flwyd: (step to the moon be careful)
Margot Adler passed away this morning, after living with cancer for 3½ years.

She is probably best known as a long-time reporter for NPR. Yet she is also one of the most recognized names in the Neopagan community, and introduced many of us to that world through her book Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and other Pagans in America Today. The book was published in 1979, a time when it was often difficult for people with minority interests to find like-minded people. In addition to cataloging the ideas and practices of a lot of different individuals and groups the book had an extensive section of contacts and resources, enabling the curious and isolated to plug in and learn more. The book was also an opportunity to educate outsiders: given a long history of Pagan persecution, most Neopagan groups in the 1960s through at least the 1980s kept a low profile. Since the Neopagans weren't telling their own stories in public, it was left to paranoid parents who watched Rosemary's Baby and fear-mongering evangelicals who conflate all non-Christian religious practices with Satanism. While Margot's book probably didn't make it onto Focus on the Family's bookshelf, it provided a non-sensationalist journalistic source that someone could point to which demystified the contemporary occult.

Margot used her three decades at NPR to share the stories of many other subcultures and marginalized groups, religious and otherwise. She approached her work as an educational conduit. Her stories didn't have a sensationalist bent with the unusual habits of a minority group used to titilate mainstream listeners, nor were they partisan promotions. Rather, she dove deep into the culture and brought their world view and social context to curious ears.

Margot was a frequent visitor to Boulder, attending CU's Conference on World Affairs 22 times. She came to CU in the fall of 2001 as part of the CWA Athenaeum speaker series. The main subject of her visit was journalism and her reporting on post-9/11 New York City. What neither she nor the CWA organizers realized was that CU's Pagan Student Alliance group was working through Drawing Down the Moon to learn about the history of modern Paganism. I managed to get on the list for the Athenaeum dinner and happened to choose a seat next to Margot's. She seemed a little surprised when I told her I was part of a group reading her book and asked about how the Pagan community had changed since the 2nd Edition was published in the late '80s. With true reporter skills she turned the question back to me and my perceptions.

At a CWA panel one year, an audience member talked about an African community she was involved with. She said there were people in powerful positions who used witchcraft as part of their trappings to remain in power and make decisions the questioner felt negatively impacted the village. She asked how she could bring up the negative effects and suggest change in a culturally-sensitive way. I remember Margot answering "Not all witches are wonderful" and suggesting that there were likely village members who were unhappy about the state of affairs and that they might be a good place to start organizing. This is what I love about Margot Adler: even though she was perhaps the most famous witch in America, she was really just a radical who happened to be a witch just as she happened to be Jewish and happened to be born in Arkansas.

I hope Margot's journey to the other side was the start of a fantastic new story. I'll toast her fondly in a week and a half as I dance and draw with Colorado's Neopagans.
flwyd: (Trevor baby stare)
Got some time to kill? Been through all Vi Hart's videos on YouTube? The next best thing there is almost assuredly Don't Eat the Pictures, a Sesame Street movie from 1983 full of dark myths and deep characters. I saw this on TV when I was 4. Years later, I remembered parts of it vividly, but nobody my age had any idea what I was talking about. Did I really have an imagination rich enough to come up with this? A couple folks have confirmed my memories that this producted. And now, thanks to [livejournal.com profile] scott_lynch, I know what it's called and where to find it.

Originally posted by [livejournal.com profile] scott_lynch at Against Big Bird, The Gods Themselves Contend In Vain
I was a hard-core Sesame Street viewer from about 1979 to 1984, and my memories of the show are the sort of deep nostalgic tangle you'd expect, with a great deal of idiosyncratic noise blended into the signal. So, for many years, I carried around a vague but emotionally vivid recollection of a Sesame Street episode in which Big Bird and Snuffleupagus had witnessed the the passage of a soul to the ancient Egyptian afterlife, complete with the weighing of the human heart against a feather. I shit you not.

For all those years, I just assumed that I was nuts, or that I was conflating a memory of a childhood dream with a childhood television experience. Not long ago, I was trading Sesame Street memories with that girl I like, and I determined to Google-fu my way to the truth.

In the 1983 special Don't Eat the Pictures, assorted humans and Muppets are stuck overnight in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While Oscar, Bob, Cookie Monster, Olivia, and some small children are having the sort of mild and educational adventures you'd expect, Big Bird and Snuffy meet Sahu, a 4,000-year-old Egyptian prince (!) condemned to wander eternally in spirit form (!!) unless he can answer a riddle posed by a demon (!!!) that appears to him each night at midnight. I am not fucking with you. This really happened.




There's Sahu!






ACTUAL DIALOGUE from Big Bird: "Oh no! The demon's gonna be here any second now!" And here's the appearance of that demon, played by James motherfucking Mason.



You know you want to keep going past the cut. )
flwyd: (charbonneau ghost car)
Follow-up to my previous post: You can listen to the radio show my dad did in Clover's honor for the next week and a half. It's well done and quite touching, even if you didn't know the man. Feel free to skip the several minutes of old news about the fire at the beginning of the show.
flwyd: (spiral staircase to heaven)
Two hours ago I got back to Boulder from Burning Man. There's a lot to be said about the past week and a half, but this is not the occasion to say most of it.

Every year at Burning Man, a crew builds a large wooden temple. The attendees then write messages on the temple, attach offerings to its nooks and crannies, and have a good cry inside. On Sunday night of the event, the temple is burned as thousands of people look on in near silence, appreciating the symbolic release of all the words, objects, and memories they placed there. The majority focus on death, but many people seek release from old relationships and personal hardships, while others add messages of philosophy and joy.

I liked a lot about the temple's design this year, but I didn't connect as strongly with the messages people left as I have in years past. Perhaps that's because I wasn't yet ready to release: the important death to me had not yet come.

Our old family friend Clover has been in the hospital and hospice for the last few weeks. We all knew his days were numbered, but when I called before leaving cell phone reception behind as I crossed the desert, he was doing well. I'd hoped to see him one last time when I got back, to give him a send-off in person. Sadly, Clover passed on Monday, around the time I turned from 447, Black Rock City's highway, on to I-80 and the default world.

Clover liked to do things in his own way and at his own pace, and there will be lots of time to honor our good friend Big Red. My dad, who shared so much with Clover in the last three decades, will be helping organize a memorial, perhaps at Halloween. I'm sure we'll be visiting our cabin soon, a place Clover lived in and looked after with his skilled woodsman ways. Perhaps we'll save a plate for him at Pie Night in November with a slice of some of the community's tastiest pies. And I've got a whole year to come up with a tribute to be burned at the temple in 2011.

I'll sure miss this old quiet, steady, dry, sharp guy. I'm glad I had the chance to grow up around him. And I'm glad I got to share my last words with him in the hospital, a moment containing both hope and acceptance.
flwyd: (big animated moon cycle)
Jack Horkheimer died this week. If you're not sure who that is, think back to some late night when a kooky guy came on PBS and exuberated about planets and stars, being sure to emphasize the number of Earths that would fit inside Jupiter or how many of our sun would fit in Betelgeuce.

As a kid, Jack Horkheimer, Star Hustler and the Vangelis theme music signaled that I was up way too late, but since i was into space, I could watch the five minute bit and then hurry off to bed. Later in life, it was the Maraschino cherry atop the sundae of rerun British Comedy. As a nerd and geek, I wondered "How can someone be that overenthusiastically dorky?" I was laughing at him and the cheesy video editing, but cheering with him: nobody was better at celebrating what they love than Jack Horkheimer.

I'll have to write a note at the Temple at Burning Man next week in Jack's honor. If you see me sometime, ask for my impression of the show: it's eerily accurate. And until then, keep looking up!

Update: Jack Horkheimer has a website with a very mid-90s feel. You can watch videos from the past year.
flwyd: (rose silhouette)
I'm not sure how much coverage U.S. commercial media is giving to the death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, but the BBC and NPR both devoted significant time to retrospectives on his impact on Russian society and Western awareness of Soviet atrocities. The phrase "Russian author" carries a certain expectation of greatness like "French chef" and "Italian fashion designer." Solzhenitsyn may be the golden exemplar of that category for the Soviet era.

The only Solzhenitsyn work I've read is One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. As a 16-year-old, my literary preferences tended to the grand and fantastic, authors like Tolkien and Poe. Ivan Denisovich was a very different sort of story, one intensely personal and practical. Solzhenitsyn wrote so well that I was thoroughly engrossed in the matter of a prisoner's spoon for page upon page. I remember sitting in the back of the dark multi-purpose room during Midsummer Night's Dream rehearsal, reading the challenges of a gulag prisoner by the light of the sound booth. Along with Bartleby, the Scrivener, Ivan Denisovich opened my sensibilities to the personal existential story. Thanks, Pfoots.

Carpe Arma

Sunday, April 6th, 2008 12:35 am
flwyd: (bad decision dinosaur)
Now is your opportunity to get Charlton Heston's gun. May the prying begin.
flwyd: (santa fe church ironwork and cross)
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that the pro-life Catholic Church spends a lot more energy opposing abortion than opposing the death penalty. In every place of worship, and around many believers necks, sits a sculpture of an ancient device for killing a prisoner in public.



(I've heard that Catholic organizations have started taking stands against the death penalty, war, and other politically-charged death situations. I applaud this direction and hope the world's largest organization takes a more public and active role in these campaigns.)

RIP Syd

Tuesday, July 11th, 2006 09:13 am
flwyd: (big animated moon cycle)
Although I thought he had died many years ago, I today mark with sadness the passing of the lunatic.

How I wish you were here.
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