Sunday, December 26, 2010


This is really just an excuse to post an image of a fresco fragment from Stabiae, one of the towns that was destroyed by the erruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. I really adore Roman fresco painting, and seeing as the sun is currently in Capricorn - according to the Tropical Zodiac which classifies Capricorn as covering December 22nd to January 20th, whereas the Sidereal Zodiac puts Capricorn from January 15th to February 14th - I thought it was a good time to post an image of Capricorn. Personally, I don't think the northern hemisphere attributes of the Zodiac signs fit in the southern hemisphere. You can read my opinion on southern hemisphere astrology here. I have a certificate in Natal Astrology from The Astrology School of St Kilda and have been studying astrology, astronomy and their relation to the seasons and thence the sabbats since the 1980s. I wrote quite a few articles on such topics for the Australian magazine 'Pagan Times' in the early 2000s. A rather old article on my take on the southern hemsiphere sabbats can be seen here, but for more recent work on the topic see the post below on Australian Midsummer and the book it came from 'Practising the Witch's Craft' edited by Doug Ezzy (Allen & Unwin, 2003).

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Australian Midsummer

Australian Litha: 22 December: The Night sky unveils Orion the Hunter and his dogs, including Sirius the brightest star in the sky, rising in the east. Summer is Australian society’s festive time, school holidays begin and workers take time off. Down south, many native plants are flowering and fruiting, pygmy possums, kookaburras and sacred kingfishers are attending to their young, and dolphins can be seen along the coast playing and hunting near the shore. In the north, it is the time of the early monsoon. The wet season begins after the summer solstice and is caused by seasonal change in the direction of the winds. After the sun moves south of the equator, Australia warms up while Asia cools down. Dry, chilly winds blow outward from Asia, gather warmth and moisture from the oceans, and subsequently bring summer rains to northern Australia. As the season progresses, heavy rains fall daily and plants grow quickly. Freshwater crocodiles hatch, blue-tongued lizards and bats give birth, and the dangerous box jellyfish was out of creeks into the open sea.

Meditation: In the south, the increasing heat summons the cold-blooded snake to bask in the sun and outdoor revellers must give him a wide berth, his fangs more immediately deadly than the sun’s harsh rays upon the skin. Up north, the Rainbow Serpent revitalises the land with the first monsoon rains, greening the flora and bringing fertility to the people. At the sun’s zenith, the twin snakes encircle the arms of the primordial Goddess, delivering creation and destruction. Revere the double serpent-power, giver of life, bringer of death.

Litha. We sit on the dusty earth, fanning out in concentric circles around the Priestess who stands alone in the centre. ‘Close your eyes,’ she instructs, ‘and look within’. Continuing in a slow, meditative voice, she says: ‘Focus your mind inside your body, at the base of your spine, the area directly connected with the Land. Two snakes are becoming restless there. The cool, white moon snake on the left side and the hot, red, sun snake on the right are stirring tonight. Allow them to uncoil and begin rising up your spine, rising, rising. Now they cross sides, the sun snake on the left, the moon snake on the right, rising, rising. They cross back again. Let them continue up, crossing, returning, crossing returning, making a double helix pattern, all the way up your spine to the back of your head. Rising over your crown they come down to rest at your third eye'. We stand, linking hands. Accompanied by a slow drum beat, we spiral deosil in a snake-dance toward the centre. The Priestess, whirling widdershins, leads the spiral back out again. In, then out, in, out. Visions arise, time slows down, and above us wheel the starry arms of the Milky Way.

[From 'The Sabbats' – Caroline Tully. In Practising the Witch’s Craft: Real Magic Under a Southern Sky. Ed. Doug Ezzy. Allen & Unwin, 2003. pp 181-2].

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Walk Like an Egyptian

My article, Walk Like An Egyptian: Egypt as Authority in Aleister Crowley's Reception of The Book of the Law, has been accepted by The Pomegranate: International Journal of Pagan Studies and is currently in press and due out very soon. The reference is The Pomegranate 12.2 (2010) pp. 20-47. I will link to the journal issue as soon as it appears on the web and if you want to access the article you'll need either a subscription to the journal, to pay for access to the article, or academic library access or a friend with academic library access (which means it'll be free). Meanwhile I'll post the abstract here: This article investigates the story of Aleister Crowley's reception of The Book of the Law in Cairo, Egypt, in 1904, focusing on the question of why it occurred in Egypt. The article contends that Crowley created this foundation narrative, which involved specifically incorporating an Egyptian antiquity from a museum, the 'Stele of Revealing', in Egypt because he was working within a conceptual structure that privileged Egypt as a source of Hermetic authority. Crowley synthesized the romantic and scholarly constructions of Egypt, inherited from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, as well as the uses that two prominent members of the order made of Egyptological collections within museums. The article concludes that these provided Crowley with both a conceptual structure within which to legitimise his reformation of Golden Dawn ritual and cosmology, and a model of how to do so.

Monday, December 13, 2010

From Witch to Archaeology PhD

I was initiated as a Witch on the 19th of January 1985 and I'm doing my PhD Confirmation on the 19th of January 2011. I'm studying Tree Cult in the prehistoric Aegean, Cyprus and Israel (see the post below this one for details). One of the reasons I became interested in academia was the publication of Professor Ronald Hutton's book 'Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft' -- that and Robert Turcan's 'Cults of the Roman Empire' about Mystery Religions in the Roman world, both of which I read on the cusp of 1999/2000. Another factor in my becoming an academic was the Natrel email list run by Chas Clifton, (now called Pagan Studies) which alerted me to the fact that there was a vibrant international scholarly discussion going on about various aspects of Paganism and that in order to be part of it I had to "learn academia". I've been on that email list since 1999 and many times it has been the only thing maintaining my interest in modern Paganism which, since the late 90s, has seemed increaingly infiltrated by the New Age and consequently lite-weight. Initially I went back to university in 2004 in order to learn more about ancient Pagan religions and to see whether what academic experts in various ancient religions told me was the same as, or different to, what modern Pagan leaders claimed. You know: "Wicca goes back to the Neolithic", "the world used to be matriarchal", "casting the circle is an authentic ancient Pagan practice", "our lineage is derived directly from [fill in ancient celebrity here]"... that kind of thing. It didn't take long to discover that contemporary Paganism differed enormously from ancient pagan religions, both conceptually and structurally, and that's when I began to realise that contemporary Pagan leaders' claims were, in many cases wrong, deluded, or were a case of deliberate lying. This is one of the reasons why I like Hutton's work so much, as a professional historian he has done the historical leg-work that many Pagan insiders were simply unable (because they were not historians themselves) or unwilling (because it suited them to maintain a self-aggrandising, comforting and/or useful "history") to do and highlighted many instances of questionable historical claims that we now need to categorise as myth rather than fact. I guess this is why in some quarters of the practitioner spectrum, Hutton has become an object of hatred. This has raised its head again recently in the wake of the publication of a challenge to Hutton's 'Triumph of the Moon' called 'Trials of the Moon' by Ben Whitmore. While many of the anti-Hutton camp have lunged upon Whitmore's book, seeing it as a deserving slap to Hutton, as seen on the comments to a post on The Wild Hunt blog and on the Talking About Ritual Magic blog, academic researchers into Paganism have only just started to pay attention to it, as seen on The Witching Hour and Letters from Hardscrabble Creek. It is on the latter blog, in the response to the post about Peg Aloi's review of Whitmore's book, that comments about Hutton are actually getting quite nasty. (I could reply less nastily, but still snidely, that whatever the strengths and weaknesses of Whitmore's book prove to be, it doesn't really matter because one of the tricks of publicity is to attack a big target and attacking Hutton means that Whitmore can ride on Hutton's more famous coattails). Regarding some of the comments on Chas' blog, I'm still baffled as to why anyone would react so strongly toward Hutton's research. Have they even read his books? I look forward to an academic review of Whitmore's book, which I hear is in the making for Pomegranate: International Journal of Pagan Studies, where hopefully the reviewer can enlighten us all on the strengths and weaknesses of his challenge to Hutton (because they are likely to be qualified in the subjects they are discussing, not simply because they are an "evil academic" with the demise of Paganism as their goal). Many within academic Pagan Studies are actually Pagan themselves, which makes the accusation that they are somehow deluded conformists to the "academic machine" unlikely. The looming stoush between the anti- and pro-academic history camps that seems to be [re]generating as expressed on the above blogs will, I hope, provide another injection of fascinating dialogue into the continuing conversation that is the research into ancient and modern Paganism.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Minoan Tree Cult Experiment

As some of you know, I am doing a PhD in Aegean Archaeology, specialising in sacred trees and gardens. I am wondering whether anyone would be interested in participating in a tree and baetyl cult experiment at some stage (in the next year, in Australia), possibly at Mt Franklin (not necessarily at the time of the Beltane celebration), or another rural (or even urban) site altogether, in order to assess the bodily and cognitive effects of tree and baetyl cult? I probably should not give too much away and prejudice the experiment, but as brief background, the idea is that these natural objects, the tree, the baetyl (rock), are numinous and that ritual interaction therewith caused a certain effect - communication with the Otherworld, divination, prophecy. While I'm primarily looking at Minoan tree cult (that's Minoan Crete, as well as Mycenaean Greece, with comparative material from Cyprus and Israel), you might be more familiar with the biblical examples of the Asherah, both a tree and a goddess, and the Beth El (Beth = house, El = God : baetyl) the stone that Jacob used as a pillow, subsequently had a communication with G*d through a dream while lying upon, and then set up as a massevoth (sacred stone). In Israel tree and pillar cult were enacted at bamot (high places) in the landscape. I need to enact tree cult with some other people, and record the effects. I'm just putting this idea out there. I have previously participated in (someone else's) experimentation with Minoan gestures known from cultic imagery and figurines along with 'sonic driving' by the shaking of a sistrum, and whether this caused or aided trance, and that was a very interesting experiment.