Is having Aphrodite flip the bird denigrating? I would like to think the goddess has a sense of humor about the whole thing. Magazine founder Helmut Markwort says he has a clean conscience, and does not believe he’ll see any jail time for the article or cover photo. Denigrating or not, I’m sure that any number of satirical web images and icons based off this photo are currently being made. So long as electricity and the Internet persevere Aphrodite will be flipping someone the bird, somewhere.

The Gods of Westeros: With Game of Thrones now a successful HBO series (already renewed for a second season after just one episode has aired), and the next volume of A Song of Ice and Fire due out this Summer, Tor.com looks at the religions and gods of this fantasy setting.

“The gods of the children of the forest, the nameless deities of stone and earth and tree, the old gods seem like a sort of animistic religion. The greenseers of the children, shamans of a kind, were said to be able to talk with all beasts and birds, and to see through the eyes of their carved weirwoods. When the First Men arrived, they first warred with the children, and cut down the weirwoods where they found them. In time, though, they made peace with them and adopted their old gods. The North is the only real stronghold for the old gods, however; south of the Neck, the Blackwoods are the only known noble house to still follow them.

There are no priests, no holy texts, no songs of worship, and practically no rites that go with the worship of the old gods. It’s a folk-religion, passed from generation to generation. The closest thing to a ritual we’ve seen is prayer before the heart tree in a godswood, holy groves contained within castles throughout the Seven Kingdoms, and often the only places where living weirwoods still remain until one goes north of the Wall. It’s said that the sigh of the wind and the rustle of leaves are the old gods speaking back to worshippers.”

It should be interesting to see how much emphasis and detail the cable series puts into the polytheistic religious tapestry weaved by author George R. R. Martin. Sadly, I don’t have HBO, so it may be awhile before I get to see for myself.

Once More About Race in Thor: Salon.com looks at the small movement to boycott “Thor” (opening May 6th) for casting a black man (British actor Idris Elba) as the god Heimdall. While some are sympathetic to those who are upset at this “racebending”, like African-American fantasy author Charles Saunders, Bob Calhoun at Salon notes that there’s actually a long history in cinema of including black characters in Viking movies and that the comic-book version of Thor was crafted by a New York Jew.

“Marvel Comics artist Jack Kirby along with writer Stan Lee first put Thor into a comic book in 1962, and had him doing things that were decidedly inauthentic. During Thor’s early four-color adventures, he fought the Stone Men of Saturn, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Mr. Hyde, and even the Greek gods. Four years later, Kirby integrated Marvel’s characters with the creation of the Black Panther, the first black superhero. “There were plenty of white superheroes, so I thought there should be a black hero too,” Kirby told me unpretentiously during one of the times I was fortunate enough to speak with him. After Kirby jumped to DC Comics in the early 1970s, he created that company’s first black superhero as well in the debut issue of “The Forever People” (1971). Ironically, that character’s name was Vykin the Black.”

Which goes to the point I’ve been making about this controversy over and over again.  That this not an adaptation of the Norse Eddas, or even really based on Norse mythology, but an adaptation of a comic book that used Norse gods as a starting point and went completely wild from there. Alien technology, extra-dimensional beings, a horse-faced alien Thor, frog Thor, and the current Marvel company-wide crossover where we learn that Odin hid the existence of a “god of fear” called “the serpent”. Now, you may still want to be offended, or be critical, but that feeling has to be grounded in the literature that the story is based on to make sense.

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

Top Story: The Guardian reports that Bolivia, one of the countries hardest hit by global climate change, is planning to pass a law that would enshrine a list of rights held by nature. Called “The Law of Mother Earth” (la Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra), it seeks to establish “a new relationship between man and nature” according to Vice-President Alvaro García Linera.

Evo Morales receiving the blessing of the Aymara priests.

The country, which has been pilloried by the US and Britain in the UN climate talks for demanding steep carbon emission cuts, will establish 11 new rights for nature. They include: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered. Controversially, it will also enshrine the right of nature “to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities”.

The Guardian notes that the law is partially inspired by an “Andean spiritual world view,” resurgent since the election of Evo Morales, the first fully indigenous president of Bolivia. In addition, Bolivia is pushing to have similar rights enshrined by the United Nations as well, just in time for Earth Day (aka International Mother Earth Day).

The UN debate begins two days before the UN’s recognition April 22 of the second International Mother Earth Day — another Morales-led initiative. Canadian activist Maude Barlow is among global environmentalists backing the drive with a book the group will launch in New York during the UN debate: Nature Has Rights. “It’s going to have huge resonance around the world,” Barlow said of the campaign. “It’s going to start first with these southern countries trying to protect their land and their people from exploitation, but I think it will be grabbed onto by communities in our countries, for example, fighting the tarsands in Alberta.”

The Bolivian initiative already has backing from Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, though it doesn’t seem likely many highly industrialized 1st-world nations will be joining up any time soon. Will climate crisis start to turn more countries towards an ethos of “wild law”? If it does, Bolivia will seem prescient. You can read the entirely of the new law (in Spanish), here (accurate translations welcome from anyone who has free time on their hands).

The Danger of Feminine Pronouns in Prayers: The New York Times reports that the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have accused Catholic theologian and nun Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson of violating church doctrine in her 2007 book “Quest For the Living God,” issuing a 21-page critique (plus introductory remarks) and recommending the book not be taught in Catholic universities due in part to her suggestion of using female imagery for God.

The passages drawing the harshest admonishment, however, concerned Sister Johnson’s proposal that feminine as well as masculine imagery be used in prayers referring to God, a recommendation that has been debated and rejected by the bishops before. Still, the book persisted, “all-male images of God are hierarchical images rooted in the unequal relation between women and men, and they function to maintain this arrangement.” Wrong, the bishops said: If the Gospels use masculine imagery, it is because divine revelation would have it that way. [...] Dr. Tilley, the Fordham theology chairman, described that argument as “approaching the incoherent.”

This fear of non-male pronouns isn’t isolated to the United States Bishops, baptisms using gender-neutral formulas for the Trinity were ruled invalid back in 2008 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the organization formerly known as the Inquisition), and in the “Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church” the current Pope opined that “I am, in fact, convinced that what feminism promotes in its radical form is no longer the Christianity that we know; it is another religion.” In short, calling God “she” or “her” (or even “it” I suppose) is tantamount to neo-paganism. Let’s not forget the PR fiasco that was the investigation of American religious sisters. As the New York Times piece puts it, the Catholic Church wants to put “the study of the male and female aspects of God [...] substantially off-limits.” It seems the risk of a Christian Goddess (other than Mary) emerging is too great to tolerate having students even think about God as a woman.

Marketing the Gods: With the Marvel Comics-inspired “Thor” movie coming out soon, religion e-zine Killing the Buddha features an essay by Eric Scott (a Wiccan and second-generation Pagan) about encountering Mjolnir at Wal-Mart.

“The truth is, I looked at the toys in my hands and I saw the result of millions of dollars of development and thousands of hours of manpower, put into something bearing the name of a god, my god, and it had nothing to do with me. Their Thor was a god forgotten by all except the few quiet geeks who read his adventures in Journey into Mystery andThe Mighty Thor for forty years. It wasn’t that they meant to upset or unsettle me; they simply realized that people like me were too few to matter. It’s impossible to think of a story about Jesus like this, not written to pander to or irritate Christians, but simply not considering them at all.”

I’ve praised Eric’s writing at this blog before, so let me simply say that the whole essay is worth a read. He also has a short story, “Reaching for Da’at”, up now at Caper Literary Journal.

The Danger of Vodou in Haiti: Two recent article look at anti-Vodou violence and hysteria in Haiti, a phenomenon that is responsible for killing over 40 Vodouisants that we know of. First, the Independent in Ireland gives an outsiders narrative, showing the fear that comes when tragedy is blamed on an innocent through accusations of “voodoo”.

“When cholera killed Dieufort Joesph’s neighbour last year, the 25-year-old feared for his young family’s safety. But the threat didn’t come from the disease. It came from the panic that spread through the narrow streets of Gonaives in north-western Haiti. Within days the rumours began — Mr Joesph had used voodoo to kill the girl. The quietly spoken market porter explained that for some of his neighbours, this meant he and his family must themselves be killed.”

Joseph, who hopes to move to new housing soon, acknowledges that the shack he currently lives in will most likely be burned down due to the accusations of malefic magic. Meanwhile, Haiti Libre reports on the first anniversary of the Haitian group “Religions for Peace,” formed in part to help counteract anti-Vodou violence.

Euvonie George Augustin, a great servant to the Confederation of voodoo and representative of the voodoo within “Religions for Peace”, explained that these attitudes “are the result of a lack of civic and religious education”. For her, the intolerance is a major source of violent behavior and calls on all Haitians to unite to change society, adding that “the next government must be able to rely on the participation of all sectors of the national life to be able to transform its campaign promises into reality.”

It seems that many eyes will be on incoming president Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly to help quell religious violence in Haiti, but will Protestant missionaries engaged in a zero-sum game of conversion allow him to turn down the anti-Vodou rhetoric?

When Will the AFA Be Accountable? Right Wing Watch wonders at what point the American Family Association will take responsibility for the increasingly extreme statements from Bryan Fischer, their Director of Issues Analysis, radio host, and blogger.

“So we know that when Fischer says that Native Americans deserved to be wiped out, African Americans rut like rabbits, and Muslims need to convert to Christianity, he absolutely believes it, even if the AFA later changes it. [...] The AFA cannot place a disclaimer on Fischer’s bigoted rantings claiming that his views do not reflect the views of the AFA and, at the same time, keep editing his posts in an effort to distance the organization from his bigotry … especially not when they are also giving him two hours a day to spout that same bigotry on their radio program. The AFA either needs to own up and take responsibility for the relentless steam of bigotry that pours from the organization’s Director of Issue Analysis and most prominent spokesperson or cut ties with him altogether … because, frankly, the only way the AFA can legitimately claim that Fischer’s bigotry does not reflect the views of the AFA is if the organization actually stops giving him the platforms from which to spew that bigotry.”

Fischer, for those who haven’t been keeping track, claims the Establishment Clause only applies to Christians, that Native Americans are mired in alcoholism and poverty because they won’t all become Christians, and believes the environmental movement is a stalking horse for Paganism. I’m not exaggerating when I say that those are some of the milder opinions he seems to hold. I’m curious at what point does conservative Christian rhetoric cross a line to where even supporters turn away? Perhaps Right Wing Watch will finally find the answer.

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

I gave this issue a glancing mention back in May, and thought that would be the end of it. But it seems I’m wrong, the issue of English actor Idris Elba, who happens to be black, playing Heimdall in the upcoming “Thor” movie has hit the newswires again. This time it is the Council of Conservative Citizens, an organization born from the segregationist White Citizens Council, making waves about this “attack [on] conservatives values,” and urging a boycott of the film.

“Norse mythology gets a multi-cultural remake in the upcoming movie titled “Thor,” by Marvel studios. It’s not enough that Marvel attacks conservative values and promotes the left-wing, now mythological Gods must be re-invented with black skin. It seems that Marvel Studios believes that white people should have nothing that is unique to themselves. An upcoming movie, based on the comic book Thor, will give Norse mythology an insulting multi-cultural make-over. One of the Gods will be played by Hip Hop DJ Idris Elba.”

First off “Hip Hop DJ” Idris Elba is actually a critically acclaimed British actor, not that such distinctions matter to groups like the CCC (they also think the Black Panther comic is “extremist”). Further, as I said the last time, this is an adaptation of a comic book, and not an adaptation of the Eddas. Anyone who actually paid attention to said comic book over the years would know that the pantheons of “gods” in the Marvel Universe aren’t racial/cultural manifestations of the divine but extra-dimensional aliens/beings who decided to take these forms.

“Yes, Marvel’s pantheon are ostensibly Norse gods. They have Nordic names, they’re fond of horned helmets and axes, and they love a night in the mead hall. But they are not ethnically Nordic or Scandinavian. Marvel has fudged them into a category of “extra-dimensional aliens” who possess technology so powerful and advanced that humans classify it as magic. One could get into a headache of an argument wondering why they favor the look of the early medieval, but hey, whatever rocks their world. They’re gods / extra -dimensional aliens. We may not even be perceiving them accurately, but in whatever way our feeble human brains can comprehend their awesomeness.”

Here’s Marvel Comic’s official take on these “gods”.

“Inhabiting the Nine Worlds in the other-dimensional Asgardian system are six races of humanoid life forms. Each race is different and intelligent, but the most powerful race is that of the Gods. The Gods are the most human looking and believed to have inhabited Earth at one time only to move to Asgard sometime later. Norsemen and Germanic tribes used to worship the Asgardians nearly a millennium ago and that is why some of the names differ slightly like Wotan instead of Odin. Even though certain Gods are still interested in humanity such as Thor, the Asgardians do not have any more active worshippers or seek to have any.”

Now, unless your personal pantheon also includes Ego the Living Planet and Galactus (portrayed as far stronger than any of the gods), these are not the gods of the Norse that were, and are, worshiped in the real not-comics world (in addition, the notion/assertion that gods couldn’t change the color of their skin if they wanted to seems like an insult to their power). Anyone going to the Thor movie, or reading the comic, hoping for a religio-cultural thrill, will ultimately be disappointed. These are Marvel’s toys to play with, not divine beings (unless your Norse gods talk to you in a faux-Shakespearean patois and team up with enhanced human beings to defeat evil).

This controversy over what will most likely be an extended cameo by a black actor in an overwhelmingly white cast is entirely manufactured to draw attention to the CCC. They seem to miss being called racists so much that they are baiting comic book fans into doing it. Sadly, though I searched and searched, I couldn’t find their boycott pages for when Christopher Lambert played Raiden, or Keanu Reeves the Buddha. It seems their quest for purity only goes in one direction.

Top Story: The issue of sectarian prayers before government meetings may be heading to the courts again, this time in Lancaster, California. After the ACLU of Southern California demanded that the Lancaster City Council stop having sectarian prayers before meetings, a local ballot initiative was overwhelmingly passed in support of the prayers.

More than 75 percent of voters in the Antelope Valley city gave their OK Tuesday to Measure I, which sought public approval for officials to select clergy of different faiths to open meetings with invocations “without restricting the content based on their beliefs, including references to Jesus Christ.”

But something being popular doesn’t make it constitutional, and even though the invocation process is supposed to be random, a legal fig-leaf to ward off lawsuits, the overwhelmingly Christian population of Lancaster has meant that most of the prayers have been to Jesus Christ. On top of this, recently re-elected Lancaster mayor Mayor R. Rex Parris made it abundandtly clear what sort of community he feels he is leading.

“We’re growing a Christian community, and don’t let anybody shy away from that,”

Those comments came in the wake of Lancaster City Councilwoman Sherry Marquez saying that beheadings were “what the Muslim religion is all about”. So to say that things are tense in Lancaster, religiously speaking, would be fair. In an opinion piece published today by the Los Angeles Times editorial board, they discusses the inevitability of a lawsuit, the current tangle of legal precedent regarding religion in the public sphere, and why the Lancaster invocation program is unconstitutional despite its randomness.

“People of varying religious beliefs should be able to attend council meetings, or any other legislative sessions, without feeling marginalized … given the dominance of Christian congregations in almost all corners of the country, a rotating guest list is going to result more often than not in Christian prayer … Though a nondenominational prayer might satisfy the vast majority of Americans, aren’t atheists, agnostics, members of polytheistic religions and, for example, Buddhists — whose faith does not include a belief in a supernatural-related God — entitled to feel equally comfortable at these sessions? … there is no getting around the fact that what the courts call nonsectarian prayer is actually polysectarian monotheistic prayer. To someone who isn’t from one of those faiths — primarily Christianity, Judaism and Islam — this sure looks like establishment of a particular religious belief.”

I applaud the LA Times for actually acknowledging the existence of polytheists when pondering sectarian invocations and various permutations of ceremonial deism. You can bet that I’ll be keeping track of this (inevitable) case as it works its way through the courts. As for the Lancaster City Council, they are supposedly going to begin a series of discussions to promote “greater intercultural understanding”, but I’m not going to hold my breath for any major changes in the attitudes of local politicians.

Millennials and Post-Christianity: USA Today reports on a rather explosive survey conducted by LifeWay Christian Resources that suggests most young adults, even Christian-identified young adults, aren’t really interested in Christianity or its religious institutions.

Most young adults today don’t pray, don’t worship and don’t read the Bible, a major survey by a Christian research firm shows. If the trends continue, “the Millennial generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships,” says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. In the group’s survey of 1,200 18- to 29-year-olds, 72% say they’re “really more spiritual than religious.

Only around 15% are “deeply committed” to Christianity, around 8% belong to “non-Christian” faiths, and most young Christians just aren’t interested in proselytizing. This data, if it holds true, could mean that post-Christian future I keep talking about may be here a lot sooner than we imagined, making the legal maneuvers by conservative Christians to enshrine Christianity in the public square nothing more than a desperate rearguard action.

That Bones Episode About Witches: Remember how I mentioned that forensics/cop dramedy Bones would be airing a special Kathy Reichs-penned episode, “The Witch in the Wardrobe”, that will air on May 6th? Well, here’s the teaser video.

Leaving aside for the moment Booth’s crack about people you don’t want to see naked, and the various stereotypes that will surely be dragged out, I am cautiously optimistic about this episode since Reichs has sympathetically tackled Wicca before in her novels. So I’ll be tuning in, and will let you know what I thought of it.

Livingston Parish Still Doesn’t Like Pagans: Remember Livingston Parish in Louisiana? You know, the place that passed an obviously religiously-motivated ban on fortune-telling, were taken to court by a local Wiccan, defended the law against the advice of their lawyer, and then lost? Well it looks like Perry Rushing, chief of operations for the Sheriff’s Office, is on the same page as the Parish Council.

“A scheduled pagan festival is under the scrutiny of the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office. “Obviously, we don’t like this type of activity, but if they are following all of the laws to the letter of the law, then we can’t do anything about it,” Perry Rushing, chief of operations for the Sheriff’s Office, said Thursday. “We vehemently oppose this type of activity in Livingston Parish.” The pagan festival is scheduled to be held the last four days in May at Gryphon’s Nest Campground Inc. at 19306 Bull Run Road in southeastern Livingston Parish.”

Here’s a tip to the Sheriff’s Office, you better make sure that festival isn’t harassed, either by you, or by trouble-makers who think your comments mean you won’t be on the job. You see, you’re now on the record as being “vehemently opposed” to the event, opening up your performance to outside scrutiny. I’d keep in mind what idealogical rigidity did for the Parish Council and act accordingly.

What’s Wrong With a Black Heimdall? Some folks are up in arms over the decision to cast a black actor, Idris Elba, in the role of Heimdall in the Thor movie. You see, Nordic gods are supposed to be all white (except Hel, of course, who’s literally half-black)!

At the beginning of the month he told a media conference that he saw his casting as an encouraging step. His view was not shared among the more vehement of fans. ”This PC crap has gone too far!” wailed one. ”Norse deities are not of an African ethnicity! … It’s the principle of the matter. It’s about respecting the integrity of the source material, both comics and Norse mythologies.” Fellow fans were quick to nod their horn-helmeted heads. ”At the risk of sounding like a bigot, I think this is nuts!” said another …  Elba, who shot to fame as the erudite and thoughtful gangster Stringer Bell in the critically acclaimed television series The Wire, has addressed such concerns in recent interviews. ”There has been a big debate about it: can a black man play a Nordic character?” he told the British magazine TV Times. ”Hang about, Thor’s mythical, right? Thor has a hammer that flies to him when he clicks his fingers. That’s OK, but the colour of my skin is wrong?”

It should be pointed out that this is an adaptation of a comic book, and not, say, an adaptation of the Eddas. Not to get all nerdy here, but to echo someone else’s point, the Marvel comics gods are extra-dimensional alien beings, they aren’t “Nordic” in any cultural sense. Further, the comic books have strayed from the “lore” so many times that anyone trying to make an argument about fidelity to a cultural pantheon in the real world is seriously barking up the wrong tree. Besides, I always thought the gods could appear in any form they wished, even “white” Nordic gods.

Thorn’s Podcast Pledge Drive: In a quick final note, author and ritualist T. Thorn Coyle is holding a pledge drive in support of her excellent podcast Elemental Castings (full disclosure, I’ve been interviewed for it), which she has professionally produced at a recording studio.

“The quality that so many of you have remarked upon comes partially because the podcasts are recorded by professionals in a studio, rather than on my computer at home. This costs money. Inspired by the Wild Hunt’s Winter Pledge Drive, my hope is that if you enjoy the podcasts, you will make a Beltane pledge to donate $1-2 per episode so that we can keep providing these amazing conversations to the magickal community for purposes of education and enjoyment.”

All the details you need to donate can be found, here.

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