Rather Wicked Gnome

Rather wicked gnome

This gnome lives at the Gnome Reserve in Devon, England. I visited the reserve, put on the required red hat and traipsed through the woodlands. At times I found a nook to sit back and watch other visitors. I found that people were there with their children, introducing them to a magical memory from their own childhoods. Others came to bask in a day of whimsy and escapism. Some were there on a lark and left utterly refreshed.

Gnomes are often dismissed as simple lawn ornaments or as tacky yet quirky neighborhood statements – generally by the middle classes.

But, make no mistake about it – gnomes are important.

Gnomes occupy an engaging space between worlds. They live betwixt and between, neither wholly wild, nor entirely domestic. Not quite divine, not tricksters, and certainly not heroes. They reside in the outer boundaries of the home, the forest, and the intellect. A place where the unknown reigns, yet needs to be trimmed, cared for and protected. They guard our emotional and physical borders with eclectic mischief and a drop of joy. In other words, we are protected with a smile and the smile is infectious.

Should you find yourself in England, the Gnome Reserve is a place that will allow your own mental borderlands to be refreshed and renewed.

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The Gazer Returns

The Gazer Returns.

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The Gazer Returns

Everyone who knows me knows that I love engaging belief systems.  I’ve gone to mass, circled with Wiccans, had rituals by Santeria priests and a priestess, gone to a Born again service, saw Benny Hinn knock a bunch of people out, tried to channel (no it did not work), gone to psychics, mediums, and even a faux Houdini seance at the Magic Castle in L.A.  I don’t really go in as a believer, but as a folklorist.  I like to understand why people believe as they do and what makes them behave as they do.  Also, I’d be delighted if there ever were proof of the supernatural or the beyond.  Which, to my knowledge, has not yet occurred.  So, I’m not a believer, but I am also not a disbeliever.  However, every once in a while, I get disgusted.  

I just saw a listing for a guy called Braco – who is coming back to L.A. in two weeks.  I saw a similar ad last year.  So, me and my friend Marsha went to see this guy – as he was ‘performing’ down the street from our office at Otis College of Art and Design.  We waited in a long line, meeting people who had allegedly just come from the airport, pushing bags (were they pumpers?) and other people who had been positively effected by the Croatian Braco.  Many people had already been in to see him.  Apparently you pay $72 for a day pass, or $8 (what we paid) to see him.  Then, the people get kicked out of the room, go back in line, pay another $8 to see him again.  Anyways, we were ushered in and seated with a couple hundred other folks.  That’s when the testimony began.  A couple of representatives regaled us with stories of the many miracles and healings that have happened through Braco.  This lasted about 40 minutes.  It could have been 20 – but it felt like 2 hours.  This type of priming occurs with many belief experiences, preparing the participants, giving them expectations and informing them how to interpret their experience.  After this, the lights dim and Braco comes out.  He stands on the stage and looks.  He looks at people.  He spends 7 minutes looking, silently around the room.  Then he leaves.  The guy in front of me whispers about the ‘lame’ experience.  The people behind me breathe heavily and talk about negativity palpably leaving their bodies.  Marsha and I try to suppress giggles.  Then, we are told to come back, for $16, in 15 minutes, we can hear The Voice.  Yay, I’m thinking the guy is going to talk!  I ask a lady in the lobby.  She gushes about The Voice.  Its a recording.  In Croatian. Uh, then how do we know what he’s saying?  She explained that one could buy the book which has a translation of his talk, and also buy the 13 pointed diamond star that is his emblem.   We did not go back in line.  I will say that Marsha and I had a good laugh and a good time.  Braco – the Gazer.  Really, what else can one say?  He gazes….

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Vampire Subcultures

Today in my Vampire Literature and Lore class at Otis College of Art and Design, we discussed subcultural vampires. The class has already been through such works as Sheridan le Fanu’s Carmilla and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  We’ve discussed the folkloric vampire and historical examples.  Yet, with all of this background, I found that none of the students, well myself as well, were being particularly tolerant regarding the subcultural vampire’s culture.  Certainly, I’ve taught about this in the past and have been engaged by the topic and had fun with it.  Why did it seem so odd to discuss sanguinarian (blood-drinking) and psy (psychic) vamps today?

It occurs to me that we are in the middle of an election year.  An election that many deem to be unpleasant.  Most of my students have declared their disinterest in voting and are choosing apathy as an option.  Apathy is indeed a Choice.  Perhaps the election and our current discomfort with ‘real’ vampires are connected.  Perhaps Americans – Republicans or Democrats, perceive themselves as being preyed upon by an unforgiving system, insane taxes, gluttonous banks, a bloated real estate system, etc.  All of these current governmental and corporate failings seem to echo a particular image of the vampire – a being that is arrogant, overfed, greedy, careless and capable of sucking the soul right out of an innocent being.  Indeed, we are suffering from vampire fatigue.

I for one am looking forward to the end of this election on November 7th.  I will vote and eagerly await the outcome. Then I will breathe a sigh of relief.  Once again the vampire can be fun, sexy, mysterious, wild and the ultimate outsider.  I can’t wait.

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Day of the Dead: Hollywood Forever Cemetery

I spent about 18 hours at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery yesterday for their annual Dia de los Muertos festival. I created an altar with the students from my Modern Mysticism and the Afterlife class at Otis College of Art and Design. This year, we decided to create a space-themed altar, playing with the ideas of creation, mystery and the unending potential of space exploration. We honored Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, Laika the Russian dog and Gordo the Space Chimp. We let people write messages to their dead on a paper star and paste it to our rocket which we will burn and send to wherever those wishes will go. Day of the Dead is when people go to their family’s graves, clean them and bring food, drink, favored items of the deceased, flowers, incense and welcome the folks back for the night. What I like best about it is that it brings death into the life cycle in a festive albeit emotional way and really lets a person hang with their dead loved ones. Basically, its a healthy way to celebrate someone’s life although one can also make political and social commentary with altars or create something funny, ironic or just whimsical – like one someone made to remember the dinosaurs! All around, one cool holiday.

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Dia de los Muertos

Laika and Gordo - animals who went to space

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Food Network Appearance – Sunday October 23rd

Heather will be appearing as a judge on the Food Network Challenge – Ghost Story Cakes Sunday October 23rd at 8 PM.  She is judging as a Folklore and Mythology expert.  Don’t miss it!

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Tonight is the season finale of True Blood.  I am a definite fan of the show and an even bigger fan of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series upon which the show is based.  As much as I adore the series it doesn’t touch much upon some of the folkloric perspectives on vamps.  Early vamps were revenants, more like a zombie or the Nosferatu figure than the fabulous Eric.  Vamps didn’t become  aristocratic, wealthy bloodsuckers until John Polidori wrote ‘The Vampyre’ in 1816.  His vamp, de Ruthven, was based upon his former employer, Lord Byron, who actually came up with the skeleton plot during a ghost story contest with his friend, romantic poet Shelley.  The early vamps were much wierder than our modern ones.  Early vamps were typically outsiders.  An outsider in life becomes one in death.  So, it was thought that loose women, those thrown out of the Church, highwaymen, thieves and murderers would become vamps after death.  There was one belief that a person who dared to be born on Christmas would go full vamp.  There were also ideas that some spoiled fruit like watermelons or pomegranites could become evil.  Even animals might go vamp post life.  So, as odd as the lovely immortals on True Blood may seem, they are downright normal compared to a blood hungry pig or rampaging tomato running around!  I look forward to the finale!

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Heather Joseph-Witham, Ph.D.

Welcome to my site.  I have posted a few facts about my professional life. As always, I am available for new and exciting projects.

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