Friday, February 28, 2014

Don't Worry...

My hair's at an in-between stage right now, about shoulder length.  This is an old picture from several years ago.  When my hair is this long, it tends to get stuck on shoulder bag straps.  Also, I need to take better care of the ends, which have a tendency to dry out.
I'm growing it out, at least for a few more months.  Although, hmm, when it gets long, it tends to pull back and give me tension headaches.
It's always instructive to see what it looks like when it's really short.  It's fun when it's this short, because it's really easy to care for.

An older post here:

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Wordos Sabbatical

It's official: I'm taking a three month break from The Wordos.  This should give me some more time to actually write.  I started a journal of when I write a few weeks ago, and it was embarrassing.  I critique manuscripts (and blog, and design, and sleep wrong, and...) way more than I write--which, alas, isn't that hard to do.

The main goal I have right now is that I have to have a manuscript ready to submit to Sword and Sorceress.  I've got something outlined, and already my inner-critic has appeared to say "This is an idiot plot, if the MacGuffin is so important, why aren't there more people guarding it?"  Um, hooray?

My other goal is to maintain more manuscripts in the mail, which means I have to tweak a stack of critiqued manuscripts to get them ready for submission.

Grandma's Travel Bracelet Scarab

Here's a picture of a scarab that is a charm on my Grandmother's travel bracelet.  I'm pretty sure she got it when she went to Egypt in the mid 1960's (during a family tour).  Back then, when you went on trip, you found a local charm bracelet store and got something local to remember your visit by.

Travel charm bracelets were out of fashion by the time the 70's rolled around, so I never actually saw her wear hers.  I wish I had, and I wish if I had I would have been aware enough to ask her about each charm.  Now, whenever a photo (or the actual bracelet) comes out, we sort of do a rosary around the charms, which feels more like a table of contents than an actual story:  "This is the scarab she got in Egypt. This is the Hagia Sophia when we were in Turkey.  This is a Neapolitan Horseman..."

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In Praise of Tea

 I went through some old photos of tea and scones.
 I love the ritual of tea, and it occurs to me that I should try formalizing when I make tea and little snacks for when I write or have family tea.
 I should try growing my own cucumbers this year.  That way I could have extra healthy "cucumber sandwiches" (the home-grown cucumbers would cancel out the cream cheese, right?).
 I love tea things. The only tea thing I'm missing is a tea cosy; which is too bad, because it means I have to zap cold tea in the microwave more often than I'd like.
 Sometimes when I have the house to myself, I'll make a big pot of Ceylon tea, put on a purple smoking jacket or kimono or other caftan-like garment and write.
And now I want an Art Deco frieze of "The God of Tea," with some burly, flowing haired, Zeus-like deity pouring a mighty steam of tea . . .

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Wrestling With Ancient Queer Paganisms

Between Hutton and some Queer Pagan Theory from 2011 I've just recently read, I've been revisiting gay male NeoPaganism.

From Hutton's "Pagan Britain" I've gotten the idea that history and archaeology aren't the steady guides to a pre-modern Paganism I thought they were (that they were steady guides, yes; that they were guides for NeoPaganism, not so much).  Hutton seems to be taking the Many Worlds theory of the multiverse to turn history from a linear narrative and into a superposition of narratives only particularly constrained by the archaeological record (so much for steady guides).

A multiverse history enriches possibilities to model present spiritual practices based on past ones, but sacrifices specific, definitive models.  I suppose that's a good thing if history is to become a tool to navigate present choice because it increases the number of cautionary tales.  But so many choices makes choosing the future less about choosing a route on a map and more like an interpretive dance.

According to Hutton, ancient British Pagans, as evidenced by their paleolithic cave art, may have had more fluid boundaries between animals, deities and humans; between spirits, the living and the dead; and between male and female.  Applying this and other parts of the book to gay male NeoPaganism, "Pagan Britain" is both supportive and disproving of any founding stories of gay male NeoPaganism (it would be a better resource for this inquiry if it covered the Qedeshim, but they aren't British).  Gay male NeoPaganism sometimes casts The Greenman and Hern as same-sex lovers.  The Greenman is a modern development of the theories of Lady Raglan, and Hern is a literary figure back-projected onto ancient Paganisms; so the construction of them as same-sex lovers is a modern one, not an ancient founding one.  Not that I've been able to connect with any founding stories that I felt applied to my current, modern life--which leads to the Queer Theory.

The quick-and-dirty gist of what I've read so far goes something like this.  The heteronormative way of looking at things is binary, specifically gender-binary.  Early formulations of gay (male) liberation simply added another binary to the mix: straight or gay.  Male ways, gay ways, or other essentialist ways of knowing expand the heteronormative paradigm without changing it much (not changing the status-quo was a criticism of the men's mythopoetic movement).  A gender-queer world view rejects gender-binary systems; being gender queer is more about the process and practice of interacting with other folks within an analog continuum--which sounds a little like modern cave art paintings of gender and orientation.

Hmm. I'm certain that I find body and facial hair, firm torso and arm muscles, and male genitalia sexually attractive... in addition to certain scents that I'm fairly certain only males produce (pause to wonder if sexy scents are sexy inherently, or if sexy scents are sexy because sexy men are producing them... also, have I ever smelled sexy scents from a woman's body?)  I think this makes me a gay male essentialist trying to be gender queer.  

More importantly is queer theory's effect on ways of knowing.  No gender or orientation binary, no specifically gendered or oriented way of knowing.  Which might work well with the ancient cave paintings, but I am not cave art.  On one hand, if queer is a process of social interaction and not a destination or an essential identity, and if queer is a field of both/and responses instead of an either/or limit, then general, pan-cultural ways of knowing become  specific, personal ways of experiencing/experiences.  Which is freeing on one hand--no more obsessing on reconstructing gay male relationships from ancient feudal societies in order to rebuild a lost gay heritage--and feels completely unstructured on the other (quick, time to ground myself in history and re-read all those medieval and renaissance records of "The Night Police" and other criminal records of men having sex with men).

So that's the theory. Now onto the praxis.

When I think about gay male NeoPaganism, I remember that dream I had where I was a priest filling a giant rhyton which curled over my shoulders from a river so I could bring the waters back.  Or that frenzy-raising dream with Odin.  Or (cue Peter Gabriel's Mercy Street) that dream kissing Jesus.  When I remember that one gay male gathering back in 1997 where we all sat around a river bank in various states of undress sharing health tips, that feels like a gay NeoPaganism.  When I fantasize about sacred gay sex... well... I can already hear the sarcastic comments; the complaint that we don't have the space to build a giant bonfire, platform, and hot-tub; and the criticism that wanting great sex to be sacred too is greedy (and then I can hear James Broadbent talking about a visual orgy featuring tantric can-can).

When I try to think about some gay working of Hern and the Greenman as lovers, it seems like sexual attraction isn't the point, it's a metaphor for a station in the relationship between flora and fauna--and then I wonder, if gay sex is sacred, why not gay dying, or gay eating, or gay dancing ...and then I think about the "Gay Things To Do Today"/Gay Agenda joke, Heart Circles, anti-tech attitudes, Winkte-wannabes, prosperity checks, and Potlucks and I just want to run away screaming--because they aren't refreshing, they're draining.

So much for praxis....  I feel like I should just channel my inner 1960's Judith Viorst and write a poem titled "It's Hard to be Gay and be Pagan." Or just throw in the towel and write that Starhawk-esque "Spell to be Friends with Your Prostrate."   Or just mash together 1990's songs:  "As I slowly fall asleep / for a moment dreams are sacred" // "that's all I wanted, was something special, something sacred -- in your eyes...."

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Trials of Steampunk

I got to the end of a Published Steampunk Novel.  Although I liked the characterizations and the dialog and some of the visuals, some of the wiggling with history and the fudging with how dirigibles work bothered me.  OK, and there were a couple of times near the end when the characters grabbed the idiot ball in service to the plot.

The development of dirigibles was about 50 years ahead of its time (the story was about 1860) and they felt more like Flash Gordon airships (e.g. using steam thrusters and "airbrakes" to slow the fall of a crashing dirigible) than a (1905) helium hydrogen filled craft.  Oh, and (sigh) zombies.  

Zombies almost always make me wonder what about shambling cannibals is attractive to the zeitgeist.  Then they make me think about Sherry Turkle's "The Second Self" wherein a child classifies spiders as being not alive "because you can kill them."  I guess they fulfill the need for a "kill-able other" in battle narratives.

At the end of the novel, the author said, "Hey, so I tweaked the historical bits; don't send me e-mail telling me how I goofed up my history--it's Steampunk, I can make up whatever I want."  I didn't buy it, mostly because although I could accept the historical tweaks, the dirigible changes felt more like sloppy research.  

And then I felt like some nerdy physics curmudgeon.  I mean, yeah, Steampunk isn't rocket science; but if you want to write Steampunk, shouldn't one pay lip service to Jules Verne and at least try to get the science right?

Afterward, I thought about how I cut way more slack for "Girl Genius."  I think the comic-book format of "Girl Genius" defuses any objections that reality is being violated.  The Foglios also call "Girl Genius" a Gaslamp Fantasy rather than Steampunk--which goes to show you the power of genre.  In other words, the Steampunk Novel fell into a history and physics uncanny valley.  

Oh well, at least the latest Steampunk Novel didn't have its strong female dirigible pilot turn into a ditzy romance heroine half-way into the book.  

Friday, February 21, 2014

Squares and Triangles

These could make interesting screens for paper lamps.

I made them about a year ago.  I like how they came out, but I think the interior squares and triangles could use some beefing up, or else the framing ones need to be reduced so there less of a contrast between the two type of polygon.

When the proportions are closer, the shapes look less like squares and triangles and more like interlocking cylinders.  When the cylinders are more apparent, then it's easier to see radiating stars in the composition.

I can't remember if I drew these in Inkscape and imported them to Blender, or if I built them entirely in Blender.  What's great about Blender is the ability to easily change the lighting.  The top rendering reminds me of August wheat, while the bottom render feels more like a  December snowfall.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Moon's Node and Portable Stonehenge

Thursday (today) the moon crosses its north ascending node.  The node, one of two, is where the moon's orbit intersects the earth's orbit (or the sun's ecliptic).  If the moon were full, we'd have a lunar eclipse; if the moon were new, there'd be a solar eclipse.   I'd read that this would happen on EarthSky, and when I went to check my Portable Stonehenge, I saw that I'd managed to keep it more or less in sync with what was actually going on in the sky.

In this photo of Portable Stonehenge, I lined up a window frame's shadow so that it fell across the two pegs on the inner circle representing the moon's nodes.  The peg closest to the camera is the Moon peg, and it's showing Wednesday's position.  At about the two o'clock position is the Sun peg.  The peg in the center is a day marking peg that I use to keep track of when to move the Sun peg (twice every thirteen days).

Sometimes I think it would be fun to have a large version of this in our back yard or in a public plaza, but then I imagine that the markers for the day, moon and sun would get knocked over or be in the way.  Maybe some day I'll get enough hooks that I could do a square version of this for a room and hang them along the upper corners of the walls.

Queer Pagan Theory Links

This is a note to myself to read the following.

Seems to say queer paganism should be a process, not a destination, and uses words like "praxis."  I found the other links by web-walking through the site.

OMG!  The quote from Z Budapest is... just... wow.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lamps and Renders

Mark got me some remote controlled LEDs for valentine's day.  They have six LEDs on them, so they have multiple light points.  I think six points would show a single point cut out of a housing fairly well, but when I tried it with a star mesh similar to the rendered housing pictured to the left, the resulting shadows were kind of blurred together.

I tried putting one of the LED arrays into a mason jar and filling it with red tissue paper.  The result is nice, and Very Country Cute.

We had a paper lamp made for Chinese New Year, and it was a perfect example of form and function when I hung it over the LED array.

I think I'll try something Frank Lloyd Wright--a square lamp housing with a peaked roof and a simple line shape over an opaque white paper shade.  

Or maybe I can fire up the electric griddle and melt crayons into a pattern on wax paper and wrap the paper into a cylinder.

More as I try stuff....

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Random Photo: Mt Hood Lodge Goat's Head

Today's photo is from a while back.  We were visiting the lodge at Mt Hood.  One of these days I need to visit by myself, over night, and take my camera and tripod.  Various railings, door hardware, and beams are decorated with carvings of goats, dogs, bears, eagles and a host of other animals.  But they are usually in dimly lit areas, so it's difficult to get a good photograph.

This goat's head was on display in the museum part of the lodge, along with a display of door hardware and the tools the WPA folks used to construct the lodge.

Monday, February 17, 2014

(Fake) Celestial Temple of Anubis

I love this photo because the Anubis statues look much larger than they are, and the sepia tone makes the photo appear much older than it really is.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Conclusions from Hutton's "Pagan Britian"

I finished Hutton's Pagan Britain last night.  I'm still processing it.  As a NeoPagan, I started Pagan Britain with the expectation that myths about its historical pedigrees would be debunked.  This happened, but not to the extent that I thought (and secretly hoped) it might (in a Cynthia Eller kind of way).  It's more-or-less a continuation and updating of earlier works published by Hutton (The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles; Shamans: Siberian Spirituality and the Western Imagination; Stations of the Sun: a History of the Ritual Year in BritainThe Triumph of the Moon; Blood and Mistletoe: the History of the Druids in Britain; and Witches, Druids, and King Arthur).  I'd place it with Pagan Religions and Shamans because of its dry runs of archeological case-studies, and include Blood and Mistletoe because it references that work a lot.

The final pages of the book argue for a subjective, both-and interpretation of the history of Paganism in Britain.  That is to say, as long as the record specifically does not disprove a particular interpretation (and he would argue, for example, that the record disproves the construction of Stonehenge by extraterrestrials), our historical knowledge, imagination, and wonder are better served by allowing individuals the ability to choose which interpretive narrative of the archeological record appeals to them the most, as long as they recognize that their historical narrative is one of several, equally plausible (though not necessarily equally probable) historical narratives.

This conclusion turns the book more into a book about the role of history as an interpretive tool, and less a book about who the ancient British Pagans were and what they were doing.   On reflection, at several points within it, the book did deliver a strong sense that the interpretation of the record says more about the interpreters than it does about ancient Pagans (and about how advances in archeological methods have enriched the available data).

I haven't decided if Hutton is trying to have his theological cake and eat it, too.  At least in terms of current British NeoPaganism (and by extension Wicca) being a continuous religious practice, the record is clear:  practitioners of both folk and ceremonial British magic, from about 500 to about 1850, were conducting magic ritual within a Christian framework.  Any "thin veneer of Christianity over a Paganism" held by the rural British masses was really more likely to be a "thin veneer of Paganism over Christianity" of the educated British elites.  With this veneer in mind, although the format of the seasonal rites might have changed, the underlying function or urge for them remains mostly the same.  This last bit shifts the question away from "what does Paganism mean?" to a more general "what does human spiritual practice (in Britain) mean?"

What makes the writings of Hutton attractive to me is that when I first took the NeoPagan path in the mid 1980's, one of the drawing features was that its adherents had chosen it as a religion instead of blindly following it by default.  "We choose our religion / We question or beliefs" was a kind of rallying cry.  Maybe this was a function of choosing the NeoPagan path at Reed College.   Reading a scholarly history of (Neo)Paganism helps me to make informed choices about spiritual practices.  (And I also think some of the more recent historical roots of modern NeoPagan practice is hysterically funny.)

Fast forward through the years, and I've encountered NeoPagans who don't know what a Solstice or an Equinox is, but who celebrate Beltane "because the ancestors did" or who celebrate Imbolc because "it was a Celtic Fire Festival" (meaning, I think, Riverdance, not realizing that "Celtic" is a language group and artistic style spanning a huge geographical area and temporal span, and not a homogeneous culture), or Goddess-worshippers who justify gender enclave as a weapon of exclusion (instead of a tool for discovering voice)  "because prehistoric Pagans were matriarchal."  This bothers me because I believe a theology unexamined is not worth practicing, and because an unthoughtful or unthinking NeoPaganism cannot produce NeoPagans who are properly balanced, centered, nor engaged with the cosmos with all of their faculties.

So, Pagan Britain allows NeoPagans to say "We choose our histories.  We question our past."  Which I guess is enlightened, but not quite as satisfying as "Hah! You're doing it wrong!" and I'll have to get used to asking "What historical interpretation of the archeological record do you use as a basis of today's ritual?"  (Sigh, I can see the appeal of Christianity, with a religious elite handing down articles of faith...)

In terms of a Queer NeoPaganism, Pagan Britain doesn't directly address it (and I wasn't expecting it to).  Since most of the Pagan rituals address fertility, a good harvest, and healthy cattle, heteronormaitive narratives of deity and worship are assumed.  To try to apply Hutton's book to the Qedeshim (who aren't British at all), my understanding is that A) they probably weren't as sexually active as early 20th century archeologists fantasized, and B) all archeology can really say is that they were temple staff that the editors of Deuteronomy didn't approve of.  Taking Hutton's approach, I'm justified believing that the Qedeshim were gay male priests in the temple of Ashera, as long as I acknowledge that there are other interpretations supported by the record.

How to apply the model of the Qedeshim and map sacred sex within a temple onto modern religious practices is something I've yet to work out ("Hi, I have public ritual sex in a temple with another man in order to invite the blessings of the gods and insure a fruitful harvest" ? ), and Pagan Britain doesn't supply any hints for applying paleolithic, ancient, or classical models of spirituality to modern times.  And recalling some of the attempts to reconstruct a gay male pagan heritage I've read, maybe that's a good thing.

1840 Nautical Instruments

 I was going through photos and found some of nautical instruments used at Fort Vancouver.  This first one is a sextant.  It used the position of the sun to figure out a ship's location.  I'm unsure if the user squinted at the sun through this, or if the sun's reflection was used (which would have been easier on a sailor's eyes).

I wished that I could have picked it up, but it was secured in the box.

The last photo is of a gimbaled compass.  The box sits on a table on a ship.  The ring has an axis running through the box.  A second axis, at right angles to the first one, runs through the compass.  The compass is bottom-heavy, and by having two independent, orthogonal axes, the compass is able to remain steady while the boat pitches and yaws on a body of water.

Now, of course, I can't remember if ships were getting to Fort Vancouver by sailing around the tip of Africa and heading east, or if they sailed around South America, or both.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Hutton Goes Meta in Pagan Britain

The treading through the review of the literature is beginning to pay off with some statements.  I think my favorite is the moment where Hutton skewers the Frazerian notion of rural industrial revolution Britons being slavishly mechanical preservers of Pagan customs they no longer understand as condescendingly elitist.

Some more nails in the coffin of a continuous British Pagan religious practice:  Ceridwen?  Hern?  Literary figures back-projected onto ancient British Paganisms, and not examples from a continuous Pagan religion.  Cauldrons?  Probably used by ancient Pagans in worship, but also prestige items for early Christians.  Witches as Pagans?  Well, it depends--are we talking Scandinavia, Italy, or Britain and what era?  But most likely they were Christian-based magical practitioners (i.e. the "Cunning Folk").

Does this mean much for the modern NeoPagan who chooses to venerate Ceridwen or Hern?  Not really (other than putting the theological pedigree into tatters).  Hutton pulls a Gödel-Escher-Bach move, steps back from the archeological evidence and points out that over the thousands of years spanning the record, the precise names and rituals may change, but the underlying religious impulse that creates them stays fairly constant.

One example sited is the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance.  The dance as it's done today is a perambulation with reindeer horns done to raise moneys for a church parish.  It's one of the last perambulations of its kind, having survived the Reformation, from about the 16th century (at least) when hobby horse dances like it were common.  Does the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance go back to paleolithic times?  Hutton concedes that there's no proof, but implies that it might, because it falls into a class of folk customs (Greening Homes at the Winter Solstice, May Day Poles, Harvest Festivals) that follow a seasonal pattern and which the expression of which likely do go back to ancient times .

As someone who danced a Pacific Northwest version of the Abbots Bromley for about ten years every September at the Oregon Shrewsbury Faire, I can attest to both the spiritual impulse and its lack in the dance.  Sometimes it was just a dance with deer horns on sticks and we were expected to perform it as part of the faire's entertainment.  Occasionally, though, it became a part of something larger (at least in my experience), and I had the sense that the dance extended ahead and behind the time and place where we were (and as we were primarily performers and not a spiritual/religious group, straying this close to ritual raised ambiguous feelings for me).

Next up... Deities!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Home Stretch with Hutton's Pagan Britian

The latest pages of Pagan Britain are focusing on some of the more modern notions of British NeoPaganism.  There's more "such and such an idea is disproved by the record" arguments here, which is a little confusing, because for much of the book there hasn't been proof one way or the other.  I believe there are no "lack of proof is proof of lack" errors going on -- Hutton is cautious, and, once again, the interesting details are in the end notes.

The latest chapter is addressing an underground paganism in Britain during the Middle Ages.  Hutton here is addressing the theories of  James Frazer and Margaret Murray, which supposed that Christianity was a thin veneer over a native Paganism, and which took its cue from Geology and Evolutionary Biology in terms of "primitive cultures" developing into (European Colonial) "enlightened cultures."  Other than commenting that modern historians pretty much agree that no underground Pagans existed despite the notion lingering in the popular imagination, he hasn't come out and said that in so many words; rather, he's focusing on the evidence.

Margaret Murray theorized that Sheela na gigs carved on stone walls of cathedrals and castles were evidence of medieval pagan worship carried over from ancient prehistory.  Hutton says that it is "almost certain" that Murray's theory inspired  Lady Raglan's similar theory concerning foliate heads (a.k.a., the Green Man).  According to Hutton, it seems more likely the Sheela na gigs are not representatives of an underground goddess, but protective vulvas carved on to castles to safeguard them.  The foliate heads were not hidden worship of an underground Green Man, and probably started out life in Christian churches as carvings on baptismal fonts as something baptism protected against.  (More over here: )

Hutton pause to mention that while the ancient Pagans apparently didn't secretly worship the Goddess and God as Sheela na gig and foliate head, they have become energizing elements of modern NeoPaganism.

From stone carvings, he moves to sacred trees and sacred wells.  Hutton points out that worshiping sacred trees or at holy wells is a common human action, and then points out that there's very little evidence that Christian places of worship were built on top of old pagan ones.  Various sacred trees (yew, apple) in early Christian Britain seem to have come along with Christianity from the Mediterranean. (I'm a little surprised Hutton didn't bring up Robert Graves' calendar of trees, although that might be a straw man argument by now).  Also, medieval churchmen wrote about their frustrations over the superstitious practices surrounding holy Christian wells (oh, and candles, but that's from another book).  There's a focus on Bath, which at first seems to be an outlier.  Hutton points out Bath was abandoned, and so saw no continuous worship, and that there was a Christian fashion to honor the dead with depositions of goods in water.

The more I think about it, the more candles (which may come up later) are a kind of example of what Hutton's trying to get at in this chapter.  Ancient Pagans may have used candles at some point in pre-history.  Medieaval and modern Christians certainly do.  But finding evidence of candle use in churches from 1000 AD does not mean that there were secret Pagan rites going on in churches back then (although there are accounts of churchmen being vexed with parishioners collecting Christian candle stubs as talismans and good-luck charms).

... and the last fifty or so pages await.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Hutton and Pagans on the Edge of History

The slogging through Ronald Hutton's Pagan Britain continues.  I know that the review of the archaeological literature is a necessary part of the book, but Hutton himself adds in the chapter on the Roman invasion of Britain that the archaeological record provides a wealth of exciting and suggestive data that neither strongly proves nor disproves many things and leaves blank spaces.  I wish that I had been a little more rigorous reading the book, because I know that some time in the future I'll want to reference it during an argument and then have to re-read large swaths.

What I've gotten out of the last few chapters

  • Pre-Christian Pagan worship in Britain can be divided into three broad groups: Iron Age British Pagans (Caesar's "druids" and earth-based festivals), Romano-Briton Pagans (Jupiter, Mercury, Minerva, Mars; Isis and Serapis; Cybele and Attis), and Anglo-Saxon Briton Pagans (Wotan, Thunor, Frigga, etc).  They weren't exactly a continuous spectrum.
  • Judging from animal remains, Iron Age British Pagans probably had celebrations (probably six) at the onset of the seasons (e.g. Summer, Winter, sheep shearing, and grain harvest).
  • Early Christianity in Britain had wide variation in forms of practice over the island; presumably, British Paganism would, too.
  • The peoples of northern Britain, who were never Romanized, and who were collectively called the Picts, spoke in a language that was a regional dialect of British (i.e. "Pictish" isn't its own language); they probably didn't practice matrilinear inheritance; Pictish symbol stones seem to have been developed around 500 AD, post adoption of Christianity, although the symbols resemble metalwork from the Roman Pagan period.
  • It's nice when archaeological, literary, and DNA data line up, but they don't always because some historical phenomenon don't show up (if at all) in all three types of data, and sometimes it's hard to interpret the data when the three types don't agree.
  • Even with bodies and burials and middens and ditches, figuring out if someone was ritually killed or honored in death or if something was inscribed with magical runes at its making or at its discarding is hard.  Frequently a burial or deposit can be interpreted in a wealth of ways.
  • Theories of what folks were doing that were popular in the 1980's have since been less supported by the record than originally thought, or have otherwise fallen out of vogue.  This seems to be especially true of cross-referencing Welsh, Irish, and Roman literary sources.

The book feels like it's going to pick up.  The archaeology is interesting, but what gets me excited are how the theories and interpretations change over the last thirty years.  I admit anticipatory schadenfreude for hitherto unread accounts about some venerable ancient tradition being made up whole-sale a hundred and fifty years ago to attract (nationalistic) tourists.  Already there have been some references to King Arthur, and some observations about attributing shamanic techniques to British Pagans.  Also, with the introduction of the Anglo-Saxon (not Nordic!) practices to Britain, the Paganism is beginning to resemble 1960's British Wicca.  Sort of.

In terms of writing, Mary Stewart's Arthurian retelling stands up fairly well in the light of Pagan Britain.  Other tales, not so well.  In terms of my own writing, I can see that the alternative history world I've been playing in needs to either just make a complete break with our world's history, or else I need to spend some quality time thinking through the consequences of the alternate history.

In terms of queer spirituality, Hutton suggests a couple of times that prehistoric British Pagans were not so hung up on clear categories between human and divine, human and animal, and gender.  No Queer Male way of knowing yet, and I'll guess that the record will not have much to say one way or the other.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Ice in the Willamette Valley

Thursday morning it started to snow.  When I went to work, the flakes were large.  And dry.  The roads weren't too bad, but I was able to skid and spin out when I tested the traction on the road.  Going about 20 mph was fine.  The local school district held classes (but other near-by ones did not).

And then it snowed and snowed and snowed.  By the time I left work, pulling out of intersections was tricky, and the wheels usually spun out before the car would move forward.  And then there were a few times when the car lurched in some diagonal directions not quite matching the general forward motion of the car.  By this time we had about eight inches of snow on the ground.  Most parents with children had pulled them out of school by noon rather than wait for the snow to pile any higher.

I declined to sled down any hills, as I didn't want to re-live last snow-day's crash into the sidewalk curb.

So I walked to work Friday.  The snow flakes were even larger.  During the night there had been some freezing rain, so the snow crunched when you walked through it. The snow was still dry, but the additional ice on the roads made me glad I live close enough to walk to work.  The copes of trees near the Amazon Slough were frozen cathedral columns of white and sable.

The University waffled on if they were going to be open or closed, saying that they would be starting classes at 10 AM and requiring staff to be at work normal hours, but then cancelling classes at 9:30 AM (which I'm sure made the travelers who set out at 9AM joyful).

And it snowed and snowed and snowed.  There was a horrible pile-up on I-5 near Albany.  Someone slid into the blue metal heron sculpture near the entrance to campus.  And more snow fell.  I rode the bus partway home and walked a few blocks in the falling snow, past the copes with my hands held out, like some pilgrim between the snowy veil in a cathedral.

Some time in the evening, the snow turned into a mixture of snow, sleet and rain.  The snow on the cars, walkways and trees became glazed.  This morning, Saturday, the precipitation is primarily rain, and icicles are forming on everything.  I wasn't going to take photos of ice all over everything, because I'm sure if I look back at old photos from twelve years ago I'll find my cache of photos of plants and fences with ice all over them... but then I did.

I hope our magnolia tree makes it through the next few hours, because it's looking sad, and may illicit haiku.

Rain and warmer temperatures are forecast for tomorrow.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Fallen Pagan Notes

I can feel that I'm battling a cold.  All I want to do is sleep, and yesterday evening, I got chilled.  Granted, I think the heat had turned off where I was, but still.  Wearing a bunch of layers and having a cup of soup helped.

Mid-Winter (Groundhog Day) has come and gone and I haven't done much for it.  I should be thinking of letting frozen, unneeded forms go, and discovering new fluid ways of being.  I should be focusing on the queer divine healer guided by visions in water and ice.  I should be pausing between maintenance and new beginnings.  I should be sitting in naked meditation with my queer brothers, or dancing with blue or green veils around a silver scrying bowl filled with water and dry ice.  

OK, the meditation doesn't have to be naked.  I've done naked ritual and I know some people find it freeing, but I just find it distracting (and cold!) on a number of fronts.  And I am already imaging my queer brothers wanting to bring in Winktes, or to hold a group therapy session heart circle, or hold a pot-luck (with Deadly Peppers), or checking their cell phones because they're waiting for the ride to the next event to contact them, which would just make me cross.  Sigh.

In my fantasies...

We would walk into a large clearing with a big bonfire.  I'm not sure exactly who "we" would be other than we would be there to touch the numinous clothed in the natural world, to touch the numinous in each other and our selves, and to hallow the moon and sun at mid-winter.

There would be a canopy held up on poles in case it rained.  Ritual guardians would remind us to stow our watches and mobile devices.  More guardians would challenge us to walk the path between the Pillars of Severity and Mercy.  We would thank the trees for holding us safe.  And drummers would drum fast and precise in diverse rhythms so that we could dance in something other than 4/4 time.  And the moon would rise, and we would all turn to it and raise our hands and voices.  And we would dance a snake dance with a golden ball for the sun.  And if the rains fell, the bonfire would would make the water steam off of our clothing.   And we would weave between altars at the cardinal points.  

At the end of the ritual, we would take turns ladling hot cider out of a cauldron for each other, pausing to look into the cauldron or the rising smoke and steam for portents.   We might or might not share our visions afterward, after walking back through the guardians, after taking back our time pieces and mobile devices, after returning to the normal waking world.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Hutton and the Iron Age

Reading Hutton's "Pagan Britain" has been slow going.  Part of it is that I've been reading it later than I should, and thus not getting as far as I like.  And, it's a little dry reviewing some of the current archaeological literature -- it's necessary, but not quite as sexy as, say, reading about (mostly) British 20th century ritual magicians.  I do wish the book's end-notes were footnotes, because the end-notes are sometimes funny and because I wouldn't have to flip back and forth and track two bookmarks.

As evidenced in the end-notes, Hutton continues to re-visit his earlier works, "The Pagan Religions in the Ancient British Isles" (1991), "Blood and Mistletoe: The History of Druids in Britain" (2009), and to a lesser extent "Stations of the Sun" (1996).  "Pagan Britain" continues to benefit from improved research and dating methodology.  The gist of his latest book continues to be, "We can't say say anything definitive about what stone- and iron-age pagans were doing in Britain, so you're free to imagine whatever you like as long as it fits in with the evidence; just give the same imaginative license to others."  

One of the more interesting turns in archaeological interpretation of the Iron-Age is the Lindow Man, which is in the process of changing from proof of the Druidic "triple death" to looking like something more mundane.  

There are a few times in the end-notes where Hutton appears to have had his feelings hurt by various folks who have either mis-heard him at lectures or been annoyed at him pointing out there is no evidence for certain speculations about what prehistoric Pagans were doing.  To the latter, he hints at specialist and non-specialist relations, and asserts that the non-specalists' imaginaings are a refreshing and exciting way to look at the available evidence.  I think Hutton's difficulty is that he can't blow things up the way Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage do on Mythbusters.

Next... The Roman Invasion of Britain.  

Monday, February 03, 2014

Cat Owl Eye Dream

Saturday morning, I had a dream about labyrinths and woke up with a dream image in my head (see to the left).  In the dream, a bunch of us had to traverse a magical labyrinth and the only way to do it was to close our eyes and paint squares above and below our eyes and painted eyes on our lids.   Sunday morning, I had a long, involved dream, which featured more eye imagery.  

The premise was that there was a Vampire, who worked in a business skyscraper (or possibly a a castle, or maybe a business castle) and had a suburbanite family as a cover.  The family knew they were his cover, and the mom appreciated that he kept them in a really nice Mac-mansion.  (While he wasn't exactly the "Bad Businessman" I used to dream about in my twenties, he was certainly the bad guy in this dream... although now that I think about it, he didn't do anything particularly vampiric except maybe live in a castle.)

The part I remember the best was that a oracular Cat worked for the Vampire.  "Work" is probably too strong a word, as they had a sort of genie and lamp owner relationship.  I think the Cat came with the castle.  I'm not entirely sure, but I think the Cat was our cat, Smokey.  

In order for the Cat to tell the Vampire's fortune, he popped out his left eye and turned into a barn owl (it was a bloodless, goreless procedure).  The one-eyed-barn-own-cat then perched on a stand in front of a screen divided into a five-by-five grid with tarot cards on it.  I recall that one cell was X'ed out and the Owl was giving a reading to the Vampire. 

I think at this point in the dream, the Vampire's castle was under some sort of attack or infiltration.  There was an exchange between the Cat-owl and the Vampire, where-in the Vampire complained that the Cat-Owl never did anything for him, and the Cat-Owl replied (in a New York accent) "You've never done anything for me." 

Afterward, the owl flew some place where there was an eye (I'm not quite clear on the dream's plot at this point, but there was an eye or an agate or something laying on the ground, possibly in front of the suburbanite cover family's house), pressed his face into it and turned back into a cat. 

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Produce at Fort Vancouver

Here's some photos of the plants grown at Fort Vancouver.  Since it was winter, there weren't a whole lot.  

There was a formal English garden at the fort.  Reading from the beds, they grew barley, kale, roses, and scarlet runner beans (there was more, but I didn't write things down).  Additionally, they used cold frames to extend the growing season.  

The folks in the 1820-1840s would keep carrots, celery and apples in cold cellars to eat during the fall and winter months.  They dried herbs like savory, thyme, and sage.   I asked about lavender, but there wasn't any hanging from the rafters when we were there.  I wish I'd asked about mint or hen-bane or other herbs; I guess we'll have to visit when there's produce growing.

The kitchen was dark; even with lots of windows, the dark timbers sucked up the light of the six or so candles in lanterns.  The volunteer who cooked said the thing he missed the most was a thermometer and that he had to learn how to cook by feeling how hot the inside of an oven was by how long he could hold his arm in it, or by how long a pinch of flour would brown in it, or by watching how water acted.  There were recipes and measurements by weight and by table-spoon, but there was a lot of taste-testing as one went along.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

When Writers Visit Forges

We visited Fort Vancouver today.  It's located near (surprise!) Vancouver, Washington.

What struck me the most about the site was the disjointed feeling I got from the buildings and the re-enactors dressing like Oregon Territory pioneers and Hudson's Bay Company.  1840 wasn't really that long ago, and on one hand it feels "modern"; but on the other hand, the technology, the cooking techniques, the ironwork and the dress doesn't feel that far away from the English Renaissance.  And, wow, even on a sunny day, the insides of the houses were dark.

I had a fun time speaking with the volunteers there because, 1) I was asking engaged questions about the drying savory and thyme and the forge (which I think they appreciated) and 2) I was wearing the Great Coat of +3 charisma.

I've been writing about forges, so I took the opportunity to visit with the volunteer smith there.  She told me

  • there is a 1600-era bible with an illustration of a woman smith making nails (which turns out to be the 14th Century English Holkham Bible,) .
  • very early smiths might have used charcoal, but smiths prefer coal because it's the most efficient fuel (and was the ballast in the ocean-going ships of the time).
  • a smith was judged by the tools he or she (although The Hudson's Bay Company didn't hire women) brought with them when seeking a job (her example was a well made hammer).
  • there wasn't an apprentice system in place at Fort Vancouver; the smiths had laborers who did what traditional apprentices did, but the Hudson's Bay Company was paying the smiths to fabricate metal items, not teach.
  • the tools made at the fort were mostly iron, with some high-carbon steel welded in where an edge was needed (hatchet heads) or where the tensile strength needed improvement (springs).
  • women and children could loop chains links at home as a kind of cottage industry.

The forge was smokey, which I didn't really notice because I'd gone into Writer Researching Mode.  I was struck between the fantasy trope version of a forge -- Weyland Smith forging King Arthur's Sword, or Alberich's Dwarves fashioning the Tarnhelm -- and the actual (historically recreated) forge.  This forge didn't have a lot of swords and armor in it, it was filled mostly with nails, rivets and punches; pliers, hammers, and shutter-dogs; and beaver-traps.  I didn't notice it at the time, but there weren't any horseshoes or other ferrier's tools (dang, I should have asked).

Also, the stories that I write which have forges in them either have the forges off-stage or have gauzy scenes of Japanese Samurai Sword forging in them.  I'm hoping to write a scene set in a more common, practical forge.  OK, a forge with singing nuns connected with that world's "Crystal Dragon Christianity"... but still.