Book Club: Ch 8-9

Part II Intro and Overall:

Aleja: Thoughts overall?

Cat: over a month since I’ve read intro.  Oh, okay, starts saying whole point is to discuss indigenous cultures and shamanic practices and compare to early modern cunning folk and I don’t know how I feel about that.  Cultures often have things in common, and in metaphysical topics and experiences, commonalities make sense, but factor in: are we misinterpreting those cultures??  I think chapter 9, Victorians having bias with sources, but we always have bias because racism, colonialism coloring interpretations.

Kate: As an Africanist, I dealt with 19th 20th cent sources on cultural in Africa.  Infantilizations about their religion, while European Christians believe in a dude who got hung on a cross…

Cat: and drink his blood once a week

Kate: I think Wilby does a pretty good job of acknowledging problems.  Not great sources because oral, not written

Cat: and some of them don’t want to talk

Kate: far side comic: quick, anthropologist is coming, hide the TV! [Link]

All: lol

Kate: and I like that she points out problem with word shamanism. She’s trying to say that the folk practices aren’t unique.  She has to use *something*, and doesn’t want to use continental European witchcraft, wants something less effected by Christianity.  Hard if it stands alone, better in this whole context

Cat: It’s good that this wasn’t first

Kate: 125, bottom, to top of 126. “In our use…. Simpler cross cultural comparative approach”

Cat: she laid out this cross cultural development of cross cultural beliefs and practices, pre-Christian

Kate: by picking up Native American and Siberian, she’s looking or something less polluted

Aleja: in the sense of Christian overlay?

Kate: yes, looking for fewer layers to sort through.

Aleja: my notes p 124: Wilby is using other tribal societies to help us figure out what cunning folk would have been like.  But.  Why, though?  Like, I understand this is a Thing Academia Does, but like.  Why not use something closer in culture? But she does clarify that later.  By the end of the Part, I have a better understanding of why she did that.

Aleja: Part II Overall, I really keep half expecting to find a name I recognize in these lists of “shamans” and it is pretty unsettling.  She’s doing a better job of being sympathetic than some of the other stuff I’ve read but mostly I try not to read this kind of shit because it is WEIRD AS FUCK.  See also: why I never managed to take an anthropology course.  Plus: a couple places later on, we’ll get to it, cringey moments

Kate: even some modern authors in Africanist start from a place of disbelief and dismissal of metaphysics.  But generally, Wilby seems to let the experiences stand as is

Cat: less of a superiority complex in her writing

Aleja: I don’t know that she believes, but she’s refusing to judge it

Kate: yeah, she’s leaving out her own biases out

Aleja: pg 123, she apparently did mean to subvert the witch/cunningfolk the whole time but didn’t do a great job of communicating that in Part 1

Cat: briefly, but not reiterated often.  Granted, we’re reading slowly over a long period of time.

Aleja: maybe could have repeated in the intro or conclusion to each chapter

Kate: also we’re particularly sensitive to this, because of our lens as witches

Cat: end of intro, with numbered point (126-127). I appreciate that she’s sensitive to qualms and addressing them.

Kate: is Wilby a historian or anthropologist?

Aleja: I think history faculty [yes – at University of Exeter]

Cat: I think there’s very little difference

Aleja: unless anthropology is focusing on modern culture

Kate: but there are super modern historians, less than ten years.  A well-rounded academic needs knowledge of both

Aleja: my other note? I want to read Ginzberg’s book, the one Wilby keeps referencing. Ecstasies.

Cat: and the book on the back, Gibson. [Turns out, that one’s a Journal]

Kate: Ginzberg is cited all over trad witchcraft books.

Cat: find the price?  Also, translated from Italian

Aleja: oh, sweet!  I can kinda read Italian, might be interested

Kate: $25 paperback


Me: 129-30 endnote 4, old fashioned clothing is the theme here, overlap between fairies and the dead

Cat: and later, “most ancient costume”.  I wonder why?

Aleja: Dead people. Also? In folklore fairies are really Uncanny Valley, more clearly otherworldly the closer you look. Clothes usually about two generations out of date.

Cat: I mostly highlighted commonalities, not as many notes in this chapter

Aleja: pg 130, familiar spirits as under your “control”.  This really seems awfully colonizer-y to me?  It’s a partnership.  The smaller spirits are allies, not employees, not servants.  I think the hierarchical model is sort of coming at it sideways. And there’s translation going on here, too. How close do you think the original word and context is to service, servant?  Or favor?

Cat: I have an interest in translation in general!  Colloquialisms and nuances

Aleja: P131-2: and sometimes the “cure” suggested for these stresses and illnesses is to go and seek a dream.  But actually, mine did come spontaneously and then I did follow-through work.  [I’m referring to the process whereby I acquired a spirit namesake in my indigenous culture.]

Kate: Wilby’s being purposefully very simplistic, expecting an audience to whom this is foreign

Cat: It’s like the concept of the little death initiation

Aleja: near death experience

Cat: go into the woods, and then you’re dead, mad, or a shaman

Aleja: Irish is “dead, mad, or a poet”, but poet is fili (poetic magic user, seer)

[discussion of irish hierarchy, comparison to Norse volva, discussion of being born into strata for education]

Aleja: endnotes 15 and 16 give additional info.
Also, 134: pagans do this, resisting the call.  Or they pull a Doreen Virtue. [That’s a reference to a prominent New Age author who suddenly renounced her work and returned to evangelical Christianity]

Cat: [a friend] has been resisting their calling from Santa Muerte

Kate: I resisted Hera since 2004

Aleja: on 137, divination being one of the most important services. That tracks

Aleja: endnote 38, another example of remote viewing.  endnote 41 is about Margaret Murray.

Aleja: on 139, the simplicity reminds me of my uncle’s mide drum healing sessions [Midewiwin is an Ojibwe healing lodge tradition]

Cat: Witchcraft less involved than people think

Kate: Like Byron Ballard says, she could clear a house without tools but people expect a show, so she brings incense and cowbells

Cat: the only thing you really need is a knife

Kate: Just you. Or: rock, stick, dirt

Aleja: tools are for when the magic isn’t flowing easily

Kate: It helps with headspace

Cat: once you’re adept you don’t really need tools

Aleja: But!  When you’re low on spoons, have a migraine, etc. That’s kinda like being not-adept, so tools help if you can’t wait

Cat: the material culture part of paganism is just bleh

Aleja: I carry a divination tool most of the time.  Not really knives.

Aleja: On page 141, the word “imagination” LEAPT out at me. Somewhat jarring, after how Wilby normally treats things as real, at least to the subject. Probably paraphrasing the source but should have edited it out. Also, why are we now using he/him for shamans?

Kate: bias that witches are women, shamans are men

Aleja: 142-43, coming at it sideways again, what I was saying before about translation

Cat: 144, more little death initiation

Aleja: or dismemberment healing. More details in endnote 59

Cat: 145 “taken together as a whole… power of the spirits.”

Aleja: endnote 71, back to ginzberg and continental examples


Cat: 149, “developed religions” RARRRR [insert angry face here]

Aleja: Wilby’s probably paraphrasing someone else again

Kate: should have edited it out, though

Cat: I liked the discussion of the three tiered universe

Aleja: 146, three tiered underlining, Norse even is tiered, kinda. With Asgard as an upper world, Helheim and Svartzalfheim lower worlds. Others sort of depends who you ask. I tend to see Ljossalfheim as upper, Vanir another midworld.

Aleja: endnote 3, comparing a spirit world to fairyland

Aleja: 147, pet peeve, that description of Native Americans only works if they’re upper plains!!!! *eyeroll*

[Horses tangent: there’s evidence that horses did, in fact, survive the ice age in North America, and upper plains and Great Lakes area horse cultures were not developed after the Spanish landed. Here’s a good starting point article!]

Aleja: endnote 7, example of a practitioner who is eager to be away in the spirit worlds; sexual longing for helping spirit. Endnote 8, comparison to Bessie Dunlop becoming sick after refusal. Why not included in the paragraph??

Cat: and then recap, I like that.  And then body theft.

Aleja: top of 149, part of human that survives death, ie the soul or multiple souls. 151, soul being stolen or trapped, in whole or in part. Risk you wouldn’t come back.

Cat: also between the two on 151, the bit about link between sickness and soul theft. And “primitive”, top of 149.  WORD CHOICE AGAIN

Kate: It’s a loaded word, like the word “native” in African studies.  Either infantilization or villainization or oversexualization.  “Native” used to justify enslavements, versus “civilized”.  Not like “Native American”, where the term is neutral.

[tangent about how African Americans talking about African religions and showing back up in Africa dressed in cheap versions of traditional clothes is often recieved a lot like “my great grandmother was half Cherokee so I’m gonna show up in regalia and take up space.”  There’s a proper way to reintegrate, but African Americans tend to show up in a colonizer manner, in the experience of Kate’s friends and colleagues.]

Aleja: 149, “the theologian”, instead of “the Christian theologian”, because that Iglulik Inuk also sounds like a theologian to me.  Word choice again.  Sensitivity reader would have caught these.

Cat: is that common?

Aleja: Probably almost never happens? I think they should, though

Cat: how old are those?

Aleja: idk.  I’d be surprised if it was more than a decade.

Cat: probably after #Own Voices

[Quick googling says sensitivity readers existed at least by 2012, and were used by fiction publishers starting in 2015-2016. #OwnVoices was coined in 2015.]

Aleja: Infodump about multiple souls, parallel to discussion on 149:

Aleja: “shamaness” note, enforcing gender bias of shaman = man

Kate: yeah, I agree

Cat: some of this is because it’s from 15 years ago.  APA now says use “they/them” for nonbinary folks

Aleja: Endnotes 22 & 26 have summaries of the fairy tale examples.  But she’s not using ballad material?????

Cat: p 154, To Keep Silent, from the Witch’s Pyramid.  Don’t boast about it

Aleja: like earlier, fairy silence & prohibitions

Cat: pagan publishing used to/might still be giving false or incomplete info, in order to make people reliant on initiatory traditions

Aleja: 156, beginning of that new section? fucking colonizers

Cat: fucking white people

Aleja: “repented” middle of 157.  Jarring.  Sounds more judgemental than I think she meant to be.

Aleja: 159, last sentence. Maaaaayybe.  But Indo European studies doesn’t really seem to pan out that way?  I think mostly the Hindus have a concept of a great oneness of deity that’s widely accepted.  Certain schools of Greco-Roman thought, but not all.  And the Persian is Duotheism.  But it’s also possible that the existence/conception of a universal creator was something only the priestly class bothered themselves with, and it wasn’t part of the folk religion?  We lost a lot of the actual theology of the Celtic and Germanic peoples.  But then… if it wasn’t part of the folk religion, it seems even less likely to have survived and may in fact be just a thousand years of Christian influence. Eh.

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