My Book Review of “La Santa Muerte: Unearthing the Magic & Mysticism of Death” by Tomás Prower

Ready for a sneak peek into the Autumn issue of Isis-Seshat journal, which gets released on November 10? It’s a death-focused issue, so what better Deity to profile–in a book review, no less–than La Santa Muerte, to Whom I am fervently devoted. Tomás Prower’s just-released English-language tome that purports to cover theory and practice is the subject of my review. Make way for Virgo scrutiny! Read on…

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“Love’s Magic Realm”: The Venusberg of Wagner’s “Tannhäuser” and European Witch Lore

Und dunket mich, wie si gê zuo mir dur ganze mûren, ir trôst und ir helfe lâzent mich niht trûren; swenne si wil, so so vüeretvsie mich hinnen mit ir wîzen hand hôhe über die zinnen. Ich waene sie ist ein Vênus hêre.

Methinks she comes to me through solid walls, her help, her comfort lets me nothing fear; and when she will, she wafteth me from here with her white hand high o’er the pinnacles. I ween she is a Venus high.

–Heinrich von Morunge, quoted in Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, Vol. II. (1844)

This past Saturday night, my bodacious beau and I experienced an unforgettable Valentine’s Day at the Lyric Opera production of Wagner’s Tannhäusera three-act opera, first performed in 1845, based on a medieval German legend that Wagner treats with a bombastic Romantic libretto, some of the best choral singing in any opera ever (the famed “Pilgrims’ Chorus” in Act II), and the thematic treatment of the human inner struggle as Wagner understood it (in a Christian schema) between the lure of carnal desire and the quest for spiritual redemption (the Id vs. the Superego, if you want to page Dr. Freud about it). This theme would find greater development in Wagner’s later operas of Lohengrin (1848), Tristran und Isolde (1859), and especially Parsifal (1882), works that are also steeped in medieval lore that commingles Pagan and Christian characters and sensibilities.

Experiencing Tannhäuser as our epic date night seemed all the more appropriate considering that the goddess Venus (sung in this production by the stunning German mezzo-soprano Michaela Schuster) is not just a principal character, but Tannhäuser’s lover. This is made unequivocally clear before any singing takes place at all; it’s during the dizzying Prelude that the audience is treated to the stunningly hypnotic, stupendously athletic, and sexually explicit Bacchanalian dance choreography (brava to choreographer Jasmin Vardimon!) that introduces the concept of a loving and lavish Venus doting on her mortal amour, the wandering singer Tannhäuser (sung by acclaimed South African tenor Johan Botha). Who better to see and hear on stage on Valentine’s Day than the sea foam-born Roman Goddess of Love? However, it didn’t take long for my Pagan Priestess PowersTM to discern that Dark Goddess currents were swirling about, ones that would contextualize Tannhäuser’s fall from grace amidst his peers and society squarely within European witch lore. Would Tannhäuser have been shunned the way that he was–especially by the pope during his pilgrimage to Rome–if his “sin” was merely sexual congress with the Goddess of Love?  Of course not. He is shunned by his peers because they know–in a feat of dramatic irony audience members might know not if they’re not versed in Teutonic mythology–who the Goddess Under the Mountain really is. She is none other than Frau Holda (or Holle or Hulda), the Chthonic Goddess to whom German witches were said to journey to during their Sabbat rites (Ginzburg, The Night Battles 55); the Goddess who leads the Wild Hunt or the Furious Horde, die wütende heer (Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, Vol. II, 268)Hence by having stayed with Her in Her Underworld for several years before returning to, as Venus in Act I scene ii calls it, “the cold world of men,” Tannhäuser returns from the Land of the Dead, a feat that would have been unthinkable outside the pale of Christian Grace. Continue reading

Qui Est Vestri Nomen? Self-Identity Crisis in “The Exorcist”

T.S. Eliot, in his whimsical Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939), informs us that “The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter/ It isn’t just one of your holiday games.” In a metaphysical sense, the naming of anything is a task fraught with great responsibility and power, for to truly understand the name of something—or understand the true name of something—is to have power over it. Continue reading