Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Witch Hunting? There's an App for That.

As part of the increasingly gadget-oriented hype ploys for Season of the Witch, now Android users can get a "Witch Hunt" application for their smart phones. I found this via the film's Facebook page which linked to the app's page on the AppBrain website.

The description begins "Witches walk all around us. They are responsible for great devastation, performing harrowing evils from the guises of the shadows." And it goes on from there. Apparently you point your phone at a group of people in your immediate vicinity, and take their photo. Then the "Witch Hunt" application identifies which ones are witches, and then it "burns" them for you! Oh, and check it out...it's FREE.

So, what do you think? Is this every bit as offensive as the "anti-gay" Android app "Bendroid" that was lurking around last year? Or is it just a bit of fun?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Book of English Magic

It's been a while since I saw a new book in the field of paganism, magic, witchcraft or the occult that has been unique or exciting. Recent offerings in occult books have mostly been retreading earlier materials, so in recent years I've been more likely to be drawn to some academic titles (like Douglas Cowan's Sacred Terror). But this new book by Philip Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate is one of the most exciting new books I've seen in a while.

The Book of English Magic from Overlook Press is comprehensive, but not scholarly. It's well-written and engaging, well-organized, and not always completely objective. But for any reader interested in the historical basis of magic, witchcraft, paganism and other related topics, this book is as well-rounded and informative a volume as a serious reader could hope for.

The principle behind the book's purpose is simple: England is described as the country that is the home of more magicians, magical artifacts, magical legends and magical traditions than anywhere else in the world. Beginning with an intriguing description of England's magical landscape, from stone circles and monoliths like Stonehenge and Avebury, to the wells, trees and Tor of Arthurian Glastonbury, the book addresses the very foundation of England's magical heritage. Various figures important to England's ancient and contemporary magical status are also described in detail, from John Dee, Nicolas Culpeper, Aleister Crowley, and Annie Besant, to Patricia Crowther, Dion Fortune, and Ross Nichols. The book also includes many fascinating excerpted interviews from writers like David Conway (a somewhat reclusive author whose small number of books have had enduring popularity), Nigel Pennick, Caitlin Matthews and Patrick Harpur.

In addition to helpful historical information, the book occasionally offers practical advice on a wide range of topics, from herbal lore to alchemy to dowsing to ley lines to rune-casting to numerology to tarot. Although not in-depth enough to cover any of these topics sufficiently for the sincere seeker, each chapter also includes useful lists of resources for further inquiry. It's a valuable addition to any occult or magical library, and of equal use to the witch, Wiccan, druid, ceremonial magician, neo-pagan, healer, wizard, earth mysteries enthusiast, or anyone looking to become educated about the rich trove of material that comprises the English magical world. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Faeries of Blackheath Woods

From the website that brings you the best in cool stuff, The Awesomer, comes this short film, The Faeries of Blackheath Woods, written and directed by Ciaran Foy. Very well done and very unexpected.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Season of the Witch Interview

John Morehead of the excellent website Theofantastique interviewed me this week about Season of the Witch. Though obviously neither of us have seen the film yet, John asked me some intriguing questions about the film and the impact it may have on the pagan community and on audiences in general. My thanks for for his tireless and interesting work exploring the world of religion, fantasy and horror.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Rite: Exorcism becoming a trendy new topic?

After The Last Exorcism drew a respectable number of theatre-goers and some decent box office earlier this year (not bad for a first-time filmmaker), it would seem exorcism is again a hot topic, and this time on a bigger budget. Sir Anthony Hopkins stars in The Rite, helmed by Swedish director Mikal Hafstrom, whose previous work includes Derailed, Evil and the paranormal triller 1408.

Hopkins plays an American priest who travels to Italy to study at a school for exorcists. The cast also includes veteran Irish actor Ciaran Hinds (seen earlier this year in the romantic ghost story The Eclipse with Aidan Quinn) and Rutger Hauer, perhaps best known as the platinum blond replicant in Bladerunner. Two trailers available here indicate what begins as an intriguing story "inspired by true events" (and quoting this recent New York Times article) turns into a bonafide horror film. What's most intriguing to me about The Rite is the suggestion that the Vatican's decision to engender a renewed interest in exorcism and demonic possession is a story that has been hushed up in the news media, and this film purports to tell the untold story. But to do so within the trappings of a horror film may tend to undermine the story's brevity, whether intentionally or not.

In a similar way, The Last Exorcism started out grounded in absolute realism (hand held cinema verite, fake documentary style) and ended up a horror film, which, while entertaining, didn't work for me. A fake documentary purporting to contain "found footage" can't (or shouldn't) employ eerie music or spooky camera angles, as that spirits it into another genre entirely.

But The Rite has no such conflicts of form: it's a big budget thriller with some ambitious things to say about the the possibility that the devil just might be real. This road has already been well trod, of course, particularly in 1973's The Exorcist. We'll see what new light (or darkness) will be shed with this one.

(Image from horror-asylum.)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

See Movies with Friends! Witchy Friends!

This award-winning ad for Orange was recognized by the British Television Advertising Awards, and recognized also by the Celluloid Junkie blog. It even has a Facebook page!

It's a sweet story of a girl who likes to see films with her friend, who also happens to be the Wicked Witch of the West.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sweep/Wicca series: soon to be a film?

I'll admit, I knew next to nothing about this series of books aimed at young adult readers. It's called Sweep in the U.S. (where the stories tale place), but is called Wicca in the Uk, Netherlands, Australia and Belgium, and White Magic in France and Italy. In Scandinavia, it's not called anything at all, because its publication there was cancelled due to worries over the "religious" content.

The story centers around a "blood witch" named Morgan Rowlands who becomes involved in Wicca when a handsome new male student named Cal comes to her school. After discovering she has a "knack" for Wicca, she learns who is a witch by blood (whatever that means) and, over the next fourteen volumes, various exciting events occur. The characters have names like "Sky Eventide" and "Killian MacEwan" and "Selene Belltower." There's an International Council of Witches. I'm not sure how supernatural the proceedings are, but I have a feeling the film version will have special effects a-plenty.

An introduction to the series through the eyes of three main characters appears on the author's blog. It does seem to have the kinds of ingredients young adult readers are going for these days: romance, intrigue, oh-so-wrong liaisons, and teenagers with mysterious powers. And here the author relays the news that the series is being developed for a feature film. The Variety article says Universal is producing.

So, is this series another Harry Potter or Twilight phenomenon? Hardly. This blog describes the Tiernan's process for writing the series, and it turns out she was approached by an editor to do it, rather than coming up with the idea herself. It more or less sounds like these books were written by committee. As the Fire Fairy blog states: "...17th Street came up with the concept, sold it to Penguin, and then found Tiernan. Each of the books in the fourteen-book series was developed from an outline, which all three signed off on. Tiernan then went ahead with a first draft, which in turns was edited by both the packagers and publishers and returned to the author for revisions. This rewriting sometimes went through four drafts or more until all concerned were satisfied with the result."

So, I'd be interested in hearing from any of you who have read these books. Do you think they'll make a good film?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Lost Abbey Update: Making the World Safe for Beer

Perhaps you recall the Lost Abbey Brewery Brew-ha-ha? Maybe not. I'm not saying it was some earth-shattering event. But it did make the New York Times!

A group determined to continue pestering Lost Abbey until they change their "Witch's Wit" label to something less offensive formed on Facebook not long after the story started making the rounds on the pagan blogosphere.

I wonder if they'd heard the latest news?

The Lost Abbey Brewery posted today that they are discontinuing their "Saints and Sinners" club, a mail order venture that allowed them to sell beer directly to consumers. The club had been popular. But changes in state regulations have made it increasingly difficult for the brewery to continue offering the service. I do wonder if the indignant protestors had in mind when some of them encouraged "hexing" the brewery.

I joined the Facebook group and posted a few comments, but was very quickly blocked from expressing my opinion there. I should point out, I was never anything less than polite on that page (unlike the snark I unleash here sometimes, but hey, this is MY blog!), but was banned nonetheless. I guess a bit of healthy debate doesn't sit well with extremists.

Because, yes, I think it's going to the extreme to "boycott" a company (a small, family-owned company at that) you didn't ever buy anything from in the first place. A company you probably never were going to buy anything from, because, let's face it, you had never heard of them before, had you? And yet you put a good deal of energy into fantasizing that you could "hex" them and "bring down" their (small, independently-owned) company. Yes, hexing someone over a beer label. Way to embrace that "Harm none" principle.

I also think it's a waste of energy to protest something like this when there are dire social situations in the world that actually are in need of activists to promote awareness and raise funds. Some of those situations involve actual witch burnings and cases of injustice caused by satanic panic. But gosh, no, let's not help victims of genocide or those crippled by natural disasters when there's a logo design contest to be won!

Yes, let's use our time and talents making logos, Photoshopping the faces of the Lost Abbey Brewery owners into images that show them being burned, tied up, and tortured. That'll show 'em.

Image courtesy of Lost Abbey. You can buy this -shirt online.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Coming in 2011: JANE EYRE

My favorite novel of all time, Jane Eyre, was tailor-made for cinematic adaptation, despite being written in an era when such art-forms were undreamt of. A rebellious orphan, cruelly ostracized, she makes her way in the world as a governess, and goes to work for a seemingly hard-hearted man of considerable wealth and not a few secrets. But the best part of the story, for me, is when Jane, overwhelmed by her situation, decides to venture into the wilderness, alone. With little more than the clothes on her back, she becomes one with the landscape, until ultimately her solitude and hardship lead her to make a life-changing decision. Now if that's not a Vision Quest, what is?

In 2011, there will be a new cinematic version of Jane Eyre, based on this popular and well-loved novel by Charlotte Bronte.

There have been many filmed versions of this story, of course. The most recent is a Masterpiece Theatre mini-series shown in 2006. Franco Zeffirelli's 1996 version starred Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane and William Hurt as Rochester. Strange to have a Jane with a French accent, but it was wonderful nonetheless. I confess, my favorite version was the 1970 made for TV version starring Susannah York and George C. Scott: a triumph of casting with two stunning performances.

The 2011 version will be scripted by Moira Buffini (the writer for Tamara Drewe), and directed by Cary Fukunaga whose film Sin Nombre was among my favorite films of 2009). Mia Wasikowska (the daughter in The Kids are All Right) will play Jane; Rochester will be played by Michael Fassbender (who I loved in this year's historical drama Centurion). Imogen Poots (who also starred in Centurion) will play Blanche, and as Mrs. Fairfax, none other than the legendary Dame Judi Dench. It looks as thought this version may even delve into the story if Jane's relationship with St. John, a character often ignored in filmed versions of the story for some reason.

The just-released trailer is delightfully gothic and spooky, right down to a snippet of music that will be faminilar to those who have seen Dario Argento's Suspiria.

Some very exciting and intriguing films will be making their way to theatres in the next calendar year. I think these may well be of interest to pagan-minded folks, just as Jane Eyre is. I'll be looking more closely at these new films in a series over the next few weeks.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rest in Peace, Ingrid Pitt

News has come from the BBC that actress Ingrid Pitt has died at the age of 73. Ms. Pitt was a holocaust survivor who spent three years in a concentration camp and went on to have a successful career as a film actress.

Horror fans have loved Ms. Pitt for her roles in some of the finest Hammer Horror films, including Countess Dracula, The House that Dripped Blood and The Vampire Lovers. Ingrid was a well-loved icon among horror film fans and maintained a delightful website for fans devoted to her horror roles. A great interview with Ingrid about her roles in vampire films appeared on Amanda Norman's horror photography website in 2009.

But pagan movie-lovers will more likely remember her for her role as the seductive and devious librarian who helps to trap and prepare Sargeant Howie for his untimely end. Born in Poland, Miss Pitt's exotic accent lent an added air of mystery to her character (although unlike her co-star Britt Eklund, Miss Pitt's dialogue was not dubbed).
The Den of Geek website features a funny and insightful guest column by Ingrid following her participation in a documentary about filmmaking in Scotland. Ms. Pitt was a gracious and accomodating performer when it came to her fans, willing to participate in interviews and fan events over the years. She is also interviewed at length for her work in The Wicker Man in the documentary accompanying the extended DVD release, The Wicker Man Enigma.

Ingrid Pitt was also a prolific author, with more than ten books to her credit, and was briefly involved in writing scripts for the British television program Doctor Who. Her books included The Ingrid Pitt Bedside Companion for Vampire Lovers (1998), The Autobiography of Ingrid Pitt: Life's a Scream (1999) and The Ingrid Pitt Book of Murder, Torture and Depravity (2000).

This beautiful and classy actress brought decades of joy and fascination to legions of horror fans, and she will be dearly missed.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Trials of the Moon: a brief critique

Over at The Wild Hunt, and on the Witchvox Facebook page which links to a short review on this pagan blog, there is discussion of a new self-published book by Ben Whitmore, Trials of the Moon: Reopening the Case for Historical Witchcraft,which seeks to critique and question many of the assumptions and statements of Ronald Hutton's historical examination of the roots of modern pagan witchcraft, The Triumph of the Moon.

I've read the (free) download of Whitmore's book, which is nearly the entire text including footnotes (although not a bibliography). I think there's a great deal of interesting writing there. But I also noted a number of statements that don't inspire confidence. By his own admission Whitmore is not an historian, nor even an academic. And this shows in his failure to observe the most rudimentary rules of objectivity and neutrality of stance. (Then again, those rules are flouted by many so-called "scholars" of paganism, too, who are writing under the auspices of the academy; this also troubles me a great deal.)

Whitmore's writing is also highly conjectured at times, for example:

"Leland’s transcription from the original manuscript still exists, and it appears that he misunderstood some of the dialect Italian and introduced minor errors into the translation. This in itself would, it seems, substantially clear
Leland of doubt."

HUH? Leland's shoddy transcription makes him a flawlessly accurate ethnographer? I don't think so.

Whitmore's refutation of Hutton's discussion of the lack of evidence for widespread matristic cults or goddess worship reads thusly: "To take a leaf from Freud, it seems only natural to me that an all-powerful mother figure should appeal
to at least a few people in any era."

That's nice, but your personal insights are not proof of anything. That is the difference between what historians do and, apparently, what those who are unqualified to critique them do.

In refuting Hutton's description of Gerald Gardner's long list of fraudulent claims about his own pedigree, Whitmore writes: "So, given the interests of his friends and acquaintances, I would be surprised if a man of Gardner’s leanings hadn’t been a Co- Freemason and a member of the Holy Royal Arch.174 He certainly would have been foolish to falsify this degree to Aleister Crowley, who could easily test him."

Again, HUH? HUH?, I say.

Regarding Dorothy Clutterbuck, and Hutton's claims that her diaries don't reveal any explicit evidence of pagan or occult belief, Whitmore opines: "Is this really the Church stalwart Hutton has portrayed? 'Simple, kindly, conventional and pious'? True, witchcraft is never explicitly mentioned in the diaries, but then, Dorothy intended them to be viewed by her visitors. I think their 'relevance to paganism' is worth a more careful look. We may possibly gain a further insight into them by comparing them with the writings of Katherine Oldmeadow, who lived near Dorothy and was her best friend. Dorothy always intended the diaries to be given to her, and she received them upon Dorothy’s death."

Soooooo...Whitmore is saying we should read into Dorothy's diaries, inferring things that aren't there, by assuming that what is written in her best friend's diary is somehow closer to what Dorothy actually meant to say?

Generally, Whitmore's writing is readable and engaging, and often insightful. But at other times, it's maddeningly vague: "Ultimately, it remains entirely reasonable to ask whether paganism has survived to the present day, and whether witchcraft is one expression of that paganism — reasonable, that is, given certain (entirely reasonable) usages of the terms ‘paganism’ and ‘witchcraft’. Hutton’s usage differs, and there our ways part."

Hutton's usage differs...from what, exactly? Your own? Please say so, then.

Whitmore continues on, in what is perhaps the most self-serving and cluelessly-narcissistic passage in the book, a passage that proves for good and all that one's own personal religious beliefs must never be invoked if one is to be taken seriously in a critical context:
"One point Hutton and I certainly agree on is that Wicca and its various off-shoots have value regardless of their origins. As a priest of the Goddess and God no historian can take away what I’ve learnt and experienced, or the joy and wisdom I’ve found within the Craft. I’m well aware that the founders of our religion were flawed people (as am I), and yet they have bequeathed to us a thing of great value.
And here is one of the mysteries that priesthood reveals to us: through our training we become more sensitive to the faults and oddities of the human personality — our own and others’ — and yet we also begin to see how this imperfect human vehicle can paradoxically express divinity, and be a channel for great inspiration, energy and beauty. Sincere or cynical, having once offered our service to the Gods there is every chance that we will deliver, and wittingly or unwittingly be drawn to their work. The founders of our cult were imperfect, and Hutton is imperfect too; and if ever Hutton was inspired to honour the Goddess in some way, I think She has taken him up on the offer: he says his book is a triumph for the Moon, and perhaps it shall prove so, for it stands as a challenge to all the Craft, an incitement to us to seek the real truth."

Let me get this straight: you're saying the gods, in their infinite wisdom, set Hutton's book before you as an opportunity, nay, an incitement, to expose its flaws so you could reveal the "real truth" to the rest of us?

Wow. Just, wow.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One

The Dark Ages, the Light Within

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One

For all of you who think the Harry Potter franchise can do no wrong (and of course they will have already seen this newest installment by now), you’ll be happy to know that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One, directed by David Yates, is by far the best of the films so far, a close second to the third film (my own personal favorite), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Even with stellar casting every step of the way (with some of the UK’s finest actors happy to join in), it was not always clear that the three young stars would continue to mature and carry the films at the level needed as the stories became darker and more adult. For a time, I was somewhat concerned that the adorable Rupert Grint was simply not a good enough actor to cut the mustard; earlier films found him working too hard at acting, with absurd facial expressions (what experienced thespians call mugging). But he’s grown into the role beautifully (and perhaps has had some more sensitive directors), and it’s Ron Weasley who undergoes the darkest and most troubling transformation of the three in this, the sixth and penultimate film in the series.

The story begins with a feeling of unease, with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron leaving their families to protect them from the increasingly dangerous pursuit of the seedy underbelly of Hogwarts’ Old Boy (and Hag) network. Led by Severus Snape (didn’t he used to be a good guy? Alan Rickman is so much more interesting as a villain, in any case) and Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs) and son Draco (Tom felton), as well as Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), the team bent on destroying Harry and those close to him also now includes Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter, whose career has moved from period dramas to spooky fare, thanks perhaps to her marriage to Tim Burton), and a motley crew of mercenaries and Death eaters. But despite the three friends’ pleading attempts to leave their loved ones out of it, the Weasleys and various others (like Hagrid and Professor Lupin) risk their own lives to protect Harry. As various threats close in on them, and Ron decides to abandon the cause, Harry and Hermione draw closer, and do their best to fight back against the evil magics aimed at them.

There is more to it, of course. There are horcruxes and woodland creatures made of light. There’s a tale of three brothers who cheat death (the “Deathly Hallows” of the title is rendered in a brilliant animated segment narrated by Hermione). There’s a cross country journey that finds our intrepid witch and wizards camping on limestone cliffs and beside lake valleys. There's no shortage of references to current political situations taking place in the world. There are some intriguing new and nearly-forgotten characters played by more cream of the crop British actors (Rhys Ifans, John Hurt, Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton). And there’s a lovely vignette featuring a song by Nick Cave.

Although the film tends to skim over seemingly-significant plot details and actions, there is a wonderful mood and pacing to this film, full of suspense and an increasing sense of forboding and finality. The visual effects and overall production design are simply excellent, perhaps the best so far in this series, despite having very few scenes set in the grand halls of Hogwarts (although the exterior locations are thrilling, shot in Wales, Scotland and throughout England). The animated sequence I mentioned earlier is one of the film’s finest moments, and it’s some of the most stunning animation I’ve seen anywhere in recent memory.

Those who have read the books know, of course, how it ends. But it’s a testament to the film franchise’s artful adaptation that one need not have read any Rowlings’ books to appreciate this epic story. And I really see no reason not to break Deathly Hallows into two parts: it gives fans one last film to look forward to, allows the story to be told in more detailed fashion, and, of course, makes the studios another wad of cash. And Deathly Hallows does end on a razor-edged note, perfectly poised to make us all groan and wish that Part Two was not so far away.

So, what of the story's magical and occult content? I have felt that the teacher-student relationship probably does carry some resonance for those witches who have followed this model. The death of an elder, such as we saw with Dumbledore's passing, can be a profoundly sad experience. In Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore has bequeathed some of his magical tools to his three prized pupils. But, despite the many magical baubles, spells and teachings, I've found all along that the films basically deal with the trappings of magic as metaphors for life, specifically, the journey from childhood to adulthood, with the stormy turbulence of adolescence a time of troubling transitions. The franchise mines this metaphor for all it's worth: I recall when the third film opened with Harry under the covers reading his magical books with a flashlight, as if they were skin mags. Harry now seems to wear his "chosen one" status like a reluctant mantle of privilege, as a paparazzi-plagued young prince might. Hermione's shift from tomboyish bookworm to attractive, sensitive young woman who sometimes lets her emotions get in the way of her judgment, has perhaps disappointed those who had hoped for a "witchcraft is empowering!" message. And Ron, our favorite scruffy underachiever, seems to have grown into a loveable but imperfect youth who is capable of childish jealousy and even violence in other words, a man.

Since Part Two will pick up immediately where Part One has left off, the characters will not have aged significantly. But maturity is another matter. The trials our three young magic users have endured have forced them to make some very adult decisions, some of them hasty, others measured, and often with regrettable results. I've no doubt the story will end on an uplifting and redemptive note, and for that, I am happy to wait.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What are Your Favorite Witch Movies?

John Morehead of Theofantastique shared this link on Facebook today: horror-movies.ca offers a great list of Thirteen Top Witch Films. I like that they list a number of classics and older films, like Witchfinder General (1968) and Mark of the Devil (1970). They even named The Wicker Man (1973) their Number One choice!

But I did notice they omitted several films I'd have included: most notably, The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Rosemary's Baby (1968). And despite including a quote from The Witches of Eastwick (the novel, not the film), they don't include that film in their list.

So what are your favorite witch films? What do you think of the list?

My own list of 13 (good number) would be as follows:

1. The Wicker Man (1973)
2. Rosemary's Baby (1968)
3. The Craft (1997)
4. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
5. The Devils (1971)
6. Stranger in Our House (aka Summer of Fear) (1978)
7. Sorceress (1995)
8. Excalibur (1981)
9. Witchfinder General (1968)
10. The Initiation of Sarah (made for TV) (1978)
11. Satan's School for Girls (made for TV) (1973)
12. The Dark Secret of Harvest Home (TV mini-series) (1978)
13. Midnight Offerings (made for TV) (1981)

Note that a number of these were made for television films. 1978 was apparently quite a fertile year for them. I miss the wonderful occult-themed programming from the 1970s! It was practically non-existent in the 1980s.

Technically, The Wicker Man isn't about witches, but about paganism. But that's a minor quibble, I suppose. It's become a seminal film for neo-pagans and its representation of a pagan community that lives in a Shangri-la-like location in Scotland has inspired a novel (Whitley Streiber's Cat Magic) and has been called the Citizen Kane of horror films. The sequel is eagerly awaited.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Season of the Witch: Finally!

After seeming to lie fallow for a number of months, it now appears that SEASON OF THE WITCH, the medieval horror thriller starring Nicolas Cage, will be opening in theatres January 7, 2011. The website 'I am Rogue' debuts the new poster for the film, with the tagline "This January Raise Some Hell."

The Internet Movie Database gives the following description: "A 14th century Crusader returns to a homeland devastated by the Black Plague. A beleaguered church, deeming sorcery the culprit of the plague, commands the two knights to transport an accused witch to a remote abbey, where monks will perform a ritual(italics mine) in hopes of ending the pestilence."

Yes, folks. One woman, the cause of the plague that ravaged millions of lives in medieval Europe. Even though it's also possible the plague was caused by bacteria spread by fleas, carried on rats, produced by filth, it being, you know, THE FRICKING DARK AGES.

Interestingly, the bubonic plague (aka the Black Plague or the Black Death) has made a comeback in recent years. Found on cats, no less. The modern witchcraft movement is continuing to grow, too. Coinkydink?

THE WICKER TREE gets a sneak preview...in Wales.

So, those of you who live anywhere near Aberystwyth, are in for a treat! As the BBC website reports, Robin Hardy's new film THE WICKER TREE, the long-awaited sequel to 1973's THE WICKER MAN, will be having a promotional event there this Sunday, November 14th. A 12 minute clip of the film will be shown, to get people excited for the feature film's release, which will be in the spring of 2011. Robin Hardy, interviewed for the article, says he had not really had much interest in doing a remake or sequel until he saw the 2006 aberration starring Nicolas Cage and written-directed by Neil LaBute. It's heart-warming to know that Hardy, who is now in his eighties, felt strongly enough to give the world another taste of his influential and legendary film. The article also mentions that Hardy is beginning work on a THIRD film in the series.

Jason at The Wild Hunt has been covering the progress of the film so far, as did Wren at Wren's Nest (which has been replaced by a wonderfully active news link page on Facebook), and I know the pagan blogosphere will be abuzz about it in the months to come! I am going to try and score an interview when the time comes, so watch this space.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The West Memphis Three: Will Justice Be Served, at Long Last?

Today CNN reported that the Arkansas Supreme Court has ordered that the cases of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. be remanded to the lower court for a new hearing, which means that new evidence may be presented. That means DNA evidence and other evidence which may well exonerate Damien Echols; and if Echols, the alleged "ringleader," goes free, it's likely that Misskelley and Baldwin will also be released.

As the article reports, previous DNA testing conducted between 2005-2007 (nearly ten years after the initial trials took place) was not allowed to presented at an evidentiary hearing because the circuit court misinterpreted the state's DNA testing laws; this is the error the Supreme Court took issue with in granting the hearing and the potential for a new trial. The DNA testing revealed DNA consistent with the hair of Terry Hobbs, stepfather to Stevie Branch, one of the 8 year old victims, and also consistent with a friend of Hobbs.

The article also states: "Prosecutors successfully argued that the defendants were involved in a satanic cult and that punctures and cuts on the boys' bodies indicated a ritual sacrifice." There were other statements made in court testifying that there were numerous indicators of "satanic crime" (including the wearing of black nail polish), according to an idiotic expert witness named Dale Griffis, a self-proclaimed occult crime specialist who obtained his degree from a mail order university (this fact was also revealed in court). For more information on the case, visit the official supporters' website, or see the films Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and Revelations: Paradise Lost 2, by award-winning documentary filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. (A third film is in the works).

You've probably read it all before (the Witchvox coverage of this matter has been extensive). Damien Echols wore black, Damien Echols practiced Wicca. Damien Echols wrote Aleister Crowley's name several times in one of his school notebooks. Damien Echols listened to heavy metal music. Damien Echols changed his name to "Damien" after the priest who worked with lepers (but of course it's also the name of the child born of Satan who is selected to take over the American government in the 1976 film The Omen).

In 1993, when these horrific murders took place, the community of West Memphis, Arkansas was a very Christian place with a very sensationalist understanding of the occult. Numerous television specials by self-styled journalist Geraldo Rivera in the late 1980s and early 1990s hyped the idea that there was a nationwide epidemic of satan worship and related activities, and lathered many Americans into a panic. He even played a scene from the 1987 fiction film The Believers to set the mood. Yes, folks, if you thought these people must have been watching too many movies, you were right. In this blog, a self-proclaimed "conspiracy nut" uses this photo from the Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut beneath his definition of Satanic Ritual Abuse.

To his credit, Mr. Rivera eventually apologized for his role in playing up the satan scare (in 1995; two years too late to save the West Memphis Three from Death Row and life in prison).

No apology has been forthcoming thus far from Ms. Oprah Winfrey, who also hosted episodes of her famous talk show devoted to talk of satanic panic. During one such episode that I viewed, Winfrey said "The only possible explanation for this behavior is that these people are possessed by the devil." Winfrey hosted many so-called "victims" of satanic cult crimes and their families, many of whom were later revealed to be complete frauds, or whose experiences (such as the friends who accompanied Mark Kilroy, a young man murdered by drug dealers in Mexico) were unrelated to any occult crimes in the United States. A brief video from one such episode, in which Winfrey interviews a woman who claims to have been brought up in a "nice Jewish family" of murdering satan worshippers who have been practicing since the 1700s can be viewed here. Such stories seem ludicrous now; but at the time, many people took this seriously.

Despite the inept and, some have said, corrupt actions of the police and the courts in Arkansas where this case is concerned, despite, all the ridiculous and false testimony given that the jury took at face value, despite the sensationalist tactics of the media that made it impossible for potential jurors to remain impartial, despite everything that went wrong in Arkansas, we have to acknowledge that the indulgent circus of satanic panic that gripped our country for well over a decade (and, to this day, still has a foothold in many communities) is to blame for this injustice.

Contemporary witches and pagans everywhere are duty-bound to learn the facts of this case and to take to heart its lessons. This could have been any of us. But it happened to three boys from a poor community in Arkansas.

Three boys were murdered in cold blood, and their killer or killers have not yet been apprehended. Three more boys who were wrongly accused and convicted of the murders have been rotting in prison for a decade and a half. We need to do everything we can to demand that justice be served, to all six of them. So Mote it Be.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Samhain, Our National Demonic Holiday!"

Ugly Americans is a relatively new animated show on Comedy Central, which features demons, zombies, wizards and all kinds of assorted characters who have taken over America in the not too distant future. Tonight's episode was entitled "Hell for the Holidays" and opened with a reference to "Samhain (pronounced correctly), our national demonic holiday." Mark Lilly is a normal-looking human who is dating a female demon named Callie (portrayed as a seductive and sexually-insatiable woman with red hair that looks like it's made of flames). Mark presides over a meeting at his office that is meant to promote tolerance of Samhain. Callie's father invites Mark to a weekend at their "lake house" (in Hell, naturally), where, unbeknownst to Mark, there will be a reunion of sorts known as the annual "Games."

One character announces: "I would like to wish you a happy and evil Samhain." I's nice to see they did their research and at least are pronouncing it correctly! I mean, even The X-Files did not manage to do it right. (Ya like that little blast from the past?)

Other choice quotes from this episode:

In the demon forge: "Then it's off to a demon inspector who will check for lunacy, strength and genitalia barbing."

Receiving some flowers: "I'll put those in some goat's blood right away."

"The new wife buries the old one on Samhain, at midnight."

"The blood courts have already been reserved!"

Bing Crosby zombie, to a man who has just wished him a Happy Hallowe'en: "I think you mean Samhain, there, David; Bah buh buh bah, BRAINS!"

Normally I don't think this show is all that clever, even though it's chockfull of popular culture references. But tonight's episode was fun, especially following an episode of South Park in which British Petroleum, after causing a disastrous oil spill, decided to drill for oil on the moon and managed to unleash Cthulu!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ah, now comes censorship.

I joined the Facebook page for the folks trying to boycott the Lost Abbey Brewery. (Yes, boycott; as if any of these people were in the habit of buying this company's products to begin with). One poster named "Coven Avalon" posted several times that the Lost Abbey blog had been "pagan bashing big time; called us ignorant!" I posted to say that this was not true, that the word "ignorant" had only been used to refer to the remarks in emails sent TO the Lost Abbey Brewery. I also wrote that this poster should get their facts straight before trying to incite people to engage in an angry campaign of email to the company. At no point was I rude or derogatory (despite receiving fairly condescending treatment from the creators of the page). After a bit of back and forth where I attempted to clarify my position when it was being misinterpreted, my remarks were deleted from the Facebook page and my membership in the page removed. NICE. Ironic, too...given the insistence of so many of these people that they feel a desperate need to "have their say." Hmm.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The New York Times, The Lost Abbey, and What Microbrew Goes Best with Crow?

Just in time for Hallowe'en, the New York Times has weighed in (can you believe it?) on the Lost Abbey controversy. The tongue-in-cheek tone of the piece makes me think that perhaps some folks in the pagan community reached out for some media coverage on this, and perhaps got more than they bargained for. The news is making the rounds in the beerosphere, too: The Full Pint, a beer lovers' news site has also offered its take, after first posting on it last week. The Wild Hunt also reports on the latest developments in this issue and, as always, the comments section is a collection of diverse opinions. At least one commenter mentions that one prominent witch and author actually suggested HEXING the Lost Abbey Brewery (on a Yahoo group mailing list, apparently). But, seriously? HEXING? To what end? To make them go out of business? To cause their buildings to go up in flames? This is seriously out of line, people.

Then again, the controversy generated over this has been nothing short of ridiculous. I posted the New York Times link to Facebook via our Witches' Voice page of links, and had people screaming at me (or, you know, the internet equivalent of screaming) for daring to speak for the Witches' Voice on this matter (uh, I don't speak for them, for the record, folks. I'm one of several people who has the ability to post news links on the Facebook page). In typical (if unfortunate) Facebook fashion, the comments have been volatile and not always very well thought out.

Which brings me to a very thoughtful piece of writing I found today on the Lost Abbey website. I repost it here. I hope the folks at Lost Abbey won't mind. I'm okay with their using the term "Brew Ha Ha" which I of course believe I cleverly thought of first, so I guess we're even.

"This morning, my phone roared to life as it does each day when it awakens from a short but well deserved slumber. Google Mail alerted me that the New York Times had indeed published the article detailing our week long conversation with members of the Pagan Community. And unless you have been around the brewery for the last week, you might have missed these conversations.

You see, they started last Friday October 15th at 12:01 AM when a slew of emails hit our Lost Abbey in box. Many of them were of the cut and past variety and they all were sent to detest our “New” Witch’s Wit label. We thought this odd since the label was first produced in 2008 and has never once inspired anyone to contact us to express their displeasure.
Turns out that recently a very famous member of the Wiccan Community “found” our beer in a store. She was immediately appalled by our use of 16th Century images featuring a Witch being burned at the stake. Blogs, Facebook and Twitter were all employed to mount an assault on our systems. An email campaign was also started and a barrage of very similar emails filled our in boxes for the duration of the weekend.

Many of these emails labeled our Marketing and PR Departments as ignorant, woman hating Cretans. Some claimed that no sane person in their right mind would use an image of a buxom Witch being burned at the stake for commercial gain.
We have a stack of emails asking whether we would show Jews being gassed or African American’s being lynched. Of course not was our reply. Others seemed to think we were responsible for recent incidents in Darfur as well. It was amazing chain of events to say the least.

Apparently, many of the emailers didn’t bother to spend time researching our branding and the positioning of our beers. In blindly denouncing our original art and the satire of our labels, most of the emailers failed to connect with our brands. Looking at these emails, it was obvious that in our desire to tell a great story, we had forgotten to get that information on our website in a meaningful way.

Sitting in my office, I can honestly say it was hard for us to see the forest from the trees.

Since day one, The Lost Abbey has been about original artwork, original beers and original back label stories tying them together. I know this because it’s been my job to develop the beer, commission the original artwork and write the back story for the label. This has been no easy task. Yet, I am very proud of our labels. They are cohesive and constantly work at pushing the boundaries of beer as art.

But we’re still missing some of the storytelling aspects on our website. So we’ll be adding this to our list of things to do in the not so distant future.

But getting back to the Pagan and Wiccan brewhaha that ensued is why I am blogging today. Sage was tasked with answering the communities and in his response he emplored the emailers to approach our beers as a collection of original artistic pieces displaying the struggle between good and evil. As soon as this email began making the rounds, some members of the pagan community responded with more positivity; others were still not placated.

Each day last week, I came to work and wanted to communicate this situation to our Lost Abbey Clergy. I felt it was important to share this with the consumers of our beers who support the artistic direction of this brand. Ultimately, I decided against it as this because I didn’t want to fan the flames of this little wildfire. This was incredibly difficult for me as I received some memorable emails and quotes like this one: “Screw you, you fat ass beer slugging alcoholic Christian Ass Hole.”

But now that the New York Times published a story in today’s paper detailing our situation with the Pagan and Wiccan communities, I typed this blog post to share my thoughts with you. Please go read the New York Times piece. Then please go read the notes I published about our Witch’s Wit Label on our website. When you’re finished, you can use this forum for comments about this beer. We’d love to hear what you have to say about this.

At this time, the only decision that has been made about this label is that we have agreed (as owners) to discuss this label controversy at our meeting in November. We remain committed to the art of story telling and using beer as our medium and hope to keep delivering more amazing beers and storys for years to come."

I think it's wise for them to wait until November to make a decision about this. I applaud the author's willingness to share the brewery's experience. Boy, talk about a witch hunt. It sounds like some of the "email protests" directed towards them were downright abusive. Meanwhile, given the numbers on the calendar and the abundance of candy and spooky kitsch on store shelves at the moment, I wonder how many more news outlets will give space to this story?

I was blissfully unaware of any further developments on this issue over the weekend. I was in western NY, closing down my campsite for the season, and enjoyed my birthday on Saturday the 23rd with a lovely steak dinner at a tavern in the woods, and hoisted a glass of microbrew called "Nosferatu." Ironically, I was thinking of Lost Abbey as I did so, drinking a silent toast to them for standing their ground in the midst of the protests. I hope they know, not ALL witches have a problem with their label. I think I'l toast them again tonight with a bottle of "Hex" from the Magic Hat Brewery.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Horror! 'Tis the Season!

Today, the British newspaper The Guardian capped its series of lists of best films in various categories by offering their take on the 25 Best Horror Films of All Time.

I like their list: I especially like that they chose Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) as the top horror pick, and that The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973) is Number Four! I also admire their choosing The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez, 1999) as a top contender, since that film is so reviled and misunderstood (personally I think it's a brilliant work of truly independent cinema, and a scary horror film to boot). I'm surprised by some of the omissions: like Night of the Living Dead (George Romero, 1968), Night of the Demon (Jacques Tourneur, 1957) and 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002).

I'm a huge horror film fan, and something of a horror scholar, I suppose. Some more obscure titles I love include Masque of the Red Death (Roger Corman, 1964), Ganga and Hess (Tim Gunn, 1973), The Craft (Andrew Fleming, 1996), Session 9 (Brad Anderson, 2001), Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (Bob Clark, 1972), The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971), A Bucket of Blood (Roger Corman, 1959), and The Hunger (Tony Scott, 1983).

For pagan-themed horror films, or those including witches, at any rate, you can't beat The Wicker Man, The Craft, Practical Magic (Griffin Dunne, 1998), The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973), Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968), The Devil Rides Out (Terence Fisher, 1968), and The Dunwich Horror (Daniel Haller, 1970).

What say you, friends? Anything to add to the Guardian's list? What are your horror favorites?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Brew Ha Ha! An Update

So, just when you thought it was safe to go purchase a six pack or two of your favorite naughtily-named microbrew, it turns out that the indignant complaining of some righteous witches might have had an impact on a small sector of the craft beer industry.

I've recently learned that the Lost Abbey Brewery, the source of some controversy earlier this week over their label for "Witch's Wit" wheat beer (which features a young woman being burned at the stake), has decided to respond to the angry emails directed at them by offering to create a new label for the beer, and, what's more, to host a contest for a new image! (No information on when, where or how this contest will be conducted; stay tuned!)

Considering a great deal of the pagan community's response has been fairly evenly split on this, with roughly half of them expressing negative emotions ranging from mild annoyance to impassioned outrage, and the other half wondering what all the fuss is about (and wondering why so many witches want to make it look like our community has a persecution complex), this response from Lost Abbey was somewhat surprising to me. Then again, it may help generate some publicity for their products; maybe even more than the recent flurry of media attention over the Witch's Wit label. Oddly, it's been two years since the label was first introduced.

Well, congrats, angry witches. You've managed to make a small independently-owned company bow to your ludicrous campaign of whiny nonsense. So what's next? Getting involved in some environmental activism, perhaps? Cleaning up your local park? Volunteering at your local hospital or nursing home or food pantry? What's that, you say? More protesting of offensive witch imagery during the month of October? Maybe you should head on up to Salem, Massachusetts. I hear there's a whole lot of tacky stuff with witches on it for sale there.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Isis is Pretty! And memories of Saturday morning...

My friend Walter, who has a healthy obsession with films and television depicting pretty much anything connected to paganism and the occult, shared this link with me this week. It's a photo of an upcoming episode of Smallville that will feature the goddess Isis.

Awww....isn't Isis PRETTY?

Walter called this" jaw-droppingly awful," and maybe he was referring to the story line in which Isis (who is really Lois Lane, temporarily transformed, apparently) will use Clark's body to revive her mummified lover Osiris (I mean, that is kind of offensive to those modern pagans who worship Isis as a more benevolent goddess, not a bloodthirsty goddess of sacrifice) , but I dunno...compared to the depiction of Isis that I remember on television from my Saturday mornings as a kid...this looks like par for the course.
Isis was a companion show to Shazam! and both shows were an important text in the formative years of millions of American kids born, say, between 1960 and 1970.

But what's perplexing is the use of an Egyptian goddess as an agent of murder. Moreover, having said evil goddess possess the pure, sweet and good Lois Lane...this is a rather prurient, sophomoric and not very creative storyline, really. Any why Isis? I mean, why not a goddess associated with death or sacrifice or destruction, like Kali? Or even Cerridwen? I remember Isis being portrayed as a very kind, positive, compassionate goddess. Then again, that was the 1970s, era of disco and homegrown pot and roller skating in Central Park. I guess she had to evolve into a dark-hearted bitch to reflect the unfriendly times we live in.

I miss the creative, wonderfully entertaining kids' programming of yesteryear. It does seem as though today's programs are devoid of any real invention or sense of fun. I mean, remember those Sid and Mart Krofft shows? How trippy and wonderful! Sigmund the Sea Monster was my favorite; and it looks like it will be coming to the big screen. How will it fare, outside its 1970s-era context?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Controversy? Or Overreaction?

Over at the The Wild Hunt blog, there's a discussion happening regarding a label on a bottle of beer. The company is called Lost Abbey, and the beer is called Witch's Wit. The label depicts a witch burning at the stake, while hundreds of anonymous men look on. Jason Pitzl-Waters provides plenty of links to more information, and some of the remarks being made around the net. Rather oddly, given that the label has been in circulation for a couple of years now, a number of witches are up in arms, calling this artwork offensive. Some have even compared such imagery to depicting a black man being lynched, or a Holocaust victim being burned in the ovens at Dachau.

I am beyond offended...not by the image of the witch burning at the stake, but by the outrageous comparison to lynching or the Third Reich. The last time there were witch burnings in the western world was over 400 years ago. And those martyrs were Christians, not witches and sorcerers. The last time there was a lynching of a black person in the deep South was less than a half century ago. The last Jew burned in the German camps died in the 1940s. To invoke recent history as a parallel to ancient history is not only ignorant, it's self-serving.

Every year, around this time, we see plenty of sensationalist, stereotyped portrayals of witches. There are those ugly old hag archetypes, straight out of Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages or The Wizard of Oz. Then there are the more modern, titillating depictions: the buxom, beautiful, sexy young witches in skimpy outfits, like Elvira, or the gals in The Craft. The witch, whether beautiful or ugly, young or old, enticing or frightening, is an archetypal image that will probably never go away. Those of us who call ourselves witches, who practice modern witchcraft, should be able to accept that this archetype is part of our history, our culture, and our heritage. Hell, some of us even wear those pointy hats and skimpy black outfits at Hallowe'en! How many of the female pagans protesting this label image have not done that at least once? You can't have it both ways.

I'm not saying the label from Lost Abbey isn't sexist, because it is, a bit. But I don't think it's thoughtless, nor do I think it's anti-pagan. Their beers and labeling are thoughtfully conceived and executed with no small amount of humor or irony. Here, for example, is an excerpt from the description for their Inferno Ale: "Your roommate is an axe murderer. Eerily, he’s not threatening. How can he be? The Fallen Angel owns your body, mind and soul. As such, no one can take your life. It’s already been taken. Or was it given? Neither matters. Did you seriously think you were living a virtuous life? At least Satan serves beer in Hell. He brews it himself right there in that flame stoked cauldron."

Clearly, these is some measure of humor intended here. I think maybe some of those witches choosing to be morally offended should lighten up a little bit. It's also not really appropriate for modern pagan witches to align themselves with the martyred witches of the European witch craze or the North American witch trials. They were martyrs, victims, persecuted women and men, to be sure. But they weren't witches! And if they did traffic in sorcery, I promise you, it was a far cry from the invented ceremonial rituals and nature worship that today's witches practice. Today's witches are mostly middle class white people, and we're generally not in danger of being persecuted. We are, however, in danger of being misunderstood and ridiculed. And one way to bring ridicule upon oneself is to get morally indignant about imaginary persecution.

I think the reply from Lost Abbey, sent to one blogger protesting this issue, and posted on The Wild Hunt earlier as an update, is worth reposting here:

"I encourage you to look at all of Lost Abbey’s beers and consider them in context. Each of the Lost Abbey beers features a label which depicts a theme of Catholic excess — good and bad — on the front, and tells a moral story on the back. (Our founder is a recovering Catholic.)

In the case of Witch’s Wit, the back label is a story of the bad consequences of religious intolerance and oppression. The woman on the front is referred to as a “healer” on the label and accuses the Church of being narrow-minded and violent, threatening the same fate to anyone who would help the woman. The label ends with a note that this beer — a light, sweet and golden ale — is brewed in honor of that woman (and all those who died for their convictions).

Our other beers — Devotion, Deliverance, Judgment Day, Inferno, The Angel’s Share, etc. — all have similar messages of morality. Unfortunately, the people who started this meme either didn’t bother or didn’t care to actually read the label and simply chose to fan the flames of ignorance and intolerance — which, ironically, is what the beer is actually against."

I also find it deliciously ironic that, like the majority of modern pagan witches, the brewery's founder is a recovering Catholic.

People, we simply have bigger fish to fry. You want to help a witch who's been persecuted? Go send a donation to the legal funds of the West Memphis Three; three young men wrongfully imprisoned for murder, in part because one of them, Damien Echols, was a practicing Wiccan who wore black and listened to heavy metal music, and was believed to be the ring leader of a satanic ritualistic killing of three young boys, and whose trial was a travesty of ignorance, fear and prejudice. If you want to protest the persecution of witches, then for goddess' sake, help someone who has actually been wrongfully persecuted in the name of witchcraft.

I did a bit of research and found some interesting links. I am guessing most of the folks protesting the beer label are not terribly familiar with craft microbrews. They're very good, and expensive, and therefore not generally of interest to "drunks" or casual beer drinkers. Further, these small independent companies have a long and colorful history of beer names and labels that push the envelope of what some might call decorum, what others might call good taste. They are the indie cinema of beer, if you will. And many of them use supernatural imagery in their names and artwork.

Check out Magic Hat, for example, or the Voodoo brewery in western PA. As for mainstream beers, Miller High Life has been using witch imagery in their advertising for a long time.

Moorhouse's Blond Witch gets a good rating from Beer Advocate. Here's a bar in Florida with a witchy name. And here's a great craft brew label sure to incite protest!

And oh, look! A scholarly article about "beer witches" in the industry! And here's some food for thought on beer witches in history. And some saints associated with beer.

Anyone else find some interesting links on witches and beer? Send 'em over!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hail and Welcome!


This is my new blog. I'll be blogging about media; specifically media of interest to witches, neopagans, heathens, and other like-minded folks. Some of you may remember some of my work as the long-time Media Coordinator for The Witches' Voice website. But the times they are a-changin', and it seemed like a fine time to being my scholarly interests, critical acumen, and unique brand of snark to the blogosphere.

This has been in the works for a while, and will be bringing forth all sorts of exciting surprises in the near future! So for now, I hope you enjoy what you read here. And do feel free to contact me with any leads or questions.