Monday, December 22, 2008

My Sunwheel/Wreath 2008

I spent my winter solstice eve kicking off the Yule season in the same way I have the last few years: constructing a sunwheel for use as a wreath on my front door. I went with a slightly different design this year, using ground pine to cross the circle. Upon completion, close to midnight Saturday night, I put it up. I took some pics of it the following day: I love how the curvature of branches give the sunwheel the impression of spinning. I also took some photos in my back yard to capture the first day of winter:

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ancient Roman Battlefield Provides New Insights

Here is some interesting archaeological news from the weekend...
Ancient Roman battlefield excavated in Lower Saxony A Roman dagger from another dig near Hedemünden. Photo: DPA
Archaeologists have discovered an ancient roman battlefield from the third century near Göttingen that will rewrite history, Lower Saxony's department for preservation of historical monuments said on Thursday. “The find can be dated to the third century and will definitely change the historical perception of that time,” Dr. Henning Haßmann told The Local. The amazing discovery allows an insight in what must have been a dramatic battle between Romans and Germanic tribes. “The find indicates a massive Roman military presence,” Haßmann said.
Read the whole thing:

Thursday, December 11, 2008


open quoteMom and dad say I should make my life an example of the principles I believe in. But every time I do, they tell me to stop it.” -- Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes)

Mad Scientist Blocks

Just in time for the holidays (go ahead and pick one), Xylocopa has a gift that will help your child along the path to mad science proficiency ... one block at a time.
Are they not gorgeous? According to their website, the blocks' images started as original pen-and-ink drawings that they laser engraved onto -- get this -- solid blocks of American maple wood. And, being alphabetical, the topics include
  • A - Appendages
  • B - Bioengineering
  • C - Caffeine
  • D - Dirigible
  • E - Experiment
  • F - Freeze ray (you can see this one in the posted image)
Refer to Xylocopa's website for the full list. Now, I must warn you. The blocks retail for $39.95 (not so bad considering the craftsmanship and coolness quotient). Also, Xylocopa cannot guarantee delivery in time for Christmas morning. In fact, they're not shipping until probably after the Solstice ("...will ship on or around December 22..."), so they won't make it for anyone's Yule celebration either -- unless, of course, you're holding it off till later in the month. But I must say, I love these blocks. I don't know whatmy niece would think of them, but I certainly want a set on my desk at work.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Effective Corporate Bailout

According to Wiley, the artist behind Non Sequitur, this is the most effective bailout plan (click image for larger version): I tend to agree with him.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Book Review | Finding Merlin

[This review is by Nick Owchar of the LA Times. I have not yet read the book, but I do have a slight interest.]

In search of a wizard

In 'Finding Merlin: The Truth Behind the Legend of the Great Arthurian Mage,' Adam Ardrey condemns long-ago chroniclers for their motives but is like a sleuth in tracking ancient details.
By Nick Owchar November 23, 2008
Think of your favorite movie Merlin: Was it Sam Neill's Tolkienesque version (see photo) or was it "Excalibur's" Nicol Williamson, with that unforgettable steel skullcap? How about Stephen Dillane's blue-faced portrayal in the 2004 box office disappointment "King Arthur"? (The movie didn't disappoint me, Keira Knightley was in it.) Adam Ardrey would have none of them, and very little of all the other Arthuriana that's out there -- not T.H. White's "The Once and Future King," not Tennyson's "Idylls of the King," Thomas Malory's epic, "Le Morte D'Arthur," not even Marion Zimmer Bradley's "The Mists of Avalon."
The author of "Finding Merlin: The Truth Behind the Legend of the Great Arthurian Mage" (The Overlook Press: 384 pp., $24.95) would say that any adult interested in these inventions must be emotionally trapped in junior high. Oh, and they've probably also participated (at least once) in one of those silly medieval warfare reenactments. Excuse me while I adjust my chain-mail pants. And yet, above his clear distaste for the popular versions of this legend -- and he doles out plenty of this in his new book -- there is a fascinating question which he pursues with zeal: Just who was Merlin, really?
The answer Ardrey's book provides is that the real Merlin was something of a scientist and Druid leader who helped the Scots and Britons fight off the Angles in the aftermath of Roman occupation. For his efforts, though, Ardrey says Merlin's contributions were written out of early English chronicles or, when he is found, he is reduced to an insulting form -- a wildman or a madman of some kind... [Read More]

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Funny: Let's Go Exploring

I love this comic strip. Scott Kurtz penned a truly fine homage to Bill Watterson's "Calvin and Hobbes". Click the image to see it full size, or use the following link to view the strip on Kurtz' website: PvPonline » Archive » Let’s Go Exploring

Friday, November 14, 2008

Quotable | Cary Grant

open quoteEverybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.” -- Cary Grant

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Idiots in the Wild: Group of Bird Watchers Commit Act of Face-Smacking Stupidity

Here's the nickel summary of the story: Man spots rarely seen bird -- a burrowing owl. Tells other nearby birders who repeatedly flush the oul into the air so it could be seen. Within hours, the burrowing owl is torn apart by a hawk. Afterward, Robert Hughes, the man who first spotted the owl and sent an alert to others, wrote: "The sad truth is that we birders may very well have been responsible for the demise of the burrowing owl." Well, give that man a gold star and call him Captain Obvious! If this is how folks are appreciating local wildlife, I'd feel a lot better if they just ignored it. Full story at Birders wonder if they contributed to owl's death I recommend reading the comments as well.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Doctor is (Write) In

Brent Sienna votes for the other "One." Original URL:

Election Day 2008!

This morning, I was the 46th individual to cast a 2008 ballot at my polling location. Two years of speeches, fliers, TV and radio spots, debates, and bloviating all come down to this day. And now, all I can do is wait. Some time tonight, or early tomorrow morning, my country will have a new president. I always find it exhilarating to participate in the electoral process. And today was no different -- in fact, it was probably a bit more exciting than previous elections. My being voter #46 is one reason for the excitement. You see, I believe it is a good sign that almost 50 people had voted shortly after the polls opened: For the past several elections, I was among the first 25 voters, even nailing the number one position twice. So I am thinking along the lines of record turnout now. The candidates themselves is the other reason for this excitement. Regardless of what you think of Senators McCain and Obama, this election is the first one in a long time where I did not feel that voting for a major party candidate was a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils. Seriously, I feel that either man is a capable leader. But please do not misunderstand me -- they represent very different options for the United States of America and her future. Which is why I do not understand people who choose not to vote. Some people claim it's because of the choices. But there are at least six options in this election alone! Depending on your state, there are candidates from the Republican, Democratic, Independent, Libertarian, Constitution, and Green parties. And choosing to vote third-party or for a write-in candidate is completely understandable. In fact, I have done so on more than one occasion (one time writing in "None of the Above"), but never more than once per election, mind you. No, it is the individual who cannot be bothered to vote. The individual who thinks it's about being "outside the process" or sees voting as simply something "other people do." Even more infuriating are the people who skip the polls due to laziness, apathy, or weather ("I can't vote because it's raining"). Now, surely, there are many people who feel forced to forgo voting because of work, or inability to travel, or a host of other issues. Fortunately, if these people are identified, helpul volunteers are more than willing to do what it takes to get them to the polls. But there is nothing to be done for the individual who chose to not register, who cares not one whit about voting. At least ... nothing that will make any difference before the polls close today. Happy Election Day, America! Kudos to you if you voted. And a long period of soul searching for those of you who could not be bothered to participate.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Some "Post" Samhain Writings

I've been a bit quiet here, and I do apologize for not keeping up with the blog. In lieu of writing some updates of my own, I point you to two collections of posts over at MetaPagan. First up, chronologically that is, would be a lovely set of Samhain poetry and traditions collected from across the web and MetaPagan contributors. Second, a sampling of Samhain stories. These stories are a welcome respite from the "usual annual glut of mainstream news stories that crop up this time of year". Enjoy!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

My Solitary Winternights

At right, you see my simple altar for observing Winternights this evening. Click the image to view a few more photos. I was unable to join my friends who were celebrating the holiday in East Stroudsburg, but I wanted to at least do something small on my own tonight. Particularly because this afternoon I received confirmation that I have been accepted into a national Heathen organization's Clergy Program. That is certainly worthy of a boast and a shout of gratitude to the Gods and Goddesses. Around 5pm, I started collecting the items I would need and I arranged them outside. On the altar, I set the following items: a plaque of Odin, a statue of Thor, a stick of sandlewood incense, a votive, a pitcher of organic cider, hammer, and the blessing bowl. This was the first ritual use for both the pitcher and the bowl which were separate purchases over the summer. I also lit a small fire in our metal chimnea. As dusk fell, I lit the candles (altar votive and a lantern) and some incense. Then I turned off the back porch light and prepared myself with a few cleansing breaths. There was a chill in the air. It felt right. Mrs. Brainwise joined me, but only to observe, not participate. She is still uncertain what to make of my faith. But I was glad for her company. It is good to have a woman present during a blot to the Disr. I hallowed the space with my take on the hammer rite:
Hammer Hallow this stead:
By Thor's might which upholds us,
By Baldur's light, which inspires us,
By Frigga's wisdom which guides us,
By Odin's hand which guards us,
By Heimdall's watch which shields us,
By Freyr's vitality, which sustains us,
And by Freya's love which blesses us,
Hammer hallow and hold this holy stead.
Then I poured cider into the horn, raised it, and blessed it, asking the Gods and Goddesses and the Disr to accept it. Likewise I raised the offerings up and blessed them. I then performed three draughts (I cannot really call them "rounds"), raising the horn first to the Aesir and the Vanir, second to collective Disr, and finally to my own paternal great grandmothers and Mrs. Brainwise's paternal grandmother. I left the plate of food offerings at the base of the tree and poured out some fresh cream. Then I took the blessing blowl and poured out its contents with my own twist on a familiar refrain:
From the Source to the Gods to the Earth to Us.
From Us to the Earth to the Gods the Source.
A Gift for a Gift.
With that, the ritual was complete. I answered a few brief questions for Mrs. Brainwise, after which she returned to watch college football. And I began the slow effort of dismantling the ritual space, taking care to ensure the fire would burn out safely. Welcome winter...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Quotable | Gratitude?

open quoteI always tell people, Churchill saved the Western world from dictators, and when they kicked him out, he was asked about gratitude, and he said, ‘Gratitude doesn’t exist in politics, only in history.’ It’s the same way in football.” -- Joseph Vincent Paterno (JoePa), head coach of Pennsylvania State University's college football team (Penn State Nittany Lions).

Quote comes from this NY Times story.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Onion Store: Are Your Cats Old Enough To Learn About Jesus?

I want this shirt!
Are Your Cats Old Enough To Learn About Jesus? :: Onion Store
People often ask us when they should teach the Good News to their housecats. We have but one answer: "What are you waiting for?"
Think of the alternative: your cat mired in darkness for eternity because you put off a 10-minute conversation.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Quotable | Self-Loathing

Newsweek: "You grew up in Oklahoma in a very religious environment."

Sarah Vowell: "Yeah, sometimes I feel like a translator to my snotty urban heathen friends. To me, Christianity was about self-loathing. It never would have occurred to me to hate anybody else; I was too busy hating myself."

From Newsweek interview with author Sarah Vowell: Fast Chat: Author and Historian Sarah Vowell | Newsweek Periscope

Ben's Methodology for the Mature Spiritual Seeker

An associate of mine, Ben Dench, is working on what he calls A Methodology for the Mature Spiritual Seeker. He is, in my estimation, a remarkable young man. And, by training/education, he is a philosopher. I think that much may be obvious in the methodology he espouses. Regarding his methodology, which is the point of this post, I feel he has made a good start of it, particularly because the process starts with experience. But it also seems to me that there is only one other experiential component of the methodology, and only partially at that. Since his original posting, I have seen no dialogue on the topic. Yet I think it is worthy of some discussion, so I have taken the liberty of posting the methodology here. I hope my few readers will take the time to look at this, and perhaps even post a note or two. I will post some further thoughts on Ben's methodology at a later time. For now I want to point out that this is important work. In an increasingly secular -- even post-Christian -- society, what is a spiritual seeker to do? Those of us in Pagan/Heathen traditions can look to the past for inspiration and guidance, but whatever is found there still has to be brought to the present and made relevant today. I know I do. But what do you say? And can this methodology be of any help? Without further ado, I give to you Ben Dench's six-step approach:
A Methodology for the Mature Spiritual Seeker 
1. Actively seek out and have your own direct spiritual experiences. Testimony is not sufficient for believing in paranormal phenomena. Direct experience is. 
2. Think critically about the experiences you have had. What can you legitimately conclude from experience X? To what extent might you be reading into your experience based on your own religious / cultural preconceptions? 
3. Form your own tentative conclusions. Don't get too attached to any one conception about the way things are. Remain open to revising your ideas about reality based on new information. 
4. Dialogue with others and rigorously test your hypotheses. If there are other interpretations of your experience, listen to them. See what experiments you could do and what background information you could find to determine which explanation best fits the reality of the situation. 
5. Seek to integrate all areas of objective knowledge into a coherent narrative. To what extent does our knowledge from other areas of study (anthropology, psychology, biology, history, literary criticism, etc.) support or oppose your interpretation of reality? 
6. Repeat. This is a continuing process. Always be open to new experiences and to revising your beliefs based on new information.

You can dialogue with Ben over at his own blog, The Philosophy of Ben Dench (

Monday, October 06, 2008

German-American Day!

[This is a mildly edited re-post of a previous blog entry]

Here in the USA, today, October 6, is ... German American Day! How wunderbar to start the week off this way! In 1987 Congress enacted Public Law 100-104 designating October 6 as German-American Day:
A proclamation was issued by President Reagan in a Rose Garden Ceremony calling on the American people to observe this day with appropriate celebrations and activities. The date was chosen because on October 6, 1683 the first group of Germans sailed into Philadelphia Harbor on the Concord. Individually Germans had arrived before that date. [German-American Day Teaching Unit]
Since that date, every U.S. president has made a proclamation that October 6 is German-American day, a day to honor and remember the outstanding, significant, and lasting contributions that German immigrants made to our country. For more information on German contributions to the United States, or for activities to celebrate German-American Day, I offer the following links: And, yes, I am of German descent and I am quite proud of my heritage. So, to all my family, kin, and friends -- and even to those of you who are not lucky enough to have even the smallest drop of German blood flowing in your veins -- I wish you a great day.
Haben Sie einen großen Tag!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Ignoring the Seeress

Ancient Greek Play has Lessons for Peak Oil Discussion An Archdruid draws some interesting correlations between the doomed daughter of Priam (Cassandra from Aeschylus’ play Agamemnon) and a recent ASPO (Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas) event. Sneak peak:

...In terms of the original tale, though, the whole cast of Cassandra’s story was present and accounted for at the ASPO conference last week. The event took place in an expensive hotel across the street from the California state capitol, with skyscrapers filling in for the fabled towers of Troy, and King Priam played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who did not attend the conference but prefers a penthouse suite in the same hotel to the less private comforts of the governor’s mansion up the street. Lunches, finger food for breaks, and hors d’oeuvres for the evening receptions all tended toward the overly precious, and the uniformed hotel staff bustled about like servants at a Bronze Age royal court.

In this setting, the presentations and talk at the conference took on a surreal quality, as though the global civilization we were discussing – the one running out of cheap and easily available fossil fuels – was on some other planet. I’m not at all sure how many of the attendees took the time to connect the energy that provided climate-controlled air, fluorescent lighting, PowerPoint slideshows and overabundant snacks for the conference with the sinking lines on graphs that tracked our world’s rapidly depleting oil, coal, and natural gas reserves. I’m even less sure how many of them traced out those graphs to their logical conclusions and thought through the likely impacts on their own lives; even in peak oil circles, this is surprisingly uncommon...

Read the whole thing: Energy Bulletin: Cassandra's View by John Michael Greer

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Not Exactly on MY Gift List

Really, if you happen to be looking for a gift for me -- for whatever reason -- please do not purchase this item. I have a window shade. But, more effective, I have two cats. Either one will eventually get me out of bed.
Truemors :: Alarm Clock Pillow a Truly Bright Idea Tired of waking up to whatever heart-attack-inducing alarm is working for you this month? A student design team from Dublin may have found a calmer, but more effective way to wrest you from the covers; their pillow alarm clock is rigged with LED lights that gradually brighten over a forty minute period, simulating a sunrise and letting your circadian rhythms adjust more naturally to a waking state. A layer of special material makes for a feeling indistinguishable from a normal pillow and even doubles as a reading light. Brits can look for it in stores by the end of the year, but no telling when it will hit North American shores."

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bailout Thoughts

And this week, Secretary Paulson and his Wall Street friends sing a variation on the Janis Joplin classic:
Oh politician, won't you pay for, my Mercedes Benz? The taxpayers all drive Yarises and Hybrids, I must make amends. Fleeced the public all my lifetime, with bigtime government friends. So politician, won't you pay for, my Mercedes Benz?
I wrote those four lines during an IM session with a friend. Derivative? Yes. Still, it's not bad for off the cuff.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Quotable | Leadership

open quoteIf you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” -- Antoine de Saint Exupéry, French author and aviator (1900 - 1944). Saint Exupéry is best known for the novella, The Little Prince.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Toxic Political Statement

Septic truck with sign on tank (click for larger view). Message reads:
CAUTION: Vehicle May Be Transporting Political Promises!

Modern Day Hobbits in Wales Fought the Law ... and Won

OK. My apologies to Mr. Tolkien and his fans. The villagers in this story are not really Hobbits. But they have been living in straw and mud huts that appear to be perfectly suited to the tiny denizens of Tolkien's fantasy classic. Unfortunately, these folks had to go up against their own version of a dark lord bent on their destruction. In 1993, Julian and Emma Orbach set up an eco-community on their 180-acre farm in the Preseli mountains of west Wales was set up. They thought they had waved their final goodbye to the rat race, let alone judicial issues. But that changed when a survey plane spotted a a bit of sun glinting off a solar panel. Officials were baffled -- they could find no records for this village. No planning permissions had been granted for this green haven. So it was ordered to be torn down.

But, after enduring a decade of inquiries, court cases and planning hearings, the 22 villagers are celebrating a victory. Take a look at the full story, which includes a few photos of the village's buildings. This might be what some Heathens mean when they wistfully speak of getting back to the land.

Read more: Lost middle-class tribe's 'secret' eco-village in Wales spotted in aerial photograph taken by plane | Mail Online

Julian Orbach Architectural historian Julian Orbach in front of a village roundhouse

Palin and the Kenyan Witchhunter

I'm sure there were stranger news stories about Sarah Palin or even Kenya this week. Certainly, there are more important news stories what with the financial fall-out occurring this week. But I just have to post this piece from the Times Online because, if there is only the slightest bit of truth to it, I find it highly disturbing. And it's one more reason for me to vote against the rise of the Theocratic Party (read: GOP) this November.
Palin Linked Electoral Success to Prayer of Kenyan Witchhunter (September 16, 2008)


The pastor whose prayer Sarah Palin says helped her to become governor of Alaska founded his ministry with a witchhunt against a Kenyan woman who he accused of causing car accidents through demonic spells.

Muthee_400156gAt a speech at the Wasilla Assembly of God on June 8 this year, Mrs Palin described how Thomas Muthee had laid his hands on her when he visited the church as a guest preacher in late 2005, prior to her successful gubernatorial bid.

In video footage of the speech, she is seen saying: “As I was mayor and Pastor Muthee was here and he was praying over me, and you know how he speaks and he’s so bold. And he was praying “Lord make a way, Lord make a way.”

“And I’m thinking, this guy’s really bold, he doesn’t even know what I’m going to do, he doesn’t know what my plans are. And he’s praying not “oh Lord if it be your will may she become governor,” no, he just prayed for it. He said “Lord make a way and let her do this next step. And that’s exactly what happened.”

She then adds: “So, again, very very powerful, coming from this church,” before the presiding pastor comments on the “prophetic power” of the event.

An African evangelist, Pastor Muthee has given guest sermons at the Wasilla Assembly of God on at least 10 occasions in his role as the founder of the Word of Faith Church, also known as the Prayer Cave.

Pastor Muthee founded the Prayer Cave in 1989 in Kiambu, Kenya after “God spoke” to him and his late wife Margaret and called him to the country, according to the church’s website.

The pastor speaks of his offensive against a demonic presence in the town in a trailer for the evangelical video “Transformations”, made by Sentinel Group, a Christian research and information agency.

“We prayed, we fasted, the Lord showed us a spirit of witchcraft resting over the place,” Pastor Muthee says.

After the spirit was broken, the crime rate dropped to almost zero and there was “explosive church growth” while almost every bar in the town closed down, the video says.

The full Transformations video featuring Pastor Muthee’s story has recently been removed from YouTube but the rest of the story is detailed in a 1999 article in the Christian Science Monitor, as well as on numerous evangelical websites.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, six months of fervent prayer and research identified the source of the witchcraft as a local woman called Mama Jane, who ran a “divination” centre called the Emmanuel Clinic.

Her alleged involvement in fortune-telling and the fact that she lived near the site of a number of fatal car accidents led Pastor Muthee to publicly declare her a witch responsible for the town’s ills, and order her to offer her up her soul for salvation or leave Kiambu.

Says the Monitor, “Muthee held a crusade that “brought about 200 people to Christ”.” They set up round-the-clock prayer intercession in the basement of a grocery store and eventually, says the pastor “the demonic influence – the ‘principality’ over Kiambu –was broken”, and Mama Jane fled the town.

According to accounts of the witchhunt circulated on evangelical websites such as Prayer Links Ministries, after Pastor Muthee declared Mama Jane a witch, the townspeople became suspicious and began to turn on her, demanding that she be stoned. Public outrage eventually led the police to raid her home, where they fired gunshots, killing a pet python which they believed to be a demon.

After Mama Jane was questioned by police – and released – she decided it was time to leave town, the account says.

Pastor Muthee has frequently referred to this witchhunt in his sermons as an example of the power of “spiritual warfare”. In October 2005, he delivered ten sermons at the Wasilla Assembly of God, the audio of which was available on the church’s website until it was removed around the time Mrs Palin’s candidacy was announced. The blog Irregular Times has listings and screen grabs of the sermons.

It was during that these sermons that Mrs Palin, who was then preparing for her gubernatorial run, was anointed by Pastor Muthee. His intercession, she says, was “awesome”.

Her June 8 speech was to mark the graduation of students from the Wasilla Assembly of God’s Masters’ Commission, which, as Pastor Ed Kalins explains, believes Alaska will be the refuge for American evangelicals upon the coming “End of Days”. After her speech, Mrs Palin was presented with an honorary Masters’ Commission diploma.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Asatru/Urglaawe Meetup is an Editor's Pick!

I'm involved in a Meetup group for local and not-so-local Heathens in Eastern PA and NJ. We use the website to organize and promote activities ranging from ritual observances to discussions. Our members run the gamut of reconstructionist expressions and we don't necessarily keep under the radar. Still, I was surprised to see Philadelphia Weekly further publicize our upcoming discussion ("How Relevant Are Seasonal Observances in a Post-Agricultural Society?") with a humorous review as an Editor's Pick: Editor's Picks - philadelphia weekly online Just in case the link goes cold down the road, I've archived the text of the review below. That Viking picture to the right of the writeup? Yes, it appears in the review, too!

» Faith-Based

Philadelphia Area Asatru and Urglaawe Meetup Group

Fri., Sept. 19, 7:30pm. Free. Germ Books and Gallery, 2005 Frankford Ave. 215.423.5002.
“Urglaawe” isn’t just the noise a peasant makes when you stick a spear in his throat; it’s also Pennsylvania German for “primal faith.” We’re talking modern-day Viking god botherers, basically. And what a crazy lot of gods they were. Odin (aka Wotan), Thor, Freya, crafty old Loki. Then there are the Vikings themselves and their crazy kickass Germanic cousins. What a scary bunch of permanently pissed bearded nutters. When they’re not raping and pillaging and discovering the Americas hundreds of years before Columbus, they’re debating the relevance of even knowing what an equinox is when you live in an industrialized society. (Actually, I thought the lack of debate about “the relevance of seasonal observances in a post- agricultural society” was one of the major flaws in that 1958 Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis movie The Vikings.) And yes, there will be snacks—the parboiled heads of Saxons and the children of Christians roasted on spits. Or maybe just some chips and sammies. Hang on, a bookstore? By Odin’s balls! What folly is this? Why the hell isn’t this being held in a pub? (Steven Wells)

Supervillain-Friendly Running Mate?

OK. This is kind of silly, but I still find the concept rather entertaining. The International Society of Supervillains rates Sarah Palin and Joe Biden on a number of qualities (media depictions, rhetoric, laugh, past crimes, hobbies, etc.) to determine which ticket is the most supervillain-friendly. International Society of Supervillains: Palin or Biden: Who's the Supervillain Running Mate? [Warning!]: I feel I must provide some warning to the gentler souls who might read Prophet or Madman. Under the discussion of hobbies, the write-up for Palin says she "shoots wolves from airplanes." Why am I posting a warning when this bit of information has been bandied about the internet? Because those aforementioned gentler souls will likely be horrified by the accompanying photo of a dead (presumed shot) wolf trundled up below an airplane's wing.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Book Review | Frey, God of the World

[Cross-posted to Amazon and my Facebook profile]

In this concise look at the various source materials (it is less than 80 pages), Sheffield has laid out a compelling case for moving Frey out of the commonly held, albeit limiting, description of "fertility god." Sheffield uses excerpts from lore -- paying particular attention to various translations -- to show Frey as fulfilling the roles of gift-giver and sacred king/divine ancestor. She then expands on those roles, showing how Frey -- as a sacred king -- is instrumental in maintaining prosperity, sacred inviolability, and fecundity. A brief overview of Dumezil's three functions is included for reference, aiding the reader's understanding of the comparative religious studies approach to Indo-European spiritualities. The book is footnoted throughout and includes an extensive bibliography.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

They Crashed the Planes and Changed the Rules

"They crashed the planes and changed the rules." -- GrooveLily, Live Through This (Are We There Yet?), Are We There Yet?. QMR, 2003
Seven years ago this very morning, the world changed. You may take that as an overstatement, or, conversely, as overly simple. But wherever you lived at the time, a shift in perspective occurred. That shift was all the more dramatic and palpable if you were a U.S. citizen. I don't want to dwell on the attacks themselves. But I do want to take some time to recall what happened in the wake of that dreadful event. Forget -- if you can, even if for only for a moment -- just forget how you feel about the war in Iraq, conspiracy theories, and Republican versus Democrat (or any other "them versus us" political division). Recall, instead, the great communal sense that slowly seeped into our national fiber even as the weight of sorrow and shock seemed all too powerful and crushing. Remember neighbor comforting neighbor, even in cases where those neighbors had not known each other very well prior to that morning. Remember the outpouring of support and sympathy from around the world. And remember that shared conviction that, although we would never forget the tragedy, we would recover ... grow stronger ... and become ever more connected as a nation. Are we there yet? Now, I know many terrible and stupid things also occurred in the wake of 9-11. To suggest otherwise would be naive. And I would never suggest that we should simply gloss over the darker side of our all too human nature. It is my belief, however, that we can recover even from the damage we have done, and continue to do, to ourselves. So the cases of post-911 ignorance and bigotry are not the focus of my post today. They would only serve to drag us back down to the things I asked you forget in my second paragraph. And what is my focus? What's the point of one more 9-11 post on a blog? Well, I wanted to provide something a little different on this solemn anniversary. You see, in my opinion, Americans were offered a choice seven years ago. We had a chance to abandon partisan politics and all the other petty things that keep us from truly working together. We saw a glimpse of the society we could have, one that celebrated differences instead of drawing lines. A nation of people united by a common desire to be their very best, and give their very best. That desire trumped pain, loss, and even differences in ethnicity, gender, politics, religion, etc. Are we there yet? I think you will agree that we are not there. Our current election season is a perfect indicator of how far we have fallen from that vision. But I hope you will also agree, or at least choose to see, that the door which opened in the aftermath of 9-11 has not yet closed. We can still achieve a truly united, yet beautifully diverse, nation. A nation not necessarily blessed by this, that, or the other god, but blessed by its citizens and their actions. Can we get there? You tell me.

Theater Blog Post

New post over at Confessions of a Serial Theater Lackey: Things I Learned During the REEFER Tech

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Knowledge@Wharton: The Candidates on Taxes

There are a few interesting notes in a recent piece from the Knowledge@Wharton newsletter, published September 03, 2008. Here is a snippet:

This is the first in a series of articles examining the various economic and fiscal proposals of the two candidates for president: Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain. The articles will appear in each issue of Knowledge@Wharton running up to the November election.

They may paint themselves as agents for a new, more bipartisan attitude in Washington, but John McCain and Barack Obama both tend to adhere to their parties' usual approaches to tax policy.

McCain would cut overall income taxes for the top 1% of American earners, according to recent data from the Tax Policy Center, a non-partisan joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution. Obama would raise taxes on those in the highest tax bracket, while reducing them for low- and moderate-income families.

[Here is the kicker!] The TPC study says both candidates' tax plans would substantially increase the national debt over the next decade, though the candidates themselves have made general promises to reduce the deficit and eventually balance the federal budget. The study also says that neither candidate articulates how they will do this. As for the tax cuts, McCain says he would renew the package of cuts initiated by President Bush (due to expire in 2011), while Obama says he will keep only some of those cuts...

Read the whole thing: The Candidates on Taxes: Finding the Devil in the Details

A Few Quick Thoughts on Palin

It's the day after Sarah Palin's big coming out party (otherwise known as her VP nominee acceptance speech at the RNC). I could not watch it live because I was doing my second job, hanging lights at the theater. But Mrs. Brainwise saved it on the DVR for me and I tried to watch some of it before I went to bed. So this is an incomplete review, if indeed this can be called a review at all.
  1. Was her performance impressive? Yes and no. She was polished, read off the prompter like a professional, and connected with the audience. I, however, have a difficult time listening to her voice. There is just something about its register or pitch that makes me physically recoil. (Full disclosure: I have the same negative reaction to Hillary Clinton's voice).
  2. While I give Palin some leeway regarding her performance, the content of her speech was overly negative and distasteful. For contrast, I refer to the recent speeches by Barak Obama and Joe Biden. Yes, they were both argumentative against John McCain's positions and proposed policies. But they were also complimentary of McCain as a person and admitted a degree of respect for him and his military service. I saw no such bipartisanship in Palin's presentation (though, as I have admitted earlier, I have yet to view/hear it in its entirety).
  3. I am still surpised at the hypocrisy I perceive in the Republican Party. In the 2000 primaries, John McCain was harpooned as a crazy war vet and POW. In 2004, John Kerry's service was called into question (as was the very notion of needing military experience because Bush and Cheney had none). Now, they are all about John McCain as the "good soldier". Bringing this back to Palin, the hypocrisy centers on her daughter's pregnancy. Mother Palin is quick to say (more or less) "respect my family's decision", yet she is asking us to elect her so that she can remove that aspect of choice for all other families in a similar position.
  4. Having made my previous point, I am also stunned and appalled at the way media outlets have attacked Sarah Palin on a personal level. Yes, I believe the way a person behaves on a personal level does reflect something of how that person will handle him or herself on the world stage, in the political arena. But don't single out candidates from one party for all the venom. Dig up dirt on all of them, or ignore everyone's dirt, please.
Susan Estrich's recent editorial -- No place for personal attacks against Palin -- speaks volumes regarding my last point. Consider her closing words, which will be chilling indeed for Obama supporters, and gravy for the McCain camp:

Obama is right in saying that he finds the attacks on Palin and her family offensive, but those who support him don't seem to be listening. They should. Keep this up, guys, and major backlash is sure to follow. Sarah Palin may be no Hillary Clinton, but if she faces the same sort of sexism that Hillary did, she may yet capture many of her supporters.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Quotable | Caesars and Napoleons

In light of Election Season 2008 gearing up (or simply continuing to gear up, as the Rs have their convention this week), I felt that this quote was rather timely. I saw it this morning in the A Word A Day email from
open quoteSo long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly rise and make them miserable. -- Aldous Huxley, novelist (1894-1963)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Even More Surprising

I am shocked. Reports are saying that Sarah Palin, the one-term Republican governor of Alaska, is the GOP's nominee for veep. If McCain really has chosen Palin as his running mate, it's a masterstroke for him. It has to be a ploy to go for all those discontented Hillary supporters.
McCain picks Palin as running mate Alaska governor to be first female Republican VP nominee
MSNBC and NBC News
updated 19 minutes ago

WASHINGTON - Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain has chosen Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, NBC News has learned.

She would be the first woman ever to serve on a Republican presidential ticket. The pro-life Palin would also be the first Alaskan ever to appear on a national ticket.

Palin, 44, was elected Alaska's first woman governor in 2006. The state’s voters had grown weary of career politician Gov. Frank Murkowski, whom she defeated in the GOP primary... [Full story]

Thursday, August 28, 2008


How much will Obama cut your taxes?

Click here to find out!

[Does anyone know how accurate this thing is?]

McCain 2008 = Angry Old Man

More and more, McCain 2008 is a far cry from the man I would have supported in the 2000 election (or even 2004!). In this interview, McCain is more than just a grumpy maverick -- he seems as though someone has pi$$ed in his Wheaties! Click the following link for the full story (and access to an audio clip of the interview): McCain's Prickly TIME Interview
Hat tip to: Hrafnkell

Walk Score

How walkable is your neighborhood? Your office building? Walk Score calculates the walkability of an address by locating nearby stores, restaurants, schools, parks, etc., and then sets a score (from 0 to 100). The higher the score, the easier it is to complete errands on foot instead of by driving a car. Their general guidelines for the score are as follows (and I quote from their How it works page):
  • 90–100 = Walkers' Paradise: Most errands can be accomplished on foot and many people get by without owning a car.
  • 70–89 = Very Walkable: It's possible to get by without owning a car.
  • 50–69 = Somewhat Walkable: Some stores and amenities are within walking distance, but many everyday trips still require a bike, public transportation, or car.
  • 25–49 = Car-Dependent: Only a few destinations are within easy walking range. For most errands, driving or public transportation is a must.
  • 0–24 = Car-Dependent (Driving Only): Virtually no neighborhood destinations within walking range. You can walk from your house to your car!
I'm not going to go into how their algorithm works. You can go check out the How it works page or their FAQ. I'm still playing around with it, but I have not seen any results that I would greatly disagree with.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


So, the long wait is over, and the Obama camp has decided on Sen. Joe Biden of DE as the Veep. And for the past several hours, the news hounds have been dabbling in the question: What exactly are we to make of this? For one thing, this choice ensures that an already exhausting campaign will now be somewhat more entertaining. Biden loves to talk, and he's not afraid of the verbal gaffe. (Would you like to go out for coffee, Sen. Biden? Dunkin' Donuts, perhaps?). There is also his experience and knowledge to consider. Biden has an excellent grasp of history. He has a wealth of foreign policy experience. He has the ability to channel that knowledge and experience into easily digestible communications -- through story. And I feel he is at his best when sharing stories about growing up in Pennsylvania and the lessons he learned from his father and the world. He was, however, just plain terrible during the confirmation hearings for Judge Roberts. And, if I'm not mistaken, it was for those hearings that he may be on record as having asked the longest question that did not actually contain a question. So what do I think of this Veep selection? I feel Biden should be an advisor or analyst, but not a policy maker. That's just my personal opinion on how he would best put his talents to work. Perhaps his selection as VP candidate is a great because it would (if Obama is elected) take him out of the Senate and place him in the ultimate advisor position, one that has been considered a "political graveyard"? We'll have to wait and see how the Obama camp is able to make Biden's long tenure play with the campaign's theme of change. AP via Google News: Official: Obama picks Biden for veep

Democratic presidential hopefuls Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., left, laughs with Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., before the start of a presidential forum hosted by the AFL-CIO at Soldier Field in Chicago, in this Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2007 file photo. Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware is Barack Obama's pick as vice presidential running mate, The Associated Press has learned Saturday Aug. 23, 2008. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, FILE)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Blogroll Update

Please welcome Siglind of Tallahassee, Florida, to the Blogroll. You will find her Heathen Scientist musings under THINK in the right column.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Seminar | Spiritual Perspectives and Health Science

Just a little something offered by the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health:

Spiritual Perspectives and Health Science (PDF)

We are pleased to announce our 1st Seminar of the 2008/2009 Academic Year following our summer hiatus. This year we will also be offering AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™.

"Spiritual Perspectives and Health Science" which is a presentation and discussion by Pamela Reed, PhD, RN, FAAN, Professor, University of Arizona College of Nursing, Tucson, Arizona.

This seminar will address spirituality as a perspective for advancing human health and well-being. Synthesis of spiritual perspectives and science for health care research and the practice will be explored.

The seminar will be offered Thursday, September 11 from Noon - 1:30 p.m. in the School of Nursing Auditorium Room 1014. Lunch will be provided.

To register or for more information, email or call 919.660.7556, visit

Sponsored by Duke University School of Medicine

Accreditation: The Duke University School of Medicine is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical education (ACCME) to provide continuing medical education for physicians.

Credit Designation: The Duke University School of Medicine designates this educational activity for a maximum 1.5 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™. Physicians should claim only credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

Faculty Disclosure: The following speakers and/or planning committee members have indicated they have no relationship(s) with industry to disclose relative to the content of this CME activity:

Pamela Reed, PhD Keith G. Meador, MD Harold Koenig, MD Catherine Craver, MEd

"I Don't Have an Excuse for Bad Morals"

And in a wonderful follow-up to that last post, Memoirs of a Godless Heathen* serves up a simple, succinct explanation for his moral compass:
I would argue that my lack of a belief in God makes me a more moral person than someone who is religious. My moral choices aren't made out of fear of eternal punishment. Just as I don't have a reason to have "good" morals, I don't have an excuse for bad ones, either.
  1. I don't have a religious justification to hate gay people, so I don't hate gay people.
  2. I don't have a religious justification to believe that women are inherently inferior to men, so I don't believe women are inferior to men.
  3. I don't have a religious justification to not see a doctor when I'm sick, so I see a doctor when I'm sick.
  4. I don't have a religious justification to hate someone for having the "wrong" religion, so I don't hate people because they follow a certain religion.
  5. I don't have a religious justification to hate someone for being a member of the "wrong" race, so I am not a racist.
  6. I don't have a religious justification to support certain wars due to a belief that it will fulfill some sort of ancient prophecy, so I oppose needless death and destruction.
  7. I don't have a religious justification to strap a bomb to my chest and blow myself up in a crowded market, so I don't strap a bomb to my chest and blow myself up in a crowded market.
It's almost poetic, don't you agree? * While Memoirs of a Godless Heathen does make for a wonderful title, the "Godless Heathen" part is a contradiction. We Heathens have lots of Gods and Godesses! :)

The Planet Has Been Saved!

Now, before you get your hopes up, let me give you the context for this post's title. Seems that Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) believes we don't need environmentalists, at least not environmentally active politicians, to work on behalf of the planet because someone has already saved it. To be more specific, she called out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (not someone among my fave politicians anyway) with this comment quoted at
"[She] is committed to her global warming fanaticism to the point where she has said that she's just trying to save the planet. We all know that someone did that over 2,000 years ago, they saved the planet -- we didn't need Nancy Pelosi to do that."
2000 years ago? Hmmm... to whom might she be referring? Might it be ... Yeshua ben Joseph? (Yeah, that means "Jesus"). Well, I guess we can stop wasting time on planetary woes. On to the next major project! But seriously folks, even without going into a discussion of how Ms. Bachmann and clear-thinking people have a seriously different conception of "saved", this kind of talk is just stupid. It's worse than the "cute" sermon signs ("God answers knee-mail"), but nowhere near as bad as the people who are supposedly in favor of accelerating global problems because they want to hasten the next arrival of their savior. And I'm not certain what to think about folks who are trying to fulfill biblical prophecies with holograms and lasers (yeah, it's an old story, but the only one I have access to at the moment). Ms. Bachmann, let me save you from making any more ridiculous statements. Just remember this simple formula:

Political Sanity = Religion | State 

There is a barrier between them for a reason.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Movie Review | THE DARK KNIGHT

[Cross-posted to my Facebook account] I'm a little late with this (I finally saw the flick on August 2), but I'll throw my few cents worth into the blogosphere. First, you have to know that right after I left the theater, I texted the following to my wife: Movie review = !!!!! Yes, you read that correctly. Five exclamation points. However, over on Facebook, I gave the film 4.5 stars out of 5. How do I reconcile 5 exclamation points with a "mere" 4.5 stars? I will attempt to explain... THE DARK KNIGHT is not a perfect Batman story. For one, it inherits a problem from its predecessor: Rachel Dawes. While Rachel is given a much better portrayal from Maggie Gyllenhaal than Mrs. Tom Cruise could ever evoke, this cannot eliminate the fact that Ms. Dawes has been grafted onto the Batman mythos just to give Bruce Wayne a childhood friend who can double as a potential love interest. Her presence also entices the writers to further the absurd idea that Wayne is somehow caught between his sense of mission and a desire for a normal life. According to all the source material, there is no such conflict in Wayne, at least not at this early stage in his career as The Batman. Another carryover from BATMAN BEGINS --Lucius Fox knowing that Bruce Wayne is the Batman -- is a minor quibble. There have been stories in the source material that imply Fox knew what was going on with Brucie. Besides, an aide who can manage the business while also providing access to high tech goodies is a plus. And it's much cleaner than having to deal with a whole host of experts (as suggested in "The Many Deaths of the Batman" from Batman #433-#435), or having Bruce personally muss with corporate records to hide his Batman purchases and research. Another minor quibble is the Joker's involvement in Harvey Dent's transformation into Two-Face. In the source material, the Joker and Two-Face were often at odds, but Joker did not help "create" Two-Face. I suppose this compacting is the result of finite time within the movie storyline. After all, in BATMAN BEGINS, we had Henri Ducard doubling as Ra's al Ghul and having a hand in the training/evolution of Batman. In the source materials, we do find Henri Ducard as having a hand in Bruce Wayne's training, but he was not in the employ of (let alone a false identity for) Ra's al Ghul. So, while I originally thought BATMAN BEGIN's collapsing/mixing of characters and storylines was a one-time occurrence, it now seems that Nolan's team has established a trend of mixing character origins for convenience. Now, having said all that, I think the film really works. Minor quibbles aside, this is a well cast, well shot, and extremely well exectuted (no pun intended) production. It seems more real and visceral than any "superhero" or comic book movie to date. Compare the Gotham City of THE DARK KNIGHT with that of BATMAN FOREVER. There *is* no comparison. The Gotham of the former comes off more like NYC in the film WORLD TRADE CENTER while the Gotham of the latter is like an amusement park ride. While THE DARK KNIGHT is a large and loud movie, with its roots in the popcorn blockbuster genre, it has one foot firmly rooted in the tradition of the morality play. Like great art, it entertains but asks uncomfortable questions of us. It has the exhilaration of a thrill ride, but it comes with a serious punch to the gut. "How much of your world is like this?" it seems to ask. "And what, if anything, can you do about it now?" The Dark Knight (2008) Director: Christopher Nolan MPAA: PG-13 Running Time: 2 hrs. 30 min. Release Date: Jul 14, 2008 Cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Monique Curnen, Ron Dean, Eric Roberts

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Book Review | Passages Handfasting: A Pagan Guide to Commitment Rituals (Passages)

[Cross-posted to] Hovey has written a rather useful introduction to Handfasting. I applaud the attention she has paid to the history of this ritual -- too few pagan writers seem to appreciate the roots, both known and unknown, that have contributed to the way Handfasting is celebrated today. Hovey has striven to provide a rather broad coverage in details of how to find a minister, how to plan/budget for the wedding, etc. She even includes god/desses from various pantheons (while recommending against crossing pantheons/traditions) who, in her mind, are most appropriate entities to invoke. Sidenote: As a Germanic Reconstructionist myself, I think she missed the boat on the Norse pantheon; why did she not recommend Thor and Sif? They are the epitome of male/feminine, sky/earth, etc. pairs. This book is aimed at the general Neo-pagan or Wiccan audience so most Heathen types will not likely find much use for her ritual descriptions. Still, it's an overall good introduction and is likely to be a good reference for interfaith ministers.

Book Review | Exploring The Northern Tradition

[Also posted to]

Galina Krasskova has written a wonderful and practical contribution to Heathen spirituality. From a very broad outline, Krasskova leads the reader through a brief, but far from superficial, overview of the development of modern Heathenry, basic information about the Gods and Goddesses, and the metaphysical worldview. Along the way, she provides personal examples drawn from her own life along with suggestions on how the reader can develop his or her own devotions. The topics of Wyrd and Soul Matrix were particularly well done and interesting, and the outlines of ritual (Blot and Symbel) are helpful -- though I am familiar with the basics, I found new and inspired details in these sections. I should also point out that I found Krasskova's honest and practical attitude regarding syncretization quite refreshing. While trying to be "non-denominational", this material is slightly slanted toward the Anglo-Saxon varieties of religious reconstruction. This is to be somewhat expected given her own experience in Thaet Angelseaxisce Ealdriht. My comment is not at all meant as a criticism, but merely a piece of information the reader should be aware of. In closing, "Exploring the Northern Tradition" is more than a simple introduction to this spiritual path; it is a very readable reference that the new, or even seasoned, Heathen can turn to on a frequent basis.

Book Review | Last Child in the Woods

[Also posted to] This may very well be one of the most important books I have read this year ... or the past few years. I purchased "Last Child in the Woods" right after I heard Richard Louv interviewed on a local radio program. I was so moved by his message and impressed with the breadth of his knowledge and depth of experience. And it all translates well in the book. "Last Child..." feels more like a conversation a text. It's just that comfortable and open. Yet it very strikingly paints a picture of what is currently happening to children and our world as well as what may yet happen if nothing is done to reverse "nature deficit disorder". But, more importantly, there are also bright examples of hope and suggestions as to what we can do, as individuals and in larger groups, to cultivate appreciation of -- and cooperation with -- the natural world. Anyone who wants to awaken a love of nature in their kids, or simply deepen their own nature walk, should give this inspiring book a chance.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Quotable | Mindfulness Today

Modern civilization is largely devoted to the pursuit of the cult of delusion. There is no general information about the nature of mind. It is hardly ever written about by writers or intellectuals; modern philosophers do not speak of it directly; the majority of scientists deny it could possibly be there at all. It plays no part in popular culture: no one sings about it, no one talks about it in plays, and it's not on TV. We are actually educated into believing that nothing is real beyond what we can perceive with our ordinary senses.” -- Sogyal Rinpoche, Tibetan Buddhist teacher and author

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I want to be ... experimental archaeologist. I just saw it as a job on the History Channel (Ancient Discoveries: 11 - Siege of Troy). I cannot cite exactly what I saw in that show, but are are some references to get you up to speed. Looks rather interesting!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bank Monkeys

Monkeys don't care about money, per se, but they do care about marshmallows." [Psychology Today, July 2008] No, there is no typo in this post's title. And I didn't lift this story from Weekly World News or some such tabloid. Yale professors are training monkeys to take over banking jobs. Er, not really, but these professors have devised experiments in which they teach the monkeys about resources and exchanges. "Why are they doing this?" you might ask. ("Why would anyone pay for this?" would be the foremost question on my mind, but whatever.) Apparantly, the professors are looking for clues as to how evolution paved the way for money in human society, and to gain a certain perspective on human decision making (a little WWMD -- What Would Monkeys Do?). Read the whole thing over at Psychology Today (The Evolution of Economic Rationality: Do Monkeys Understand Money?). And, if you dare, read this response and the punny comments from Gawker (Monkey Menace Reaches Terrifying New Level).
The Evolution of Economic Rationality: Do Monkeys Understand Money?
(This post was coauthored with Kathleen D. Vohs.)

monkeyMoney is a powerful force in human life and affairs. Its very power gives pause to those who look to evolution for full explanations of human behavior, because money has not existed long enough to have influenced evolution. By some estimates, money only goes back a couple thousand years, which is too short even to have influenced human evolution... [read more]

David Brown Book Company: Book Sale!

If you are interested in topics related to Early Medieval Europe, then the David Brown Book Company has a sale for you. Click the link for a full list. Some of these sale prices are even better than the used book prices at! David Brown Book Company - Sale Bargains - Early Medieval Europe

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Quotable | Patriot

open quoteA Patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government. -- Edward Abbey, author, essayist, and environmental advocate (1927-1989)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

At the heart of a Folk Art --

Mariella Savidge of The Morning Call writes of Pennsylvania Dutch Hex Signs, and points to Lehigh and Berks counties as being "at epicenter of hex sign culture". At the heart of a Folk Art -- [Broken link -- update below for text of story] An interview subject--Patrick Donmoyer, a student at Kutztown University--seems to hedge around the question of the art's pagan origins. Still, it's a pretty good read and a great intro for people who appreciate the art but have not delved too deeply into its meaning or history. More stuff:

Update: October 16, 2008 -- This story is no longer present in the Morning Call's archive, but the multimedia tour is still available. Full text of original story posted below...

At the heart of a Folk Art 
Lehigh, Berks counties are at epicenter of hex sign culture 

By Mariella Savidge | Of The Morning Call 
July 15, 2008 

The Pennsylvania Dutch influence on the Lehigh Valley shines through in any number of ways: the food, the festivals, the language. A part of the culture's very soul, however, are hex signs -- the brightly colored circles that are most authentic when painted on barns but also are very popular on decorative wooden discs. Few people realize that eastern Berks and western Lehigh counties are the epicenter of the indigenous folk art form. Though there are a few in Lancaster County, they are exclusive to the Pennsylvania Dutch even there, and have nothing to do with Amish culture, says Don Yoder, co-author with Thomas E. Graves of ''Hex Signs: Pennsylvania Dutch Barn Symbols & Their Meaning'' (Stackpole Books, second edition 2000). 

"Hex signs and Amish don't mix,'' he says. The Amish and Mennonites are two distinct, smaller groups included in the much larger category of European immigrants called the Pennsylvania Dutch, or Pennsylvania German. The term ''Dutch'' once covered people who were German or Dutch. Because of their somber dress, the Amish and Mennonites are sometimes called the ''plain'' Dutch. The ''fancy'' Dutch are mostly Lutheran and Reformed Church members. Amish barns typically are white and trimmed with green. They display no ''fancy'' decoration whatsoever, says Patrick J. Donmoyer, a student at Kutztown University majoring in art and minoring in Pennsylvania German Studies. His honors project this summer involves cataloging all the barns with hex signs in Berks County. 

Pennsylvania Dutch barns usually are red, owing to the low price and easy availability of the pigment just after the Civil War, says artist Eric Claypoole, who learned to paint hex signs by watching his father in the family's Greenwich Township home. Each symbol has a meaning, Claypoole explains: Hearts stand for romance and love of mankind, distlefinks -- stylized goldfinches -- signify abundance (but with eyes looking backward toward Germany). Snakes symbolize temptation. The Pennsylvania Dutch decorated everything with these symbols, furniture, birth certificates, even Bibles, he says. The concept of using the symbols for good luck or to ward off evil was publicly introduced in Wallace Nutting's 1924 book, ''Pennsylvania Beautiful,'' where he called the designs ''hexafoos,'' or witch's foot. He coined the ''hex sign'' moniker for the images that had previously been known simply as schtanne and blumme, stars and flowers. Claypoole breaks a sly smile when asked if he attaches any meaning other than decoration to his work, probably the same smile generations of farmers gave before they answered, ''Yuscht fer schee'' -- just for nice, the answer he always gives. Yoder, whose book is still the go-to source for information on hex signs decades after it was first published, plays down their mystical properties. He does, however, acknowledge the designs were used on the underside of furniture, the backs of mirrors and on paper rolled into scrolls that homeowners inserted into holes drilled into door frames and window lintels (with the hope that they would protect their houses). On barns, farmers were using hex signs simply to show ''that they cared about the aesthetics of the landscape.'' ''But use these designs on barns to keep witches away? No!'' Yoder writes. 

He also writes that the story of hex signs still is being written. At age 22, Donmoyer is poised to be among the prime champions who continue the story. He lectures on the meaning of ''hexerei'' (hex signs) and continues to dig deep into their rich history. Some of the symbols, he says, date back to Norse, and even pagan, art. And it is no coincidence that the hub of hex sign activity is here rather than, say, New York or New Jersey. ''There was freedom of religion in Pennsylvania,'' he says. ''People were afraid of so many things. Even 'witches' were protected here.'' Donmoyer notes hex signs might be for more than just decoration and there could be a link to powwowing, a Pennsylvania German practice of healing using a core group of prayers. The practice was driven underground, where it remains today. Statements by other hex sign experts that the signs couldn't have mystical meanings because they're so public and out there for the world to see are misleading, Donmoyer says. While many can be seen from main roads, many are painted on the other side of the barn, which only could be seen by the family, he says. Protecting a barn -- the center of a farmer's life and livelihood -- from witches, even if they were only people who were very attuned to animals or nature, may or may not be whimsical. ''But witches were not the only reason to protect a barn,'' he says, referring to theft, fire and disease as other tragedies that could befall a farm or a home. 

Although the exact meaning of hex signs may be known only to the farmers who painted them so many years ago, they are interesting and worth studying, he says. ''So many areas don't have something like this,'' he says, ''It's worth the time to approach them with gratitude.'' mariella.savidge@... 610-778-2253 


The most authentic hex signs are painted onto barns and are said to invite good luck while keeping away evil and tragedy. Some of the most frequently used designs have specific meanings, though there is no verifiable source for any of them:
  • 4-point star: the four seasons, good luck
  • 5-point star: protection against evil, five senses, good luck
  • Double 5-point star: sun and light
  • 6-point star: prosperity, good luck, protection from lightening, perfect marriage
  • 6-petal rosette: faith, fertility, protection from harm. One of the most common symbols, it is said to be one of the most ancient.
  • 8-point star: fertility, perseverance
  • 12-point star: the months of the year, rationalism, justice
  • Hearts: love
  • Raindrops: fertility, abundance
  • Tulips: faith, hope and charity; the holy trinity
  • Oak leaves: strength
  • Maple leaves: contentment
  • Distlefinks: (goldfinches) abundance, good luck, happiness
  • Snakes: temptation
  • Scalloped edge (waves): tranquility, smooth sailing
  • Closed circle edge: eternity
Various sources 


Hex sign colors, as well as shapes, have meanings. In fact, they usually emphasize the meaning of the symbols. Although there are no verifiable sources, these are the meanings that folklore has conveyed to generations of Pennsylvania Dutch families:
  • Red: love
  • Orange: success, career
  • Yellow: health, sun
  • Green: growth, good fortune, fertility
  • Blue: protection, peace, calm, spirituality
  • Purple: spirituality, intuition, sanctity
  • Brown: earth, nature
  • White: purity, free flow of energy
  • Black: protection
Various sources