(Pagan) News of Note

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

We start off in Central Asia where the government of Tajikistan has banned “witchcraft” and all forms of divination at the behest of President Emomali Rakhmon. A move done supposedly for the benefit of the poor in the former Soviet-controlled country.

“The law’s sponsors said that their purpose was threefold: to eliminate a drain on the poverty-stricken population’s finances, to crack down on “un-Islamic” activity and to reduce the number of people practicing medicine without a license — since the fortunetellers often also prescribe folk remedies.”

The problem is that fortune-telling is a popular profession among the very poor they hope to protect, and Tajikistan, while being Islamic, is drenched in mysticism.

“Belief in spells, soothsaying and the paranormal is widespread throughout the former Soviet sphere, where suppression of religion under Communism led to a search for other forms of spirituality … A mystic, almost pagan, tradition also runs deep here, though the country is primarily Sunni Muslim. Mullahs in the high Pamir Mountains, which dominate the country, are believed to have extra powers to discern the future, and they are often sought out for their powers of prophecy. A good fortuneteller is considered a prize, and word circulates quickly if one is perceived to be particularly gifted.”

Will this be an unenforceable law? Or will government forces try to actively suppress “un-Islamic” activity by arresting women trying to scratch out a living in the economically depressed country. We’ll have to wait and see.

Author Erik Davis profiles the Heathen Metal of the Bindrune Recordings label.

“I’ve sifted through a fair amount of gothic ambient music, forest metal, and dark folk looking for this sort of sepulchral traditionalism, this sense of ancient mysteries seeping up like clammy moisture through the moss underfoot, and most of it is as corny as clove cigarettes and black nail polish. In contrast, Celestiial’s haunting and glacial Desolate North album made me feel like I was alone and paddling into a dark fjord toward some ancient whale cemetery that was way spookier than the one I vaguely remember from that Disney movie I saw as a kid. I finish listening to this record feeling cold and clean.”

For those wanting an audio sample of the bands Davis discusses, head over to Bindrune’s MySpace page.

A variety of (mostly conservative) Christians are teaming up and using journalism to criticize the theology of Oprah Winfrey.

“Oprah Winfrey has become a catalyst for a new journalistic project and increasing news coverage by conservative Christians questioning and criticizing her spiritual beliefs.”

While this in of itself isn’t surprising, I did find the comments of religion writer Marcia Nelson, who authored a book on Oprah’s beliefs, interesting. Nelson contends that Oprah isn’t “New Age”, but a “New Thought” Christian.

“Nelson, who studied a year of Winfrey’s shows, differs with those who call Winfrey’s spiritual ideas “New Age.” She says Winfrey would be more related to the “New Thought” movement, which is more mainstream, focusing on positive thinking as a spiritual tool rather than crystals, for example. “I absolutely regard her as a Christian but … she’s one of those capacious Christians,” Nelson said.”

New Thought is indeed a separate strain of belief(s) from New Age, though the differences can seem somewhat arbitrary and esoteric to the outsider looking in, and the two subcultures overlap in many places, making distinctions somewhat hard to make.

Drexel University’s online publication The Smart Set features what I suppose one could call “travel writing” by Steven Wells (the punk poet formerly known as “Susan Williams”). In “Let the Sunshine In”, Wells writes about a visit to Glastonbury Tor, and substitutes mean-spirited mocking cynicism for cleverness.

“All over the Anglophone world, witches and druids will be conducting (or already have conducted) similar ceremonies, despite the fact the last real druids were exterminated by the Romans in A.D. 60. And that far from being an authentic ancient tradition, Western witchcraft (or Wicca) was invented from scratch by an outrageous liar in England in 1946. And the rest of this New Age menagerie has equally sketchy and recent roots — most of them right here, in the probably non-existent King Arthur’s sacred Glastonbury, where Jesus’ uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, almost certainly didn’t hide the Holy Grail (but there are plenty who reckon he did). Mohammed and Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard have nothing on the New Age ningnangnongers. Not that I think that matters. I’m guessing the original druids and witches kinda made it up as they went along as well.”

For Pagans, this isn’t anything you haven’t heard before. Though if your looking for a low-rent H.L. Mencken to amuse you for a few minutes, I suppose Wells might be your man.

In a final note, I have a couple of pieces of book-related news. First, two Llewellyn titles have won awards from a trade organization I’ve never heard of until today.

“Two Llewellyn titles, The Temple of High Witchcraft by Christopher Penczak and Natural Witchery by Ellen Dugan, have been awarded prestigious awards from the Coalition of Visionary Resources (COVR), with several other Llewellyn titles being noted as award finalists … COVR is an organization formed by a unique group of businesses that deal in “Visionary Resources,” and who work with and support each other as independent retailers, manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, and publishers of visionary books, music, and merchandise.”

Congratulations to Llewellyn, if you say the COVR awards are prestigious, I’ll take your word on it. Secondly, calling all horned-god fanatics, Avalonia Books announces the forthcoming release of “Horns of Power, Manifestations of the Horned God”.

“This anthology is the first of its kind to be focussed on the horned gods of our ancestors and includes both scholarly essays, bardic retellings of stories such as that of Herne the Hunter and a number of experiential essays. Invocations and meditation journeys are also included.”

Sounds interesting! But then we here at The Wild Hunt are a little biased. For a similar Pagan anthology of note, be sure to also check out “Written in Wine”, an anthology of writings concerning Dionysos.

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