Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Magick of Making

Often the credit for making a puppet "come to life" is given to the manipulator, the puppeteer who is most obviously bringing action to the inanimate. I am a huge fan of puppetry, and I know what kind of skill it takes to truly bring a puppet to life in performance, but I think the creation process, the point where the puppet is built, is an equally vital act of "giving life."

In fact, I think it's magic.

Most of my puppet experience comes from crafting or building them, so it's not surprising I find the process amazing, but so far, almost every time I've set out to make a puppet, the character has arrived somewhere along the way. Sort of spontaneously. 

You start with some fabric or wood or clay or bits of scraps, and when you begin to assemble them, weird things happen. At least for  me, the process of putting the parts together often reveals the whole. The result is that somewhere along the line I learn the puppet's name, it's personality, voice, and often even it's story.

Since I have more experience with magic than I do with puppetry, my mind immediately goes looking for other angles, other ways to harvest this character making energy, and I'm almost certain the possibilities are fantasticly diverse.

Imagine working with materials that have been cleansed/consecrated. Some puppet traditions have ritual governing all stages of puppet building--what if the act of puppet creation was done as part of ritual or incorporated into one? If we invoked character into object?

They found altars in ancient Egypt with statues of the deity that could be manipulated for ritual purposes. Were the gods invoked into their likenesses? How can this apply to the process of bringing a deity puppet or an elemental puppet into being?

Would any of it make a difference later, when the puppet takes the stage and the next level of magic is unveiled?  Can you tell I have more questions than answers?

I think we have a lot to learn, and there is a lot of room for experimentation here. I'm game, and I'm hoping others are as well.  I'm certain a major chapter in the future of pagan puppetry will have to be titled: Invoking the Character.

Friday, May 29, 2015

We're Getting it Right Too

Despite my whining, the pagan community is getting puppetry right in a lot of ways too. I wanted to make sure I clarify that there are some big wins for arts that are at least related to puppetry out there.

Mummers and Maskers:

Masking traditions are closely linked with puppetry in a lot of cultures. Even today, large scale puppets often translate into masked puppeteers and I think masks and masking is very much alive at the pagan festival and thoroughly embraced by writers of ritual.  Mummers parades are not rare either, and the dramatic arts thrive in the form of ritual drama.
Theoretically, incorporating puppetry into an environment so rich in its cousins should be a fairly easy and welcome transition.

 Pagan pride parades and festivals have already incorporated some large scale puppetry, masking and it's like. Because the parade costume is often larger than life, it often requires some form of puppetry to manipulate.

Some festivals and parades that are not necessarily pagan, but that incorporate pagan elements, like Burning Man and others, are also making fantastic use of puppetry and even stretching the boundaries of what the art form can be and, hopefully, become.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Not Just for Christians

The second thing that I believe will stall any serious excursion into pagan puppetry is the obvious lack of any pagan puppetry, and the prevalence of Christian puppetry.  This has nothing to do with any dislike of Christianity or Christian puppetry. In fact, they've done a magnificent job of incorporating puppets into their work, and I seriously wish we'd done half as well... but should someone take an interest in the world of puppets and puppetry, and should they venture out to seek information, puppet designs and scripts, they're going to find out just how thoroughly Christian puppetry has entrenched itself.

In fact, it's just about all you're going to find on the first scratch of the surface.

Even if the potential pagan puppeteer is open-minded and evolved, relaxed and groovy, it's still hard not to be put off by the fact that nearly every single play available is either a Bible story or teaches a Bible lesson. There just isn't that much out there for us to latch onto.

Try a quick search of the scripts here:
and in case you suspect I've picked one that was somehow skewed, well, look ANYWHERE and see what I mean. There just isn't a good source for non-bible scripts out there.

Which is why I think we need one, of course. It's also why, if we want a puppet design or a puppet script, we're going to have to pretty much make it ourselves for awhile.

A lot of the books on puppet making feature bible-themed designs and scripts. A huge majority of the puppet resources websites are going to be about puppet ministry. They still have an amazing amount of information, how-to's and ideas, and they are very worth visiting, but before he is fit for magic or ritual use,  the puppet will need to be reclaimed a little.

Which, of course, is a main reason why I started this blog, why I'm working on a book about pagan puppetry, and why I'd like to gather resources for any pagans out there who fancy themselves puppet people to use.

If you have a puppet design or script that you are willing to share, or if you'd like me to feature your show, puppets, pictures or website relating to paganism and puppetry, please leave a comment or contact me. I will do my best to gather what resources I can find, and post them here for people to use as well as the plays and designs I make myself.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Not Just for Kids

I suspect one of the hurdles American pagan puppetry will face is the kiddie factor. To be honest, this is the hurdle most serious puppetry has to face, and it's definitely a biggie. Despite a long and distinguised history of adult puppet opera, political satire, debauchery and artistic commentary, the puppet in our country has been relegated to the land of the Muppet.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of anything Henson or Froud do. Like, seriously a huge fan.

But in order to get wide-spread interest in the puppet as a magical art form, I think overcoming PBS television syndrome is an issue.

I also want to stress the value of puppetry for children, and for teaching spirituality and values to children. We'll get into that in the next post, but let's all just agree for now that pagan children's puppetry could really rock.

It totally could.

And in my frustrating searching of pagan puppetry, the one place I did in fact find some was in a ritual involving pagan children. Let's give them some kudos.

But for use in magic and ritual, the puppet does not necessarily have to have google eyes and a big, furry brightly colored monster... though by all means, if the  mood strikes you.

Serious puppetry is not anything new, but we find so little of it in Western culture that it can come as a surprise. Let me happily point you toward some amazing and artful examples... and if you happen to have a chance to see any puppet opera, I highly recommend it. If nothing else, than to experience the illusion and magic that is inherent in a good puppet performance.

My top picks:

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

In the beginning...

The very first puppets were most likely ritual items. Sympathetic magic, suspected to be behind most primitive paintings and much of the sculpture, extended itself into the birth pains of the puppet. And poppet, at word very recognizable in pagan circles, was the original puppet's name.

From Wikepedia: The word poppet is an older spelling of puppet, from the Middle English popet, meaning a small child or doll. In British English it continues to hold this meaning.

Nowadays we know poppet as a distinctly separate thing (in pagan circles) but it is interesting to note that that the term is also one of endearment. In truth, at it's basest definition, a poppet is a puppet, a figure representing someone or something else, used in magic and ritual. I would venture that, originally, that definition would have described the puppet to a T.

Today, many cultures still use puppets in ritual, in particular in ritual dramas. The magical origins of puppetry are not a secret because our little friends are still quite merrily serving that purpose all over the world... despite the scarcity of them in Western magic. Puppets relay myth, stand in for characters in ritual, and become the center of energy in spellwork.

Quite the versatile magical tool.

Puppet sculpture from Mesoamerica

Japanese Ritual Puppetry

Shaman Puppet Dolls

Throughout his life, the puppet has been infused with magic and ritual. From his creation, to performing. Puppetry has been regarded as a sacred art, protected by secrecy and ritual, and reserved for those only with the correct spiritual associations to be trusted with giving it life. 

As we'll see, what the puppet brings to the equation is truly something more than her parts and pieces. She is magic, at her core, and belongs among the most respected of magical traditions.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Wait, What?

  Welcome to The Pagan Puppet. As a lifelong puppet enthusiast, builder and collector, and a long-term member of the pagan community, I've often wondered why these two so rarely collide. The puppet has his roots in ancient mythology and ritual. He's participated in magic since his beginnings, played gods and goddesses, invoked and emulated, and even offered himself up at the seasonal bonfires.

Puppets are closely related to poppets, to effigies and to the  masking traditions, all of which the modern pagan has embraced and incorporated fairly adeptly. Yet, the puppet himself is rarely seen at the festivals and in the rituals where he logically would make a natural addition.

It has vexed me, I must admit. I know that puppetry should be there, should exist and thrive in a pagan surrounding, and yet, like the Higgs Boson, he plays an elusive game, refusing (okay until recently) to make an appearance. He is the Dark Matter of pagan religion, there in theory only, and to be honest, it's driving me batty trying to sort out why.

Mainstream religion has embraced the puppet.  In fact, the prevalence of puppet ministry and Christian puppetry makes both a solid case for the use of puppetry in faith organizations and may also lend to the stand-offishness of the pagan community to the art form. I've no evidence to back that up, but puppetry is definitely going strong in the Christian church and thin at best at the Samhain feast.

Neo-pagans have a strong history of reclaiming the old traditions, the lost lore and the ancient arts, but for some reason, the puppet has been left alone. I propose that that is a sad lapse, and one that,  if remedied, could greatly enrich our traditions going forward.

In a lot of cases puppet history is pagan history. They line up because they have always intertwined.
The blog will hopefully touch on some of that history, possibly shed light on the appropriateness of this proposed partnership between pagan and puppet, and if we're lucky, spark some interest in reviving and reincorporating the puppet into our practice.

And if I am remiss, and there are many pagan puppeteers out there, or any pagan puppeteers out there, I would love to hear from them, hear about them, and maybe share them as well. They deserve a stage,  spotlight, and hopefully a chance to spread the word.