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Pagan Literature Class Syllabus

June 15, 2010 5 comments

You know how in college you can take classes on different perspectives on literature? You know, like I took Native American lit or you could take GLBT lit or the African American Perspective? Well, what if there was a Pagan one? I wrote this as an undergraduate level class. If I ever get a doctorate in anything, maybe I’ll teach it. Until then, here it is! If you’d like to use it, please let me know.

Goal: By understanding the Neo-Pagan perspective on life and literature, one can gain additional meaning from a text that might otherwise be overlooked. Paganism is complicated, organic and diverse. It is part history, part culture, and part religion.

Week 1: Day 1-What is Paganism? Read from Drawing Down the Moon. Bit of history from Prehistoric Goddess worshippers, to Middle Ages, to Occultism, to Wicca and Neo-Paganism.

Day 2-Our stereotypes and cultural images. Clips from: The Wizard of Oz, Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, Disney’s Snow White, The Craft, Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, etc. What are the social ramifications of these images? Should one work with or against the stereotypes? Last watch Video: Lifetime Intimate Portrait: Witches. Misinformation Worksheet due beginning of class.

Day 3- examine where these stereotypes come from. Read from Maleus Malificarum, the Construction of Witchcraft. The Burning Times: All Neo-Paganism must be viewed with this in mind. What are the social ramifications of this? Where did these ideas come from? Clip: Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Week 2: Day 1-The Divine Feminine. A woman’s place in Patriarchy. Read: “Charge of the Goddess”. What does it mean that God is a Woman? Seasonal cycles. Read: Wiccan myths about seasons. Symbols of the feminine.

Day 2- Read: Inanna’s Descent into the Netherworld. ‘Thou Art God’ idea and its ramification. Read “Descent of the Goddess”

Day 3- Mythology and its place in Paganism. Read from: The Feminist Companion to Mythology. Group up, each choose a culture to present in class over next few weeks. Take cue from the essays: choose a myth not represented in the book and write an essay analyzing the role of women in the story and what it means to be a woman in that society. Use visuals, if possible. Tell of the major Deities in that particular culture. 3-5 pages.

Week 3: Day 1- Read and discuss: The Power of Myth. Hero Cycle and Spirit Journeys. Analyze The Matrix or other movie and “Inanna’s Descent into the Netherworld”

Day 2- Archetypes according to Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. Psychology in Mythology. Bolen? Divine Archetypes. Intro to Tarot.

Day 3- Discuss the use of archetypes and cycles in myths that we’ve read. Deification of heroes like King Arthur. Discuss essay and presentation requirements.

Week 4: Day 1- Group presentations. Discuss: The Power of Myth all week. What is mythology? How is it important to us?

Day 2- Group Presentations. Mythical Beasts: what they say about our fears and inner psychology. Other issues in Campbell’s book.

Day 3- Group Presentations. Modern Myths: Comic books, movies and television, huge phenomena like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, etc.

Week 5: Day 1- Creation Myths: what this important myth says about a culture and its sense of self. What of America? What myths does it have? Start: American Gods.

Day 2- Discuss American Gods, book origins, Neil Gaiman himself, Norse culture. Any questions about book.

Day 3- The role of sexuality, Gods recognition. Symbolic roles using Tarot.

Week 6: Day 1- More on Tarot. History of Magickal Correspondences.

Day 2- Essay Due. Symbolism, Magickal Correspondences and uses in literature. Read and analyze “For Breaking a Curse”, MacBeth Act 4 Scene 1, “The Maypole of Merry Mount” and “Scarborough Fair”

Day 3- Rituals, tools and secrecy. Read: “Initiation Ritual”. Persecution today comes in many forms. Occult knowledge. Group Presentations. Finish American Gods. Essay?

Week 7: Day 1- Magic, prayer, and asserting your Will. Thou Art God as it relates to practice. Spells as they generally are done. Compare to Occult, Satanists, and ritualists (ie: Aliester Crowley, Golden Dawn or Masons) Read from: A Triumph of the Moon.

Day 2- Wordsworth, Kipling and other Naturalists. The reaction to the loss of spirituality in life and church. A resurgence (or reinvention?) of pagan themes.

Day 3- Discussion of texts. Brief overview of Astrology and how it can be used as Literary Analysis. Get a free reading from Astrology.com

Week 8: Day 1- Spell casting (sympathetic, candle, charms, talismans, curses, prayer, chant, astral work), ethics (rule of 3), black vs. white magick. Moon cycles and magick. Read “Before a Flight”, “Witches Rune”, “The Wiccan Rede”, Read a curse.

Day 2- Other poems from A Pagan’s Muse. Begin Wizard of Oz.

Day 3- Coming out of the Broom Closet. Modern Neo-Pagan movement. Gerald Gardner. The “New-Age”. Read: “A Witches Manifesto”. Read from: Voices from the Pagan Census. Discuss how Pagans recognize each other (symbols in packet).

Week 9: Day 1- Literature by Pagans, for Pagans. How can academics analyze? Read: “The Golden Ring” “God Rest Ye Merry Pagan Folk” “A Pagan Prayer for the Dead”

Day 2- Finish Wizard of Oz. Discuss how it impacts mainstream thought. Map using Hero’s Journey. Examine archetypes. Magic (consciously projecting the will).

Day 3- A day for catching up. Discuss final.

Week 10: Day 1-  Analyze any other Pagan/Non-Pagan texts of interest to class. Pagan jokes and parodies.

Day 2- Instructor evaluation. Text evaluation (what would you add or drop?).

Day 3- The future of Paganism: striving for equality. How you can help.

Final: Choose a Disney Movie. Analyze its Pagan elements, its structure, the potential ramifications of the themes presented as they relate to the mainstream, its material success, the development of the story, etc. Try to include one of the academically unusual methods of analysis we covered in class. 5-7 pages.

Suggested Disney Movies: Beauty and the Beast, Brother Bear, Pocahontas, The Little Mermaid, Bambi, The Black Cauldron, Sword in the Stone, Robin Hood, Peter Pan, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, Hercules, The Lion King, etc.

Required Texts:

American Gods, Neil Gaiman. Harper Torch, 2002.

The Complete Book of Tarot, by Juliet Sharman-Burke. St. Martin’s Griffin, 1996. (?)

Drawing Down the Moon, by Margaret Adler. Beacon Press, 1979.

The Feminists Companion to Mythology. Edited by Carolyne Larrington. Pandora Press, 1992.

The Malleus Maleficarum and the Construction of Witchcraft, by Hans Peter Broedel. Manchester University Press, 2004. (?)

The Pagan’s Muse, Edited by Jane Raeburn. Citadel Press, 2003.

Read: “Thine Inmost Divine Self: An introduction to Pagan Poetry”, “Charge of the Goddess” by Doreen Valiente, “The Charge of the God” by Archer, “A Song to Mithras” by Rudyard Kipling, “The Dandelion Woman” by Jessica Jordan Nudel, “The World is Too Much with Us” by William Wordsworth, etc.

A Paganism Reader, Edited by Chas S. Clifton, Graham Harvey. Routledge; 2003 (?)

The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers. Double Day, 1988.

The Spiral Dance, By Starhawk. Harper, San Francisco, 1979. (?)

A Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, by Ronald Hutton. Oxford University Press, 2001.

Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States, by Helen A. Berger, Evan A. Leach, Leigh S. Shaffer. University of South Carolina Press, 2003. (?)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by Frank Baum.

Optional:

Confessions of a Pagan Nun, by Kate Horsley, Shambhala, 2004.

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Harper Collins, 2001.

The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein, by Theordore Roszak. Random House, 1995.

The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Del Ray, 1982.

Seasons of Magic, by Laurel Ann Reinhardt. Llewellyn, 2001.

Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein. Ace Charter, 1995.

Waking the Moon, by Elizabeth Hand. Eos Printing, 1996.

Witches Were for Hanging, by Patricia Crowther. Mercury Publishing, 1998.

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. Penguin Books, 2003.

A Twist

March 11, 2010 1 comment

This article is a twist on an old story. Instead of the Wiccan student being denied his religious freedom, the teacher is chided for not allowing him freedom of expression! It is important to note that the school chose to follow local, state and federal law in this instance, instead of assuming that the teacher is always right. Is this a move towards a more liberal and accepting school system? Is this just another way of taking power away from teachers?

Is this a school house or a church?

Don’t let them fool you–the public school system is a white-washed Christian organization. Teachers are expected to be moral, but the part they don’t tell you is that they expect those morals to be Christian. I was a public school teacher briefly, and was regularly chided for mentioning my religious orientation, despite the fact that I only ever answered questions my students asked me, and followed the example of my Christian cooperating teacher. She was never chided for saying what she did over Easter weekend, but I was reprimanded when a student who shared my religion knew about what I was doing over Easter weekend. It was all off the books, of course–nothing official came out of it.

But although the school professes to be religiously neutral and the teachers are mostly Christian, the curriculum is void of any religious teaching. Not even educational and academic discussion of the subject. This wasn’t always the case. Our country started with local schools run by typically Protestant people and later Catholic when the Irish disagreed with how their children were being raised. Over the last hundred years, religion has been systematically removed from public school organizations. What we have is a generation of kids growing up who don’t have any role models of religious people in public spaces. The teacher’s religion becomes invisible–an important piece of their identity that is never revealed out of fear of overstepping boundaries, like the teacher in the article.

Say what you want about it's merit, it is a cynical book.

Because we can’t even talk about religion, certain subjects like history and literature, are stripped of their religious and even spiritual content. Instead of classics like Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, which expresses so much that has become a huge part of our culture, our kids read Salinger and Stienman, and other author’s who express a grim view of society and humanity. Even Greek mythology, a source of sublime human and natural understanding, is confined (read: condemned) to fourth grade curriculum. In history, the pilgrims were demoted to exploreres escaping some vague persecution, without exploring the idea that it is because of their religious story that the US even has freedom of religion. Students don’t know the difference between a woman wearing the Hadith and a man wearing traditional Hindu head wraps. It’s no wonder they are afraid of Muslims.

I am against teachers denying expression of a student’s religion. And I am against a teacher keeping their religious affiliation under wraps. But the teacher doesn’t have a right to enforce their own personal moral code over that of the schools–as an employee of the public, they must abide by the public rules. It’s unfair, but it is the price you pay to teach publicly. We should approach and teach about religion as a viable and academic part of human experience. It is something that can be explored and experienced without being forced upon students.

The Lightning Thief Was Robbed

February 12, 2010 1 comment

I love Rick Riordan‘s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. It’s not surprise since I love Harry Potter, but while every critic ever is comparing the new Percy movie to the Harry Potter ones, it’s no shock that it doesn’t measure up.

I went to the midnight showing in part because I made the painful realization that, despite the wonderful references to Greek mythology which have taken me many years in college to master, the plot and story is, essentially, aimed at teenagers. The advantage of going at midnight on a Thursday night is that all the wee ones are at home in bed, leaving the 17-26 year old fans and their sweethearts to a delightfully cellphone/text-free theatre.

There is always a danger of watching a film after reading books you love. There’s no way they could get it right, even with a plot as straightforward as “The Lightning Thief”. I won’t say I was disappointed, but I definitely felt robbed. They removed all the wonderful bits that lead to the overarching plot of the book series. But while this movie stands alone as a cohesive film, there is no sense that the story could continue. So much background information was changed or simply left out that it made poor Annabeth into a mild love interest with no character depth despite her dazzling blue eyes. The plot was so simplified that my sweetheart, who hasn’t read the books, figured out whodunnit within the first 30 minutes of the movie.

Uma Thurman as a snake? I'd buy it.

Of interest to Pagans is the treatment of the mythology by the film–and I daresay the script treated it with a kind of irreverence that I found annoying. The Gods were flat, and while they looked cool, you could barely tell them apart. They behave like squabbling family in an almost abstract sense where you aren’t really sure why they are fighting and acting that way. Zeus is made out to be a tyrant, not as a nearly omnipotent deity who can see the big picture–and the actor, Sean Bean, wasn’t quite the perfect Greek form I had in mind. The hero himself, Percy, was reduced to a kid who was a self-proclaimed troublemaker (we don’t see it, we’re only told) who has daddy issues and is WAY too close to his mommy. Medusa was reduced to a comical character, although her snake hair was really cool (the best image of her I’ve seen on screen to date). Only the Satyr named Grover was dead-on from my imagination, although they took out the part where he had his own hopes and dreams of finding the great God Pan, a piece of the story that I find symbolic of our own dreams of “returning to nature”.

However, I do seriously want to visit the Parthenon replica in Nashville, Tennessee. And I seriously want a pair of Hermes’ winged Converse hightop sneakers (which I can’t find a picture of, or I’d totally show you).

Other things, like the camp, were cheaply played out, and you don’t get the sense that you’d want to stay there, since it looks like 100+ kids with swords running around an acre of forest. And there was no Dionysus, who I was really looking forward to seeing on film! I get why–they needed to cut out the “non-essential” characters to move the plot along (the film was already two hours). Plus, the whole boozer thing is kind of a downer for kids, and they already had the evil beer-drinking step-father (BTW, stay through some of the credits to see some sweet revenge!). The portrayal of Hades infuriated me, but then redeemed itself once we were in the underworld.

I'll take these handsome action figures any day!

Overall, I feel the source material, both Riordan’s novel and the Greek mythology, was robbed of its deeper meaning and symbolism, and sacrificed over the “let’s make a buck” altar. I suppose there is hope for a second movie, but judging by the lack-luster opening night crowd, I don’t know if they will bother. While the movie lacks most of the charm of the original book, I have to say I wasn’t bored, and the things that bothered me didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the film. I will certainly enjoy owning it, and if they bring out any sweet licensed Greek God toys, so much the better.