Paganism: Arts, Ads, and Aesthetics

Today I’m going to take a break from my inevitable contribution to the ongoing debate about Christian Dominionism, and instead look at some arts and design-related news that might be of interest.

Dionysus is The Blood: First off, filmmaker Brielle Simone Greenberg’s paeon to the god Dionysus has been making the rounds of the Pagan ‘net. Sannion at The House of Vines says that “this short film comes closer to depicting the god I worship than anything I’ve ever seen before.”


“The Greek God Dionysus does not only stand for revelry. He stands for the oppressed in an uncanny world. This film is dedicated to all those who are oppressed and who are affected by patriarchal society.”

Interestingly, the song used in the film, “You Are the Blood,” is by sung by singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, a protestant Christian known for his poetic and emotionally intense explorations of his own faith. The song itself was written by the Castanets (who are on Steven’s excellent Asthmatic Kitty label).

Polytheism and Levis: Also catching attention is a new Levis commerical that uses Charles Bukowski’s “The Laughing Heart” as its backdrop, part of their larger “Go Forth” campaign.


I do have to admit that hearing lines like “the gods will offer you chances” and “the gods wait to delight in you” did produce a certain thrill, even if it was in the service of selling jeans.

Fine Arts and the Tarot: Calvin Tomkins at The New Yorker covers a new exhibit by Naples/New York artist Francesco Clemente at the Uffizi Gallery, in Florence. His latest body of work is a set of tarot card paintings featuring a variety of his famous friends and fellow artists appearing as different cards.

“Clemente’s portraits all tend to look alike at first glance—huge eyes, full lips, serious expression—but then you see something that, if you’ve met the person, is exactly right. The playwright Edward Albee, sitting for the Emperor, clasps his haunted-looking face in both hands as he gazes out from beneath a sixteen-pointed star. Fran Lebowitz, as Justice, holding scales in one hand and a sword in the other, regards the viewer with that dour look that sets up the punch line. Salman Rushdie (the King of Swords), Colm Tóibín (the Hermit), Philip Glass (the Judgment), Kiki Smith (the Queen of Disks), Diane von Furstenberg (the Force), Paz de la Huerta (the Wheel of Fortune), Sara Mearns (the World), and numerous others maintain their singularity while assuming new and mythic identities. The portraits were all done in Clemente’s studio, and they took about two hours apiece—he had drawn in the bodies and the backgrounds earlier.”

You can view a slideshow of some of the paintings, here. As someone who has engaged in using the tarot as artistic inspiration, it should be noted that Clemente is part of a long lineage of fine artists creating their own tarot cards. This includes Andy WarholVictor Brauner, and Salvador Dali, among many others. Above is his “Seven of Discs,” which doesn’t feature a famous face, but is one I particularly liked.

Aesthetically Challenged Pagans? Chas Clifton points me to a post by Unitarian-Universalist minister Victoria Weinstein, perhaps better known in the UU blogosphere as “PeaceBang”. In this post Weinstein covers the oft-covered ground of how UU ritual is “so deadly awful, drab, and painfully unbeautiful.” Truly, as someone who used to be quite invested in the UU world (I was once a member of a UU church and worked at a UU community center) these complaints are nothing new, and I quickly learned to avoid most services like the plague. You know what’s worse than having a Pagan sing dull Christian hymns? Having them sing sanitized dull formerly-Christian hymns. But I digress.  In any event, the thing that caught Chas’ attention is in the comments where she takes a swipe at the aesthetics of UU Pagans.

“And not to dismiss the contribution made by the Pagan contingent but when I think “aesthetics” the pagan community is most decidedly NOT what comes to mind. In fact, I believe that the neo-pagan community has done more harm than good by inflicting too many embarrassingly bad rituals, dances and music on our worshiping communities.”

I find it interesting when someone says they don’t want to dismiss someone’s contribution and then proceeds to dismiss it. Not to get into this too deeply, but I question the depth of Ms. Weinstein’s knowledge of modern Pagan ritual, dance, or music. I don’t remember seeing her at any of our big national festivals or indeed, remember any history of engagements on her part with modern Paganism in general. Perhaps all the Pagan rituals, songs, and dances she has encountered in her limited experience have been “embarrassingly bad” but I would also wager that her sample-size is quite small and not representative of our larger movement. There’s no accounting for taste they say, but I hasten to point out that it isn’t modern Paganism that is having a growth and retention problem. So we must be doing something right in the aesthetics department. One wonders how many UU congregations would collapse if they were to remove all traces of the harmful Pagan influence.

A Witch Trials Rock Opera: Finally, I’d like to leave you with a review of “Abigail: The Salem Witch Trials Rock Opera” by Scott Schulz from The Juggler (also reprinted at the Patheos Pantheon blog).


“Abigail The Salem Witch Trials A Rock Opera is a balls-to-the-wall hard rock exploration of the roots of Christian theocracy in America. While last year’s production was a somewhat muddled mess saddled with an awkward venue and abysmal sound system, this year’s production is far more clear and clean. A strong effort has been made to clarify the motivations of the characters, and the multimedia elements have been vastly improved in way that enhances the experience rather than providing a constant distraction. The cast has uniformly embraced the swagger of the music, and so what was once a substantially lopsided confrontation between the Christian Patriarchs of Salem Village and the people that they oppress is now far more equal (at least on a raw, emotional level – the men still have all the political power in the setting). The young Abigail (played this year by CASEY CASTILLE) now stands toe to toe with DANIEL KNOP’s Reverend Parris in a rock and roll confrontation which, in no small way, shaped our nation.”

It’s currently playing in San Francisco, so if you’re in the area, and a fan of rock operas, you should check it out.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

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About Jason Pitzl-Waters
  • Anonymous

    Hi Jason… I circled with pagans for about ten years in Chicago and Minneapolis, and later in the Boston area. They weren’t all UUs and I was definitely generalizing. But WHOO boy, I have seen some super cheezy pagan rituals in UU settings. Nowadays when I participate I steer clear of church-connected groups and head to more wild and truly pagan settings.

  • Grimmorrigan

    I RAN….literally Ran from a group of Pagans singing a song about daffodils and vaginas. I’ve learned to scout out groups and get a vibe for their rituals. I work with my local UU’s and have attended and led some great wild and passionate rituals. Still I remember and am on the watch for the daffodil crowd.

  • Mountaindwellinchick

    Wow…daffodils and vaginas huh? You’ll have to tell me about that sometime LOL! I’m not a UU but I also attend events held by our local UU group (same one as Grimmorrigan), and have even held a couple events there myself since they are kind enough to open up their sanctuary to guests.

    That being said, I have attended (as a practising Vajrayana Buddhist) rituals at temple where some people sat rigidly in the seats way in the back and balked at the idea of doing prostrations, making offerings to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and engaging in more lively forms of veneration. They were perfectly fine with holding their books up to their faces and mumbling mantras, and they were attentive to Geshe-la giving the Teachings, but anything apart from that seemed to make them nervous.

    I think it’s become the norm where – due to some folks’ religious upbringing and/or background – some people are more inhibited than others. I personally know some folks who come from situations where they were so inundated with religiousity that they’re looking to get away from anything that remotely seems religious, but want the sort of community that many religious bodies can provide. Different strokes for different folks, you know?

  • Grimmorrigan

    Don’t worry I’m on the watch for the stick up the ass crowd as well. It is a tough road to walk between being taken seriously as a faith and being flexible enough to actually allow the spiritual experience to happen.

    UU groups can allow for that…but I often wonder in the long run how will Pagan relationships with UU’s last. Are we as a community limiting ourselves by relying on another faith’s infrastructure? Can we support an infrastructure on our own?

  • AnonGuest

    LOL that’s awful. My UU story:
    I ran off to the parking lot when I spotted someone who was set to run a ritual reading a ABC list type of book of Gods and Goddesses and saying “oh, which two should we invoke today?”

  • sindarintech

    Ms. Weinstein definitely has a point. The majority of music released as pagan-themed tends to be embarrassingly bad. And I’ve had a fairly large sampling.

  • Norse Alchemist

    I don’t know about that, most of the Pagan/Heathen Metal I’ve found tends to be really good.

  • Djhutmosu Si-Hathor


  • Anonymous

    P.S. That video! Hilarious!! That’s what I’m talking about when I say cheezy. That has to be one of the cheeziest things I’ve ever seen. Bad acting, offensive Nazi footage for shock factor, REALLY. LOUD. MUSIC + flickering lights to make it all dramatic, and the sweet little orgy at the end with the kid walking by in flannel plaid boxers! The tag line about how it’s for “everyone who is oppressed by the patriarchy” but is itself totally sexist (girls in undies gyrating for the boys, etc). Lots of healthy white kids experimenting with transgression. Nothing wrong with it and I’m happy that so many viewers find it powerful (I suspect they’re pretty young), but for an old broad like me it exemplifies the earnest cheeziness of so many pagan productions I’ve observed or watched.

  • Don

    The Nazi footage is appropriate. Dionysos is certainly present in the collective frenzy of Nazi spectacle (and violence).

  • Anonymous

    Interesting, but I would disagree. I think that the Nazi energy is far more of Ares/Mars than of Dionysus. The Nazi insanity was regimented, ordered, hierarchical and militaristic. I would therefore characterize it as a possession by Mars, not Dionysus. The Bacchic/Dionysian principle is of orgiastic pleasure and frenzied abandon: not things we generally associate with Nazism. The images strike me as really tone-deaf and again, immature. I’d replace them with images of drunk or high looters, people vomiting at a 1960’s “be-in,” that sort of revelry-out-of-control phenomenon, not sons of Ares piling corpses at Auschwitz.

  • Pagan Puff Pieces

    I suppose the things later referred to as degenerate behavior by that regime wouldn’t be as recognizable, either.

  • Anonymous

    Fundamental to the Dionysian experience, though, as analyzed influentially by Friedrich Nietzsche is the revelation of the illusion of individuality. The elimination of the individual is central to the methods the Nazis used to control the populace, and one could easily say that there was a Dionysian element to mass rallies.

    Given that, though, I’d say that the Nazis were neither followers of Ares or of Dionysus, nor really of any god, but instead of forces that might be thought of as Titanic. The rage of Achilles is not the same kind of thing that leads to demonic bureaucrats like Eichmann or corpse factories like Auschwitz. Associating the one with the other is really rather insulting to those who honor gods like Ares.

  • Anonymous

    I might add, quoting someone who was there, “When Mars is no longer in charge of wars, the shacks of flayers multiply, the sword becomes a slaughterer’s knife.” – Ernst Juenger, Eumeswil. The reference to “shacks of flayers” is to his allegorical anti-nazi novel, published in Germany in 1938, where the shack of flayers clearly figures the extermination camps.

  • Chas Clifton

    Good point about the Titanic forces. Eliminating classes of people (Jews, kulaks, capitalist-roaders, whatever) is not Dionysian.

  • M.A.

    We all bring our own interpretive lenses to viewing. I’ve watched this a couple times and I saw the Nazi footage as being what happens when a society completely represses Dionysian joy. The exuberance, if enchained by industrial bureaucrats devising efficient human murder factories, will break out in insane violence (as Pentheus discovered long ago) when all other channels are blocked.

  • Norse Alchemist

    Except your missing the key point. It was the Appolinian that was the destroyer of Illusions for the Rational, while it was the Dionysian that destroyed the illusions, but then replaced them with better, more useful Illusions. Nietzsche even called himself the Dionysus, for he destroyed the old illusions to bring us the new illusions/realities that would aid us in overcoming nihilism with things like the Ubermensche, Eternal Recurrence, and the Will to Power

  • Anonymous

    The Apollinian created beautiful illusions. It did not destroy them.

    I have no idea what key point you think I am missing. I am of course perfectly aware of the roles of Apollo and Dionysus vis-a-vis illusions, and of Nietzsche’s adopting the name of Dionysus (as well as “The Crucified” in his later correspondence). How this is relevant to, or an argument against, my initial, rather limited, point, that breaking down the idea of the individual is a part of the Dionysian experience, and that in this limited sense there might be thought to be something Dionysian about Nazism, I have absolutely no clue.

  • CJ79

    I agree

  • Michael Dolan

    As far as Pagan aesthetics, I’ll defend our rituals and dance, throw in some praise for

  • Michael Dolan

    As far as Pagan aesthetics, I’ll defend our ritual and dance, and throw in a bit of praise for our visual arts and craftwork- but I have to confess that there’s some really bad Pagan music out there. Not all of it, mind you- there are some really good acts too- but a lot of it has the same problem as Christian music: In that it’s religious first, and music sort of as an afterthought.

    Which leads me into a plug :)
    Pagan rock:

  • Anonymous

    That video was incredible!! I really felt that It got across the “feeling” of Dionysos. And it doesn’t hurt that I’m a huge fan of Sufjan Stevens either! :)

  • Caliban

    Don’t be so defensive. She is complaining about UU Pagans, not pagans in general. That is, she is including UU Pagans in her over-all discussion of a problem she sees in the UU Church as a whole. Isn’t being included on an equal basis as other faiths what we are asking for? And she is not disparaging Paganism’s contributions – which probably include such things as a broader view of the Divine, a refocussing on the sacredness of the Earth and our responsibility to steward our planet, a deeper look at our cultural heritage and history and many other ways that Paganism has influenced the progressive wing of contemporary religion.

    I am Pagan, and I am a minister and I am an artists. And I have indeed witnessed and, alas, even led some embarrassingly amateur and appallingly unaesthetic rituals. It’s a learning curve, and we all have room to improve.

  • Azazeleblis

    Gotta love how the old Renaissance Deist jokes about “The Gods” are mistaken for pagan ideas. Then again, with so few pagans practicing any religion, many are Atheists and don’t know it yet.

  • AuntHeidi

    So many fake Christians and their Satanist Allies in
    Dominionism, so little time to be bothered.

  • Robert Paxton

    I’d just observe that most of the UU Pagans I know are “UU plus something” – – they come from the UU traditions and feed back into the UU communities. And frankly, most of them don’t get out much – – many don’t see larger festivals, and haven’t been exposed to seasoned ecstatic ritualists.

    Which is a real limitation.

  • Mountaindwellinchick

    At the same time though, larger festivals have their own sets of problems – while not necessarily “drab and dreary”, they have their own special sets of cheesy/bad rituals, embarrassing walking confirmations of popular stereotypes, and drama. I had a friend attend a festival one year where she was informed that there was something wrong with her for not wanting her partner “shared”, where an attendee announced she was in the service of “The Whore of Babylon” and thus required to literally put herself out there for any takers, and where people were drunk, stoned, and undressed when it would have been better to have kept their clothes on. This was, by the way, a supposedly family-friendly Pagan festival.

  • Grimmorrigan

    You and I shared a case of the giggle during a public ritual..

    Yeah, I’ve seen my share of “Nipples and Dicks” themed rituals and I’ve been pressed to give it up to the Goddess. You might call me a prude or claim that I’ve got some latent Christian values floating around..but sometimes the humping is more creepy than sacred.

  • Mountaindwellinchick

    Indeed! LOL

    I don’t think it has anything to do with “latent Christian values” – I think it’s a matter of recognizing appropriateness and respecting boundaries. One person’s idea of what creates an ideal environment for ritualized sex is another’s idea of “not tonight, Josephine”. And frankly, people who are too glib about having ritual sex are probably the last people in the world who should be seen as ritual partners.

    Frankly, ritualized sex requires maturity, spiritual understanding and attainments, and an understanding of the concept you are working from. In Tantric rituals involving sex the goal is to use the energy raised during sex to facilitate spiritual evolution and growth (by transcending the ego-personality), NOT to get one’s jollies. If the act of sex itself was enough to lead all creatures to liberation, everyone who has had sex would be liberated – there would be no need for meditation, austerities, ritual, etc. Or as George Feuerstein writes in “Tantra:The Path of Ecstasy”

    “He who is filled with the bliss of the union or intercourse between himself and the supreme Shakti engages in maithuna (in the true spirit); others are womanizers.” (p. 232 – summarizing a section of the text of the Kula-Arnava-Tantra)

    It is a fine line between the passionate veneration of the Supreme Shakti in embodied form and aberrant rituals which in the end are about self-gratification. This is one reason why Tantric authourities warned against aberrant practises. As the same text (Kula-Arnava-Tantra) states:

    “Drinking wine, eating meat, and gazing at the face of one’s beloved are not behaviours leading to the supreme state.”

  • Robert Paxton

    I guess I haven’t been to that kind of festival, where predatory behavior is the norm. What you’re describing sounds more like the Gathering of the Juggalos. But then I’m in the midwest, and maybe they do things differently elsewhere.

    That being said: yes there are a lot of crappy festival rituals, and I know I’ve put on my share. But I’ve also seen really mind-blowing sacred drama which left me rethinking what I’ve been taught about how to move people through sacred space en masse, and have learned from it.

    That sort of exposure is irreplaceable.

  • Mountaindwellinchick

    She was attending the Free Spirit Gathering (FSG) in MD. It’s not that predatory behaviour is a “norm” at FSG – but any time you get a gathering of people together in large numbers you’re bound to attract a certain percentage of far-out-there folks. My point is that rituals at large Pagan festivals have just as much risk of a high cheese factor and embarrassing moments as rituals put on by a group in a smaller venue, just involving larger numbers of participants and witnesses. 😉

  • sindarintech

    In my experience, that WAS the norm at FSG… which was why I stopped going. I’ve heard that there was a philosophical split a couple of years ago, so FSG might have cleaned up its act now. I found the ‘free love’, lost 60s hippie behavior to be kind of pathetic.

  • Mountaindwellinchick

    Well there you go! I’ve never been to FSG but she and her partner had been going for a while, before things apparently started going downhill. They made the decision to stop going after the aforementioned nonsense occurred.

  • anne johnson

    Thanks for the commercial! I teach a unit on advertising techniques to my freshman class. This one will delight my students, and by the time I finish showing it a dozen times, I may know the text by heart! Great find!

  • Joseph Pearson

    Grant Morrison actually wrote a piece on Corporate Sigil Magic. He would consider tv ads a hypersigil.

  • Diana Rajchel

    My very limited experience with UU Paganism has been that CUUPS feels an obligation to be very universal in its approach. Unfortunately, this leads to a dilution of aesthetic and authenticity – in an effort to be all-inclusive all the time, the over-specific rituals with more easily established visual and emotive themes are set aside.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    It’s been my experience as a UU Pagan that CUUPS is not UU Paganism. CUUPS iirc is an organization designed to foster Paganism among UUs, UUism among Pagans and understanding floating both ways; but not a primary source of ritual.

  • John H Halstead

    When language and ritual is watered down so much as to be acceptable to everyone, it then becomes effective for no one. Rather than trying to create generic forms of Paganism for CUUPS, when often end up being Wiccanate, I think we should educate ourselves more about other traditions. Rather than trying to have a generic ritual at every CUUPS gathering, we should allow various traditions to present rituals at different gatherings. So, for example, CUUPS or other Pan-Pagan gatherings may have a feminist witchcraft ritual at Imbolc, a Celtic Reconstructionist ceremony at Beltane, a Druid ceremony at the summer solstice, an eclectic ceremony at Mabon, a Hellenic Reconstructionist ceremony at the autumn equinox, a Wiccan ceremony at Lughnasadh, and an Asatruar ceremony at the winter solstice. (And we should probably come up with non-Wiccan names for these celebration as well.) Such rituals are bound to be much more evocative than any generic ritual.

  • maycee

    nic epost!

  • Frank Muse

    Paganism is a DIY religion. If we don’t make rituals, sing, dance and drum no one else will do it for us. Powerful rituals don’t aren’t always the most aesthetically pleasing. An authentic experience with the divine is more important than making something pretty.

  • Ursyl

    “One wonders how many UU congregations would collapse if they were to remove all traces of the harmful Pagan influence.”

    Ours would be cut by a good quarter to a third, maybe more if you just count those of us who show up frequently.

    Our rituals tend to be more low key, but then we also do not have a whole lot of privacy when we’re outdoors–our goal being to be outdoors for as many ceremonies as possible. I would say that some of us can be a bit inhibited…*sigh* Not everyone is a theater person, eh?

    OTOH, some of us attend the local ADF Grove’s rituals, which follow a different format. I find both formats to be meaningful and moving.

  • Apuleius Platonicus

    A major problem with modern Pagan aesthetics is the obsession with egalitarianism, democracy, etc, and an allergic reaction to anything that smacks of elitism. Art is elitist. Well, good art anyway. And everyone simply cannot do good art.

  • Pagan Puff Pieces

    Well, there’s elitism and then there’s elitism. Are we talking money and accepted norms or technique and quality of idea and purpose?

  • Apuleius Platonicus

    We’re talking aesthetics. As Duke Ellington said, “if it sounds good, it is good.”

    The issue at hand is not that Pagan rituals aren’t financially successful or that they don’t fit “accepted norms”. It’s that they are (often) aesthetically unsatisfying.

  • Pagan Puff Pieces

    As someone involved in a certain amount of art in other areas (why I assumed different ideas of elitism pertaining to art), I’m interested in your opinion on satisfying aesthetics in a Pagan context.

    And why is it “And everyone simply cannot do good art” and not “Not everyone can do good art?”

  • Harmonyfb

    “Not everyone can do good art?”

    True, we can’t all be Da Vinci – but our individual expressions of art are no less meaningful than anyone else’s, no matter their level of talent…and ‘art’ is largely a matter of taste.

    One person’s “ridiculous” is another person’s “dramatic”, while one person’s “aesthetically pleasing” is another’s “BOR-ING!”

    The notion that only “good” artists are entitled to create art is, imo, ridiculous. Everyone should create art! And the existence of artists who are brilliant should in no way be used to silence those who are simply enjoying themselves (just as the existence of players like Babe Ruth shouldn’t be used to belittle and discourage weekend players down at the park.)

    Leading public rituals has its own set of pitfalls, since there are inevitably people from a wide variety of religious backgrounds, all of whom have preconceived notions about what is aesthetically pleasing and spiritually-moving. How can you reach each of these people despite their preconceptions? It’s difficult to do – and not everyone is a showman (performance is a large part of public ritual, after all.)

  • Apuleius Platonicus

    “but our individual expressions of art are no less meaningful than anyone else’s, no matter their level of talent…and ‘art’ is largely a matter of taste.”

    there’s the problem. right there.

    the sad fact is that most people’s “expressions of art” are of very little, if any, merit whatsoever.

    to some extent everyone has at least some limited potential to create things that are beautiful and meaningful. few people bother to develop that potential, though, and that is their choice.

  • Apuleius Platonicus

    >> And why is it “And everyone simply cannot do good art” and not “Not everyone can do good art?” <<

    Because I was typing fast.

  • Pagan Puff Pieces

    That’s understandable (but you have to admit there’s a different implication).

    But, I’d have to suggest that a small circle or group’s amateur artistic offerings aren’t on the same level of outrage as the Emperor’s New Exhibitions that are purely supported by elitism, or the countless low-quality Christian productions that woefully lack heart. I don’t think it’s that much to be upset about. In fact, a very humble and personal badness is very charming and heartfelt, I think, so long as it has heart and shows it.

    And, yes, I do recoil at the word elitism. It brings to mind expensive art schools nearly impossible to get into without being born into the right family and raised just the right way, whose names mean more than anything else, norms that keep certain people from even being able to study a all, and severely limiting how and what they can study, ideals of beauty decided by a few people and sold as universal, standardized definitions of what certain things mean and must mean that don’t get questioned, never exploring the other side, and then never questioning exploration when the exploration becomes established and liked, ideas of what an artist should look like, worship of work of an artist purely because his name is big, economic elites who go to shows to buy those names purely as an investment, everyone looking intently at The Emperor’s New Exhibition, always wanting to appear to understand, etc. etc….

    So, anyway, where are our elite artists with their solid training in the foundations and the heart to make it mean something, I wonder? Are they shy? Jaded? Not paid enough? Uninspired?

  • Bo

    That’s the first time I’ve ever found myself agreeing with you, Apuleius—wholeheartedly. In a sample over 15 years, I’ve been impressed by Pagan arts precisely once. Almost everything else has struck me as characterised by grinding aesthetic poverty.

  • Harmonyfb

    Having to reply a bit up-thread to this comment: the sad fact is that most people’s “expressions of art” are of very little, if any, merit whatsoever.

    According to whom, Apuleius? Who among us is appointed Grand Czar of Artistic Merit? There are many lauded artists whose work I find puerile and without merit (I’m looking at you, Andres Serrano)…and many whose work I adore that are sadly uncelebrated. It’s all a matter of individual taste.

    And even if they aren’t technically proficient, they can still produce art – and that art can still be meaningful for both artist and audience (ex: American Folk Art, Pop Art, and some so-called ‘modern art’. Heck, look at Jackson Pollock.)

  • Nick Ritter

    If I may interject, I think that people are misinterpreting Apuleius’ comments concerning elitism and art. I do not think he’s talking about fancy art-schools, or about what passes for “art” at fancy galleries and exhibitions these days.

    Simply put, artistic talent is not a given. Not everyone has it. Those who wish to make good art have to put in a lot of training, as with any craft. However, technical skill still doesn’t mean that one will make good art.

    Besides technical skill, the other thing that is necessary to make good art is inspiration, in the old sense, as some vision or idea that comes from outside of one as from a god. That inspiration plus the technical skill to translate that inspiration into some form tangible to others is what makes good art.

    Not everyone, even those with technical skill, will receive inspiration. Not everyone who receives inspiration has the technical skill to make into something appreciable by others. Should everyone make art who is moved to do so? Certainly, but there is no need to pretend that the results will all be of equal quality. Those who have both technical skill and inspiration make better art than those who don’t. This is the kind of elitism that Apuleius is talking about, I think.

  • Pagan Puff Pieces

    Putting it that way…

    Do you think the lack of this combination is unique to Pagans, or does society at large have only a certain amount of this combination?

  • Pagan Puff Pieces

    Putting it that way…

    Do you think the lack of this combination is unique to Pagans, or does society at large have only a certain amount of this combination?

  • Nick Ritter

    “Do you think the lack of this combination is unique to Pagans, or does society at large have only a certain amount of this combination?”

    I don’t think this lack is unique to Pagans. It is my view that any artist anywhere must have a combination of technical skill and honest inspiration in order to make art that is truly good.

    Concerning the idea that Pagan art, music, or ritual is “bad,” I think it can be said that a lot of it seems to be trying too hard. A lot of Pagan art seems to be trying to fill a gap, which is laudable in its own way, but I think this overburdens the artistic process with intentionality: the origins of the artist’s inspiration should be a mystery to the artist and the audience, and this mystery should evoke wonder in artist and audience alike. If the sources of an artwork, its intent, are all too clear, there is not room for the mystery and wonder that are properly part of both the aesthetic and the religious response.

  • John H Halstead

    Amen. And ritual is an art form.

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps part of the problem is what seems to be a lack of willingness to criticize on the part of many pagans. “OMG, I can’t tell them they, like, suck because it might, like, hurt their feelings! Ya know?”

    I was at a camp once that was attended by someone describing herself as ‘the singing witch’. Every afternoon she would rouse people from their cabin naps by shrieking in a high soprano voice. I later found out that she called it ‘singing’. Sweet woman but, good lord, I could have done without the shrieking. Apparently there are now self-produced albums where it is featured… accompanied by a harp and other instruments.

    Why is it that pagan music is so freakin bad? Are we all so desperate for some kind of validation that we’ll settle for something that is mediocre at best? Perhaps we’re all living in the aftermath of Starhawk and the Reclaiming Chants CDs (the epitome of dreadful, btw) that we’ve never considered looking for quality musicians that can sing and play…

  • John H Halstead

    At PSG this year, I attended a workshop with Steven Posche where he addressed precisely that issue and advocated doing a formal and ritualized critique of the ritual, which begins with the recitation: “No ritual is so good it can’t be improved; and no ritual is so bad that we can’t learn something from it.” Then each person offers a positive and negative comment, but negative comments have to be followed by a practical suggestion for improvement. I started doing this in the rituals I create for my family celebrations. I think it’s essential.

  • Anonymous

    And another American poet is rolling in his grave. Shame on his estate. (I really, really, really don’t want Paganism to be the next cool thing.)

  • sindarintech

    But isn’t it one of the mission-statements (paraphrasing, of course) of the patheos pagan portal to help make paganism the next cool thing? 😉

  • Alice C. “A.C.” Fisher Aldag

    Loving the videos.

    Perhaps Ms. Weinstein can offer constructive suggestions and show us a better ceremony by performing a rite her ownself.

  • Laura M. LaVoie

    I would have liked to have been able to watch the Dionysos video, but it made me motion sick. And I’m in bed.

  • Chas Clifton

    Now if you really want “healthy white kids experimenting with transgression,” to use the Rev. Weinstein’s rather hackneyed phrase, I recommend reading Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (reviewed here). The first scene of the video put me in mind of it.

    And thanks for the linkage, Jason.

  • business card magnets

    The cast and the music is quite good, and that the material has some potential.The sepia-toned movie generally does the best job of putting the audience in the setting and telling the story could be an interesting take on the material.

  • business card magnets

    The music is good, and you can stream the entire opera here, and the audio quality is better than is available at the live show. The best way to enjoy this material is probably to buy the CD, after all,

  • Erik

    I can’t seem to reply directly to M.A.’s response to Chas, so this will have to do… M.A., I agree. It seemed obvious to me that the mass mechanized war footage was supposed to represent everything that Dionysos was coming to save us from.

  • Cara

    I agree – Dionysos is also called the Liberator.

  • Anonymous

    Geez, just when I was thinking that I should join a UU church to finally find a pagan community, I read all these comments about cheesy rituals.

    As far as cheesy goes, some of my own solo rituals are embarrassing even to me. I’m trying to get my husband to join me–he’s spiritual and loves nature–but he won’t be able to take it seriously if I can’t come up with something reasonably good.

    We’ve attended a few good agricultural/sustainability/artisan fairs, but I’m not sure that we’re ready for the big pagan festivals. I’m not a prude, just sheltered, but I’ve never been exposed to public nudity or ritual sex. We’ll have to find a festival for beginners, I guess.

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    Having attended Pagan Spirit Gathering and Florida Pagan Gathering I can tell you that public nudity isn’t widespread, and if there was lots of ritual sex happening it wasn’t in public view. Big festivals can be as wild, or sedate, as you want them to be.

  • John H Halstead

    I attended my first PSG this year and I have never experienced public nudity before. But I can tell you after the first day, I was accustomed to it, and in a strange way actually found it healing.

  • Anonymous

    As a UU and a Pagan, I’d have to agree with Ms. Weinstein about Pagan rituals. Most are silly and are boring. But then, I’d also say the same thing about UU services.

    Both Pagan and UU services are dull and lifeless.

  • David Pollard

    Most small scale Pagan ritual does not translate well to a congregational Sunday morning setting. I would also add apart from the Excellence In Ritual
    Cirriculla taught at Gaia Community & Sacred Journey, there is little if any formalized Earth-Centered/Pagan ritual training within a UU setting. So if you’re going to compare an enuthiastic volunteer who’s only done ritual in groups of less than 20, and compare it toma seminary trained minister whose had years to get used to the interests of the specific congregation – guess who’s going to come out looking poorly.
    Surprisingly enough, some of the best Pagan material for congregational use comes from the UU Hymal. There are a couple chants in it as well as a direct translation of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (Joy, Thou Goddess). A direction/element calling reading #446, and an adapted version of The Charge of the Goddess done as a responsive reading.

  • George Marshall

    Regarding the Dionysus video, I simply felt that it was trying too damned hard.

    Regarding the Levi’s ad – that one honestly just pisses me off. Personally I think that any pagan connection to it is tenuous at best, but no matter. A company like Levi’s using a message of, essentially, “go forth and be free” while at the same time jockeying for brand loyalty in an industry famous for chaining people down with screwed up expectations of beauty… I really can’t stand that sort of hipocrisy.

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