Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Guide to the Inquisition

Inquisition! The mere word sounds like an instrument of torture, something pointy and sharp, perhaps red-hot as well. Something you don’t want near your flesh at any cost! Modern Witches frequently mention the role of “The Inquisition” in reference to “The Burning Times”, but what exactly was the Inquisition? There never actually was a single monolithic entity called “The Inquisition” that persecuted religious dissenters from Europe to the New World. In fact what we think of as the [single] Inquisition really consisted of three separate offices: the Medieval Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition and the Roman Inquisition. Most people associate the word “Inquisition” with either the Spanish Inquisition or with the Roman Inquisition which tried Galileo. Both these Inquisitions were creations of the early modern period, but evolved from the Medieval Inquisition, founded by Pope Gregory IX in the 13th century, which was a very different organisation from the Inquisitions of the 16th century. And lest you think that this is all just history, religious Inquisition is still with us! In the 1960s Pope Paul VI changed the name to the “Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”.

Background to the Medieval Inquisition
After 313 CE the Pagan Roman emperors formally decided to tolerate Christians. In 337 CE the emperor Constantine became a Christian himself. Over the succeeding centuries Christianity gained in power, eventually becoming so powerful it was able to compel everyone within all tiers of society to embrace Christianity. It was this secular power and influence - along with Christianity’s monotheistic inability to tolerate other religious beliefs and expressions, unlike the previous centuries of inclusive Pagan Polytheism that had preceded it – that combined into a situation where religious belief could be enforced. This is how such a thing an Inquisition into people’s religious affiliations was ever able to be conducted. The Christian Church asserted that its particular position on matters of religious belief and expression was the orthodox one, whereas any other position was heterodox. (“Orthodox” means “to believe rightly” and its opposite is “heterodox”). As orthodox Christian doctrine slowly took on its formal shape it became the consensus ecclesiae the common opinion of the Church. If you did not conform to the orthodox view of the Church, you were a heretic.

“Heresy” comes from the Greek word hairesis and means “choice” or “thing chosen”. Technically, a heretic was a member of the Church who persisted in holding on to beliefs that he or she had been told repeatedly by a cleric, priest or bishop, where wrong and contrary to the Church’s established teachings. From the Church’s angle, a heretic was “anyone who, after receiving baptism, while remaining nominally Christian, pertinaciously denies or doubts any of the truths which must be believed with Divine and Catholic faith”. The term heretic can be distinguished from “infidel” - one who is not Christian at all, or “apostate” - one who abandons Christianity. Heretics were members of the Christian Church who thought wrongly. Jews or Pagans – who by definition were not Christians - were not initially classified as heretics.

Early Heresy
One of the earliest heresies was Gnosticism, an early esoteric religious movement that flourished during the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE and presented a major challenge to orthodox Christianity. “Gnosticism” comes from the Greek word gnosis which means “revealed knowledge”. To its adherents Gnosticism promised a secret knowledge of the divine realm. Most Gnostics were actually Christians, but their beliefs diverged sharply from the majority of Christians in the early Church, thus they were heretics. Gnostics believed that sparks or seeds of the Divine Being fell from the transcendent realm into the material universe and were imprisoned inside human bodies. Re-awakened by knowledge (gnosis), the divine element in humanity would return to its proper home in the transcendent spiritual realm. The Gnostic creation myth explained that from the original unknowable God, a series of lesser divinities were generated by emanation. The last of these, Sophia or wisdom, conceived a desire to know the unknowable Supreme Being. Out of this illegitimate desire was produced a deformed evil God or Demiurge who created the universe. The divine sparks that dwell in humanity fell, or were sent, into this universe in order to redeem humanity. The Gnostics believed that the god of the Old Testament – Yahweh - was evil as he wanted to keep humanity immersed in ignorance and the material words and punish their attempts to acquire knowledge. It was in this light that the myth of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, the flood, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah were understood.

Another early heresy was Manichaeism. Founded by the Persian sage Mani (216 - 276 CE), Manichaeism was a combination of earlier religious traditions including Gnosticism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity. Manichaeism proposed an extreme dualism between good and evil, its fundamental belief was that the cosmos was a battleground between God (Light) and the Devil (Darkness). God created Spirit, the Devil created Matter and entrapped human souls within it. Originally the two realms of Light and Darkness were entirely separate but in a primal catastrophe the realm of Darkness invaded the realm of Light and the two became mixed and engaged in perpetual struggle. Eventually all fragments of Divine Light would be redeemed, the world destroyed, and Light and Darkness would be eternally separated. Manicheans believed that the human body was material and therefore evil, and that the soul is spiritual, a fragment of the divine light, and must be redeemed from its imprisonment in the body and the world. The path of redemption was thought to be via a succession of divine messengers that included Buddha and Jesus, and ended with Mani.

Medieval Heresy
In the 1140s a new heresy called Bogomilism expanded out from Bulgaria. This later became known as Catharism. “Cathar” comes from the Greek work katharos meaning “pure” and the Cathars were characterised by a rigid adherence to asceticism and, like the Gnostics and Manicheans, by a dualistic theology based on the idea that the universe was made up of two conflicting worlds: the spiritual and the material world. The more extreme Cathars believed in two gods, one Lord of Spirit and the other Lord of Matter - the latter being equated with the Devil. Unlike orthodox Christianity which saw the Devil as inferior to God, Cathars saw them as equally powerful. The Cathars rejected much Christian doctrine, for example, instead of baptism as an initiatory rite they had a consolamentum which was achieved by a “Perfect” (or Perfecti) laying hands upon a believer. Consolamentum was only administered to fully instructed adults, or to the dying. Perfecti were extremely virtuous and spiritual members of the Cathars and had to break all ties with the world, renounce property, sexual activities, and all social ties. They abstained from eating meat, milk eggs and cheese, had an aversion to telling lies, swearing oaths or killing living beings. Not all Cathars were Perfecti but even for the lay members heterosexual sex was condemned - so that no more bodies would be encased in flesh via conception. This may have led to the origin of the word “bugger” referring to anal sex (a well known ancient form of contraception). Bugger is believed to derive from the French bougre, derived from Bulgaria, the home of the Bogomils or original Cathars. Cathar doctrine dismissed concepts such as Hell: either one was redeemed by accepting their message and receiving the consolamentum, or one was reincarnated in another body human or animal for another life of suffering and testing. What really annoyed the orthodox Church was that Cathars taught that it was a counterfeit Church founded by the Devil to delude people with false hopes of salvation. The Church ensured that the Cathars were wiped out by the mid 1300s.

The strongest and most enduring heresy of the Middle Ages was Waldensianism. The Waldensians were members of a Christian sect that grew out of a movement that opposed the established Church. Founded in 1173 by a wealthy French merchant, Peter Waldo of Lyon, who had undergone a conversion experience and decided that his comfortable existence was incompatible with the Gospels, he subsequently gave up his wealth and went out to preach. By 1176 Waldo had accumulated a group of followers who were known as “The Poor Men of Lyon”. He went to Rome and appealed to the Pope, Alexander III, for the Waldensians to be legitimated as an order and although the Pope approved of their lifestyle, he refused to sanction them. Waldo become bitter and more radical, preaching that people should dispense with the orthodox clergy, that each person had a direct conduit to the divine, could perform their own sacraments and preach. Waldo was excommunicated in 1182 and died in obscurity in 1205. The Waldensians survived as an underground movement for centuries, eventually being legalised in Italy in 1848, and currently have members in Italy, South America, Argentina and Uruguay. In the USA they merged with the Protestant Church.

Medieval Inquisition
By 1184 the Church had become increasingly intolerant of competing faiths and Pope Lucius III issued the decretal Ad Abolendum - the founding charter of the Inquisition. This condemned the “insolence” of heretics and their attempts to promote falsehood. In 1231 Pope Gregory IX issued the letter Ille Humanis Gerenis linking the spread of heresy directly to the malice of “Satan” and declaring that the Church must respond to this catastrophe. The Medieval Inquisition was specifically organised to deal with heresy. It was made up of members of the Dominican and Franciscan orders, both of which were vowed to poverty and therefore thought to be impervious to corruption and bribes. The aim of the Inquisition was to convince heretics to return to the Christian faith - it was not designed to specifically to kill people. Torture was certainly used however, although this was nothing new as secular courts used torture as well. Medieval rules of evidence recognised only full proofs and partial proofs. The only full proofs were the testimony of two eyewitnesses, catching the criminal in the act, or confession. All other evidence was only considered partial proof. The law required full proofs to convict and torture was a way of getting a confession, therefore a full proof. A confession made under torture had to be freely repeated again the next day without torture or it was considered invalid. Torture was not considered a punishment, it was done before sentencing. Actual punishments included public shame, branding with a hot iron, imprisonment, confiscation of property, mutilation, withdrawal of the right to testify in court and exile. The death penalty was reserved for relapsed or unrepentant heretics. Seeing as the Inquisition was the Church, it could not actually kill people so candidates for the death penalty were normally handed over to the secular arm to be punished at which time they ceased to be under the jurisdiction of the Inquisition. Pope Innocent IV’s Bull, Ad Extirpanda issued in 1252 proclaimed “When those adjudged guilty of heresy have been given up to the civil power by the bishop or his representative or the Inquisition, the chief magistrate of the city shall take them at once, and shall within five days at the most, execute the laws made against them”. The death penalty was usually burning at the stake. (All in the name of “correct” Christianity! One really has to wonder, what would Jesus think?).

Medieval Witchcraft
Originally the Medieval Inquisition was not concerned with perusing Witches at all - civil authorities did a good enough job persecuting Witchcraft. Although the statutes of the Cistercian monastic order in 1240 stated that “the crime of sorcery is a kind of heretical depravity”, in 1264 Pope Alexander IV specifically forbade the Inquisition to pursue Witches unless the cases specifically savored of heresy: “The Inquisitors, deputed to investigate heresy, must not intrude into investigations of divination or sorcery without knowledge of manifest heresy involved.” Manifest heresy meant “praying at the altars of idols, offering sacrifices, consulting with demons to elicit responses from them.” The Church of the 1200s did not consider Witches to be members of a rival religion. By 1398 however, the theology faculty of he University of Paris determined that acts of sorcery (which they believed were accomplished by means of a tacit or explicit pact with the Devil) were to be considered heretical. In the 14th and 15th centuries Popes such as John XXII and Eugenius IV acted vigorously against magic and drew Witchcraft and heresy more closely together. Once magic was associated with heresy it was able to be persecuted by the Inquisition. In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued the decree, Summis desiderantes affectibus specifically condemning Witchcraft as heresy.

Inquisition falls into secular hands
Although the Medieval Inquisition delegated to secular authorities the task of putting convicted heretics to death, it always remained in control of the proceedings. In the 14th and 15th centuries however, it lost this power. The national monarchs of various countries gained control over the Church and papacy. The brutal framing and suppression of the Knights Templar in 1312 by French King, Phillip IV (r. 1285 - 1314), and the farcical trial of Joan of Arc in 1430 - 1431 indicated that the Inquisition had fallen from religious into secular hands, paving the way for the Spanish Inquisition.

The Spanish Inquisition
Medieval Spain ruled a large number of non-Christians such as Muslims and Jews. These populations were frequently the targets of Christian anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic attitudes and were periodically subject to large scale attempts at conversion. On the whole however, the three religions tended to live peacefully together. A series of economic catastrophes starting with the Black Plague (1348) increased widespread resentment against and scape-goating of Jews. Older kinds of tolerance gave way to the increasing power, wealth and world view of the higher aristocracy which perceived itself as a kind of Christian military nobility, superior to Muslims and Jews, and by the end of the century there were large urban revolts where the Jews were slaughtered en masse. Converso Jews (those who had bowed to the pressure to be converted to Christianity) were accused of not being real Christians and by 1472 a vast tide of anti-Semitism swept across Spain eventually culminating in all Jews being expelled in 1492. The Jews’ presence was believed to pollute Spain and ethnic Spaniards became more conscious of themselves as “Old Christians”, the possessors of limpieza de sangre (purity of the blood).

In 1478 King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain requested a Papal Bull establishing an Inquisition which they received on 1st November from Pope Sixtus IV. The Spanish Inquisition originally focused on Conversos (Christianised Jews), Marranos (converted Muslims) and Moriscos (Moors from North Africa) who were all suspected of not really being sincere in their Christianity. Instead of being tied to one of the mendicant orders, bishops or the pope like the Medieval Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition was beholden to the crown. Called La Suprema, the Inquisition became a governmental department along with the council of state and council of finance and was headed by the notorious Tomas Torquemada (1420 - 1498) the Inquisitor-General. The Spanish Inquisition concentrated on Judaising activities during two major period from 1481 - 1530 and again from 1650 - 1720.

The Spanish Inquisition took it upon themselves to defend Christianity from all perceived attacks. Between 1530 and 1650 it concentrated on routine Christian religious offences. As well as Conversos, the Inquisition also dealt with Erasmian Humanism - a form of pietism expressed by the Illuminists - and after the Reformation they pursued Protestantism. With the explosion of printing they focused on censoring books. The first Index of Prohibited Books in Spain was issued in 1547 and again in 1551. The Inquisition also focused on internal supervision of the Catholic clergy as well as the problem of “incorrect religious beliefs” amongst lay Catholics. Even some notable Catholics who at the time were considered too radical - Saint Theresa of Avila (1515 - 1582) and Ignatius of Loyola (1449 - 1556), were pursued by the Inquisition! It also focused on Witchcraft.

As in other courts, the Spanish Inquisition used torture. Torture was carried out by the public executioner in the presence of an Inquisitor, a representative of the local bishop and often a doctor. The three most common methods used were the garrucha, similar to the strappado or pulley-torture where the arms were tide behind their back and then hoisted up by a rope attached to a pulley, the victim was then repeatedly dropped down which wrenched their shoulder joints; the toca which was the ordeal by water, pouring copious amounts of water into the prisoner’s mouth and then beating their stomach, and the potro which was a form of the rack. At the end of hearing all the cases the Inquisition would organise an Auto-de-fe (act of faith) which was an enormous public spectacle where the sentences of the guilty were read out and applied.

Processions of the penitents, public prayers and sermons occurred. Although there was the slim chance of dismissal of the charges or acquittal, the majority of the cases resulted in reconciliation with the Church which technically freed the accused but which marked them for life because forever after they had to wear a distinctive garment, the sanbenito, which marked the person for life as a heretic. Upon their death the garment was hung in the church with their name on it reminding their neighbours and descendents of their shame and penitence. Other sentences included having to go on pilgrimages, confiscation of goods, imprisonment, exile, scourging and service in the galleys. Like the Medieval Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition was not permitted to sentence anyone to death and consequently unrepentant or relapsed heretics were “relaxed to the secular arm” which meant that they were burned at the stake. The Spanish Inquisition was finally suppressed on July 15th 1834.

The Roman Inquisition
In 1542 Pope Paul III issued the Bull Licet ab initio, which began the Roman Inquisition, because as he was disturbed by the success of the Protestant Reformation and growth of heretical movements in Italy. This inquisition was restricted to Italy because the northern secular rulers were determined to do their own heresy hunting. Although a kind of revival or continuation of the Medieval Inquisition with the example of the Spanish Inquisition before it, the Roman Inquisition was different from its Medieval predecessor. It had the power to charge anyone - regardless of rank or status - with heresy. Unlike Spain however, the Roman Inquisition did not particularly deal with Jewish Conversos, its chief target being Protestantism. Once the Protestant problem seemed under control the Roman Inquisition turned its focus on internal ecclesiastical discipline and to offences such as “the problem of popular religion, superstition and false beliefs”. From shortly before 1600 the cases tried by the Italian inquisitions changed from those concerning Protestantism to magic. Nearly forty per cent of all Italian trials dealt with “superstitious magic”. There was even a special guide book, printed in 1625, for Inquisitors concerning magic called the Instructio pro formandis processibus in causis strigum sortilegiorum et maleficorum (The Instructions for conducting trial procedure in the case of witches, sorcerers, and injurious magicians).

In general the procedure followed by the Roman inquisition was similar to that developed by medieval inquisitors. Unlike the Spanish Inquisition however, the Roman inquisitors conducted their sentencing in private. Among the famous victims of the Roman Inquisition were Giordano Bruno (1564 - 1600), an ex-Dominican with an interest in natural magic who was burned at the stake, and Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642) the great Italian astronomer and physicist who was found guilty of heresy because of his support of the Copernican system. The Roman Inquisition also focused on censorship of books. In 1542 a list of books were prohibited because of doctrinal content or attacks on the Church and in 1559 a more ambitious Index appeared, the Index Auctorum et Liborum Prohibitorum (The Index of Prohibited Books and Authors). This was expanded in 1564 and again in 1758. In 1588, Pope Sixtus V renamed the Inquisition “The Congregation of the Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition” or “Holy Office”, one of the fifteen secretariats that the papal government was divided into by his administrative reforms.

The Inquisition Today
Eventually Roman Catholicism lost exclusive control over religious thought and practice. The Protestants was too numerous and strong to be eradiated by the Inquisition, and the Enlightenment and the increase of secular royal power made the Church’s monopoly on personal conscience redundant. By the 18th century it had virtually no power or influence outside the papal states. The chief occupation of its members in the 1700’s was the investigation and censuring of cases of clerical immorality and the censoring of printed books. The last heretic was executed in France in 1766. In 1908 Pope Pius X changed the Inquisitions’ name to the “Congregation of the Holy Office”. In 1965 Pope Paul VI changed the name again to “The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” and the Index of prohibited books was abolished in 1966.

These days the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is primarily an advisory body to the Pope and although it still makes judgments on heresy cases, it cannot not use force. It meets weekly in Rome and is presided over by the Pope if highly significant maters are to be discussed. Pope John Paul II said on June 28, 1988 that “the duty proper to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is to promote and safeguard the doctrine on the faith and morals throughout the Catholic world: for this reason everything which in any way touches such matter falls within its competence.” The current Pope, Benedict XVI in his previous guise as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, came to papal office directly from his role as the head of the Congregation. According to the 2002 Annuario Pontificio or “Pontifical Yearbook”, Congregation work is divided into four distinct sections: the doctrinal office, the disciplinary office, the matrimonial office and that for priests. The congregation “in conformity with its raison d’être, promotes in a collegial fashion encounters and initiatives to spread sound doctrine and defend those points of Christian tradition which seem in danger because of new and unacceptable doctrines”.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Moina Mathers on the Role of the Priestess

This interview exerpt will sound very familiar to Neo-Pagan priestesses today. It comes from an article called "Isis Worship in Paris" by Frederic Lees, in the magazine The Humanitarian. Februrary 1900. Vol XVI. No.2. New York.
The High Priestess Anari holds some very interesting opinions on woman's role in religion. "The idea of the Priestess is at the root of all ancient beliefs", she said, on one occasion. "Only in our ephemeral time has it been neglected. Even in the Old Testament we find the Priestess Deborah, and the New Testament tells us of the Prophetess Anne. What do we find in the modern development of religion to replace the feminine idea, and consequently the Priestess? When a religion symbolises the universe by a Divine Being, is it not illogical to omit woman, who is the principal half of it, since she is the principal creator of the other half - that is, man? How can we hope that the world will become purer and less material when one excludes from the Divine, which is the highest ideal, that part of its nature which represents at one and the same time the faculty of receiving and that of giving - that is to say, love itself in its highest form - love the symbol of universal sympathy? That is where the magical power of woman is found. She finds her force in her alliance with the sympathetic energies of Nature. And what is Nature if it is not an assemblage of thoughts clothed with matter and ideas which seek to materialise themselves? What is this eternal attraction between ideas and matter? It is the secret of life. Have you ever realised that there does not exist a single flame without a special intelligence which animates it, or a single grain of sand to which an idea is not attached, the idea that formed it? It is these intelligent ideas which are the elementals, or spirits of Nature. Woman is the magician born of Nature by reason of her great natural sensibility, and of her instructive sympathy with such subtle energies as these intelligent inhabitants of the air, the earth, the fire and water."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The High Priestess Anari

I've decided to post an etherealised image of The High Priestess Anari a.k.a Moina Mathers a.k.a. Mina Bergson fading in - or out - of view in her Paris 'Rites of Isis' guise because lately I've been thinking about how much the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn influenced the 20th century Magickal and Pagan revival. Basically, A Lot! The original members of the G:.D:. used to seem rather far away in time from me (us) but now they seem really quite near, it was only a little over 100 years ago after all when the G:. D:. was formulating what would end up influencing the way 'magic' is conceptualised by later groups such as Wicca and Wiccan-derived Neo-Paganism. Whether you belong[ed] to a 'authentic lineage' of the G:.D:. or are familiar with their curriculum through your own research and application, I think we have a lot to thank them for, especially the mammoth research effort put in by S.L. MacGregor Mathers. Although they are generally classified as 'ceremonial magicians' I think the early G:.D:. are as 'Pagan' as contemporary Neo-Pagans really - with all the variations that that title encompasses, i.e. a range from theurgy to devotional approaches to non-Christian deities.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Party Poster Collages by Me

I made these collages for a Samhain party in 1997. We - my friends and I - used to always have a big Samhain party in Melbourne every year but eventually I got burned out and gave up on organising it. However, one of my friends, Philippe, kept the party going on for about ten more years. It might still be going for all I know. These images were on the back of the invitation for 1997 and on the front was a fleshy Witch on a broom image by the artist Coop. The collages were actually black and white - I just did them with a photocopier, scissors and gluestick (I love gluestick!) and I've coloured them for my blog.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I'm in two new Pagan anthologies.

That's right, this image has nothing to do with the two anthologies I'm in and is here simply because I like Louise Bourgeois's sculptures and thought I'd illustrate my post with one of them. So... I'm glad to announce that I'm in two new Pagan anthologies. Green Egg Omelettes is an anthology of art and articles from the legendary US Pagan magzine 'Green Egg', co-edited by Oberon Zell and Chas Clifton and published by New Page Books in the USA. The other is Priestesses, Pythonesses and Sibyls, edited by Sorita d'Este and published by Avalonia Books in the UK. My article in Green Egg Omelettes is on the Australian Pagan artist, Norman Lindsay, and the piece in Priestesses is a historical article on the Delphic Oracle.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Witchcraft and Paganism: What's the difference?

Regarding modern Witchcraft / Wicca and Paganism, and also the attempt to revive actual ancient 'pagan' religions. I think it's a matter of structures. Contemporary Paganism, as I am aware of it, is run on an essentially Wiccan model. That is a 'magic circle' model of 'casting the circle' the Four Elements, and a paired Deity(ies) in the middle. This format generally remains the same across Wiccan and Wiccan-inspired Pagan groups but can be "ethnically different" by swapping the deities around for those of different cultures - using Egyptian deities, Greek deities etc, but in the same 'magic circle' format. You can also combine deities/beings from several cultures in the one ritual format. A lot of people think that this 'magic circle' model *is* the "authentic ancient Pagan way of religious ritual" which under Christianity came to be thought of as "magic" but is "really ancient Pagan religion". When it is not actually ancient Pagan religion at all, but a *magic circle*, derived, I think, from the legacy of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn on 20th century Wicca, Paganism and other types of Ceremonial Magic. I think that the Wiccan format is essentially the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram extended into a religious ritual. It makes sense that Wiccans would be doing the "magic circle" format, because they are essentially Witches doing magic. But for "Pagans" to be also doing the "magic circle" format is less understandable, unless they are the types of "Pagans" who want to be Wiccans (rather than the types of Pagans who want to be non-Wiccan Pagans). Not that I'm saying that modern Paganism is not Paganism, I think it is, but it is a different thing to ancient, and to Reconstructionist, Paganism.

There is a prevalent idea that "Pagans" are "uninitiated Wiccans" which probably derives from the fact that Wiccans were/are the most active in the 20th century Pagan revival (maybe). Anyway, there is an idea that "Pagans" are un-initiated Wiccans, that they are a pool of potential Wiccans and that Wiccans are the "clergy" of this pool of Pagans. Wiccans have higher status in this situation. If the Pagans want to, they can try and join this clergy. Again, it seems to be a general belief that "ancient mystery cults" were part of all ancient paganism (when as far as I know while they were prevalent in Greece, and later Rome, they weren't evident across the board of "ancient Paganism" and the idea that they were characteristic of Egyptian religion is completely wrong) and that the Wiccan initiation is a form of one of these "ancient mystery cults" - among other things. In a (modern) Pagan festival situation it could be *generally* looked at like a "Sabbat" is a big public festival that brings together all sorts of Pagans, you don't have to be an initiated Wiccan to attend. An "Esbat" could be more of a Wiccan-focused event for those who are intending to eventually become initiated, or who are already initiated. Then there might, well there will be, initiates-only rituals that are not public at all, but coven only. So a permanent membership in the mystery cult/clergy. It's three a concentric circles of types of participation, from "Pagans" on the outer, to initiated Wiccans on the inner. But all using the same "magic circle" format. That's just a general diagram that isn't necessarily concretely representative of exactly how Pagans/Wiccans work, but from my experience it seems generally right.

Reconstructionist Pagans are a completely different kettle of fish to Neo-Pagans and/or Wiccans. They research the ancient "pagan" religion(s) of their choice and then attempt to practice it. It usually looks, and is, nothing like Neo-Paganism or Wicca - because it is not about magic, is not designed on a 'magic circle' structure. Nor is it "earth-based" necessarily. Sure, some of the gods, or beliefs or practices are earth-oriented, but others aren't, they are sky-oriented, or culture-oriented. In ancient Rome for example, "magic" was a pejorative label. The Roman magistrates and Flamens, or the Vestal Virgins, were not "doing magic", that wasn't their intention, although from our point of view they might look like they were (probably because Christianity viewed other religions as magical or demonic), but Romans would have been insulted to have been thought of as doing magic when they were trying to perform civic religion. Although of course magic went on, privately. Reconstructionists don't do much in the way of "ancient mystery cults" either, because of a lack of good information on *exactly* what went on - because the ancients were so good at keeping secrets, except for ancient Christian converts who liked to blab. (Although I am more sympathetic to the idea of Recons just doing mysteries anyway, sans good info, just do the best you can - I suppose that's an example of *degrees* of historical correctness).

So... Basically Wicca/Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism are similar to each other, because they both use the 'magic circle' format for their religious/magickal space (and I think Neo-Paganism derived from Wicca, and from where Wicca derived itself from - which was the Golden Dawn) but are they are both very different to ancient "paganism" and forms of Reconstructionist Paganism. I think it is important to distinguish between modern Wiccan-Paganism and ancient pagan religions. And magic of all sorts. I also think that modern Pagans could make a bit more effort to research what they purport to be practising *or* alternatively stop claiming ancient precedents.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Isis-Aphrodite, the cute goddess!

The Hellenised Egyptian cult of Isis originated in Ptolemaic Alexandria from whence it spread out into the Mediteranean. By the 4th century BCE there was an Isiac sanctuary in the Piraeus (Athens' port). During the 3rd until the 1st centuries BCE the Isiac cults practised at Greek trade centres such as Alexandria, Delos and Puteoli spread along sea-trade routes. Delos, a major slave trading emporium, was the main site of Isis worship. From the 2nd century until the sack of Delos in 88 BCE there was uninterrupted contact between the island and Puteoli, the second international Mediterranean port after Delos. By 105 BCE there was a temple of Alexandrian divinities at Puteoli and, more widely, in Campania, at Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabiae and Naples. Within about five more years it would be in Rome. While there existed a tradition of rather refined sculptures of a Hellenised Isis, based on the iconography of deified Ptolemaic queens, there were also these very cute terracotta popular images of the goddess in her form in which she was syncretised with Hathor-Aphrodite. I've been collecting images of them because I think they are so cute.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cleopatra = Cliché?

As part of my general interest in Egyptomania, I'm doing an essay on the reception of the Cult of Isis amongst the Roman elite from the Late Republic to the Flavian period. This has led me to an investigation into Julius Caesar's and Mark Antony's relationships with, of course, Cleopatra VII who termed herself the 'New Isis'. I was resisting looking at Cleopatra, having successfully avoided her for my entire life under the assumption that she was too horribly clichéd to bother with. (Is that a word - 'clichéd'?). However, after looking at primary sources about her, Cassius Dio, Appian, Plutarch, I'm finding her much more interesting than I thought she was. Shows that I shouldn't have been relying only on the Cleopatra of rumour (or Hollywood) - not that rumour is absent in ancient authors' stories of her either. I've also been reading up on the Ptolemaic Dynasty - fascinating! lots of killing of relatives and brother-sister marriage - as well as on Ptolemaic Alexandria. I can recommned Joyce Tyldseley's recent book on Cleopatra, as well as Sally-Ann Ashton's, Joann Fletcher's and Diana Kleiner's books as interesting, easy-to-read accounts. Plus, theres a fabulous, enormous book 'Cleopatra of Egypt: from History to Myth' by Susan Walker and Peter Higgs (Eds), published by the British Museum Press (2001) that is full of ace pictures and interesting essays. I'm still a bit sheepish about admitting that I'm looking at Cleopatra... But I shouldn't be. She really is much more interesting than I expected. Plus, there's all that "Was Cleopatra black? No, she was Macedonian" controversy that you can read about in Mary Lefkowitz. Will the ancient world ever cease to amaze and fascinate me? I doubt it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Pagan Reconstructionism

I discovered Pagan Reconstructionism around 2000. Before that I'd been heavily involved in Neo-Paganism. What is the difference you may ask? Well, Neo-Paganism derives from 20th century Wiccan Witchcraft in that it uses a 'magical circle and four elements' format, believing this to be the "authentic" structure of "Paganism" - as if there is only one "Paganism". Neo-Paganism also tends to act as if it is some sort of "outer court" of Wicca, a first step to Wicca, like the way a congregation is in relation to a priesthood. It makes sense that Wicca uses a magical circle format because Wicca is essentially magical, but "Paganism" is not. Pagan Reconstructionsim generally consists of people either fleeing from Neo-Paganism or coming from a historical re-enactment background. It tries to re-create ancient religion(s) from available primary sources such as texts and archaeology and is not usually focussed upon "magic". While intellectually I prefer Pagan Reconstructionism to Neo-Paganism (although I do agree that the latter has many good points), since going back to University specifically in order to study ancient religions I have actually become less inclined to religious practice or belief at all. In fact I'm rather fond of atheism. That does not mean that I don't still tremble in vertiginous awe at the universe and I'm still incredibly interested in religion(s) from many angles: aesthetic, structural, functional, but I can't say that I'm actually a full-on *believer* in supernatural beings - at least not to the point that I'm going to participate honestly in their cult (not that the Pagan Reconstructionist scene is very big in Australia anyway). I've been thinking that religious experience might very well be *aesthetic* experience for a few years now. I agree that there are many pleasurable sensory aspects about ancient religion and from the point of view of the 'Goddess Movement' certainly the discovery of ancient images of female deities is very empowering for women. It might surprise some people to realise just how huge the Pagan Reconstructionist scene actually is, consisting of types such as Celtic, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Canaanite and Norse Reconstructionism. There are also several umbrella organisations. A lot of this exists on the internet where Yahoo Groups facilitate communication between enthusiasts, and there is also the phenomenon of 'virtual shrines'. Pagan Reconstructionism is also popular in Lithuania, Greece and probably lots of other places too. I have heard that Classicist, Sarah Iles Johnston, is going to write a book on Greek Reconstructionists, who, if you recall newspaper articles about them coming out of Greece in the last few years, are very vocal about having Greek Paganism legalised. This really is quite a fascinating topic that I'm particularly interested in, these days, from the perspective of the uses of "The Past" by contemporary Pagans. One of the useful books that is not exactly on Pagan Reconstructionism but is on the interaction between modern Pagans and Archaeologists and Heritage sites in the UK is Jenny Blain and Robert Wallis "Sacred Sites Contested Rites/Rights". The authors are both academics and Heathens - and this is not an unusual mix if you are aware of Pagan Studies - the academic study of Contemporary Paganism. From another angle, British Archaeologist, Francis Pryor, talks about the problems Archaeologists in the field can have with Pagans who claim "ancestral rights" to a particular ancient site. Then there is Catalhoyuk at which Ian Hodder has actively tried to address the interests of the Goddess Worshippers who frequent the site as part of his Post-Processualist approach. I could write about this all day, citing interesting example after example, but alas - no, actually hooray - I must attend to an essay on the reception of the cult of Isis in Rome.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bug Art

I've severely neglected my blog, the reason being that I'm spending all my time on my University studies - yes, all my time! Oh, except for the time that I'm working, sleeping, and otherwise sustaining myself. So, here's a new installment. Bug Art. This is art 'created' by a French guy called Hubert Duprat and these pictures are from an exhibition called 'The Idea of the Animal' at RMIT Gallery in 2006. When I saw these images on the invitation I was excited. I'm very partial to anything that might be [masquerading as, or really] jewellery. So I went up to RMIT to check these bug and jewel things out. I thought they'd be about the size of say, a lipstick container, but they weren't. They were much smaller, about the size of, um, your little finger nail (if its a long one, and not bitten or otherwise defaced). So, these are caddis fly larvae which usually make their little coocoon-things out of whatever's around, sticks, leaves, tiny pebbles. I thought that Duprat had made these little gold and jewell 'cases' for the bugs himself, and was impressed by that. But in fact what happens is that he only allows the bugs access to these materials - gold flecks, turquoise, pearls etc - to make their own cases with. So the bugs made the gorgeous gold cases, not Duprat. I was less impressed by this. I had initially been admiring what I thought was the artist's choices in materials and construction, when I found out that it was the bugs' choice(s), although I still find them really beautiful I was a bit less impressed. While at the gallery there was a video on a very large screen - it took up quite a bit of one of the walls - of the bugs at work making their cases out of the material Duprat allowed them. Some of us watching the video were asking 'Is this actually ethical? Are the bugs being exploited?' But we weren't really sure of the answer to that. So in the exhibit the bugs, which live in water, were walking around with these cases on their backs, there were also some empty cases in another area. I wondered whether the bugs' spittle, or whatever they use as glue, was strong enough to make these things able to be used as actual jewellery, but I don't know. Here are some more useful links on this topic. All gorgeous though, whoever gets the credit for 'making' them.

Friday, July 18, 2008

You Gorgeous Thing!

Wow. I was flicking through the May/June 2008 issue of Minerva Magazine and found, on page 47 this gorgeous pic. In a run-dwn of the 109th annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, Jerome M. Eisenberg included several abstracts of some of the papers presented. The paper to which this image belongs is 'Aphrodite, Isis, Eileithyia: Dedications, Representations, or Instruments of Magic?' By Maya B. Muratov (New York University). The figure pictured here is "A particular type of terracotta figurine of a seated, dressed or nude woman with articulated arms, usually with an elaborate stephane (tiara-like crown), high-soled sandals, and intricate jewellery, is often termed an 'Oriental Aphrodite'. Dating between the 1st century BC and early 1st century AD, they are found in Asia Minor and the Greek islands of Delos and Thasos... They should be considered not just as votive representations of the deities, but as instruments used in magical rituals concerned with childbirth and fertility. Several recently discovered standing female figurines even have openings in their stomachs containing representations of foetuses." Like this one here. How cute is that!?! Then of course I immediately thought of Salvador Dali's 'Venus de Milo with Drawers'.

Friday, July 11, 2008

More Votive Dresses

Here are some more votive dresses. They are made out of paper, silk, mohair, wool, linen, jute, rayon, cotton and rue (the herb). I'm making them because we're having an exhibition called 'Bias Bound' during August at three different venues in Melbourne. Here are the details: BIAS BOUND Dates: Victorian Tapestry Workshop 262-266 Park Street South Melbourne VIC 3205 - Tuesday 5 August to Friday 29 August (Opening: Tuesday 5 August, 6-8pm); Self Preservation 70 Bourke Street Melbourne, VIC 3000 Wednesday 6 August to Sunday 31 August (Opening: Wednesday 6 August, 6-8pm); and Stephen McLaughlan Gallery Level 8, Room 16, Nicholas Building 37 Swanston Street Melbourne VIC 3000 Wednesday July 31 – Saturday August 23 (Opening - Saturday August 9, 2-4pm).

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Well, after exerting myself most severely over the last semester on Roman religion - a wonderful topic to be sure - I'm now at work on my thesis. What's my thesis on? It's on Spiritual Egyptomania.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Goddess Judaism and Jewitchery

I'm really rather interested in Goddess Judaism and Jewitchery - not that I'm Jewish, I'm not, but I am interested in ancient Israelite religion, Near Eastern goddesses, that sort of thing. One interesting goddess is the Biblical Asherah - when she's not simply being a wooden pole ('asherah') that must be smashed of course! Check the Hebrew Bible for more on that if you're confused. Anyway, some of the sites I think are interesting are Peel-a-Pom, which is a blog, Shuv Tamid, an online temple of Asherah, Mishkan Shekhinah, a goddess temple, Kohenet, the Hebrew Priestess Institute, Tel Shemesh, an Earth-based Judaism page, The Lilith Institute, the Women in Judaism journal, and of course The Lilith Shrine (for uppity Jewish [and Gentile] women). If I *was* Jewish, I'd be doing Goddess Judaism for sure! Hey, while you're at it, also check out PaleoJudaica.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Figleaf Morality

The Henson debate of the last few weeks reminds me of the censorship of the work by Australia's Rosaleen Norton, the "Witch of Kings Cross" intended to be exhibited at the University of Melbourne in 1949. Two days after it opened police descended on the exhibition, seizing four of the pictures. Charges would be laid under the Police Offences Act of 1928 that these particular works were obscene. Seems that there was a danger that this sort of work "could deprave and corrupt the morals of those that saw them"!!! Quelle Horreur!!! More details can be found in the books on Rosaleen Norton by Nevill Drury, such as 'Pan's Daughter' and an extended version of the latter published as 'The Witch of King's Cross'. Drury, who while having written non-academic books on the subject, has also I hear, just completed his PhD dissertation on Norton. Surely this will manifest in another book at some future date? Now what is interesting about Rosaleen Norton and censorship is that her work is quite similar to another Australian artist who favoured Pagan themes: Norman Lindsay. Yet, he never incurred a police raid as far as I know. Possibly Norton being an out and out 'Witch' while Lindsay was more of a 'Pagan' made a difference, in addition to Norton appearing as somewhat of a vagrant, while Lindsay was a powerful well-connected Australian artist and author. Norton's representation of full frontal penises was also surely part of the 'offensiveness' that the Melbourne police couldn't abide. Lindsay was a bit more circumspect with the phallus depictions, although here's one in this pic here. The black and white images are Norton's and are titled 'Binah' and 'The Adversary', and the Lindsay one is titled 'Self Portrait'.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Art or Pornography debate ongoing

There are some great new pieces of writing on the Bill Henson "art or pornography" debate. Check out these links. Beside's Larissa Dubecki's one in The Age the other week comparing Annie Liebovitz's photography to Henson's, among other things, today there is a good piece by Germaine Greer from an Art History angle and another interesting one by Christopher Deere on how it's hard to be a (male) photographer these days because people think you're sinister. If you're wondering why I've used this picture here - The Wet Cupid, by William Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - Greer's article explains that. Or, you could check out one of my favourite art books Idols of Perversity by Bram Dijkstra (Oxford University Press 1986).

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Votive Garments

These collages are my doodles of Minoan votive dresses - you can see the original Cretan Bronze Age faience ones in the black and white pics here. My coloured versions are also responses to the pre-restoration "Snake Goddess" - you can see her without her head just here in this picture of the so-called "Temple Repository" contents from Knossos. I'm fiddling round with ideas about votive textiles, paper dolls, mammalia/udders, sacrifice and the psuedo-art-sacrifice of Herman Nitsch.