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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 

 

60-some miles south of the Twin Cities, the Mississippi River widens into a large body of water that has come to be known as Lake Pepin. (Readers of Laura Ingalls Wilder may recall her girlhood crossing of the river ice there, just before its thunderous spring break-up, in Little House on the Prairie.) Two miles wide and 22 long, with a total surface area of about 40 miles, it's about the same size (and shape) as the famed Loch Ness.

Like Loch Ness, it has its own water-horse. Well, that's what they say.

“Pepie,” they call him, predictably. (Her? It? Them?)

Keep an eye on any sufficiently large body of water for long enough, and you'll be bound to see some strange things, for sure. Just how long folks have been seeing Pepie isn't entirely clear.

Predictably, there are stories ascribed to “Native American” times. Since a number of the local Indigenous peoples knew of “water panthers” that lived in lakes of a sufficient size, that's maybe not surprising.

(Water panthers are water-spirits who have an ongoing feud with the Thunderbirds. A number of 1000-year old effigy mounds in the area apparently represent these water panthers, powers of the Great Below.)

Some have dismissed Pepie as a “20th”-century publicity stunt to draw tourists. Well, people do love monsters, and monster tourism does indeed bring in money. Ask anyone in Roswell, New Mexico.

Admittedly, on the face of it, the prospect seems zoologically dubious. You can't, of course, have just one Pepie, since not even monsters are immortal. You need a breeding population of Pepies, which is another matter entirely. Pepin's a big lake, but it's not that big.

Publicity stunt or not, I suspect something deeper going on here. There's a witch in every woods, a monster in every lake. The language of the Good Folk, of those Others with whom we share the Land, gives us a very real, if nonliteral, way to talk about our relationship with the Great nonhuman Out There.

If you're looking for naturalistic explanations here—leaving aside wakes and floating logs—I'd personally suspect sturgeon. There used to be so many sturgeon in the Mississippi that there was actually a thriving domestic caviar industry, until—predictably—overfishing put paid to it. Sturgeon, which in the Mississippi sometimes grow to a length of nearly three feet, have been around since the Upper Cretaceous period—about 100 million years ago. So maybe, just maybe, there are prehistoric monsters in Lake Pepin after all.

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 Looking for the Hidden Folk | Book by Nancy Marie Brown | Official  Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster

 Reading Nancy Marie Brown's Looking for the Hidden Folk: How Iceland's Elves Can Save the Earth

 

Why do Icelanders believe in elves?

Finally, a convincing answer.

 

If, as I did, you come to Nancy Marie Brown's Looking for the Hidden Folk: How Iceland's Elves Can Save the Earth looking for tales of Iceland's huldufólk—the hidden people—you'll be disappointed. Chapter after chapter, you'll think: Ah, now we're going to get to the stories. Chapter after chapter, you'll be wrong.

But don't let that put you off. Chapter after chapter, you'll find that you keep reading anyway. Why?

If tales of elves are what you want, there are plenty of books of those out there. This book, though, is doing something else.

Robert Kirk's The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies was published in 1815. Since then, the English-reading public has seen no book of elvish theory.

Not until now.

 

Oh, there's no shortage here of elf-tales, to be sure. Many of them will sound familiar. You will have seen many different variations on a few similar themes before: the international press loves stories about Icelandic elfdom.

You know the kind of stories that I mean. The new road necessitates the removal of a boulder said to be the home of an elf. Locals keep warning work-crews that there will be trouble if the boulder is moved, but in the end—after endless break-downs of machinery—the elf-stone is shifted. As predicted, a series of terrible accidents in that particular place ensue.

Finally, the authorities wise up. They replace the boulder and re-route the road. The accidents stop, forthwith.

 

When it comes to the elves of Iceland, and media stories about them, one can't help but think of the war in Ukraine. When war comes to some Third World place where black or brown people live, well, it's tragic, but that's just how it is.

But when war comes to a First World country and people that look like us—i.e. "white" people—then we feel it personally.

Same with exotic beliefs. When they're held by people of color in some exotic locale, well...that's just what those people do.

But when Icelanders—surely the very whitest of white people—start believing in things like elves, well now: that's press-worthy.

 

Why, Brown asks, do we privilege some beliefs over others? Why does it seem perfectly ordinary when someone believes in, say, “God,” but weird-ass when they believe in elves?

Surely, this is a question well worth the asking.

 

For some reason, I'm not the kind of person that gets consulted when they're doing surveys. (Maybe that would change if I started answering calls from numbers that I don't recognize.) But whenever I read the results of surveys, I can't help but ask myself how I would answer these questions.

Usually, my response would be to ask for clarification. Surely we all stand to benefit by a clearer definition of terms.

“Do I believe in elves? Well, that depends. What do you mean by 'elves'? What do you mean by 'believe'?"

That's what Nancy Marie Brown is doing in Looking for the Hidden Folk.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 

 

“So, what are you doing for Samhain this year?”

At a community pre-Halloween party, I'm talking with a local high priestess. (Witches mostly have other things to do on Halloween itself.) It's not long before I begin to regret my innocent question.

(Welcome to the Irony-Free Zone. What is it about the term “high priestess” that I find so cringe-worthy? Just how self-aggrandizing do we need to be? Isn't “priestess” enough?)

Turns out, the Seelie and Unseelie Courts [sic] have been duking it out recently over at Lakewood Cemetery—territorial disputes, I suppose—and the grand showdown is set for All Hallows' Eve. (Oof, Urban Elves: one of my most un-favorite genres.) Our HPss needs to go in and...um, balance things, I guess.

Oh, my people. There's no one quite like pagans for letting our imaginations run away with us.

I suppose that, if you don't have anywhere better to be, there are worse places to spend the Eve of Samhain than a graveyard. Still, really? The Seelie and Unseelie Courts? In Minnesota?

There's little to her story that's not part of the Lore, I'll admit: inter-seasonal conflict, disputes between kindreds of the Other People, even the choice of a human referee to adjudicate. Surely a witch needs to work her territory, and that actively.

Still, where does reenchantment end, and delusionality begin?

Apparently, she believes what she's telling me. I do not roll my eyes. I do not.

Instead, I wish her luck in the endeavor, and (fortunately for my ability to keep a straight face) the conversation soon veers off in other directions.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Ouch.
  • Mark Green
    Mark Green says #
    I have heard modern Paganism referred to as "a fantasy fandom, not a religion", and while I think that is really harsh, there are

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Virginia Carper
    Virginia Carper says #
    I am, I suppose a "literal polytheist,. I do have a problem with the idea that somehow we are taking over Paganism, because we ha
  • Scott
    Scott says #
    When I look at Jung's Red Book I am in awe of how individualistic his encounter with the gods seemed to me. And yet, he described
  • John Halstead
    John Halstead says #
    Yes, Jung's is a very individualistic approach. I think we have shared archetypes (although we may call them by different names);
  • Scott
    Scott says #
    Oh BTW...I do believe that those of us who think the gods are part of psyche but also transcend us are an offshoot of the contempo
  • John Halstead
    John Halstead says #
    I agree that Jungian psychology lends itself to a kind of post-theism. It is a new religion, but one which is familiar to many Ne

Over at the blog Son of Hel, Lucius Svartwulf Helsen has written a 3-part response to my post, "The Disenchantment of Hard Polytheism".  Helsen's series is entitled "Let's Disenchant the World".  Here I will respond to Part 3 of Helsen's series.

We'll just skip over the stupid memes and the monkey poo flinging and get the substance of a Helsen's post.  He implies that I am exceptional in in that I need to be "forced to care" about something that I don't feel a connection to.  But I think this is the nature of modern humanity.  Genocide, war, rape, racism, sexism, environmental desecration, etc. etc. -- all of these are evidence that we human beings need to be forced to treat others well, unless we first feel a connection to them.  (In fact, the sheer nastiness of Helsen's post is also evidence of this.)

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Recent comment in this post - Show all comments
  • Jön Upsal's Gardener
    Jön Upsal's Gardener says #
    "the stupid memes and the mud slinging" "the sheer nastiness of Helsen's post" ""I am a special little snowflake and how dare you

Over at the blog Son of Hel, Lucius Svartwulf Helsen has written a 3-part response to my post, "The Disenchantment of Hard Polytheism".  Helsen's series is entitled "Let's Disenchant the World".  Here I will respond to Part 1 of Helsen's series.

Helsen begins by describing the two "camps" within Paganism: the archetypalists and the hard polytheists:

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Already Enchanted

 

I'm a witch; it's one of the many terms I use to describe my religious and spiritual nature. For me being a witch is inextricably connected to being a practitioner of magick and communing with spirits both great and small. I also identify as Pagan, a Polytheist, a Wiccan, a magician, and a whole list of other terms that is longer than is needed for the purpose of this blog. I'd like to talk about the reality of magick and of nonphysical beings. Rather than engage in debate about the terms, the tenets, or the tribulations of the various communities that are wrestling with these topics, I will speak from my direct experience of them. I've had many spiritual and overtly supernatural experiences. I have selected a few of them, that from my perspective, are all the proof that I need for myself.  These vignettes are brief but I hope that they contain enough detail for you to understand why I considered them a confirmation of my sense of the universe.

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  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    The Swan! I am grateful for your enchantment, dear man--and how it helps enchant us all. Much love to you.

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