(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.

It seems like a given nowadays that if some dead animals turn up, practitioners of Santeria or Vodou will get blamed by a police officer, animal shelter spokesman, or speculative/lazy/bored journalist, even though most of these cases bear little resemblance to the actual religious practices of African diasporic faiths (and it usually ends up being teenagers). Journalistic coverage of these animal killings, and the assumed religious angle, has gotten so bad that press watch-dog blog Get Religion has started asking for some needed clarification.

“Say what? Let’s read that quote again, the one in which it is claimed that the number of ritual animal sacrifices spike at this time of year because of “a lot of high holidays that different groups celebrate.”what in the world are these words supposed to mean? Are we to believe that there is a wave of beheaded animal corpses because of (a) the arrival of Advent/Nativity Lent, (b) approaching observances of Hanukkah, (c) Kwanzaa festivities, (d) some alleged connection to Solstice? Is the goal to link this to voodoo or something? But before you go there, please note that the story says absolutely nothing that would point toward Santeria and, even if it did, there is no discussion of whether these sacrifices in any way fit patterns of worship in that tradition. You see, it’s wrong for journalists to say, “Behold, beheaded animals. Those Santeria people are at it again.” That’s too simplistic. So let me ask the obvious question and ask readers to weigh in: Precisely what “high holidays” are we supposed to assume are being discussed here? I honestly do not have a clue. What does this strange sentence mean? Just asking.”

The quote referenced above, from an AP story, and left unexamined, is from another representative of an animal cruelty center, making me wonder what kind of workshops on ritual killings (or horror movies) these people are attending. I’m very glad to see the issue of the horrible reporting concerning mysterious animal deaths and their alleged connection to Santeria or Vodou is being picked up on by more religion-news watchers. Maybe now we can finally inch away from pure sensationalism whenever a dead animal turns up.

Over at the Times, Cambridge classics professor Mary Beard visits a famous Clootie well near he village of Munlochy and wonders if the practice of tying rags to branches for healing really is an ancient pagan custom.

“The notice nearby, put up by the Scottish Forestry Commission (for like most shrines it’s a tourist attraction too), claims that this tradition goes back to pre-Christian times, and is a reflection of the power of water in pagan Celtic religion. It is, in other words, an amazing survival across the millennia. I found myself thnking that this was really rather hard to believe. If most other customs are invented in the nineteenth century, then why nt this pagan one too. How far back does it really go, in this form. Does anyone have any real hard evidence?”

I’ll leave it to my Celtic reconstructionist readers to look into the matter and let me (and Mary) know. While we’re on the subject of Ms. Beard’s skeptical nature, she also takes aim at the theory that ancient Greek temples were deliberately built to face the rising Sun. I’ll leave it to my Hellenic Pagan readers to weigh in on that one (I’m quite the delegator today).

Author and techgnostic Erik Davis has posted an essay adapted from the introduction to the new photography collection “Tribal Revival” that deals with the West coast neotribal festival culture.

“Every summer, tens of thousands of participants descend upon dozens of festivals and gatherings, great and small, that occur on the West Coast of North America: Shambhala, Oracle, Moontribe, Lightning in a Bottle. The names of these clans and crews are legion: hippies, ravers, pagans, crusties, free spirits, burners, seekers, travelers, eco-warriors. They gather together to dance, to escape, to hold ritual, and to craft a visionary culture based on community, creative self-expression, and a celebratory earth wisdom. Labels are always dangerous, but an honest name for the scene is neotribal. These are the new tribes, recreating and reinventing patterns of organic culture that are inspired by the premodern past but designed for a high-tech planet hurtling through a period of unprecedented global change.”

Something of a neotribal himself, Davis waxes Utopian about the the “festival [as] foundation of world renewal”, and the “earthy communion” these interweaving groups partake in. Whether this subcultural phenomenon will truly equip us for an uncertain future remains to be seen, but I’m certainly open to there being more festival, “feral joy”, and liminality in our lives.

Turning briefly to pop-culture, the io9 blog has a clip from the upcoming Percy Jackson movie “The Lightning Thief” featuring Uma Thurman as Medusa. I’ve written about the pagan-ness of Percy Jackson previously, which follows the adventures of young Greek demigods. “The Lightning Thief” is due out in February. Meanwhile, the highly literate/geeky indie rock band The Decemberists is putting out a full-length animated film of their recent myth-drenched pagan-y concept album “The Hazards of Love”.

“…next month, Colin Meloy and co. will push The Hazards of Love to full-on The Wall status, releasing the album as a full-length video. Here Come the Waves: The Hazards of Love Visualized premiered at a show in Los Angeles on October 19, and on December 1, it’ll be available exclusively via iTunes. Filmmakers Guilherme Marcondes, Julia Pott, Peter Sluszka and Santa Maria created animations to accompany individual sections of music from the album.”

That trailer looks pretty cool/trippy. If you want to acquaint yourself with the music before considering the movie, you can download it at Amazon.com (they also have it in vinyl for those that want to kick-it old-school).

In a final note, no matter how much I deplore the idea of sparkly vampires, if Vatican spokesmen and evangelical anti-occult book-peddlers don’t knock it off soon, I’ll have to see the darn things just to spite them.

“Monsignor Franco Perazzolo, of the Pontifical Council of Culture, said: ‘Men and women are transformed with horrible masks and it is once again that age-old trick or ideal formula of using extremes to make an impact at the box office. This film is nothing more than a moral vacuum with a deviant message and as such should be of concern.’ ”

Man, if sparkly celibate-till-marriage Mormon vampires are a “moral vacuum” I’d hate to hear what he thinks of “True Blood”.

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