Pagan Studies


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Studies Blogs

Advanced and/or academic Pagan subjects such as history, ethics, sociology, etc.

4 Reasons to work with Villains in Pop Culture Magic

Sometimes, with pop culture magic, you want to work with the bad guy, the villain, or the monster. The reasons why can vary from person to person, but I think one reason that stands out to me is that the villain is a character people relate to. S/he is flawed and shows those flaws more readily than the hero might. At the same time, there villain rarely thinks of him/herself as an actual villain. S/he has reasons for taking action and those reasons are sometimes quite valid. The problem is that the action is what makes the character villainous because it isn't the right action (at least according to the mores of society). Working with a villain can be very effective because the villain isn't bound to societal standards and may come up with some creative solutions (as Emily Carlin shares in a post she wrote on the same topic).

Recently Vincent Piazza wrote a post about horror magic, where he explores the history of horror film. One point he makes is that horror films show the ills of society and what happens if we don't learn to work with the shadow within us. That's wise advice and the second reason to work with villains because sometimes what we learn from them is something about ourselves and how to avoid making the mistakes the villain has made. Of course, if we do choose to work with a villain or a monster, some caution is warranted in how we work with them, but in all honesty the same cautions apply to working with any pop culture character.

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Meditations on Hávamál: 61-65
 61.
Þveginn ok mettr
ríði maðr þingi at,
þótt hann sé-t væddr til vel;
skúa ok bróka
skammisk engi maðr
né hests in heldr,
þótt hann hafi-t góðan
 
Washed and fed
shall a man ride to the Thing,
though he be not clothed well;
of his shoes and his britches
should no man be ashamed
nor of his horse neither,
though he not a good one.
 

The Thing was the assembly to settle differences, plead suits and socialise in all kids of ways; in Iceland, the annual national gathering, the Alþingi is still the name for their governing body though the no longer meet out in the valley in tents (a few politicians have suggested that doing so would make the government work a little faster). Traditionally the law speaker recited at least a third of the laws that he had to keep memorised. Thus legal matters were decided there: as much as Icelanders pride themselves on having the longest existing democracy, the medieval version demonstrates that might (usually through having supporters, but sometimes through outright violence) made right. This verse counsels that one must make the best appearance possible. If your clothes were not the best at least make sure they are clean and mended, your shoes clean and your horse stepping out the best she can, even if she wasn't going to win any races -- or in the case of male horses, any fights. Horse fights were a brutal but popular sport.
 
62.
Snapir ok gnapir,
er til sævar kemr,
örn á aldinn mar;
svá er maðr,
er með mörgum kemr
ok á formælendr fáa.
 
Snapping and stretching,
when it comes to the sea,
the eagle to the billowy sea;
so is the man,
who among the crowds comes
and has few supporters.
 

The man without sufficient supporters is like the eagle who swoops down at a fish only to see it disappear beneath the waves. Don't wait until you get to the gathering to form your alliances. Much of viking life was about gift giving and hospitality because you never knew when you would need an important ally. Feuds could break out over fairly small disagreements -- about where your land ended and your neighbour's began, or who got to use a certain path to summer pasturing.Alliances were essential.
 
63.
Fregna ok segja
skal fróðra hverr,
sá er vill heitinn horskr;
einn vita
né annarr skal,
þjóð veit, ef þrír ro.
 
Ask and reply
shall each of the wise ones,
he who wants to be called sensible;
one must know
but another shall not,
all the people know, if three do.
 

Wisdom is highly prized: we have seen several verses on that topic. But being able to hold your own counsel is also important, the poet tells us. You should shrink from sharing secrets with anyone at all if you can avoid it. If you tell someone and they tell a third, then the secret will not be kept and everyone shall know. If you are heading to the Thing and bringing a suit, it's best not to let the cat out of the bag until you are certain you have sufficient support.
 
64.
Ríki sitt
skyli ráðsnotra
hverr í hófi hafa;
þá hann þat finnr,
er með fræknum kemr
at engi er einna hvatastr.
 
His power
should each of the wise
have in moderation;
then he finds that
when he comes among the bold
that none is keenest of all.
 
Power in this sense seems to be connected to the idea of anger (as the wise man said, 'Anger is an energy.') I connect it with the previous verse: just as you should not show your cards until you're ready with a firm phalanx of supporters, you should not show your anger until you read the room (or the tent). If your opponent is even more angry, he may be able to sway your supporters -- perhaps simply to not support your action, but worse, over to your opponent's side. Hold your anger in check: the sagas are full of unwise men who let their emotions lead them into rash decisions.
 
65.
-- -- -- --
orða þeira,
er maðr öðrum segir
oft hann gjöld of getr.
 
 
[missing lines]
For those words,
which a man says to another
often he gets repayment.
 

In a similar vein, your angry words can be repaid by more of the same, while your measured speech may meet with likewise thoughtful responses. In the medieval world people were much more cognizant of being part of a community. Ostracism -- including outlawry and banishment -- put people in a truly vulnerable position that many could not survive. Men like the famous Grettir only survived such a fate because they were able to call upon both the friends they had made prior to being banished and were extraordinary enough to convince people to offer help despite the risks of aiding a fugitive.
See more of the verses here.
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Patience & Fury, Part 1

 

This is the first of a series of blog posts on how to move more gracefully through the turbulence caused by the pain and strife that is besetting so many parts and so many levels of the world at this time and for some time yet to come. I am pointedly and intentionally not naming the myriad of issues because I do not want to call out or inadvertently suggest a hierarchy or prioritization of troubles or oppressions. If you need to do that take a moment now and think about your own concerns.

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  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    Thanks, Ivo. Much appreciated.
When the Path Isn't Clear: Doing the Work of Pagan Activism

The last week or so has been quite eventful in the Pagan community. Without rehashing specifics, I reference these posts which speak to the second and third order effects of speech and the power of words: 

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/aloneinherpresence/2015/11/i-wont-shame-my-elders/

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  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven says #
    Denora, thought you would like to know that Macha (Aline) posted the following on her Facebook page about an hour ago. "Recently

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Scrying Stones

For hundreds of years collections of small objects have been used as a tool by people with psychic talent to answer questions about the hidden nature of a problem or situation.  Such items as bones, shells, and nuts—left in their original state—are thrown and read.  In Obi and Diloggun divination cut cowrie shells are used for the same purpose.  Sangoma diviners from the Zulu tribe use bones and other items in a large set which is thrown using a bowl.  The Mongolians use four sheep bones known as astralaugus or knuckle bones in a system called shagai.  Each side has its own particular conformation and so creates thirty-six possible answers for each query. American hoodoo/rootworkers use small bones along with other small objects;[1] Santerians use cowrie shells or coconut pieces.[2]

 

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Art, Social Justice, and Some Ranty-ness

It has been far too long since I published a blog here, and although my original intent was to post mostly about Paganism and Art History, I felt I’d better write about SOMETHING else I lose my train of thought all together or be forgotten. (Sniff). What kept me away from my blog, and a great many other things that bring me happiness are general bureaucratic pains occurring in my job. As I’ve mentioned here, I am a professor of art history at a state university, and this semester – although I have been through this here several times – I have really felt that the arts are under attack, and have been hard at work defending both our arts program, and the need for arts in society in general.  I won’t get into the bitter details of this ongoing fight, except to say I thank those who have been by my side in this fight, and the hope that in the end, we will of course win.

 

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We Have Work To Do: A Reflection on the Parliament

I am finally reaching a point where I can begin to unpack my feelings concerning this year's Parliament of the World's Religions. On many levels this was a life changing experience, and one that I won't soon forget. I have read several other posts concerning the event as folks return home and back to daily life--taking the time to unpack their own feelings and put them in words. The majority of what has been written is positive, which I won't deny is a good space to hold for all the amazing occurrences and connections that were made. But allow me to be a dissenting voice for a moment...because despite all the positive aspects of this event, there is work yet to be done.

I'd like to start by quoting one of my favorite professors: "Stop focusing on what all religions have in common, and start doing the work of learning to live with the differences. Some religions are concerned with reaching the top of the mountain, others don't even care that there is a mountain." --Jacob Kinnard

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  • Earl Nissen
    Earl Nissen says #
    Thank you for the reflection. I like "asking for the understanding and the respect to be unique and legitimate." I also enjoyed t

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