Business as usual

“You are now on the business beat,” said my editor to me yesterday.  That suits me just fine, because I am fascinated with how we struggle with money issues in the Pagan communities.  We’ve got a fair amount of poverty (some by choice), and a fair amount of guilt over doing well.  There are rules about who can charge what money for which services without automatically being deemed jerks.  The permutations may be endless.

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Last week I spoke with a vandalism-targeted Pagan shop owner who has dealt with proselytizing inside and out, broken windows, Chick tracts and spit-attacks.  On the flip side, I was honored to interview Abby Willowroot, whose spiral goddess design is a staple in Neopagan circles.  (Side note:  I really, really dig interviews with elders.)  Yesterday I wrote about the ongoing issues faced by esoteric business owners, whose products and services are often indistinguishable from outright scams to the average observer.

Do Pagans and polytheists risk a loss of our core values by getting serious about business, or is it one of the best ways to ensure that we are seen as serious and legitimate religious practitioners?  That debate is sure to rage for quite some time to come.

The specious nature of hate crime

hate (2)Being a journalist means being paid to learn new things, which is why being a Pagan journalist finds me learning a whole lot about issues that matter in our overlapping polytheist and Pagan communities.  This week, I learned just how hard it can be to get something prosecuted as a hate crime.  Dominique Smith feels like a hate-crime victim, but local police aren’t ready to make that call.

I’ve always been a bit skeptical of hate-crime laws because they smack of thoughtcrime, but I thought they were at least an effective tool, albeit a questionable one.  The motivation behind these laws is laudable, but now I’m left wondering if they serve any valid purpose at all.

Yule be sorry

Christmas_with_the_Yule_Log,_Illustrated_London_News,_23_Dec_1848What curious news stories emerge from the Pagan and polytheist communities, such as the notion of trademarking Yule.  I came away from writing that with the impression that there was indeed a villain in that story, but that I may not have spoken to em directly.  To be fair, that feeling is almost always intensified when I interview attorneys, since they are trained to speak out of both sides of their mouths.  (That’s not a disparagement; more like an acknowledgment.)

I wonder if online selling has made it harder to promote a product without it appearing to be a shameless copy of someone else’s work.  That isn’t to say that I believe that’s what is happening here; only the Shadow knows.

Who’s next?

black-630558_1280Writing about the bomb threats to Jewish community centers was made me realize that the hate hammer falls in certain ways.  People who look different than we do are the easiest targets, hence bigotry against people of color in a melanin-impaired society.  Those wandering through, including the Romani and the Jews, have also been harried quite a bit.  That certainly includes, in the United States, the many immigrants and aliens who look different.  Men who love men and women who love women might look like other neighbors and maybe even grown up here, but they’re just not like us.  I believe that crimes against Pagans are only less common because we are, and because the number of us who allow our religion to publicly define us is far, far fewer still.

Centuries of moving toward tolerance and acceptance and we still fear the other.  Tribalism exists in all humanity, and seems to be triggered not just by fear, but by fear triggered in larger groups.  As I observed to a friends recently, we tend to best express our worst attributes when we gather in big numbers.  Looting, pillaging, war, oppression; these thrive in the mob.  In groups we see how little evolution has touched our deepest selves, no matter how much work we have each made individually.

To me, this is just one more argument for depopulation on a massive scale.  We do not yet know how to stop hate, and the best interim solution is more space between us.

Interesting times

Following on the heels of the very public binding of Donald Trump comes exactly what my sources predicted:  his esoterically-minded supporters took up the challenge.  Today’s Pagan Community Notes leads off with details about the witch war that is shaping up.  It may come as a surprise that 1) there are Pagans who support Trump and 2) many of them were offended by the ethical line that they believe was crossed by casting that binding.  (Mind you, others might say that mirror spells are just as bad.)

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What amazes me is that there are Pagans who are surprised that some of their co-religionists support the current president.  Not every Pagan is registered as a Democrat or a Green, but those who are think we all are.  It’s like those polytheists who insist that politics and religion are one and the same, and those other polytheists who keep telling them, “No, we’re honoring gods over here without getting into human politics, and it’s working out just fine.”  The assumption that people we share some commonalities with are people we share all commonalities with is a puzzling, but likely ancient, human failing.

Metaphysical gauntlet thrown down

Witches and other magic-workers setting their sights on President Trump was the topic of my article yesterday at The Wild Hunt.

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An unflattering image of the president is a components in one of the public spells that I looked at, which reminds me of their use in political advertising.  Overculture, meet subculture.

For me, the most interesting bits are the reasons why it probably won’t work.

Review of Ancient Egyptian Magic

ancient-egyptian-magicGenre: Magic

Title: Ancient Egyptian Magic

Author: Eleanor Harris

Overview: I opened this book knowing only as much about ancient Egypt as I recall from sixth grade, when building pyramids out of sugar cubes was in vogue. In short, I’m far from an expert in this area. I opened this book — a 2015 edition of the 1998 original — curious about the subject, and eager to learn. I closed with the sense that Harris did her research thoroughly, with it presented a plausible way to apply ancient Egyptian magical techniques to modern problems.

Hoping that more knowledgeable people have weighed in, I turned to the internet and found mixed reviews. On Goodreads,for example, one person found it thorough and another lacking. All I can say is what should always be said: it’s best to understand the sources the author uses, but one has to start somewhere.

Between these covers are an overview of the religious context in which these techniques were developed (magic was apparently incorporated into ancient Egyptian religion as thoroughly as it has been into modern Wicca), translated and modernized instructions for using them, and resources including glossaries of terms and deities, further reading, and catalog houses through which to shop for appropriate items (because the internet wasn’t all the big for commerce prior to the turn of the century).

There’s not a lot of information about ancient Hellenic magic, but the drier Egyptian climate was kinder. Rather than be jealous that students of Egypt have many papyri to study whilst my coreligionists have mostly lead tablets, I was drawn to the similarities since there was a lot of cultural exchange. What clues about Hellenic magic can I find in Egyptian sources which, for example, refer to the agathos daimon? Certainly the ethical system was similar; magicians did what they wilt and accepted the consequences, or not if they were strong enough to avoid them. Those hints about my own traditional roots were tantalizing.

On the other hand, much of the Egyptian system Harris describes wouldn’t sit well with me, whether or not my ancestors practiced similarly. She describes the use of shape-shifting as a means to trick or bully gods and other spirits into doing one’s bidding; failing that, magicians had no problem threatening gods to get their way. Not my cup of tea, but certainly an interesting insight into this fascinating culture nonetheless.

Quibbles: There are several instances in which the author provides substitutes for the components listed in the source material because the original materials are not practical to obtain. That’s fine, but I wish she had spent more time laying out what those original components were; that would allow modern magicians to more easily choose other substitutes based on their personal circumstances.

Conclusion: Assuming the scholarship is solid, Ancient Egyptian Magic appears to be a good starting point for learning about these ancient magicians, but nothing more. Magic did not exist in isolation, and it’s important to understand the cultural and religious context of the magical scripts presented here before attempting to apply them today. It may be just a starting point, but it’s a good point from which to start.

Title: Ancient Egyptian Magic
Author: Eleanor Harris
Publisher: Weiser Books
ISBN: 978-1-57863-591-7