Oct 052014
 

I love this movie. I love this movie because they played it straight. It is true to the Chick Tract that it was based on. It ends after an altar call with The Holy Bible being placed into the hands of Debbie, one of the two protagonists and after she renounces RPGs and witchcraft and surrenders her life to Jesus.

It’s hard imagine that Jack Chick would give his permission to adapt his infamous cartoon to a production company that has made several pretty good web series about RPGs. It’s even harder to imagine that that production company would produce something that Jack Chick and we Pagans and RPGers could possibly both like. But Zombie Orpheus Productions has succeeded quite well in a seemingly irreconcilable feat.

The directorial choices are good throughout: the RPGers are presented as unrealistically popular and cool, and the lesbian subtext between the two female leads is absolutely delicious. The art direction is also exemplary with a D&D table even cooler than those rigged for the semi-annual Acquisitions Incorporated shows. It is all over-the-top in exactly the way you’d want it to be. And the writing knowingly conflates and makes mistakes about the material in precisely the kinds of ways that the misguided source material does. The only real ding from a production stand point is that it has a fairly awful bit of CG for Cthulhu which is used twice.

The troupe is consistently above average to good even with material which should be impossible to pull off. The Dungeon Mistress, Mistress Frost (Tracy Hyland), in particular is given the role of a scenery chewing villain and still manages to be credible which is quite an accomplishment. The two leads, Alyssa Kay and Anastasia Higham, do an outstanding job anchoring the film and make a convincing transition from Christian Fundamentalists to depraved RPGers (and back in the case of Alyssa Kay’s character).

I suppose there may be trigger possibilities for those of you who have experienced abuse at the hands of the kinds of Christian fundamentalists portrayed here who were influenced by the bile and stupidity of Chick and his ilk. But I am betting that most of us will laugh along with the producers at the premise of this film.

The film can now be seen in its entirety on YouTube or purchased for a whopping $5 at http://www.darkdungeonsthemovie.com/:

 Posted by at 12:04 am
Jan 152014
 

An Imperfect WitchGeary tells a Samhain tale in An Imperfect Witch, the first book in her third series set in the world of Witchlight series and the A Modern Witch. She returns to Lizard Monroe as protagonist; thus, this series represents an integration of the Witchlight series and the “A Modern Witch” series though, other than the more serial rather than episodic nature of the Witchlight series which had Lizard as one of the two protagonists, the two series were never all that far apart. Its all one shared universe with an ever-expanding cast of characters and with its usual floating-third-person perspective we spend this novel in the heads of many of our old friends: Lauren, Jamie, Nell and Moira in addition to Lizard.

Samhain is a time of transformation when the veil between the worlds is thinner, and in this novel Lizard must deal with an unexpected ghost from her past and her feelings about family as her relationship with Josh progresses. I will not spoil the ghost, but I will say that the novel does hinge on an unusually large coincidence even for a universe where magic routinely brings people into relationship. Lizard continues to process her issues of abandonment, and that process helps transform her into a builder of community. This book is a truly satisfying denouement of Lizard’s character arc.

Geary’s writing continues to become more emotionally engaging as she tells the stories of this group of witches. Geary’s stories do not veer towards melodrama in any sense at all: the central theme of these novels is the discovery of self in the context of community and relationship. There is drama, and there is tension (and we all worry that Moira is aging), but the emotional waves that brought me to tears in this novel depend not on what is lost but, instead, on that which is found.

There continue to be hints that the series is headed towards darker places, but for now the focus of these novels continues to be on marriages and births. The aura surrounding the magical prodigy Aervyn continues to be the mundane joys of a six-year-old at play but with massive hints and concerns at what challenges his immense powers will have to address. One of the reasons that these novels are so captivating, for me at least, is that the traditional hero’s journey (as defined in Campbell’s work) has the hero venturing alone into his personal challenge and returning with something new for his community. In Geary’s stories to date the size of the challenge has matched the capacity of the magician, and so implicit in the worries of Aervyn’s community is that his personal challenge will have to be huge, and the community may not be able fundamentally to help him in the crisis.

And yet, the idea of magic as a coordinated Circle of witches in relationship is woven throughout these stories. Thus, there is central tension here between the challenges which must be faced as an individual and how a community can support and create the space in which the individual can achieve his or her potential.

The next book in the series, is already available. (I’m getting a bit behind on these reviews because of a job change, and because I’ve been working my way through Rothfuss’ huge tomes.)

 Posted by at 6:27 pm
Dec 302013
 

The Pagan community has blogged, podcasted, and lectured their way through another year of wonderful quotes.  Once again, I get to offer my favorite ones to you.

Overall, it 2013 was a good year for Pagans.  Heathens scored a victory when Thor’s Hammer was approved as a headstone emblem by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.  Wiccans got Fox News’ Tucker Carlson to apologize (kind of) for nasty and (worse) inaccurate comments about their holidays.  The Maetrum of Cybele, Magna Mater won its taxation battle, and the Temple Of Witchcraft completed its parking lot, allowing its doors to open for rituals and classes.

 

There was pain as well.    Our intertwined religious communities engaged each other passionately over issues of racial justice, fought “witch burnings” and abuse of women across the world (and on Facebook), and used magic in the battle to save the earth from the destructive oil drilling process known as fracking.

 

Here at The Juggler, we suffered from the sudden passing of one of our contributors, Zan Fraser.  Zan was a prolific writer whose posts on magic and Witchcraft and Shakespeare and classical theater were always fascinating and thought provoking.  The Wild Hunt marked his crossing by publishing an obituary piece on September 23, and I’d like to present a small portion of that piece as a tribute to him:

 

“Zan, the worlds you walked were ever more enriched by your presence and permanently changed by the legacy you left. Those dancing, prancing shoes will never be re-filled, but they certainly left footprints on our hearts and souls. Blessed Be, Sweet Prince, and flights of glittery fairies sing thee to thy rest.”

- Brian Brewer, Chris Goffredo, Michael Lloyd, Paul Patton, Bruce and Kay Skidmore, Gary Suto, and Courtney Weber.

Now on the quotes.  Identity and negotiation seemed to mark the themes of this year.  Pagans challenged each other across traditions as well as within traditions.  Most of it was the understandable growing pains of a religious movement that is still young and still wrestling with its sense of self and its place within mainstream society.  It was a healthy, honest discussion of who we are, where we are going, and how we relate to other faiths.

 

As always, these quotes are based on what I read or heard.  It’s entirely possible that I missed something awesome.  Please feel free to comment with any quotes you would have placed on the list.  To make the list, the speaker/writer must be a Pagan.  The ranking is my own opinion, but I love it when a writer makes the delivers the maximum amount of message with a minimum number of words.  I’ve provided links to the original sources.

 Those are the rules.  Here are the quotes:

 

10. “The real St. Francis of Assisi was anything but serene. He was more like “Occupy Rome”  AD 1204 — an upper middle class young man angry at the establishment, demanding radical change in the Roman Catholic Church. But history has turned him into a bird bath.”

- Chas S. Clifton, May 31

9. “I need to sort of emphasize to a lot of African-Americans that yes, this is an African tradition, yes, we want to connect with our roots and whatever else. But our roots are here, too.”

- Baba Ifagbemi Faseye, August 25

8. “Sex positive does not mean I should be pressured to engage in experiences that I’m not comfortable with. In fact, that’s quite the opposite, that’s peer pressure and shaming.”

- Shauna Aura Knight, October 28

7. “It gets easier…unless what you love about this path is the sense of drama you can evoke and your ability to stir the proverbial pot. If your every mood must be reflected in your online outrage, and your ability to ground and focus is not highly developed, you may not find it getting either easier or deeper.”

- Byron Ballard, November 3

6. “Fear of loss. Fear of uncertainty. Fear of judgement. Fear of our own desires. Fear of the desires of others. Fear of physical danger. Fear of psychological danger. Emotional danger. These are tools of oppression. Weapons. And we use them on each other.”

- LaSara Firefox Allen, October 7

5. “We want someone that we can put on a pedestal and worship almost, but teachers and leaders are just people- and you know what?  Most elders that I’ve met, they just want to be treated like people.  They don’t want to be worshiped and fawned over and have their ass kissed.  They hate it actually.  The ones who love it, you might want to worry about them.”

- Sarah Anne Lawless, November 17

4.  “Many of us are proud of our independence and may stubbornly cling to it beyond the bounds of logic.”

- Carl Neal, June 30

3. “Humility is overrated, but don’t be an asshole as the pagan community usually does a good job keeping assholes in check and word spreads fast.”

- Seb the Shaman, September 20

2.  “As people who, after considerable thought, gave up the status quo to pursue our true selves, shouldn’t we be the shining example, not the common problem?”

- Kenny Klein, November 20

1. “In a small way, Wicca can give women that confidence and ability to speak out. It is a strong woman’s craft. Every strong woman is a witch.”

- Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, March 17

 

Dec 082013
 

On Thursday, NBC aired a live production of the classic musical The Sound of Music.  It starred country singer and American Idol winner Carrie Underwood in the iconic role of Maria and True Blood star Stephen Moyer as the stern but warmhearted Captain Von Trapp.  The evening was a rousing success for the network.  It earned NBC 18.4 million viewers, its best night since 2009.

It was easy to miss that fact, however.  Media reports were mostly about the casting of Underwood and her performance.  The singer received angry tweets both before and after that can be summed up to “you’re not Julie Andrews.”  Other people in social media (at least on mine) got angry that the songs were in a different order than they were in the 1965 film.

 

The first issue is ridiculous.   Characters are not museum pieces.  They are played by different performers over time.  Should all new versions of Cabaret be avoided because no one else is Joel Grey? Of course not.  It’s a wonderful play and people should see it.  Besides, Alan Cumming and Neil Patrick Harris, among others, have all received acclaim for their performances as Cabaret’s Emcee.  That’s how theater works.

 

And really, all you need for Maria is an excellent singer who can look a little awkward, out of place, and naïve.  I once saw Marie Osmond play Maria, and she brought all of those things into a perfect performance. Underwood did too.  Sure, there are trained actors who could have played the role, but few of them could have brought live theater to 18.4 million viewers who may never have seen it before.

 

Of course, the other criticism also is silly.  They were performing the stage musical, not the movie.  The songs were in the correct order: the original order, telling the original story the original way.   The very fact that people complained about this goes to show the need for this production.  Not enough people are seeing live theater anymore.

 

Live theater, invented by pagan cultures and suppressed for centuries by the Church, is a magical experience.  For a few short hours, hundreds of people suppress their logical minds and enter a new reality together.  Through the suspension of disbelief, cultural stories, values, and ideas are passed along.  The magic can be uplifting, thought-provoking, subversive, or inspiring.  It can change lives or it can make life a constant garden of rich ideas.

 

But it can’t do any of that if no one sees it, and theater is in trouble.  Once the sleazy pastime of the underclass, live performance has become the exclusive property of the wealthy.  The cost for a single seat can be over $100 for a quality, professional production, and your average person simply can’t afford it.  Add to that competition of nearly free entertainment coming from Netfix, Xboxes, and the smart devices that each one of us carries in our pockets, and real live performance is hitting an era where fewer people attend and younger people will stop caring.

 

To have 18.4 million people view a three-hour long classic is a success.  If even half of them were viewing their first live production, nine million more people have been exposed to theater than had been last week.  That’s magic.

 

The Sound of Music is about a young woman who uses music to bring joy to children and warm the frozen heart of a grieving man.   Last week, the venerable musical got a chance to bring the power of music into another generation of homes and expose them to the power of live performance.  The world of theater needed that, and I hope that NBC does this again.  I welcome any ally that wants to help show the world how magical live theater can be.

 

Nov 242013
 

ABC’s fantasy drama Once Upon a Time may be the most ingeniously complex show on TV.  The series has brought us to two different versions of our world, the “Enchanted Forest” from which most of the characters originate, Alice’s Wonderland, and top-of-the-beanstalk home of Jack’s giants.  Along the way, it has twisted the familiar and familiarized the twisted, constantly making viewers re-assess the fairy tales they know so well.

 

This season, they switched things up even more.  With Regina (The Evil Queen) and Mr. Gold (Rumplestiltskin/The Dark One) forced to work with their enemies Mary Margaret (Snow White), David (Prince Charming), and Emma (who broke Regina’s curse to begin with), we begin to learn that there really is no clear-cut good and bad.  The Dark One seeks to sacrifice himself for others, Regina seems almost helpful, and the Charming couple become selfish and stubborn.  Add to that a Killian Jones/Captain Hook looking for redemption and love, and you have a plot sufficiently crafted to twist your childhood into knots.

 

This season, they all must work against a common enemy.  Their enemy is extremely powerful, conniving, amoral, and unpredictable, especially on his own turf.  A talented manipulator, he finds it quite easy to kidnap, lie to, and manipulate children in an effort to further his own ends.  He transcends worlds, sneaking up on children while they sleep and removing them from their homes in the dark of night, luring them into his clutches with promises of never-ending fun and games while turning them against their own parents.

 

He is Peter Pan.

But this is not the Peter Pan you know.  In yet another twist, Played by Robbie Kay, this leader of the Lost Boys as downright evil.  All of the Peter’s familiar features are there.  He flies; he can talk to his shadow; his boys love him.  Yet he is a darker villain than just about any fairy tale antagonist you can think of.

I’ve long had a love for Peter Pan.  I’ve always seen him as akin to a Trickster figure who lives outside of the world’s rules and structure.  He visits from time to time, makes fun of all the things society holds dear, and offers an alternative wisdom.  He offers a world where childhood does not mean lock-step training into the rigors of adulthood, but celebration of life for what it is.  He offers the lessons of celebrating rather than suppressing the joys and fantasies of childhood.

 

Still, the traditional Peter Pan is also a lonely figure.  He finds Wendy, Michael, and John while searching for a mother.  All he really wants is a good story.  He’s so unloved, he doesn’t even know what a kiss is.  He may vanquish Hook into the eager jaws of the ticking crocodile, but he loses all his friends back to the real world after saving all of their lives.  In the end, he’s even more alone.

 

No such conflict exists in this Peter Pan.  Further, this interpretation of Peter is not that much of a stretch from the original book, or even the Disney film.  Some of the specific actions are completely made up by the writers of the show, but the basic character is entirely consistent: he does take children from their homes.  He is selfish.  He is childish and immature.  A friend of mine recently posted something to this effect on Facebook: “I just watched the Disney Peter Pan again.  I’d forgotten what an ass he is.”

And it’s true.  In Pinocchio, Peter would be analogous to the two hucksters that lure Pinocchio to Pleasure Island.  Speaking of asses, we all know how that went.

Fairy tale characters are usually one-dimensional.  You rarely go into long discussions evaluating the goods and bads of giving Snow White a poisoned apple so that you can remain the prettiest woman around.  I’ve never heard the argument, “That’s what you get, Sleeping Beauty. Your parents should have been more careful with their guest list.”  That’s a very comfortable way to think about everything, and we’re taught to do it throughout our childhood.

 

When we see characters like this version Peter Pan, we are forced to re-evaluate our beliefs about what we see as good and what we see as bad.  We must admit that good and evil are not clear, and that what we saw as good when we were young may be very different from what we thought it was.  Worse, we are forced to admit that how we see things NOW may not be accurate, that all that seems good now may not be as great as you though it was.  We must admit that others may see things differently, and that their view is just as valid as ours. That is decidedly uncomfortable.

 

However, when we question things we grow and change.  We become better for it, despite the growing pains.  Psychologists say that if you spend time questioning and arguing against your own beliefs, you learn a great deal more than you would by staying comfortable within your biases.  So maybe by making us question, this Peter Pan actually becomes a force for our own evolution, a vehicle through which we see ourselves and confront our own values. What makes us uncomfortable about this switched up character reveals what we find difficult to deal with in ourselves.  That makes him good, despite his clearly evil personality, blurring the lines even more.

 

That is what Peter has always been: a line crosser.  He scoffs at boundaries.  He is selfish and immature, yet traditionally seen as a hero.  It is a lonely role to play, but a necessary one, and I think that is why his character has been so popular over the years.  It lends itself to re-interpretation, allowing us to examine the same issues from multiple perspectives through the safety of a children’s story.  With this non-traditional Peter, the producers of Once Upon a Time got it just right (or at least second star to the right).

 

 

 

Sep 282013
 

**WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS A LOT OF SPOILERS**

With the final episode of Breaking Bad about to be cooked into television history, the internet is abuzz with all things Bad.  Need some dessert while consuming the final episode?  Enjoy these blue meth-themed truffles.  Want to see your favorite locations from the show?  Albuquerque proudly showcases its status as Heisenberg’s hometown.  You can even rock youR favorite drug dealer’s look for Halloween this year by purchasing either his signature porkpie hat or the bright yellow safety suit our hero wears to cook his meth.

 

This show about a (no longer) mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher is about to explode like a badly maintained meth lab.

 

I watched my first episode of Breaking Bad about a month ago.  Somehow, despite the unanimous, exuberant rave reviews that I had been hearing over the years, I never quite got around to watching the show.  The plot was intriguing; I almost started it many times, but never got there until last month.  You know how drugs are: the first taste is free. That’s how you get hooked.

 

It worked.  I consumed most of the first season in just a few days.  After learning that the entire series would end tomorrow, I doubled down on my new addiction.  I still need to rely on AMC’s recap marathon to get me up to the finale, but I’m ready to witness Walter White’s final steps into…whatever.

 

What struck me from the very beginning is that chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-cook Walter White is not the only “Bad” person in the show.  Every single character has his or her own Bad.  But, like Walter, they all have their own good as well.  Walter justifies his descent as a means to pay for his cancer treatment and to provide for his family in case he dies.  Every other character has their own justifications for their actions.

 

Take Skyler, Walt’s wife.  Try as she might to live the perfect, middle class America existence, Skyler is a lie.  She lives off Walt’s meager income while berating and controlling her husband.  She sneaks cigarettes while pregnant, cheats on her husband, and eventually launder’s Walt’s drug money, all while keeping up appearances.

 

Marie Schrader, Walt’s sister-in-law, keeps an immaculate home but hides from her family a compulsive shoplifting problem.  Her husband, DEA agent Hank, struggles to keep his macho, carefree attitude while burning with PTSD and self-doubt deep inside.  Hank also has a bit of a Captain Ahab complex.  His obsession drives him to attack suspects in their own homes, violate constitutional rights, and ignore all other investigations just to catch his elusive target.

 

At the same time, many of the “bad” characters show plenty of good.  Jesse, who emphatically calls himself a “bad guy” at one point, simply can’t handle the death and suffering that his partner leaves in his wake.  Jesse is profoundly disturbed after his first murder, leaving him wallowing in a sea of self-hatred and guilt despite his methamphetamine riches.  Jesse is a loving protector of children and is even more disgusted when a child becomes a victim of Walt’s worsening greed.

 

Hit man, thug, and all-around-awful-person Mike Ehrmantraut is a sweet and loving grandfather.  Even the ruthless Gustavo Fring has his soft side.  His actions to take on the Mexican cartel bosses were driven by their murder of his former partner.

 

The underlying theme of the series matches the Hermetic Law of Polarity: “Everything is dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites.”

 

In general, Pagans don’t believe in absolute good or evil.  Many of us believe in a continuum of dark to light that exists within everyone and everything.  We tend to reject cosmologies that see the world in terms of Ultimate Good vs. Ultimate Evil and replace them with more nuanced views that recognize the mixture of dark and light we all contain.  In 60 episodes, Breaking Bad explores this Pagan value in detail.  In fact, this complex and intertwined series rises above mere gradations of black and white – Breaking Bad paints good and evil in a full palate of color.  And most Pagans know all about the power of color.

 

Color is a gigantic character in Breaking Bad.  Characters wear specific colors to indicate who they are, their relationships to Walter and to meth, and the state of mind they are in.  Opposing characters where opposing colors.  Friends wear colors that are compatible with each other.  This page on the Breaking Bad Wiki breaks it down thoroughly, pinning it to the artist’s Color Wheel.

The Color Wheel
Source: Breaking Bad Wiki

Walt puts on a green apron to cook his first batch
Source: Breaking Bad Wiki

The obvious place to start here is the main character’s last name: White.  Walter White is a blank canvas, and as he changes he takes on every color on the Wheel.  When he first cooks meth, he puts on a green apron, which the Wiki associates with “greed, money, growth, and envy.”  While it is true that Walter gets into the meth business to make money for his family, fans of the show know that his actual motivation is a greed fueled by the envy of his former business partner’s success.

 

His wife, Skyler, usually wears blue, which is described as the color of “loyalty, sadness, purity, water, sky, coldness.”  While she is loyal at first, Skyler evolves into a cold, distant wife.  Walt’s signature meth is also blue, and its purity is well known on the streets of Albuquerque.  You could even argue that, in his avarice, Walt’s meth replaces his wife.  Both are blue.

 

 

Jesse Pinkman wears a lot of yellow
Source: Breaking Bad Wiki

Walt’s partner is Jesse Pinkman (Pink is described as the color of naiveté, youth, and death- appropriate for Jesse).   Despite his name, Jesse begins the series wearing a lot of yellow, described as the color of “methamphetamine, optimism, pleasure, caution, cowardice, fear.”

Jesse was the first meth cook Walt met, hence his association with the drug’s color.  He  actually undergoes the largest change over the five seasons, and his colors change with him.  In times of despair and addiction, he wears black, grey, and white.  As he becomes more of a sympathetic character, we see him in more blues.

 

It can be confusing to think of meth as yellow while the show emphasizes Walt’s blue meth, but after all yellow (meth) plus blue (Walt’s recipe) makes green (money). And when the two cook their meth under termite extermination tents, the tents are striped with green (Walt/money) and yellow (Jesse/meth).

 

Gustavo Fring wears red to murder
Source: Breaking Bad Wiki

It comes as no surprise that reds and oranges tend to accompany violent things. Aggressive cop Hank Shrader is almost always in orange.  Gustavo Fring, who wears meth yellow most of the time, changes into a red safety suit just before violently murdering his subordinate.  In one scene, a drug connection kills himself in a public bathroom decorated by a red toilet, sink, and toilet paper.  In fact, the more red you see in the background of any scene, the more confident you can be that violence is about to occur.

Breaking Bad is about a lot more than being bad.  The characters exist on a scale of bad to good, yes, but they also exist in a third dimension of color.  Every now and then, someone will appear in a color that is completely unlike them – a dead giveaway that something weird is about to happen.  Beyond black and white, their stories are told using the magic of color.  Each character creates their own palette of experience.

Source: http://tdylf.com/2013/08/11/infographic-colorizing-walter-whites-decay/

The last question: what will be the final pigment that colors Walter White’s tragic masterpiece?

 

 

 

Sep 112013
 

Lost WitchDebora Geary concludes her A Modern Witch Series with book 7: A Lost Witch. Along with the Witchlight Trilogy that makes ten novels that are setting the stage for the larger work Geary has envisioned. The hook of the Modern Witch series is that new witches are found and brought into the rich communities of Witch Central in Berkeley and Fisher’s Cove in Nova Scotia. The lost witch in this last book of the series is Hannah who starts the story in a mental care facility having spent a dozen years in the residence because seeing new faces causes her to have an overwhelming attack that blacks her out for a day or two. We quickly learn that she has magical precognition abilities that she cannot control and w which over whelms her, and once Witch Central discovers her situation they work to get her out of the institution and try to help her learn to control her abilities. In this novel, Hannah’s powers are a danger to herself and to others, and despite their best intentions and knowledge Witch Central may not be able to help Hannah find her way to lead a normal life.

If you have ever known someone in the community who would probably better off without their psychic abilities, then you will most likely adore this novel. Hannah is no victim, but her abilities do severely limit her life. Her caregivers and her family have tried everything that science has to offer, but only the isolation of a mental institution seems to be only way to manage Hannah’s reaction to encountering new faces. As the story begins, Hannah is resigned to her life, and she has had her hopes for a more normal life crushed several times in the past. Thus, she is bit guarded when the witches burst into her life with their enthusiasm and optimism.
Continue reading »

 Posted by at 4:57 pm
Sep 092013
 

hamlet 1Here’s a Hamlet photo I came across in Jan/ early Feb, when I was having a heavy Hamlet fixation. I think the photographer’s name was Marianne?

 Posted by at 6:25 am