Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Proto-Neopaganism in Oz

Jewish date:  27 Shevaṭ 5773 (evening) (Parashath Mishpaṭim).

Today’s holidays:  Feast Day of Paul Miki and companions (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Tlaloc (Church of the SubGenius).

Greetings.

I have decided to put off writing about The Secret and What the Bleep Do We Know?  These movies/books are eminently worthy of criticism, and the way the magic espoused in them is supposed to work does resemble that of Neopaganism and LaVeyan Satanism.  However, The Secret properly belongs to the New Thought movement, and What the Bleep Do We Know? is a product of Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment.  As such, discussing either properly requires a sizable amount of research which would be a major tangent away from Neopaganism.  The Secret also requires (or would prompt) digressions into the worlds of Chicken Soup for the Soul and Conversations with God, the authors of which appear in the movie.  As such, I deem them worthy of review at a later date.

Current reading more directly related to Neopaganism is going slowly, so please be patient.  I have read a little from The Key of Solomon, a classic grimoire which is cited as one of the sources for Wiccan ritual.  (And it certainly reads so far like something Gerald Gardner was cribbing from in writing High Magic’s Aid.)  I am also reading The Book of the SubGenius, a sacred text of the Church of the SubGenius, a parody religion connected with the Neopagan denomination of Discordianism.  (It’s also sufficiently disturbing that I want to get it over with.)

In the meantime, I would like to note Finding Oz:  How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story by Evan I. Schwartz.  This is not a book about religion per se, but rather a book about how L. Frank Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  This includes not just his personal history and the state of society in the United States at the time in general, but also religious influences.  One of these was Theosophy, a religion which was having its heyday in Baum’s day.  (Those who have read Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West will remember that the Wizard in that story was a Theosophist on a mission from Madame Blavatsky.)  Another was Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk who spoke at the Parliament of the World’s Religions at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and became popular for a time.  I hope to discuss Theosophy and Hinduism in the future, and thus I will not discuss them now, especially since I still have a lot to read of even basic Hindu literature (which is extremely extensive) and everything to read of Theosophical basic literature.

So what is there left to discuss from Finding Oz now?  Consider that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published in 1900, and society in the United States back then was noticeably different than it is today.  Today it is generally assumed in the United States that women are equals of men and have the same rights (despite problems in implementation), thus leading to Republican politicians making themselves look really bad whenever they dare to suggest anything appearing otherwise.  This assumption of equality was not a foregone conclusion back in Baum’s day, which was decades before the era of women’s liberation.  Baum happened to live at the time of the suffragette movement of Susan B. Anthony and company, which sought to obtain the right to vote for women.  And his mother-in-law, Matilda Joslyn Gage, was a leading suffragette.  Gage did not just break with common expectations for women at the time; she also broke with Christianity.  Not only did she embrace Theosophy as an alternative, but she also embraced... the pseudo-history of matriarchy, the idea of witches as “wise women” and Christian persecution of witches.  Please note that The Sorceress, Aradia, and the first edition of The Golden Bough had already been published, so these ideas were available already to be embraced.

These ideas rubbed off on Baum to the extent that they showed up in the Oz books.  This is not limited to Baum having a thing for strong female characters (Dorothy, Glinda, Ozma, Betsy, Trot, Scraps, etc.).  While Baum generally kept religious references in his books to a minimum, everyone is aware that Oz has witches.  (Gratefully, he avoids the cliché that witches are all evil or its inverse that they are all good.)  Dorothy Gale is told when she first visits Oz that Oz has witches, because it is an uncivilized country, the implication being that in civilized countries—such as the United States—witches are persecuted.  Both Glinda and the Witch of the North are definitely “wise women”, providing sage advice and help, especially the former throughout the series.  All four countries in Oz are ruled by women (specifically witches) when Dorothy first visits, and while there are male rulers after that, in The Marvelous Land of Oz a girl, Ozma, becomes ruler of all of Oz, a position she retains even in the works of succeeding authors.  Also note that Baum avoided the psychologically unrealistic equation of making all female rulers automatically good and all male rulers automatically bad, e.g., the Wicked Witch of the West is a terrifying dictator, and her replacement, Nick Chopper the Tin Woodman, is much beloved by his subjects.  (Baum still has plenty of fans today, and with good reason.)  Granted, the proto-Neopagan ideas were never taken to the extent of Aradia or The Golden Bough (e.g., Glinda never goes dancing naked in the woods, worshipping the Fairy Queen Lurline and doing something inappropriate with a warlock, and she most definitely does not murder a Quadling consort every year), but some of the basic ideas which later inspired Neopaganism are really in there.

(Now all I need to do is figure out how to tie Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan into religious fallacies and misinformation...)

Peace.

’Aharon/Aaron