You have the right to remain dreamy, Corey

The Gods of Camp Classics must have been smiling favorably upon me this weekend, because I picked up a veritable motherload of cheesy occult-themed horror movies. Here are a few of my finds:
Voodoo – Corey Feldman joins a college fraternity, unaware that it’s really a murderous cult. In one significant scene, we learn that zombies are ace tattoo artists.

Tales from the Crypt Presents: Ritual – A headstrong doctor (played by a painfully noseless Jennifer Grey) accepts a hospice care position in Jamaica, only to find herself battling crazed Obeah practitioners and feline leukemia. Co-starring Tim Curry as the lecherous veterinarian.

Brotherhood of Satan – There are these people, see, and they worship Satan. I haven’t watched this one yet.

Hell’s Gate – A fresh, evil take on my least favorite New Age fad. Instead of 11:11 showing up on clocks and representing digital hugs from guardian angels, the mysterious numbers are found at crime scenes, carved into dead bodies. I only caught a few minutes of this flick before realizing it was way past my bedtime, but what little I saw included lots of screaming, so I’m sure it’ll be worth the five bucks I paid for it.

What Dreams May Show Up in Your E-mail

I was clearing out my inbox this morning, when I came across something I’d forwarded to myself months ago. The subject line read “blog-dream,” and as far as I can tell, it was something I wanted to post here, but never got around to doing. Finally, the wait is over–for your reading pleasure, here is “blog-dream”:

In this dream, several of my co-workers and I joined a secret, underground death cult, led by Kevin Costner. At our first official meeting, we murdered him with a sacrificial knife, but without any apparent reason: maybe we were all trying to prevent “The Postman II” or something. Anyway, we elected a new leader, whom we were planning to sacrifice at the next meeting. That evening, my friend Sarah showed up to join the cult, and we got ready for the upcoming ritual (which involved putting on kilts, covering ourselves with grease and jumping up and down). While we were kilting up, I mentioned to Sarah, “Hey, just so you know, we’re going to kill this guy.” She replied, “Oh. Well, I’m going home, then.” I decided to go with her, and we hopped in an Oldsmobile Delta 88 and started to drive away. Suddenly a cop pulled us over. I reached for my drivers license and proof of insurance, only to realize that the cult had stolen them.

Fin

Bell, Book and Carpenter

I dropped by ye merry olde Catholic bookstore to pick up some reading material, because I’ve got cunning, super-secret plans involving the Fellowship of Isis and the 14 Holy Helpers (all will be revealed in time, my pets). I was browsing the merchandise and playing with a little Jesus plaque that totally looked like a Green Man when a woman strode up to the front counter and addressed the saleslady.

Customer: “Hello, I need a St. Joseph statue.”

Saleslady: “To sell your house?”

Customer: “Yep.”

Saleslady: “Right this way!”

This threw me. I’m aware of the old custom of burying St. Joseph statues to sell houses, but I thought it was, like, on the down low. While I ruminated, another customer, this time a pediatric nurse, wandered into the store and glanced around nervously before approaching the counter.

[ed. note: I figured he was a pediatric nurse on account of he was wearing scrubs, but scrubs made out of a cartoony baby animal print.]

Pediatric Nurse: “Um, hi. I need a, uh… a St. Joseph statue.”

Saleslady: (with a sly smile): “What for?”

PN: (visibly sweating): “To, um… that is, I… well…”

SL: (slowly, as if to a five-year-old): “To… sell… your… house?”

PN: (eyes averted, completely mortified) “Um… yeah.”

The saleslady suddenly dropped beneath the counter, resurfacing with a small St. Joseph figurine and a photocopied, I shit you not, instruction sheet. She went over the details of the ritual I mean novena with the nurse, explaining that he needed to recite the incantation I mean prayer for nine consecutive days.

At this point, I wanted to raise my hand and say, “Excuse me, yes, everyone? That’s a spell. You’re casting a spell to sell your house. You’re practicing witchcraft, do you hear me? Witchcraft!

But then I decided that agressively bringing this to their attention might possibly be construed as an unwelcome revival of the Protestant Reformation, or at the very least slander. So I kept my mouth shut. Besides, if they ban me from the store, it’ll be an absolute bitch trying to find another source for reasonably-priced Black Madonna icons. Those don’t just grow on idolatrees, you know.

There’s gold in them thar Fnords

Celestial body 2003 UB313 (a.k.a. “Xena”) was officially named Eris after the Greek Goddess of strife and discord on September 15. According to the International Astronomical Union, the name was chosen to acknowledge all the controversy that resulted from the object’s discovery: primarily, the recent demotion of Pluto from planet to dwarf planet.

Whether or not this will have any impact on modern astrological thought remains to be seen, but as far as I’m concerned, Eris is finally getting the recognition She deserves. And you just know the Discordians are shitting themselves right now.

A Mind for Sin and a Card for Business

 Feeling a bit craftier than usual, I signed up for the 2009 Creative Every Day project, the purpose of which is self-explanatory. I’ve actually been doing a good job of keeping up with it, from writing to cautious cooking attempts to thoughtfully rearranging my bookshelves. It’s been a creativity smörgåsbord over here at Chéz Evn, and I’m ready to get more ambitious… by designing my own business cards.

I’m not (that) ashamed to admit I’ve had a lifelong love affair with business cards. I collected them as a little kid, and on my seventh birthday, my parents gave me a photo album to display the several hundred I’d amassed. Soon after, calling cards became all the rage with the grammar school set, and I was thrilled when my mother dutifully whisked us off to the print shop.

My brother’s cards were decorated with footballs, while mine sported tiny rainbows. Because even then I was a big homo.

As an adult, I keep my professional business cards on me at all times, and I proudly hand them out to anyone who gets within twenty feet of me. But I’ve realized that a card announcing me as “Manager of Online Customer Support” doesn’t have quite the right effect at, say, a pub moot, or a psychic fair. Plus I don’t want the Pagans knowing my legal name. And I’d like to be able to list the more esoteric titles I’ve earned over the years:

Priest

Witch

Ordained Clergyperson

Honorary Adviser to the Archdruids

Second Horseman of the Geomantic Apocalypse

Notary Public

My credentials may be firmly established, but now I need a logo of some kind, and I’m not having much luck in that department. I found this nifty dancing devil which I like a lot–I’m thinking the end of the pitchfork could be worked into a stylized “E.” But then, most people don’t have the same nostalgia for devils that I do. I briefly considered using that famous woodcut of Robin Goodfellow, the upside being that it simply screams Witchcraft, and the downside being that it also screams “Look, a penis!” So maybe not so much.

I’m currently toying with the various symbols associated with Efnysien in the Mabinogion–cauldrons, bags of flour, dead horses–but nothing is really jumping out at me. So, Strifemongers, I humbly invoke your aesthetics: If you were my logo, what would you look like?

Sticks in the Mud

 In response to last week’s Hoodoo post, and inspired by her word-verification spirit guide Veridu, Strifemonger Never Moon wrote:
“My fave is the retroactive justification: ‘This is mine now, and I am going to dig up horribly shaky non-credible evidence to point out that it was never yours in the first place.'”To which I replied:

“AARRRGH, Druid Sticks!”

So as not to be mistaken as aphasic, I should probably give another quick lecture on geomancy.

Geomantic divination originated sometime between the 9th and 10th centuries in North Africa, spread to the Arabic world, and, over time, found its way to a very Christian Western Europe during the Crusades. As a divinatory system, it’s about as non-Pagan as you can get. However, because of its relative obscurity (at least when compared to Tarot or runes), geomancy has become an easy target for enterprising authors looking for occult subject matter to mash up and spoon-feed to NeoPagan consumers.

A couple of years ago, one of the members of the Geomantic Campus e-mail list posted a link to a set of “druid sticks” she’d found online, and my co-moderator (who is, among other things, a Druid) remarked, “Well, yes, they’re pretty, but WTF?” Being an investigative, scholarly bunch, we dug around and eventually uncovered a 1995 book called Omens, Oghams & Oracles.

From the publisher’s breathless review:

“Although hundreds of books have been written about the Celts and the druids, no book has focused exclusively on Celtic divination–until now. Omens, Oghams & Oracles covers the most important and practical methods of divination in the Celtic and druidic traditions, two of which have never before been published: an original system of divining using the druidic Ogham characters, and ‘Arthurian divination,’ which employs a geomantic oracle called druid sticks.”

Okay. I’m not druidically-minded myself, and I’m fully aware of how little we really know about the ancient druids. That said, I have a sneaking suspicion our wise Celtic ancestors were not up to speed on Islamic methods of prophecy. And what the hell is “Arthurian divination” anyway? If you can’t pull the sword from the stone, is the answer to your question no?

Historical falsifications aside, the “druid sticks” are actually useful. They’ve each got one dot on one side and two dots on the other, so toss four of them on the ground, and boom, instant geomantic figure. Unfortunately, many of the basic interpretations of the geomantic forms presented in this book are watered down to the point where they barely mean anything at all, ensuring that any attempted reading will be inaccurate at best. For example, the figure that traditionally indicates dishonesty, anger and manipulative sexuality is translated as a time for contemplation.

Ew.

Back on the list, the geomancers traded Celtic Oracle wisecracks for awhile before officially banning the term “druid sticks” and moving on to other topics. Until a few months later, that is, when I decided to check out the weekly Reading Circle hosted by a metaphyiscal shop on the outskirts of town.

The idea behind a Reading Circle is that everyone brings his or her favorite form of divination and reads for each other, just to get some practice and hone skills. I ran several geomantic charts, and while most went over well, one of them just tanked: Nothing but random dots on a page, no decent insight whatsoever. I expected the guy getting the reading to be disappointed, so his growing excitement over the whole experience struck me as odd.

“This is so similar to how we teach Ogham in our Druid class!” he exclaimed.

“Really?” I asked, because I’m oblivious. “How so?”

“Well,” he said, “We have these little sticks, see, with one dot on one side and two dots on the other…”

If we listen very closely, we’ll be able to hear Bo’s head explode.

 

Comments:

Something I wrote on Ogam:

‘The Old Irish word properly refers to an native Irish alphabet of strokes or notches designed to be incised on stone, and probably wood, attested as inscriptions from the 5th to the 6th centuries in Ireland, and perhaps also from the late 4th. The origin of the letters has been much-debated: the current scholarly consensus is that the distribution of the letters in the system is derives from the classification of letters found in Latin grammarians of the 1st-4th centuries AD, and thus is an imitation of Latin literacy, as indeed is the custom of inscribing stone monuments. The inscriptions, usually border markers or grave memorials, often in the form [The stone of] X son of Y’, mostly occur in a broad band across southern Ireland and areas of Irish settlement in southern Wales, always in the Irish language. The writing of other Celtic languages in ogham is completely ahistorical, with the exception of occasional examples of Pictish use of the script. The name was related by the medieval Irish themselves to Ogma, one of the champions of the Tuatha Dé Danann or former Irish gods, who was supposed to have devised the alphabet.

Due to the eccentric theories of the poet Robert Graves in The White Goddess (1948), it is common among druids to regard the script as a mystical or occult ‘tree alphabet’, because a minority of the letters are named after trees. The tree-link is probably a red-herring: Damian McManus showed in A Guide to Ogam (Maynooth, 1991), pp. 35-43, that most of the names are not, in fact, trees, and never have been. Further, the idea that the alphabet is a tree-calendar, in which each tree/letter corresponds to a lunar month, has developed, and even spawned a kind of ersatz Celtic astrology, in which the ‘tree-months’ are imagined as resembling the signs of the zodiac. All these are modern concepts. There is also nothing in particular to link the script to the pre-Christian druids of Ireland, though it is not unlikely that as the pagan educated class they were familiar with it around the time of conversion. It *may* have been used for a kind of divination: certain early Irish sagas suggest this, However, said sagas are giving a fictional portrayal of a pre-Christian Ireland, as imagined by early medieval Churchmen, and I suspect that the idea of ogam-letter divination – which is not a widespread topos in the material – may have been inspired by Irish encounters with rune-divining Viking invaders, who were pestering the island at the very time when these sagas were being redacted. In all, the concept of ogham as a sacred, druidic alphabet and calendar is deeply-entrenched among modern pagans and almost entirely fictitious.’

 

Thalia Took said…

The little sticks with the dots are reminding me quite strongly of the ancient Egyptian throwing sticks, used with games like senet to determine the move, like dice. I mean, in the shape of them, anyway.

Let’s see if I can find a link to a picture so you know what I’m talking about.

Here we are (about halfway down the page). They are flat on one side and rounded on the other, and have little jackal-heads on one end and what have always looked like fingernails to me on the other.

I mean, that’s kind of neither here nor there, but I think they’re cool-looking.

Evn said…

Ooh, wait, pardon me, gotta correct you on one thing. Druid sticks actually trace back two decades earlier than the 1990’s.

From Paul Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft, pub. 1970:

“I shall now move on to a simple type of witch divination, which you as a beginner would be well advised to learn. The operation is known by the name of Casting the Runes.

“Divination by rune sticks is one of the most ancient and celebrated witch methods of prognostication we have. The process dates back certainly to Druidic times and probably before. It is a very good example of a method of augury, that is, prediction or knowledge gained by signs and omens, as opposed to that of the inner vision as employed when scrying in a show stone or mirror.

“Basically the rune sticks consist of four flat slats of fruitwood–apple, pear, cherry, plum, hazel, rowan, or any other wood if you cannot obtain these. But they must be wood. They should be about five inches in length by about a quarter to a half inch in width. Finish off the rough edges and make the rods smooth and comfortable to the touch. Sprinkle them with salt and water and fumigate with a Mercurial incense within a properly cast circle. Now, using your brush and paint of art, make a large and obvious dot on one side of each of them, centrally located. When the paint has dried, turn the rods over and make two large dots on the other side of them, spaced so that the gaps between the dots themselves and the ends of the rod are all equal, in fact, so that the rods are marked into three equal segments by two dots.

“These are your rune sticks. You should carry them about with you for a period of time before you use them to charge them with your magnetism, or witch power.”

 

John Michael Greer said…

Actually, there are a couple of surviving medieval Irish Ogham handbooks that allow most Irish Ogham texts to be read (not the Pictish ones, though — they’re in some non-Indo-European language, either that or absolute gibberish).

There are also a couple of references in medieval Irish sources that suggest Ogham might have been used for general divinatory purposes. Do we know how? Not a chance. All modern Ogham divination systems are either descended from the work of Colin Murray, who invented a system out of his head in the 1970s, or are even more recent.

As for “Druid sticks,” well, most Druids of my acquaintance use sticks for a variety of purposes, such as thwacking overly dogmatic Celtic Reconstructionists over the head when they yell themselves hoarse because our imaginative reinvention of Druid spirituality is older and less academically fashionable than their imaginative reinvention of Druid spirituality. Still, I’m pretty sure that “druid sticks” in the sense of popsicle sticks for geomantic divination are a mid-1990s invention, for the sole purpose of making dowdy old geomancy look more palatable for a Neopagan audience.

 

Never Moon said…

But Evn! The wisdom of the ancients is so much more valuable than ANYTHING anyone comes up with nowadays. The spiritual journey of those long dead are the only true paths to nirvana/ heaven/ enlightenment/ true happiness/ fulfillment. The spiritual journeys of modern people could never produce insight into realms of the profound.

Also, I am not up on my linguistic breakthroughs, but I’m pretty sure Ogham is still untranslated… making religion and/or divination and/or ummm, anything based on the language pretty much impossible.

 

 

 

 

Women are fat, always.

 I just saw the most fucked up commercial

It was an ad for a hotel chain, who, for the purposes of this blog, shall remain nameless. The premise is that a group of corporate business types are having breakfast at their hotel before heading out for an important meeting. One of them, Boss Guy, gives a hearty pep talk, then directs his attention to an attendee named Wilson.

[The camera pans to Wilson. Wilson’s a big boy; tall and doughy; no perceivable neck.]

Apparently, the airline has lost Wilson’s luggage, and as such, Wilson has nothing to wear to the important meeting. But no worries, because Wilson and Brenda…

[The camera pans to Brenda: she’s about 5’5″ in heels, slim and healthy.]

…Wilson and Brenda are the same size. So Wilson is wearing one of Brenda’s blouses, and everyone is telling him how good he looks in it. How (I’m not making this up) slimming the blouse is. Being a poly-blend and all.

Let’s break this down, just to make sure everyone caught the important part. The tall, doughy man and the short, slim woman are the same size. That is, they wear the same size in clothes. On account of she’s lean, but not anorexic. And he’s overweight. So, you know, same difference.

Not to make crass generalizations, but this sums up a big huge chunk of what is wrong with… well, everything.

Oracle Anxiety

So apparently, I’ve developed a reputation as a seer. And I’m not sure how I feel about that. But it’s all geomancy’s fault.

Since I’ve mentioned geomancy a couple of times in the past, I should probably explain what it actually is. At its core, geomancy is a binary system of divination: a question is asked, and in response random numbers are generated (traditionally by making marks in sand or on paper, but dice and playing cards work well, too). These numbers are broken down to even and odd, represented by two dots or one dot, arranged into a series of figures, and plugged into an astrological chart. You end up with something like this:


The chart is interpreted based on the individual meanings of the figures, their positions and how they interact with one another. And even though you’re just looking at a bunch of dots, a story becomes clear, with its own introduction, exposition, climax and conclusion.

In theory, geomantic divination is a lot like that scene in The Matrix, where Cypher explains the stream of strange, green symbols on his monitor: “I don’t even see the code. All I see is blonde, brunette, red-head.” But in practice, it’s like that scene in Lady in the Water, where a roomful of panicky people hang on the words of a little kid who has been charged with delivering a crucial message in a life-or-death situation, but must do so by interpreting the images on cereal boxes.

I don’t doubt that I have a talent for geomancy, and I don’t doubt that, after studying this system of divination for a number of years, I’ve got a decent level of skill. What I doubt is my ability to deal with the pressure that comes with reading for others, as well as the pressure that comes with consistent accuracy.

I started actively reading for friends a few months back, and word spread fairly quickly amongst my acquaintances. At this point, I get a call or an e-mail requesting a reading at least once every other week or so, and while I’m always happy to do it, I sometimes worry that the acquaintance in question might make a critical decision based solely on me playing metaphysical connect-the-dots. And I sometimes worry that I haven’t provided enough information, or that I’ve provided too much information. It’s kind of mortifying when one of my readings hits the nail on the head, but the readee’s fingers are still in the way.

Oh, and speaking of: what the introductory “Divination for Dummies” books never tell you is that a spot-on, all-pistons-firing, oh-my-Gods-how-did-you-know-that reading is fucking freaky. It’s one thing to give a yes/no answer to a “Should I or shouldn’t I…” type of question. It’s something else entirely to go all clairvoyant and blurt out facts that should simply not be accessible via a collection of indiscriminate marks on a piece of paper. Makes my inner logician want to pack up shop and head back to Protestantism.

But this is where coven-based Witchcraft comes in handy. Whenever I freak myself out with a reading, I call Co-Witch A., who freaks out right along with me, acting as my personal cheerleader and offering solidarity through mutual hysteria. Then I call Co-Witch B., who calms me down and thumps me upside the head if I start pulling a prophet schtick. After that, I call Co-Witch Y., who sympathizes capitalistically:

“True psychic experiences, especially unexpected ones, can be really, really unnerving,” she’ll say. “Which is why you should be charging $40 a pop.”

And usually, this makes me feel better. However, the last time I had a geomantic meltdown, I decided to give the Witches a break and called Apocrypha Jones, Mistress of the Postmodern Occult.

In addition to being my best friend since before I could legally drink, Apocrypha’s been reading Tarot for nigh on twenty years, so flashes of insight from the Beyond are as nothing to her. She kept silent while I ranted for a few minutes, then cut me off.

“Evn, listen. As long as I’ve known you, you’ve had a divinatory urge, and you tried system after system, but none of them really grabbed you until geomancy.”

“Well, yeah,” I said, not quite clear where she was going.

“Think of it like photography,” she continued. “You’ve just been putting the wrong filters over your camera lens. It makes sense that the filter that finally worked for you would really work.”

I wasn’t sure what to say, but it did make sense.

“Besides, you’re a Virgo. Earth signs tend to be late bloomers.”

I took her word for that. But overall, I think she’s right. If I’ve always had this push to find a system of divination, then it’s probably because I’m supposed to be divining. Maybe, instead of having anxiety attacks every time I give an accurate reading, I should accept that I’m doing something I’m called to do–something at which I’m gifted, that can ultimately benefit other people. In fact, if any Loyal Strifemongers ever want a reading of their own, let me know and we’ll see what happens.

But it’ll cost you $40. Cash up front.

On Abandoning Wicca – a Preface

Last week, Thalia noted that across the blogosphere, a number of Pagans, specifically Wiccans, are re-evaluating their beliefs, and, in some cases, walking away from them. I’ve got mixed emotions about this phenomenon. On the one hand, I’m always happy when people can be honest with themselves. On the other, it’s sad to witness disillusionment. On the other (I’ve got, like, five hands), it bothers me that the people who are currently “outgrowing” Wicca seem to be blaming the religion itself for not offering enough spiritual support.

The thing is, if you need your religion to pat you on the back and tell you you’re a good person and offer an incorporeal mug of hot cocoa every time you’re feeling lonely or insecure… why the hell are you practicing Witchcraft in the first place?

That bit of cattiness aside, I want to be as careful as I can when approaching this topic, a) because there are a lot of issues at play here, and it’s going to take time to properly sort them; and b) because I’d rather not offend or alienate any of my Loyal Strifemongers along the way. So I’m thinking I’m going to write a series of posts on the situation at hand (that’s four), rather than tackling the whole thing in one fell swoop.

We’ll be covering some interesting ground over the next month or so. For now, suffice it to say that the modern Witchcraft revival is a lot deeper than its perceived failings.

More to follow.

Witch by Design

Jack’s on a business trip right now, so I feel comfortable making a public announcement, knowing he won’t read this and have an aneurism until at least Thursday afternoon.

I want to become a NeoPagan interior designer.

Okay, yes, I freely admit that my taste levels have been questioned in the past. And I also admit that I’ve been watching too many reality competitions on the Bravo network while thinking, “You know, that doesn’t look so hard. Slap on a fresh coat of paint, bring in a new sofa set, help Kelly Wearstler remember how to use the muscles in her face… child’s play.”

But I did briefly work in the industry. And I’m looking at how the triptych of equal-armed Celtic crosses next to our sliding back door blends brilliantly with the ceramic decorations on our balcony. I’m looking at how the reproduction I picked up at the Museum of Fine Arts compliments my green devil Maurin Quina print (which, in turn, compliments Jack’s Cafés Chocolats). I’m looking at how the framed pieces of artwork leading to our bedroom–as well as the magnets on our refrigerator–create captivating, viable eyelines.

Even Jack will agree with me here. When I came home with a set of yin-yang candle holders, he rolled his eyes: “Great, just what we need. More crap.” Then, five minutes later, after he saw them installed in the master bathroom: “My God, they set off the shower curtain beautifully!

Oooh, and back when Jack’s brother lived with us, I had to move my altar into the living room. With a few subtle, well-placed religious symbols and a couple of pillar candles from Target, I created a practical, accessible devotional space that, at first glance, came across as an innocuous end table with some thoughtfully arranged knick-knacks on top. It totally fooled Co-Witch A., and she knows from altars.

I’m good. I could so do this.

All I need is some rich patrons to get me off the ground.

And I think I know how to find them.

When it comes to NeoPagan retail, the Houston area is cursed with abundance. There’s the Magick Cauldron, Elemental Magick, Simply Magick, Lucia’s Garden, Metaphysical Matrix, Rhyandra’s, Tranquil Thymes, Temple’s Gate and the Witchery, plus (should your occultism lean towards the Diasporic) the Blue Hand, the Stanley Drug Co., Botanica Elegua and thirty or so yerberias. But there’s also a New Age boutique, located in one of the city’s high-end shopping district, which caters specifically to wealthy socialites who want their country club acquaintances to think of them spiritual: Antique singing bowls, $3000 statues of Kwan Yin, The Secret on DVD, that sort of thing.

Those socialites are my moneymakers.

Here’s my business model. I get a part-time job at the boutique, learn enough about Feng Shui to sound like I know what I’m talking about, and make astute décor recommendations to the clientele decked out in diamonds and Hermés peasant skirts. People will talk (“He changed my life! And the billiard room!”), customers will start asking for me, and eventually, someone will want to know if I’d be so kind as to redo their summer home.

The rest, as they say, will be gravy. High-end gravy.

Look for me on Bravo, circa 2010. I’m going to be the next new thing, possums; I’m going to own this town. And I’m bringing you all along with me.