Category Archives: Community Notes
It was with no small degree of both anticipation and trepidation that I went to see “Midsommar” this weekend. My gold standard for movies of this type is the original “Wicker Man” with Christopher Lee. I did not expect “Midsommar” to come near to this and happily I was wrong. It’s a beautiful, moving, brilliant movie about the emptiness and crass depredation of modernity coming face to face with deep, unshakeable piety.
This is the point that the Pagan reviewers having thus far written about this movie have aggressively missed. It’s a movie about tradition, values rooted in intergenerational piety, and the consequences of growing up in a culture bereft of community, and about the consequences of one’s choices good and bad. It’s not a perfect movie by any means (and I’ll be talking about the things that I particularly disliked below) but it comes close. It is not a horror movie nor, as so many reviewers on youtube have insisted, is it a break up movie. That happens yes, but it is the culmination of the main character’s spiritual and emotional journey, a natural conclusion to her transition out of polluted, disconnected existence and into tribe and family. (There is a powerful dream sequence where we see this visually depicted: Dani, the main character exhales and a huge billow of black smoke comes out of her mouth. I and my husband looked at each other and I whispered, “she’s expelling pollution” and from that point on, she begins integrating more and more fully into the community that eventually accepts her).
Spoilers ahead. You have been warned.
The movie begins with Dani and her boyfriend Christian on the verge of a break up. That is postponed when she suffers a terrible personal tragedy and Christian, out of his depth but not wanting to be a total dick, decides not to break up with her. From there, a Swedish friend Pelle invites Christian and some other doctoral students to his hometown for a special 9-day celebration that only takes place every 90 years. Dani eventually comes along with them. It is clear from the beginning of the flight that Dani is disconnected not just from Christian but from everyone and everything around her. That’s a recurrent theme: disconnection vs. connection. It’s particularly well expressed when you see her six months after her personal tragedy staring out at the bleak, isolated city scape. This is later contrasted with the healthy, bright, and vibrant Swedish landscape. On the plane, Pelle, their Swedish friend connects more to her by addressing her grief than Christian or any of her other peers do or try to do. He shows compassion and shared suffering. It is clear that, as so many people in the modern world are, she lives in emotional isolation.
That isolation begins to change when she and her friends arrive in Sweden. Pelle drives them to his village but they stop before they get there and he offers them mushrooms. This is their transport from mundane headspace to sacred, ceremonial states of being and its effect on Dani is remarkable. Immediately, we’re given a visual sign of the land accepting her (grass growing through her hand, uniting her with the earth). This also begins her journey from emotional brokenness to wholeness, healing, and strength.
Upon reaching the village, they’re immediately welcomed by the elders. On the way, they meet up with two other foreign guests, a rather obnoxious British couple. Things do not go well for the majority of the group. I’m not going to give a long breakdown of the entire film – I don’t want to ruin it for those who haven’t yet seen it; but I will offer a few highlights.
Dani tries from the beginning to understand and acclimate. Her friends do not. They behave with arrogance from the beginning. The most egregious example of this takes place after two elders have sacrificed themselves (in this community it is customary for elders to commit suicide ritually at 72, giving their life force back to the community). Not only does the British couple desecrate the ritual, possibly causing it to go somewhat awry with the elderly man, but afterwards, when the bodies have been cremated and the ashes spread about a sacred tree that serves as a communal ancestor shrine, one of the young men, after watching the spreading of the ashes, decides he has to take a piss on that tree. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic. He was incapable of recognizing it as sacred, even when they attempted to explain it to him. (He gets exactly what he deserves and I cheered out loud when that happened). There are several instances of desecration and violation of sacred spaces by the group, each one bringing the appropriate penalty.
Dani, on the other hand, tries to make herself useful and while obviously out of her element, participates in tasks and even in the ritual, winning the role of “may queen,” a ceremonial role that involves blessing the fields and land. In the end, it is Dany who chooses the final sacrifice indicating her new role as a functioning member of this Pagan community, and that she has left her old, dysfunctional life behind. It’s powerful and moved me to tears more than once. At the end, she is robed in a glorious cape of flowers, bright and indicative of growth and new life.
There were things I did not like. Firstly, until a certain age, all members of the tribe live communally. I thought this was ghastly. Of course, I also find the idea of being out in nature ghastly. Lol Thank you, no. I’ll take a hut on the edge of town, if you please. They also have a particularly bred line of deformed, mentally challenged children, ostensibly one per generation that serve as a type of oracle. My husband wasn’t bothered by this, but I was. I found it inappropriate. At least the elders made it clear he wasn’t the only oracle and he is given an important and functional role in the community, which was good. There were no “throw away” people like we have so often in our culture. I did think he was creepy-cool too. Finally, the Gods weren’t really mentioned. Their symbols were everywhere and if you knew how to read them Their presence was clear as letters on the page of a book but They weren’t actively mentioned save two times very vaguely. They should have been front and center.
On a positive note, the imagery is consistently beautiful. The community is assigned work as adults based on traits they show as children and there are several instances of boys and girls being shown apprenticing to adults. That was lovely. Pay attention to the illustrations on the walls and wall hangings. They tell you exactly what is going to occur. There is one tapestry hanging outside that shows the entire progress of a love spell…a very traditional spell involving pubic hair and/or menstrual blood found in more cultures than I can count and literally one can read it like an open book. (My second outcry in the theatre was to Christian when the girl working the spell makes him a little pie… LOL “Don’t eat that pie!” because I know that spell. Also, in the same scene, his drink is slightly darker than everyone else’s which indicates that the girl probably added her own special ingredient to the drink too!).
The runes were quite correct in every instance of their use. They could, as I said, also be read like an open book to tell you what was going to occur. At the beginning, for their opening communal meal, they have the tables set up in a huge othala, the symbol for home, inheritance, and a healthy community, which is then later changed to gebo as the time of sacrifice approaches. In one instance, Christian (and I don’t think his name was accidental, though the main focus of the movie is the grossness of modernity versus the beauty of tradition and community rather than explicitly Christianity vs. Polytheism) is about to have ritual sex with one of the village girls (approved by the elders because as a small community they need new breeding stock. I thought this qualified as cheating on Dani because he’d never had the courage to actually break up with her, but at the same time, they’d not visibly been behaving like a couple so it’s possible the young girl didn’t know. Then again, there’s always one in every community…). He comes in wearing a shirt with two inguz runes on his chest. In one is the rune tiewaz, which has a secondary meaning of masculine potency and in the other, a reversed algiz, which tells me he’s not living out the end of the movie. Lol. Inguz itself is indicative of fertility and Freyr – which tells you everything you need to know about how that scene is going to play out. Dani at one point wore a dress with a reversed raido and a dagaz on its side. I would have interpreted that as her journey ending in this place but how it ends and what that means as lying within her own power to determine. When Dani finds out what Christian has been up to, she breaks down but unlike her modern world where she would have been left to deal with this grief alone, the other women surround her, hold her, breath with her, mourn with her, and guide her through the pain. It was one of the most beautifully moving moments in the entire film.
The numbers mentioned in every instance add up to nine, (18, 36, 54, 72 – numerologically they add up to nine) which is very Odinic. The sacrifices made were also Odinic, particularly with the bear being such a potent image during the final ones; however, the holiday itself was the summer solstice and one would have expected it to center around Freyr far more. It was very cool that the Deity imagery was there but I kept finding myself confused because where I expected Vanic things, I got instead Odinic and vice versa. The was a nod to Nerthus in the role of the “May” Queen (ostensibly a May queen in June because it was still too cold to crown a May queen in actual May?): she’s put in a carriage and escorted around the perimeter of the village and fields and gets to bless everything. The names of the Gods were never, ever used though, as I’ve already noted, which was off-putting. I did like that offerings were buried in the earth: seeds, eggs, raw meat, etc. It reminded me of the Acerbot rite.
Finally, there are two willing sacrifices from the community and while they are given a drug to ease their way at the end before being burned, I think they should have had their throats cut to ensure they died cleanly and did not suffer. Still, the ending was beautiful and powerful and culminates with Dani ostensibly becoming a member of the community.
The biggest things that stood out for me were the examples of modern impiety in the face of what is obviously sacred. With the exception of Dani, every single one of her companions behaved in a way that was self-centered, rude, and just horrible when simple respect and hospitality of the guest would have carried them through had they thought of it (Christian also steals his friend’s dissertation idea, which shows his general lack of character. That’s a killable offense to an academic, or should be lol). They had no respect for the fact they were being welcomed into a sacred space for a very, very special series of rituals. Now that brings up a question that the movie leaves unanswered: namely, did Pelle select the group because he knew they would behave badly and thus render themselves lawful prey to be sacrificed, or could it have gone either way dependent on their behavior? (Dani was an unexpected addition so she was a wild card from the beginning). I like to think the latter.
Overall, the message of the movie was one of the value of piety and tradition against the way that modernity isolates us from all that is wholesome. It was the story of one woman’s journey into health and healing, into sacred consciousness, and joy culminating in her turning away from destructive modern attitudes and the pollution they so often bring and finding acceptance in a family rooted in caring for the land, honoring the Gods, remember the ancestors (and not pissing on their shrine >_<), and celebrating each other. It is every bit as powerful as the “Wicker Man” (though I still prefer Wicker Man for reasons of pace and some stylistic elements. Also, in the “Wicker Man,” the Gods are named, which adds to it immensely).
I highly recommend this movie and give five out of five hallucinogenic mushrooms. 🙂
Vandals in London have desecrated a memorial to WWII RAF fighters. This is in wake of a black studies professor calling these heroes war criminals (you know, the men who fought actual nazis. I guess they’ll give PhDs to anyone these days). This is the result of people who have zero respect for the dead, and who see western identity as a problem to be solved. I hope they catch the criminals. I would like to see them drawn and quartered, though of course in these ‘civilized’ times such punishments are no longer given. Pity. One who desecrates the military dead deserves nothing else.
(photo “Lest We Forget” by G. Krasskova)
So i have heard from one of my Brazilian colleagues that a Candomble priest, who refused to desecrate his shrines has been murdered by Christians. Álisson (pictured below) stood fast in devotion to the Orixa and was butchered in the name of Jesus. We should remember his example when we face our own challenges in life, and to living as devout polytheists. This man was willing to die for devotion to his Powers. We should approach our own spiritual obstacles with that kind of courage and fortitude rather than fence-sitting with respect to our Gods. We should also remember this glimpse of the true face of monotheism.
I haven’t done one of these in awhile but just the past couple of days I’ve been reading too many thought provoking pieces to ignore, so I figured I’d share them all wit you here in one go.
- First we have Kenaz Filan’s brilliant analysis of Ryan Smith’s most recent assed up piece at Patheos. I know for the Marxist zealots in our midst this is a difficult thing to understand, but we really should be making ourselves relevant to the Gods, not the other way around.
- Next, there is a nice article on Gaulish ideas of sin and miasma by Segomaros Widugeni. I may have to write something similar about Heathen practices.
- Here is a rather thought-provoking piece on Islamic Apologetics that looks to Hindu scripture to explore the rationale for opposition. I don’t agree with everything in this article (especially the nonsense about sacrifice) but it still provides a different perspective to what I’ve seen coming out of the Pagan blogosphere.
- This article touches on the use of ‘religious freedom’ statues by secularists as an insidious means of forcing conversion from one’s indigenous polytheisms. Worth considering here, and yet again highlights why I think proselytizing and missionary work should be classed as a human rights violation and punished accordingly. This is an important piece and shows just how the attack on polytheisms has not in the least ceased with the advent of the modern state. It’s just gone underground: if monotheists can’t force the destruction by violence, they’ll do it by legislation and claim religious freedom as they do.
- Finally, my favorite site of all of these, an article devoted to the Skull cultus in Naples. It showcases pictures and describes the cultus (and Catholic oppression of it). I’m not quite sure if one can visit this site, but if so, I would just love to go and make offerings. We need more of this.
Here’s another piece a friend just sent me. Apparently a druidic woman at a pagan festival had her hair cut while she slept, without her permission. This, is assault, folks. This is a complete lack of respect and boundaries. This is disgusting and…not surprising in the least, unfortunately, at a pagan gathering. I could say more on this, but I think y’all know my feelings.
I just heard from Anne Niven that her magazine “Witches and Pagans” will be doing an issue on Polytheism. YAY! This is exciting. I asked for her CFS and promised to post it here — if you are polytheist and a writer, please consider checking this out. I contributed to her Heathenry issue a few years ago and it was a very, very solid and good issue. Anyway, here’s the info she sent me:
Now accepting submissions for the Winter 2016 (February) issue of Witches&Pagans magazine: “Polytheism: Many Gods, Many Paths.” I’m looking for accessible, literate, detailed, non-polemical articles on polytheism in all its aspects. I’m especially interested in articles on polytheism as a movement in both the ancient and modern world, as well as articles on specific paths, deities, practices and groups that characterize polytheism in the current (mostly North American) scene.
Or, hey, surprise me! (There may be amazing pieces out there either already in existence or waiting to be written) that come at this from a completely divergent point of view.
Most of our readers are “mainstream” Wicca-influenced Pagans, so please explain specialized terms and concepts as necessary.
Interested? Please contact me to pitch your concept or story. Writers from non-cultural dominant points of view (POC, alter-abled, LBGTS etc) explicitly invited.
Anne Newkirk Niven
P.S. Deadline for this issue is November 1, 2015. We are not a cash-paying market, but we do offer generous ad trade, a free one-year (3-issue) subscription, and as many contributor copies of the issue in question as you can carry.
Anne can be contacted at editor2 at bbimedia.com.
WildHunt has an interesting article about discrimination in the workplace here. It’s worth a read. I’ve always chosen to be out as a polytheist. I don’t ever want to be in the position where I can be blackmailed about it, nor do I see it as something to hide. There’s also a didactic function inherent in being out, even if only very quietly so. Still, I’ve been discriminated against on the basis of my religion at work many times: I’ve had bibles left piled up all over my office, I’ve had my office vandalized. Both times I knew it was a fundy christian working at the same department. They were not disciplined by management at all and I was told to forget about it. I’ve been isolated and alienated from social functions at work. I’ve had verbal harassment. I’m pretty sure it cost me a job. I know it impacted my salary and let’s just say I never made ‘friends’ at work.
When I worked in ballet, it was a non-issue. It only became a problem when I moved into retail (Barnes and Noble, where the two acts of office vandalism and what I would now term a massively hostile work environment occurred, was the worst including having a manager call me aside and wanting, quite aggressively, to know how many Pagans were in the department. I refused to answer as there were four or five of us) and then corporate. Ironically now in academia I’ve had no problems at all (so far). The worst I can say is certain journals refuse to publish my religious studies articles on the grounds I couldn’t possibly be unbiased being polytheist –regardless of how well researched these articles are, or sometimes on the grounds that I’m more a theologian than an anthropologist. I’ve never had a problem in my fairly conservative department and I don’t hide my identity as a polytheist at all. hell, all anyone would have to do is a simple Google search. It may become an issue when I attain my PhD and have to find a job, especially if I intend to teach high school, which is a relevant option for Classicists. That remains to be seen.
For those outside the US reading this, and possibly wondering why religion would even come up in the workplace, allow me to clarify. American workplaces are infested with the same obsession with religion, specifically Christianity, that you see in the media and our political arena. While I find talking about one’s personal life at all at work obnoxious, many Americans find nothing wrong with assuming one to be Christian and/or asking about it in a workplace setting. We have laws against this when it’s coming from management, but not so much when it’s another co-worker. It’s like being married or having children: office mates will pry and if you don’t openly disclose sooner or later they’ll try actively to sniff it out. This is one of the things i loathed about corporate: what i term the office bell jar effect.
When I was working in Human Resources for a major American bank, we had a case where two brokers were fighting. One was a practitioner of Vodou and the other kept accusing this person of putting hexes on her, and complained to management about it, every time something went wrong in her life. HR wanted to laugh it off until I pointed out the immensely hostile workplace this was creating for the Voudoussaint, and the potential for a pending lawsuit. It got resolved pretty quickly but the fact that it even escalated to the point of coming to HR is significant. There’s little respect in this country given to non-Abrahamic religions. Last year, though the ruling was quickly overturned, a judge even ordered a Wiccan mother to put her child in Christian education. We have a very long way to go before we break the back of the Christian right in this country, and an even longer way to go before our religion becomes a non-inssue in the world of social commerce.
Wow. I was shocked when I learned today of Walter Burkert’s death and equally shocked to read, just a few moments ago, of the death of Dr. Brown. Her book “Mama Lola” was ground breaking. I remember having to read it in my Religious Studies classes and I cheered when I discovered that as a result of her work on that book, she became an initiate into Haitian Vodou and mambo.
She was an amazing woman and a courageous scholar. A full obituary may be found here.
May she be welcomed by her ancestors with joy.
A brilliant and insightful scholar whose work influenced not only a generation of scholars in the study of Greek Religion but also the development of contemporary Hellenismos/Greek polytheism, Walter Burkert died this week in Zurich.
He was especially known for his work on sacrificial ritual and was the author of such influential works as “Homo Necans,” “Greek Religion,” and “Ancient Mystery Cults.”
He will be missed. May his journey to his ancestors be swift and may they welcome him with joy.