Paganism is not a “religion of the book,” but it is a religion of many books. Here’s a look at some recent releases of interest to Pagans, Polytheists and Heathens: a Scandinavian’s travels in esoteric India, a young adult novel inspired by Yoruba religion, an examination of Odin’s influence in modern times, and a tree herbal. Journeys in the Kali Yuga: a Pilgrimage from Esoteric India to Pagan Europe
Aki Cederberg, Destiny Books, December 2017, 172 p.
In the introduction to this spiritual travelogue, Finland native Aki Cederberg writes that “as far back as I can remember, I have been drawn to and felt a strong resonance with certain sights, symbols, and signs, not exactly knowing why. Some of these have been found in the waking world, while others have revealed themselves in visions and dreams . .
If, as is proclaimed in the Charge of the Goddess, “all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals,” then the pleasure of poetry is among those rituals, too. April is National Poetry Month in the United States. Here’s a look at the works of three female poets: a Wiccan priestess, a pioneer in the modern women’s/goddess spirituality movement, and a priestess in the Welsh Bardic Tradition. The Charge of the Goddess: the Poetry of Doreen Valiente
Doreen Valiente Foundation in association with the Centre for Pagan Studies, expanded edition 2014, 142 p.
Ironically, the Charge of the Goddess included is this collection by the acclaimed “mother of modern witchcraft” is not her rhyming, poetic rendition but rather her far more famous prose version. The late John Belham-Payne, a friend and “working magical partner” of Valiente’s, shepherded her poetry into publication following her death in 1999, thus fulfilling a deathbed request by the Wiccan priestess who had been initiated into Gerald Gardner’s coven by the man himself in 1953.
TWH — During a 2002 concert in Daytona Beach, Fla., by Tool, that esoteric prog-metal band, I found myself shapeshifted. “I would totally trance-journey to the underworld if this was played at a Samhain ritual!” I thought. Similarly, while listening to a CD by Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, I realized: “Wow, this music would blow up my crown chakra at a Beltane celebration!”
Such has been my reaction to hearing live and recorded music many times during the two and a half decades that my Pagan path has coincided with my career as an arts, entertainment and music writer at daily newspapers. Non-Pagan music (however one may define that nebulous term) can unexpectedly transport one into Pagan space-time. With that in mind, here’s a look at five music albums for Pagans by non-Pagans.
TWH — “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” the mischievous sprite Puck says to Oberon the faerie king in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare was no fool when it came to incorporating the magical and astrological worldviews of his time into his immortal works. That’s the premise of the fascinating, exhaustive (but not exhausting) book Shakespeare and the Stars: the Hidden Astrological Keys to Understanding the World’s Greatest Playwright (Ibis Press, 547 p.) by professional astrologer and English literature teacher Priscilla Costello. Costello weaves not just astrology but extensively-researched aspects of the Elizabethan worldview, Renaissance magic, ancient history, mythology, modern psychology, and more into her examination of Shakespeare’s works. While she discusses the bard’s plays as a whole, Costello delves deep into six specific works, including three of his most “magical” plays: The Tempest (with its story of the exiled nobleman Prospero, who takes up the magical arts and frees the air spirit Ariel), Macbeth (with its “double, double, toil and trouble” witches who prophesy Macbeth’s doom), and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (with its tale of a love quadrangle fostered by a quarrel between Oberon and his faerie queen Titania, and heightened by the errant spell-casting antics of Puck).
TWH — On the song “Descent to the Realm of the Dead” by the duo Nemuer, singer-guitarist Michael Zann chants and growls, “Ušellâ mītūti ikkalū balṭūti,” but only a handful of scholars in the entire world will know, without looking at the liner notes of the band’s new album Gardens of Babylon, that Zann is singing, “I will raise up the dead so that they devour the living.”
That’s because the Czech-born Zann isn’t singing in his native tongue, some other Slavic language or Klingon. Rather, he’s singing in Akkadian, the extinct language that was all the rage in Mesopotamia from 3000 B.C.E. to 1000 B.C.E.
Evocations of flesh-eating, netherworld denizens aside, Nemuer (pronounced Ne-moo-er) isn’t some black metal band. Instead, Zann and his mate Katarina Pomorska call themselves “an atmospheric dark folk duo.” Their bio proclaims that “in order to keep the atmosphere utterly immersive, they use solely authentic dead languages or lyric-less primordial chanting.”
Zann’s co-writer for “Descent to the Realm of the Dead” was some anonymous, ancient Babylonian scribe who carved the tale of the goddess Ishtar and her descent to the netherworld onto a clay tablet some three millennia ago. That song and the rest of Gardens of Babylon are certainly atmospheric and dark, but it’s the darkness of shadows and sorrow, of dread and the Dark Side of the Moon rather than something overtly sinister or evil – even if the band did use the term “Lovecraftian atmosphere” to describe some of their earlier work. Cross-breed the sound textures of that Pink Floyd classic with the mythopoeic world music ensemble Dead Can Dance, then mix in the story of how Ishtar, the ancient Mesopotamian goddess of love, sex, fertility and war, ventured into the netherworld, and you have an idea of Gardens of Babylon.