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There are two things that interest me greatly as a Pagan priestess/teacher/thinker. The first is those things that are unremarked upon which nonetheless appear in passing again and again. Usually these are treasure troves of knowledge. An example of this would be the comb as a religious symbol. It is found in Neolithic art, ancient gravesites, and religious texts all over Europe and the Mediterranean, and persists long after Christianity has been established, yet it is not commonly thought of as one of our “magical tools.” It is scarcely ever remarked upon. It has also been an important symbol in Africa and Asia, and a great deal of research remains to be done about the significance of this very personal implement. I wrote an article about the comb for Return to Mago last year and barely scratched the surface. It’s a topic for an entire book.The second area of interest to me is those things that are remarked upon so often that they become rote. Usually there are unexamined assumptions and beliefs about ourselves that are hidden in these sayings, as well as unexamined meanings in the phrases themselves. An example of this would be the statement that “Paganism is a nature religion.” Is this something we say to distinguish ourselves from Judeo-Christian religions? Is it something we say to give ourselves legitimacy? Is it something we say in nostalgia for a lost relationship? Is it something we say because we learned somewhere that this is so? Is it something we say? Is it something we believe, is it something we wish, is it something we think about, is it something we do?The answer to these questions will vary not just among the individuals, but for the same person in different settings and at different stages of personal development. The most important thing is that these questions be asked, and asked again, and asked again. To me, following a “nature religion” means an ongoing commitment to a deepening experience within nature. It is active, dynamic, and ever changing. It is a mystery.I’m hoping to begin offering online classes soon on topics related to Pagan nature worship. My goal is to bring these topics to a more accessible virtual world, while at the same time inspiring the student to directly experience more in the natural world. The classes will be stand-alone and you will be able to take one or many. Here is a survey designed to help me identify potential topics.
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Just as there is an aphorism that “the victors write history,” there is another that says “history is continually rewritten.” Both of these sayings apply to this rehabilitation of the biblical queen. Hazelton views Jezebel’s story as an earlier version of tensions between liberalism and religious zealotry, drawing direct parallels to present day conundrums over Christian, Jewish, and Muslim fundamentalism. Hazelton’s prose is spellbinding, and though the book does not read like a novel, the story is riveting all the same. Rhetorical asides are satisfying and engrossing. There are many good, satisfying quotes from this book:
When your story is written by those in passionate opposition to everything you believe in, it will be, to put it mildly, warped. Everything becomes twisted; every action, every gesture, becomes not only suspect but turned on its head. The wildest rumors are passed off as fact. Inconvenient facts are ignored or edited out, relegated to oblivion, until all we are left with is not a real person but an image, a morality-tale character, which is how Jezebel would become a kind of wicked witch of the east.
The first thing Hazelton does is to dispense with the common portrayal of Jezebel as a sexualized being, a harlot. This was rather disappointing for me, because that was what motivated me to buy the book. I had read in another review that this book challenges the idea of the “sacred prostitute” in ancient Near East religions. I myself have become frustrated with the “sacred prostitute” terminology, having come to the conclusion that expressions of sexuality in ancient religions bears no resemblance to prostitution, sacred or otherwise. The concept of the “sacred prostitute” has long been politically used to denigrate priestess cults, and more recently to glorify prostitution. I would love to see this phrase stricken from our spiritual conversation.But if I hoped to find a more nuanced exploration of feminine sexuality in religion I was disappointed here on many levels. Hazelton begins her dismissal of the harlot angle by expounding on the limitations of nineteenth century archaeologists, always exasperating because at this point I can see clearly where such a setup is heading. After raking the pioneering archaeologists over the coals, she concedes that they did not come up with this sacred prostitute theory out of nowhere, then proceeds to accuse the Greek historian Herodotus of inventing the concept whole cloth. Hazelton’s treatment of this subject exemplifies problems with her narrative found throughout the book: the naïve acceptance of twenty-first century archaeological perspective, which has its own patriarchal biases; the impulse to conflate goddesses along with a generally poor understanding of Semitic polytheistic cultures; and a tendency for her analysis to fall into the very absolutism she decries in the prophets of Israel.But despite the flaws in perspective, I would not write off this book. The political drama surrounding the story is fascinating, and although this is not my forte, it seems that Hazelton has a good grasp of Old Testament history. She has visited most of the places where the action occurs, and her description of the settings adds an immediacy to her account. There is a map in the front of the book which is helpful.In the end I agree with Hazelton’s refusal to examine Jezebel’s life and legacy in sexual terms. The new framing works, at least for now, though perhaps in the future a biographer will dismiss the theme of religious fanaticism as emphatically as Hazelton dismisses the sexual theme. Like many a good myth, the story of Jezebel will probably always be more useful than it is true.
Ballad of AccountingWritten by Ewan MacCollPerformed by The Delgados