Christmas Carols

I like Christmas carols.

It sounds like a weird thing for a pagan to say, and I kind of agree. I don’t subscribe to Christianity, why do I like its seasonal music so much?

I assume a big part of the situation is that I grew up with some of these songs. They fall into a wider “canon” of stuff that was in the air about this time as I was growing up, alongside secular hits like “Frosty the Snowman”, “Deck the Halls”, “White Christmas”, and so on. And I’m sure a fair few of us can list at least ten Christmas songs we heard and liked growing up with little effort. So the more religious songs that were absolutely everywhere (your “Silent Night”s and “O Come All Ye Faithful”s and such) got ingrained into my soul and, hear me out, I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing. I don’t follow Christ, sure, but almost all these songs are about hope, joy, good news, and so on, which are shockingly apt seasonal themes for the Winter solstice (which is more or less a season in its own right, the way it’s celebrated in wider culture).

And maybe that latter bit explains my positive reaction to newer carols I’ve discovered (“Wexford Carol”, which is difficult to find anywhere let alone routinely, and “Mary’s Little Boy Child”). I have a more mixed opinion of “Mary, Did You Know” and “O Come Emmanuel” (the latter for that whole “bind all peoples in one heart and mind” business). But on the whole, when I find myself discovering new Christmas music, I am pleasantly surprised.

I’m not sure if this is a latent Christianity thing or a response to the lack of pagan hymns (a subject I am looking into thanks to a project for a community I’m involved in) and the general Christian overculture. It could be a combination of both, although I was never raised in the faith. (Mommie Dearest should have tried, since she turned out disappointed that I disagreed with her on certain theological fundamentals. Perhaps she believes the Word of God is written on my heart or something like that….) It could be nostalgia, even. Pure and simple longing for a seemingly easier past where the world seemed figured out and the future assured.

In any case, this may be my one Yule-tide based idiosyncrasy (or at least, the one that bugs me a little bit). I may never find an answer to it, and that’s probably OK.

The War On Christmas (Sadly, not an actual war)

This year, the War On Christmas began in October, shortly before Halloween when President Biden was declared the Grinch, best I can tell for trying to be reasonable about the fact that there’s a global pandemic still around.

The War on Christmas is not a new obsession of the Right. Bill O’Reilly pushed it from 2005 until he was fired for sexual misconduct in 2017 (looooots of sexual misconduct). Before that it was the product of anti-semitic conspiracy theories pushed by the likes of the John Birch Society. Evidently Jews were pushing a secular, multi-cultural agenda for decades. Now, some War on Christmas proponents (by which I mean Dennis Prager) will point out that Jewish people wrote the most famous Christmas songs in the American Christmas canon, including White Christmas, Happy Holiday, and others. So this means Jews have not been pushing a secular, multi-cultural agenda. Or something.

In its modern form, the War on Christmas is a lot of screeching from the right, Fox News, and so on, about how “the left” or in some cases “the radical left” or “the Marxists” or “the Communist socialist system of Islam” (yes, someone actually said this) are out to remove Christian traditions like Christmas from the American public consciousness in order to push an agenda of gay marriage, abolition of the nuclear family, and reproductive rights for women. Ahh yes, all the evils presented in Pandora’s Box, finally unleashed.

Now, if you’ve been paying any kind of attention to this debate at all in the past decade or so, you might be thinking, “I thought a ton of Christmas traditions had nothing to do with Jesus!” (Unless you’re Kirk Cameron, who has somehow managed to pretend everything from Christmas trees to Christmas ham is linked back to the Bible in some way, shape, or form.) You’d be correct. Many customs are secular or pagan in origin, and one can strip all “Christian” elements out of Christmas without missing very much. Many of the things the War on Christmas people claim “the left” is “cancelling” are also secular in origin, for example Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (evidently), “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, and Santa Claus (specifically the white version). There’s your standard “we can’t put nativity scenes on public government property!” complaints here as well, and that’s a matter of the separation of church and state. The current stance of the government, last I checked, appears to be that if you stick up a Nativity at the courthouse you have to also put up other appropriate display items from other traditions. Of course, this has not been a problem where I’m from. The courthouse here had inflatables of snowmen and Santa last year, as well as the standard lights on the large pine trees out front, and the only house I know of with a big ol’ wooden cross out front is also the biggest exterior display in town.

However, following the screeching about the War on Christmas is my favorite unorthodox Yuletide custom, possibly excepting the sadistic tracking of the Gavle Goat’s survival or lack thereof. My favorite Christmas movies as a child were the likes of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation so perhaps the signs were there from the beginning. The screeching hits the same beats year in and year out, especially when a Democrat is president. It’s like your holiday playlist, except it’s deranged raving about how the phrase “Merry Christmas” is banned and the word “Snowmen” is cancelled in favor of “snow people”. There’s always defiant declarations that “Real Christians/Americans will be celebrating CHRISTMAS this year and there’s not a damn thing the globalists can do about it!” Perhaps I’m strange for delighting so in watching people tilt at windmills. But I suppose finding it funny takes less mental energy than trying to explain to these people why and how they are wrong.

Mischief Night Update

As I mentioned, October 30 is Mischief Night, a non-calendrical holiday where assorted bored teenagers get up to pranks. It isn’t very popular where I live, but can be found in urban centers in the East Coast region and the Great Lakes.

October 30 was also when the town held its Trick-or-Treat, on account of the 31st being a school night. I wasn’t present for the affair but according to the transfer sheets where I work, we alone went through six bags of candy. Others tell me it was wall to wall people, confirmed by photographs in the Nov. 5 edition of the local paper.

I suspected everyone and their brother would be out, after around a year and a half of dealing with, or trying to deny, the plague (not technically the plague but you get the point). We’ll see if the Gavle Goat survives this year, or if the ropes will finally snap. In my understanding, things haven’t peaked, but are just getting underway this year.

But, other than a ridiculous number of trick-or-treaters of all ages, very little happened on October 30, according to the Sheriff’s Report printed in the paper (I think by law, along with other public notices). There was a major accident, and a caller reported a youth in a bloody mask attempting to trick-or-treat, but who was told to come back the 31st. That’s it, really. (Of course, around here roughly 40-50% of calls are about wild animals and livestock being places they shouldn’t be. So there’s that.)

As mentioned, I’ve been cultivating a theory that many of the spirits and forces we associate with Halloween don’t associate themselves with Halloween, and we may be seeing more Yuletide activity than anything else.

Mischief Night

Mischief Night (sometimes called Devil’s Night) is not on any calendar, but I grew up with it being the night before Halloween (making it 10/30). It was the night when houses were TP’d or egged, and pumpkins smashed. Now, police don’t take kindly to such rowdy misbehavior, as the kids who went around smashing pumpkins around here a few years back probably learned (if they were ever caught). But, as I’ve researched into the concept of Yuletide vandalism, I’ve started to suspect that the world needs a little bit of that energy at least once in a while.

My going theory is that there is some potentially otherworldly force (nothing large, mind you, just a nudge) urging people to do things like kidnap baby Jesus figures out of nativity scenes or set fire to the Gavle Goat. I’m unsure what this force is, but I think it’s connected to (and possibly remembers) ancient customs of going door to door demanding food and drink from one’s wealthy neighbors, getting progressively inebriated as the night wears on. Things like the Lord of Misrule and upturning the social order for a little while each year (such as by dressing in costumes or as the opposite sex). I wonder if this force is urging people to do the things they do (like TP houses and yards or egg cars) in that same spirit.

Perhaps bored, drunk teenagers are just the type to be susceptible to that kind of influence? Alcohol can be used to lower inhibitions and allow one to enter an altered state of consciousness. (Don’t ask me about entheogens please.) And perhaps some of it is tied to a resurgence of the otherworldly into the world we have considered “physical” and even “ours” for so long.

But the haunted season is only just beginning.

Black Dogs of Norfolk

The Iceni were a tribe who lived in the area of England now called Norfolk.

According to Black Dog Folklore, there are eighty-two accounts of black dog sightings of various kinds (or of some kind, as there are no details in many cases) in the region. Also according to Black Dog Folklore, East Anglia broadly is home to the Shuck type of black dog ghost, an ominous creature sometimes said to kill those who witness it.

Going off the data provided in the book:

  • at least seven sightings position the dog as an omen of death
  • there are two headless dogs
  • there are five dogs with chains
  • there are three one-eyed dogs (possibly Shucks), one is a local legend
  • there are two reports of hell hounds, including one local legend
  • one dog is called Skutch
  • there are four overt references to Shucks
  • there are four dogs with physical effects, sometimes violent

There are several for which no data has been recorded, so it’s hard to say how things really look without living over there yourself.

There is also the concept of the cu sì, or fairy dog, which I learned about from Morgan Daimler’s works Fairies: A Guide to the Celtic Fair Folk and Fairy Witchcraft. Fairy hounds are recognized as unusual in some way and are sometimes conflated with (or possibly otherwise connected to) other forms of black dogs (many fairy hounds are black, but they can come in white and green, as well as other colors, missing limbs, eyes, etc.), such as the aforementioned Shuck.

I had a sighting of my own, which could fall into either category. All I know is I got a vibe off the encounter and I remember it well.

On page 173 of East Anglian Witches and Wizards, an individual is described as having had a sighting of a Black Dog or Shuck while he was a child, an encounter which inspired him to become a “traditional magical practitioner”. The chapter goes on to describe further encounters with the Shuck, some of which I recognize from Black Dog Folklore but others of which are new to me.

In both sources the Shuck or Barguest (depending, I suppose, on where you are) seems to be connected to the dead. Ancient burial mounds and old tracks used to take the dead to the graveyard. Crossroads. (Barguest may be a corruption of the phrase “Barrow Ghost”, but who knows?) The lines in the Isles between the Gods, the dead, land spirits and the Fae are notoriously blurred, hence the aforementioned conflation, and Christianity has changed a great many things in order to comport with its worldview. (The earliest written account of a Shuck, involving two nearly simultaneous attacks on churches during a thunderstorm, attributed the apparition to the work of the Devil, but if the motif existed then (and there’s a whole discussion to be had about using handy metaphors to describe inexplicable things, it happens to this day in the UFO world) then it is surely based on something.)

It’s possible the Iceni and their tribal neighbors knew of entities similar to the Shuck and other Black Dogs found throughout England. But it’s too difficult to tell and no one’s bothered to write anything down about it. The spirit (which I believe is there) has surely been around for quite some time and is still around, causing the odd spook here and there. Perhaps more sightings will come in given the increasing awareness of the magical world. Who can say?

American. Fucking. Gods.

Like all of the rest of the internet, I thought the first season of the show American Gods, based on Neil Gaiman’s novel, was fantastic! It even ended when Easter took the spring and that shit was fire! It was awesome!

Only recently did I go back and watch seasons 2 and (half of) 3 as of this writing. And… I’m less than impressed. I was star struck by the first season, and listening to the audiobook along the way, I was eager to meet characters in the show whose chapters I just listened to. I was having a good time.

I was not having a great time for season 2, but it was passable. Season 3 is falling apart before my very eyes and no amount of fisheye effects and oversaturated or undersaturated color palettes (depending on if we’re “Backstage” or not, basically in the otherworld or in the real world) can save a mess of a plot.

I’m not qualified to talk about the representation issues caused by white guys deciding Anansi “sends the wrong message” (or, for that matter, whether Anansi’s portrayal was accurate) and then moving on to a storyline about the Orishas that, as far as I’ve gotten as of this writing, is primarily about holding out hope that tomorrow will be better. Which is fine for Annie, but like the man himself said, “Angry gets shit done.”

But there’s something else here, too, and it’s baked into the premise, into the source material. OK there’s a couple somethings.

The Goddesses

There’s something strange I noticed about the goddesses Gaiman chose to write about (and then subsequently made it into the show). The two most prominent (in the show at least) are fertility/sex goddesses Easter and Bilquis, who are respectively the Girl Next Door and the Vamp. I give credit to the TV series for fleshing out Bilquis’s character where Gaiman originally did not, but a first impression like that is hard to shake.

There’s the scene where Bast has dream sex with Shadow and heals his wounds. There’s New Goddess Media offering Lucy Ricardo’s breasts for Shadow’s viewing pleasure.

And unless I’m missing anyone, that’s… it.

I mean if you’ve been following along and doing your own research you’ve probably worked out that goddesses in myth are many and varied, multifaceted beings. Aphrodite, stereotypical love goddess, has a warlike aspect and is thought to be connected to Ishtar and Inanna. (And her Roman counterpart Venus began as a harvest goddess and evolved into the Mother of Rome itself.)

(Noted mortal female character Laura Moon is fridged and then unfridged primarily to propel and assist with Shadow’s plot, although she gets development in the series, because adaptations can actually be great like that.)

The Theology

The basic premise, if you’ve been living under a rock, is that gods come into being because humans believe they exist, and are fed by prayers and sacrifices of time, energy, and even blood. Human sacrifice gives gods the most power, which is probably an excuse to have crazy death scenes of all sorts of varieties.

Now, I have no idea how the gods came into being, but I don’t necessarily believe my belief in them has caused them to be or sustained them in quite such cut and dried terms.

I’m not trying to say we shouldn’t strive for reciprocity with the gods, because I believe that we should. Prayers and offerings may be primarily for the benefit of the human practicing them; I know that my routine of prayer gives structure to my days and I can’t do without it.

But I also wonder how easily this whole thing could fall apart if humans just never happened to think up the concept of divinity. Sure, trees may have been the first to fill “the god-shaped hole in man’s head”, but what if they weren’t? What if that hole never existed? That’s really the load-bearing idea here, and while humans as we know them are religious creatures, I think based on the way I think about the gods, I would’ve executed this premise differently.

Additionally, I want to take a minute to bring up the antropocentrism of the premise. Gods exist because humans specifically believe that they do. Easter takes the spring to spite the New Gods and the humans, without thought for her other charges. I follow Beckett’s thinking in that gods are gods of other things besides humans. There are more forest and river deities than I can name, as well as gods with sacred animals (whom they probably also have to look after). I happen to hold that Andred is the goddess of hares and rabbits as well as victory in battle, and they are among Her other charges that She is worried about.

Conclusion

So yeah, that’s where I’m at with American Gods right now. I don’t know if I’ll finish season three or just go back to season one and wash the bitter taste from my mouth. Maybe finish the audiobook finally and call it a day with this franchise.

Panera Bread

The franchise which owns Panera Bread (the chain of restaurants) is being sued by an employee over discrimination she faced after feeling pressured to reveal to her (Christian) supervisor that she was Pagan. The filing is here.

I no longer have a television, but when I lived with my parents and they did nothing but watch news in the morning and old movies the rest of the time, I sometimes caught ads for Panera Bread restaurants. They struck me, and looking back still strike me, as something for People Who Are Not Me. This is a phenomenon I’ve become attuned to lately thanks to the existence of WandaVision as a television show, but with regards to Panera Bread, I distinctly remember ads that focused on white middle class women, possibly career oriented, going out for their girl’s lunch or whatever, laughing because they had no problems.

Plus they marketed themselves as having the cleanest, freshest possible food, and knowing that a ton of plastic now exists in the food chain, I’m going to press X to doubt on that one. But the gimmick did get them to stand out from Olive Garden, despite OG having the superior breadsticks.

Basically, the target audience for Panera Bread was and is neoliberal “vegetarian/vegan” types who have money to throw around on food products that make them feel superior to the rest of us.

The exact opposite of people who turn to paganism, witchcraft, and The Old Ways. (Also the exact opposite of people who feel the need to riot, but I’ll leave that conversation for others, if they would like.) Witchcraft historically has been the recourse of the dispossessed (I’m sure I’m paraphrasing something from someone here). It still is. There was a trend back when President Fake Tan was in office to hex him every full moon. I never joined in, but many pagan critics were concerned that advertising the practice would allow Christian “prayer warrior” types to counteract their magic. After all, one of the sides of the pyramid is “to keep silent”. But I understand why others felt the need to do such a thing, since he was hell bent on running this country into the ground and I’m sure we’re all sleeping a lot easier now that he can no longer do so (except the aforementioned prayer warrior types who want their Gilead).

All of this is to say that I’m not exceptionally surprised that this happened at a Panera Bread, to such an egregious degree that it is now being filed for judicial proceedings. I don’t know if the company will settle, but I hope they don’t. Part of me is actually secretly very eager to watch this play out in court, in front of cameras, being billed as a “witch trial” by some media outlet or another. I think that would be a helluva thing.

But I won’t get my hopes up.

Disloyal – A Review

At one point, [Cohen] reached out to Putin’s press spokesman Dmitri Peskov, but couldn’t get through. It turns out that’s because he meant to email PR_peskova@prpress.gov[.ru] but actually emailed .gof instead, and .gof of course sends you right to the server of the new HBO series Game of Flounder, where powerful flounder families fight for control of the seven sandbars… Another, even more ridiculous case of Cohen bungling contact with Russians involved Dmitry Klokov, a former press secretary to Russia’s energy minister. Klokov’s ex-wife had contacted Ivanka, offering his assistance his assistance to the Trump campaign. So, that is someone with ties to the Russian government offering help to elect Trump. Ivanka forwarded that email to Cohen, who googled Dmitry Klokov and concluded that the person they must be talking about was a former Olympic weightlifter by that name.

John Oliver, “Mueller Report: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”, Apr 22, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMBj_tU7HRU (emphasis mine)

I had to bring this up, because it appears that in the entirety of the memoir Disloyal, by Michael Cohen himself, this error had yet to be even addressed. He devoted a lot of page space to Trump’s efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and ultimately give a penthouse to Vladimir Putin as a way of greasing some wheels (and revealing that Trump admired Putin for being the de facto Tsar of Russia, which is not at all surprising in the aftermath of Jan 6, 2021). I am willing to chalk up “.gof” as a typo he had never noticed, but mixing up a pencil pushing press secretary for an Olympic weightlifter is a bit more far fetched and if you ask me, a lot fucking funnier. (John Oliver notes that Cohen appeared to be mixed up even during his interviews with Mueller for the report, but Cohen’s problems in the book concern his belief that Mueller misrepresented his statements in a footnote.)

Speaking of…

I was going to be truthful, but I also had good reason to be economical with the truth. Because here is the thing: I care for Donald Trump, even to this day, and I had and still have a lot of affection for him.

Cohen, Michael. Disloyal: A Memoir. 2020. pp. 333-4

While this is not the book he had wanted to write in the wake of Fire and Fury (and in conversation with it), and arguably had to change in the wake of his prison sentence and falling out with “the Boss” as he calls Trump, I don’t necessarily believe Cohen did a complete 180 and decided to tell all the dirty details (in fact it’s probably impossible, even for a four-hundred-page book, counting appendices).

(As an aside, if you are like me and do not give a single flying fuck about reality TV, it is on page 358 that you will learn Michael Sorrentino, “The Situation”, was in prison alongside Cohen. According to his wikipedia page, he was convicted of tax evasion. Like Cohen, oddly enough, although Cohen, and this is important, claims to have not done a single thing wrong and been railroaded by Southern District attorneys for the sake of a notch in their belts. Despite spending the entire book laying out the things he had done for Trump and claiming again and again that he was by no means an angel and that his actions were reprehensible, I as the reader was expected to believe this was the one thing that was not his doing. He claims he didn’t lie to his bank, that the “fraud” on his taxi medallions was because of someone else, that the IRS made a miscalculation. It is never his fault.)

Much of the book is about Cohen’s work for Trump as a “fixer” (his word) and what he describes as a slow descent into madness conforming to the Trump worldview. I have grown up with narcissists, those being my parents, and so I have a sense of this process, and I believe not even Cohen himself knows the true extent it had on his psyche. Of course, he was an adult throughout the entire proceedings, so he had that stable foundation (more or less, he did also grow up around and idolize mobsters, even though he was expected to be a good Jewish boy and go to law school). It is easy for people to fall into traps like this: just consider any cult or MLM in existence. Humans are not rational creatures.

But, his being an adult makes him culpable. Just as it made the Manson Family’s members culpable in their attempts to start a race war. He is responsible for his own actions.

He says repeatedly that he is not denying anything he’s written about in the book, from violently screaming at a man that he was fired (on Trump’s behalf) to shady underhanded dealings of all kinds to silence less-than-flattering stories about The Donald in the press (including the National Enquirer, though I don’t know a single soul who takes that seriously). However, this entire thing falls apart near the end. As stated above, he claims innocence of what he was indicted of (and ultimately pled to). I am unsure how true or untrue this is, given as he already mentioned (also above) that a previous version of this very book, then in conceptual stages, involved him being “economical with the truth”. He portrays his entire runaround with conviction, prison (which I noticed was not initially on the table, he’d been told), release, reimprisonment, parole, appeal, and so forth as a witch hunt directed at him personally.

I’ll be honest. It’s a post Jan. 6, 2021, world. We all know the lengths to which Trump supporters are willing to go based on what they believe he said (and, I suspect, The Donald knows this). Trump probably said a few nasty things on Twitter about Cohen, and these people in positions of power took it as license to give Cohen the runaround described. Cohen blames Trump personally because something something “mobster” tactics, but I’m not willing to ascribe to Trump any kind of 4D chess moves like this. I’d much more readily believe that tweets or vague references in speeches got filtered through so many parties that this kind of thing was inevitable. He doesn’t need to say “target this man”, because so many people think he’s the Second Coming of Christ that his words will get interpreted that way regardless.

Is it functionally the same? Well, yes, they both have the same end result. And because the book exists and I read it, and I found it exceptionally engaging learning the “inside secrets”, which despite not shocking me, were fascinating reading… We can all see any attempts to “silence” Mr. Cohen didn’t work.

Read the book. Come to your own conclusions. Here it is on Amazon.

Yuletide Vandalism and Misrule

The Gavlebocken, or Gavle Goat, has been erected in Gavle, Sweden, since 1966, and in its life, its incarnations have been destroyed or damaged 37 times. Some consider it fitting that the Goat has been burned down (the most common method of destruction, given as the thing is made of straw) each year, as a sort of ritual sacrifice of the Goat to the old gods. Those in this school of thought would consider it fascinating that the Goat survived 2019, and a superstitious sort might attribute the year 2020 to that fact.

People are being discouraged from publicly visiting the Goat because of the pandemic, so it is likely to survive 2020, as well, although some enterprising sort might burn the thing down out of spite, or through some form of divine inspiration.

That isn’t the only form of Yule-related vandalism, although these days vandalism and general mayhem are relegated to New Year’s Eve and Halloween, parties at the former and things like toilet-papering houses at the former (Oct. 30 is called Mischief Night for a reason). There is also a living tradition of the theft of little baby Jesuses from Nativity scenes on public and private property. (There is a related custom of lifting garden gnomes and taking them on trips, but that is not strictly Yule-related.)

This year I have been feeling the undercurrent of older, wilder Yuletide customs and beliefs and the thinning of the veil between the spirit world and the physical world, more so than in past years. Christmas is lights and trees and carols, yes, but also ancient spirits and spiritual phenomena (such as the Wild Hunt, which some customs hold as most active around this time of year). I’ve been hearing the call of the spirits this year, and I think there’s something to the odd bits of Yuletide vandalism. I’m not the only one to feel the subtler energies this time of year that Victorians and Christians and other sorts tried to bury.

The term “misrule” originally applied to a complete social reversal, as occurred at Saturnalia when slaves were served by their masters, men dressed as women and vice versa. The custom, as customs are wont to do, evolved over time to arguably include wassailing, the practice of going door to door, singing and performing in exchange for gifts, food, and drink. The thing is, some people are rowdy drunks. Threats of vandalism began to enter the picture (although I wonder whether or not they were always there, under the surface), especially with the rise of the middle class and nouveaux riche, and the practice “fell out of favor” (this is how it is commonly described). It was replaced with the more benign caroling, going door to door singing Christmas carols just to do so.

But this doesn’t stop people from getting rowdy. Some of those instincts get shunted off to other holidays, as mentioned. However, some of them get funneled into acts like burning down the Gavle Goat, or stealing your neighbor’s or the town’s baby Jesus for a lark.

Perhaps it all speaks to something older “than us or God” (to quote a favorite “not quite Christmas-y” song). Perhaps the energies of the season, the energies of the Otherworld, are moving through arsonists to enact ancient rites. I wouldn’t know, of course, but there might be something to it. Something has been moving about in the physical for quite some time as many writers have attested, and this year it hit me personally quite hard.

What else was I gonna think about in 2020?