Friday, November 19, 2021

I'm presenting at the 2021 American Academy of Religion



I'm presenting at the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, in the Theory and Method in the Study of Religion, Attire, and Adornment session on Sunday November 21st, 5.00 - 6.30pm (CST). This is what my paper will be about:

Power Un/Dressing: Revealing the Goddess in Contemporary Occult Religion

The Ordo Templi Orientis, Wicca, and the Church of Satan are three new religious movements that are part of the occultist stream of Western esotericism. Female nudity features prominently in their most important rituals. Priestesses disrobe in order to represent incarnate goddesses and become objects of worship. While unclothed in these rituals, the priestesses are not undressed; various supplements to the body are incorporated in their ritual costume such as veils, belts, jewellery and tiaras, and objects are held and carried. The adorned female body of the priestess situated within the ritual mise en scène is laden with symbolism and functions as a visual didactic assemblage that communicates essential tenets of the religions. Theories of glamour are used as investigatory lenses to examine the effects on ritual participants, and the wider public, of the occult priestess’s nudity-as-dress. The priestesses’ glamour is a form of powerful magic that enchants the viewer and an empowering feminist reclamation of the body as the locus of an immanent deity, simultaneously juxtaposed with the phenomenon of the glamour girl or pin-up and the objectification of women.


I'm also on a panel on 'Magic and Museums: Scholars and Practitioners' chaired by Amy Hale in the Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit at the American Academy of Religion annual meeting, Monday 22 Nov, 9:00-11:00am (CST).


Tuesday, November 2, 2021

I'm presenting at the Aegean Gestures Conference 11 - 13 November 2021


I’m presenting at the Aegean Gestures conference on Saturday November 13th. This is what my paper will be about:

Against Nature: Tree-Shaking Action in Minoan Glyptic Art as Agonistic Behaviour

Minoan gold signet rings are well-known for their depiction of ritual events. Thirty-one ring images depict ritual scenes in which human figures interact with trees. The majority of figures approach the trees in a calm and seemingly reverential manner; however, eight examples depict the ritual participant clasping and vigorously shaking the tree. These appear on gold rings from Knossos, Archanes, Kalyvia, and Poros on Crete (LM IB-III); Vapheio and Mycenae on mainland Greece (LH II-III); as well as an unprovenienced stone seal in New York. The figures all display a particular body posture: standing with bent knees, sometimes bearing their weight on one leg at the front, while their back leg is both extended and supplying thrust, or kicked back and upwards. The pose is suggestive of active movement and is also seen in glyptic depictions of agonistic scenes such as warrior combat, boxing, weapon use, men in combat with real and supernatural animals, bull-leaping, running, men striding with captured women in tow, and hybrid figures such as Minotaurs, bird-men and -women. These iconographic parallels suggest that the tree-pulling pose indicates a coercive or even violent activity. These scenes may depict the attempt to ritually control the natural world through aggression and domination, and to promote the idea that the elite owners of the rings were supremely capable of establishing and maintaining order.

 

Monday, September 6, 2021

Australian Wiccan Conference 2021 Online


I’m presenting this at the Australian Wiccan Conference online on 25 September:

The Devil’s Mischief: From the Book of Genesis to the Satanic Temple 

Who is the Devil and what is his association with witchcraft? This illustrated lecture will explain the history of the Devil and his relationship to ancient Pagan gods, biblical angels, special humans, and his connection to witchcraft today. It will also look how to utilise the Devil’s tools of glamour, bedazzlement, wonderment, and fascination via techniques of High and Low Magic. Through discussion and guided visualisation, ancient and modern approaches to enchantment will be revealed.

 

AWC 2021 PROGRAM

FRIDAY

6:30pm Julia Phillips: Witches, Fairies, and Familiars

7:30pm Tamara Lampard: The Three Cycles of SoLuna Nemeton

8:30pm Virtual fireside

SATURDAY

10:00am David Garland: The Star Tarot Spread

11:00am Break: Morning tea

11:30am Priestess Panel (Jo, Gabby, Julie, Mellie, Josie)

12:30pm Break: Lunch

1:00pm Queer Magic Panel (Dorian, Ryan, GL, Tamika, Bri, Rowan)

2:00pm Josephine Winter: Many paths up the mountain: visualization and ritual techniques for neurodiverse people

3:00pm Caroline Tully: The Devil's Mischief: from the Book of Genesis to the Satanic Temple

4:00pm Break: for individual ritual prep

5:30pm In-person or at home rituals

SUNDAY

10:00am Blake Liddell: Haunted: Discussing spirits and ghosts with a Traditional Hedgewitch

11:00am Break: Morning tea

11:30am Julie: Invoking the Trickster

12:30pm Break: Lunch

1:00pm Ryan: Pinning down witchcraft: magic with nails, pins and thorns

2:00pm Gabrielle Cleary: Weaving the Paths of Power: Layering Techniques in Ritual

3:00pm e-occultism panel (Eryk, Akira, Julie Brett, Mïss Ťëä)

4:00pm Official close, moot, 2022 hosts announced

 


Monday, August 9, 2021

What I'm teaching right now

 

After spending the last year mainly teaching magical, or at least Pagan, topics as workshops at places like Muses of Mystery or various occult conferences via zoom, now I’m back teaching at the University of Melbourne. I’m teaching the Honours (4th year) seminar ‘Problems in Greek Prehistory’ and assistant teaching in the third year subject ‘Interpreting the Ancient World’. I’m still doing magical, witchy and Pagan workshops, in between these university classes. You can see the descriptions of the magical workshops I do, below, in older blog posts. Here are the university course descriptions:

Problems in Greek Prehistory

This is a 4th year undergraduate seminar that focuses on the latest discoveries and debates as well as the history of those debates in the archaeology of the Bronze Age Aegean (Greece, ca. 3000–1177 BCE). The specific topics and readings vary from year to year, but focus weekly on current controversies in the interpretation of archaeological remains for Minoan Crete and Mycenaean Greece. Aegean Crete and the Mycenaean mainland are one of the most intensively investigated archaeological regions in the world, and have often captured the public imagination. Although these are Bronze Age Aegean societies, they have been intimately connected with the feminist rhetoric of a goddess-centered matriarchy, classical Greek and Homeric myths of King Minos and his Labyrinth, the Heroes of the Trojan War, and tales of Atlantis. This has been the case since Sir Arthur Evans and Heinrich Schliemann excavated some of the most important Bronze Age Aegean sites more than a century ago at Knossos, Troy, and Mycenae.

Interpreting the Ancient World

Ancient World Studies encourages a holistic approach to the interpretation of the past, integrating both texts and archaeological remains to understand past cultures, thinking, and behaviour. These consist of the fragmentary archaeological remains, including the ordinary debris of daily life, luxury items, art, architecture, and texts. Texts include the literary, historical, political, economic, administrative, and religious documents of the Classical world and the ancient Near East in translation. In many instances these texts are fragmentary and/or only represent a small segment of the population.

This subject will draw on students' previous academic experience of these diverse categories of data, and it will proceed to introduce you to appropriate methods and theories drawn from literary, feminist, and social theory, anthropology, archaeology, history, and art history required to promote an integrated and balanced approach to the combined interpretation of textual and archaeological evidence in historic periods. It will also teach the anthropological and art historical theories and methods required to interpret the symbolism of cultures where texts are minimal or lacking. While some modules will emphasize case studies drawn from textual evidence, and others will emphasize case studies drawn from material culture, the subject is unified by introducing you to the different methodological lenses and categories of data that can be used to interpret the past. 


Sunday, July 18, 2021

Birthing Death


I have given birth twice, but I only have one living child. Before going through the process myself, I had assumed that pregnancy and birth were uncomplicated Goddess-given activities that women just “did”. I’d read all about Great Mother Goddesses, fertility cults, and women’s mysteries – and lots of my friend had children – so surely reproduction was as easy as falling off a log.

Jasper was conceived sometime near Yule 1999 and was born two weeks before Mabon 2000. Being our first child, we were pretty excited, so we marked the stages of his gestation at each of our Sabbat rites. The pregnancy seemed to be progressing along fine and I planned to have a natural birth at a nearby hospital. The day before my due date, however, I was diagnosed with preeclampsia – high blood pressure, swollen feet and hands, and protein in the urine. This meant the end of the “natural” birth. Labour was induced immediately. I recall during the labour just hoping I would get through the process alive and in the end, after a forceps delivery, I was lucky enough to be presented with a chubby, healthy baby boy.

But the drama didn’t stop there! Next my uterus refused to contract, so the midwives literally had to pummel it, expelling lots of clotted blood each time, until it started to shrink. The midwives estimated that I lost 1.6 litres of blood at delivery, which apparently is quite a lot (the human body contains 5.6 litres). In my rather dazed state, it began to dawn on me just how easy it would be to die giving birth. My blood pressure, which had been skyrocketing during labour, now became dangerously low, and as the nurses bustled around trying to revive me with oxygen, I mentally withdrew into myself – I’d really had enough of the whole birthing thing by that point. It was during this weird time that I had a vision of the goddess kali, the Hindu Goddess of death and destruction.

Kali appeared in vivid Technicolour, rather like a slide image projected on the far wall of the delivery room. Adorned with a skirt of severed arms, a necklace of freshly cut heads, earrings made from children’s corpses, and wearing serpentine bracelets, she was dancing at the end of the world under a blood-red sky. This was hardly the nurturing, fecund image of deity that I associated with childbirth, but then my labour had not exactly been straightforward and assured of success. Two of Kali’s four arms held a sword and a severed head, while the other two made the gestures of dispelling fear and offering boons – was she going to behead me or grant me life?

Without speaking, the Goddess conveyed an understanding about blood equalling life – the bloody uterine chalice, the precious liquid passed from parent to child, the river of generation spewing out of the cosmic cauldron, the potent elixir of perpetuity – I was a link in the chain of existence, a bead on the necklace of rebirth, and a skull adorning Kali’s gruesome garland. I saw my body as a vessel: I had given lifeblood, provided nourishment, and enabled new being to incarnate. Kali showed me death but granted me life.

After the birth drama was over and I lay in the hospital bed with my new baby, the Goddess Artemis appeared. Hovering transparently in midair, she oscillated back and forth between her human guise and the form of a big brown bear.  Wordlessly, she expressed her nature as being the one who grants or withholds success in childbirth, the Goddess who allows mothers to live but who also kills them. I suppose she had come to see the result of letting me live, making sure I knew who to thank. I was aware that in the ancient world. One of Artemis’s roles was to oversee the transition from girlhood to motherhood and although I was far from being a young girl, I as nevertheless going through a rite of passage specifically sacred to her. I was both bemused and pleased to be having another Goddess epiphany.

I became pregnant with my second baby around Lammas 2002.  I felt very clever and mused about being an alchemical instrument mixing male and female essences together to create something new – I was the curcubit! The first two months were characterised by a vile morning sickness, but after the beginning of the third month the nausea stopped and not long afterward I thought I detected movement – always comforting to a pregnant woman – but no sooner had I started to expect the movement than it seemed to stop.

My confidence waned, but I put it down to paranoia. One night, however, I had a vivid nightmare: In the dream, I went into the bathroom and, after going to the toilet, I began pulling on a large red membrane, which seemed to be emerging from my vagina. It came right out and panicking, I called my partner. He held up the sheet-like membrane and turned it around; as he did so we saw that stuck to the other side was a little white skeleton. My heart sank, this was an ill omen for sure. After waking, I chose to ignore the dream, but an apparent lack of foetal movement did bug me.

At almost five month’s gestation, I noticed an extremely heavy secretion of mucous, which is not entirely unusual in pregnancy, but this seemed abnormal. At my next hospital appointment, I was assured that there was nothing to worry about, but I still felt concerned. The midwife also had trouble finding the foetal heartbeat, eventually detecting it very low down on my abdomen, which seemed strange to me. She didn’t think it was a problem, however, and after talking with her for a while I was reassured that the baby was alive and the heartbeat sounded normal. I went home feeling slightly more confident.

The next day I planned to do some leisurely book reading. In the past few weeks, I had developed an intense interest in Goddess figurines from Ice Age art, specifically the Venus of Willendorf, who had started to appear to me regularly in visions, and I hoped that this might indicate some sort of connection or favour that boded well for my pregnancy. I intended spending the day looking at photographs of various figurines, gazing at and meditating on their ample forms. Before getting down to it, I took a toilet break, and it was then that I felt a strange pressure in my pelvic floor. Just on a whim, I stood up and inserted one finger into my vagina – imagine my horror when I actually felt something bulging downwards from my uterus. I checked again, confirming my worst fears, something was definitely wrong, so my partner and I rushed to the hospital.

My cervix was dilating and I would miscarry unless I had a cervical stitch. All that mucous had been the cervical plug that keeps the womb sterile during pregnancy – it had fallen out. There was a chance that a cervical stitch, like a drawstring, might hold the womb closed, but it wasn’t guaranteed. If the cervix continued to open, I would have to give birth to a baby who would die. (My baby was only twenty weeks old; the earliest a premature baby can be saved is twenty-three weeks). For the rest of the night I lay prone on the bed, hoping fervently that my cervix would stay shut.

A morning ultrasound revealed that the baby was descending into the birth canal; it was too late for the stitch. The worst part was that he was alive, vigorous and perfectly healthy, but didn’t stand a chance outside the womb. I was grief-stricken: it was so unjust, so wrong. I felt totally abandoned by the Goddess. Was this some sort of horrible punishment? Hadn’t I appreciated the gift of pregnancy enough? There was no alternative but to push him out. It didn’t take long, a few strenuous pushes and I felt a jellylike mass emerge from my vagina. I knew it was the baby in his amniotic bag, but I felt like I had given birth to a frog, a bird, or a bat. He was a lovely looking baby, but he died after about half an hour. We didn’t name him, it just didn’t seem appropriate at the time.

I felt cheated, robbed, bitter, bewildered, and sadder than I have ever been – definitely the worst experience in my life.

For the next two months I was desperate to begin another pregnancy. Then, all of a sudden, the motherhood hormones dried up, disappeared, and a new strange “me” emerged. Cynical and morbid, I immersed myself in thoughts about the Underworld, spiritualism, poison, murder, and black magic. I was furious at the Venus of Willendorf – she could go to Tartarus!!! Who did she think she was, appearing to me in the weeks before my miscarriage like that? Why had she been hovering semi-transparently in front of my eyes all that time? Wasn’t she supposed to help pregnant women? Why had she been so awful to me?

As time passed, I began to realise that perhaps I simply had not read the signs properly: I hadn’t sought to clarify my apparent rapport with the Venus via divination, to get another angle on what her appearances possibly meant, and had blithely coasted along, believing that she was a benevolent manifestation of the Great Mother. I now realise that I had been relying on popular assumptions about what this particular Ice Age figurine actually represents, when in fact we don’t really know much about her at all. We don’t know whether she was a Mother Goddess, a fertility idol, or an Ice Age pin-up girl – she may even have had something to do with limiting fertility because historically hunter-gatherer groups have been more concerned with keeping their population down to a level that their environment could support, rather than increasing their numbers exponentially. Whatever she is, I should probably have realised from my previous experiences with the liminal Goddesses, Kali and Artemis, that deities can take as well as give. If the Venus is a great Mother, maybe she was taking the baby back, facilitating a reverse birth into the world of the spirit? I am reconciled with her now and, in hindsight, I think she was doing me a favour.



First published in: In Celebrating the Pagan Soul. Ed. Laura Wildman. 226–230. New York: Citadel Press, 2005.


Image: Procession of children honouring a statue of the goddess Diana  Fresco, 3rd century CE, Ostia Antica. Collection of the Vatican Museums.


Monday, June 14, 2021

Taming the Newspaper Photographer




 







Eventually I worked out how to get the photographer to make me look good. Basically, ask them about their own work: “What have you been photographing today? What do you like to photograph? How long have you worked at the newspaper?” etc. And of course I’d try and explain Witchcraft so that it didn’t seem too weird. But it’s the image that everyone looks at in the paper. They don’t care so much about the text, although I would get grilled by other Pagans when the articles came out: “Why’d you say that? Why didn’t you say this?” And of course my family and relatives were wincing with discomfort and embarrassment that I would shame them by being interviewed about such a kooky topic. So again, there was more reason to feel tense about the resultant article, but I just had to accept that I couldn’t please everyone.


Sunday, June 13, 2021

When newspapers were actually made of paper







Going through my Book of Shadows from the late 80s and early 90s I came across these newspaper photos of myself from around 1996. Back in the 1990s being interviewed in the newspaper about Witchcraft and Paganism was a bit of a big deal, and it was a real gamble as to how the journalist and more important, the photographer, were going to portray you. If they liked you they might say nice things about you, but if they didn’t like you they would treat the topic, and you, in a flippant manner. As a member of The Church of All Worlds (CAW) back then, part of progressing through the Circles (degrees) involved being able to talk about Paganism to the media. So you’d say yes to interview requests and then wait on tenterhooks for the article to come out and hope you’d come across as OK.

When the article came out there’d be angry phone calls from relatives about how you’d embarrassed them, and when you arrived at your workplace people would stare at you with a mixture of reverence and contempt. Who are you to be getting media coverage, and for something so obviously weird? I would often deeply regret not having done my best to get the journalist and photographer on my side, but eventually learned how to do it (see next post).

These days, now that control of your image is in your own hands, you can make beautiful, professional-looking images with a phone camera, and get international coverage through social media. We see images constantly and are pretty blasé about them. It’s de rigueur to portray yourself in the most glamorous manner possible, for reasons spanning promoting a business or just your own perceived awesomeness. There is no need to sweet-talk a journalist or photographer, hoping they won’t make you look like a clown, we can simply bypass them – and of course media coverage is all really rather ho-hum, it doesn’t have the power it used to. No one even cares about being on TV because everyone’s got their own little YouTube show.

Sure, Witches have been getting media coverage since the 1950s, and much of it sensationalist. Now we have to fight the scrum of social media to get any attention that lasts more than one day. Different times.