Kristiansen Fortress, Trondheim

I have a ritual in the morning, and it involves being very quiet.

My six flatmates are all Norwegian, which surprised me. The student housing complex I live in is one city block full of twenty identical three-floor buildings.

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I occupy one small dorm room (with its own tiny bathroom) on one floor with six other people, we share a kitchen and common area.

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The large apartment on the end is a self-contained studio, with its own kitchen. The people who live there are the “others”. I have never seen them, but I know they exist.

I am told that there are other international students in the complex, but that most residents are undergraduate Norwegian students from outside of Trondheim. I was also told, for those who followed my missing bed saga, that the administration used to supply beds for all residents, but they had an infestation of bed bugs two years ago. Wish they would have made that clear when I signed the lease. All it read was that my room was “equipped.” Credit card and IKEA to the rescue. As a sidenote I am terribly glad they supply instructions, or I might not have figured out how to unroll my mattress.

Ah, so that's how you do it.

Ah, so that’s how you do it.

But back to my morning ritual.

Because my flatmates are all in their early twenties, they sleep rather late, until noon, most days, unless I hear one leave for class. They do not, as a rule, wake up early and have leisurely breakfasts, as I like to do. Any food they prepare in the kitchen begins in the late afternoon.

The kitchen is a wide open space, and sound carries down the hall. I am concerned with making noise in the morning, especially as I am now more or less adjusted to my domestic schedule of going to bed around midnight, and waking up around eight, hours before the younglings begin to stir.

In order not to rouse them too early, I sneak into the kitchen soon after waking, and shut the door behind me. That at least muffles the sound. I carefully open drawers for dishes and cutlery, preparing breakfast. The cupboard is eased open, then shut slowly. The plate coaxed out of a shelf and placed on the counter with the minimal of aural disturbance. The toast buttered with a knife that I dare not clang in the sink. I then squirrel away to my room to eat the food and drink my morning coffee as a get ready for the day.

Don’t wake the babies, I laugh to myself.

Mostly, I do this so as not to miss the light. It is rather easy to lounge around, as I have no fixed schedule and my work is done at any time of the day. But if I leave the house around lunchtime, it is already getting dark. I don’t fear for my safety walking after the sun goes down, but I am just now navigating with confidence. Daylight helps. And the pictures are nicer too.

This week, I went to Kristiansen Fortress, on a hill near the city center. Every time I take a long walk a choose a different route. I can now visualize the Trondheim map, and can usually place my movements within it. Learning street names is still a struggle, as there are difficulties grasping the nuances of a non-Latin-based language. Spanish, Italian, and especially Portuguese come rather easily to me, as I speak French. But I have not yet been able to intuit the Scandinavian languages; I am reading the Latin alphabet with the Latin-based language map I have in my head, and it is interfering. The vowels are longer. The emPHAsis is placed on a different sylLAble. Some re-wiring is required.

When you travel alone to foreign countries, you have to get over any shyness at speaking to strangers. I have asked for directions and instructions many times, as there is no signage in English: do you think you can tell the difference between clothes detergent, fabric softener, and other cleaning agents when the brand names are not recognizable, and images on the container are ambiguous or non-existent? Similar problems arise in the grocery store, so I carry a list of translated words indicating my food allergies. That list has now grown with other items: smør = butter; fløte is cream, not coffee cream nor whipping cream, but a thick cream used for baking which most Montreal grocery stores do not sell; kjøtt is meat, but I’m never sure which kind when it often comes processed as dry sausage or lunchmeat. Though, I’ve never been disappointed.

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Horseporcbeef is delicious any way you slice it.

As I now am more or less settled I am looking into traveling North to the arctic circle in order to see the Northern Lights–more on that as I research the cheapest way to make this happen.

In the meantime, here are some photos from my trip to the Fortress.

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The body of water in the background is the Trondheim Fjord.

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A local enjoying the view.

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Cim. Trondheim

On my way there, with the Fortress in the background.

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Down by the water, crossing the bridge into the city center.

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A friendly Norwegian. I miss my own kittehs terribly.

Media Studies: Centralizing the Material in the Magical

For my proposed dissertation (an ethnographic study of members of the Church of Satan), I am increasingly interested in media studies, often studied under its umbrella discipline of communications. Media studies can be viewed as the study of material culture, but it is much more. It is the study of objects, technologies, music, and any other sensorial aspect of human experience that informs how humans behave and act. Materical culture has certainly been studied before under various disciplines, but when we merge them with religious studies, we begin to see a methodological divide between the material (historically denounced as lesser, base, and carnal) and the spiritual (the high culture, the philosophical, the superior). We therefore have an implied dichotomy, a fracture in our approach that places the spiritual above the material. I want to usurp that ostensible divide.

Jeremy Stolow, in his article, “Religion and/as Media,” claims that media has been credited with, “a key role in the world-historical disembedding of religion from public life, and its relocation within the private walls of bourgeois domesticity, or deeper still, the interior, silent universe of individual readers and their infinitely replicable activities of decoding texts” (2005, 122). Stolow is addressing the notion that “religion” is often considered a private, interior phenomenon, and that anything that happens externally from one’s thoughts is somehow lesser, not quite as genuine.

This type of scheme is a holdover from Protestant denouncements of Catholic rituals, now embedded in academia, which is itself an idea as old as Plato’s dualism. The same mind/body, spirit/material, divine/human (and its gendered equivalent: male/female) fracture gets played out over and over again in various forms, where the first is considered the ultimate, perfect, and pure, while the latter is considered flawed, imperfect, and corrupt. This ostensible dichotomy has only relatively recently been challenged in academia.

Stolow suggests that, while media and religion as an emerging discipline is naturally cross-disciplinary, that the most fruitful approach is to begin with the premise: “religion as media” (125). That is, that:

Throughout history, in myriad forms, communication with and about ‘the sacred’ has always been enacted through written texts, ritual gestures, images and icons, architecture, music, incense, special garments, saintly relics and other objects of veneration, markings upon flesh, wagging tongues and other body parts.

The premise, then, of media studies, is to center the technologies involved in mediating religious phenomena. Place them in the foreground, not relegated to (an implied lesser) afterthought. Much of the history of religious studies has emphasized philosophy, theology, interiority, and sincerity, and has then claimed that mediation has “compromised, diluted, or eviscerated religious belief” (Morgan 2008, 1). [1]

Stolow is instead claiming that religious studies have always been studies of media. Religion is, by nature, mediated. Given this, perhaps media studies is best understood as a methodological approach that places the communication through various media as the foundational starting point.

My next project/article is on media (the objects) used in Satanic magical rituals that have cross purposes: The Satanic Bible not only as ritual script, but as a talisman, an object of importance with aesthetic properties; writing out one’s own script is not solely for liturgical guidance, but has artistic value as the letters scrawled in cursive, written with nice pens, become word-images; music played during ritual is more than an aural experience, as your presence in the chamber alters the resonance and sound and promotes a physiological reaction. Books are smelled. Letters are touched. Sound is felt.

In Satanic ritual magic, heightened sensorial experiences are designed to stimulate a transformative and effective magical rite. The media, then, is the magic.

This next project on Satanic magic is cross-disciplinary, using studies in material culture alongside studies in magic and esotericism, approached with the intent of centralizing the material aspect. David Morgan’s introduction to religion and media studies lists the multiple and varied fields and scholars engaged with media studies, addressing similar questions in the field, stemming from different disciplines. It is fitting to end this blog post with his open-ended commentary that: “To date, participants have felt no urgency to limit the discourse or dominate it by discipline, field, or methodology. For many of us, this is a sign of robust intellectual health” (2008, 13).

[1] As an important parallel: challenging the very term “belief” as a defining factor of religion is an ongoing discourse in religious studies. I can state anecdotally that it is a hurdle introducing the concept that religion takes many (unrecognizable) forms to new students, many of which have little or nothing to do with “belief.”

Research and Academia: Or, what the hell am I doing here in Norway, anyway?

There are two main reasons for my presence in Norway.

The second reason, is that studying in a different academic environment other than my home university demonstrates to potential employers that I have international experience. My bachelor, master, and (in-progress) doctoral degrees have all been at the same university. The reasons for this are a combination of funding (I worked full-time throughout my bachelor and master degrees, in a job that was not guaranteed elsewhere), support for my research (my department has been openly encouraging of my fringe research from the start), and domestic logistics (I have animals. They are as important to me as children, and uprooting them is a serious consideration).

By studying abroad for a half a year it shows I can adapt to new academic environments. Doctoral candidates are in this odd liminal space, where we are often part-time faculty, yet still students earning our degrees. We are considered professionals, but professionals that are in the process of building our careers. My portfolio now includes specialized research abroad.

The first, more significant reason for being here in particular, is to study under Dr. Jesper Aagaard Petersen. We are examining two thematic currents: the very broad category of Western esotericism, and the more specific modern religious Satanism. My dissertation focuses on one of the self-identified religious Satanic groups, the Church of Satan. Satanism is born within and responding to contemporary popular notions, while also reinterpreting ideas from occult and magical discourses. That is, Western esotericism informs how modern Satanists think and act. My work with Dr. Petersen investigates the relationship to, tension with, and reinterpretation of these historical arcane ideas into modern religious activity.

Now here is the Most Important Reason for me being physically in the same space as Dr. Petersen: when we met for the first time we had a general conversation about our plan here and discussed esotericism and Satanism, and it was the first time, ever, in a dozen years as an academic, that I had had a long conversation with a scholar that knows the field more than I do.

I cannot emphasize enough how important this is to the process of academic learning. Being able to bounce ideas off of another scholar, even if, especially if, you disagree is an integral part of advancing as a critical thinker. My supervisor at my home university has provided necessary and unflinching critique of my work (he never holds back, and I’ve eaten humble pie a few times!), but Dr. Petersen can catch problems with my work that might not be seen by scholars that do not know my field. Between my home supervisor and the host supervisor, I have a critical balance of feedback.

To put it bluntly, I’m looking forward to arguing. And being a nerd about all the weird stuff that interests me.

Trondheim City Center

It has been ten days in Norway.

Trondheim is a city built on small rolling hills that rise up from the fjord. The streets are not laid out in a grid pattern, but instead twisting curlicues that creep up and around and down and in between the ridges and slopes. Houses are quaint, nestled in their treed yards, accessed via rounded paths.

It is easy to get lost. I did, once or twice.

Mounts and dips.

Mounts and dips.

Before traveling to a new city, I study the maps. I like to know which way is North, and where I am in relation to everything else. When I arrive I at least have a mental map of my surroundings, if not exact position.

I have spent the better part of the past week walking the city and accumulating things. A pot and a pan. Cooking utensils. Eating utensils. A plate and bowl. Dish soap. Hand soap. Oil, soy sauce, and sugar. Coffee. Cream. Rice. A plastic storage container. A small dish that is oven, dishwasher, and microwave safe. The all important bed, and blankets and a pillow and a shower curtain for my window (it was cheaper). All acquired at Ikea, the grocery stores, and Fretex, which is what they call the Salvation army here in Norway. Still looking for a cheap, all-purpose knife. The Swiss Army tool is working well in the meantime.

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A familiar logo.

I am still quite jet lagged, fighting the impulse to keep my ryhthm: the first several days I was up until 6 am and slept until 2 in the afternoon, missing the brightest light. Instead I force myself out of the house by 9 am, and walk the city. This is a glimpse of rare bright light at the peak of day.

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Outside my dorm room window, about  8:30 am.

Outside my dorm room window, about 8:30 am.

Today I hiked to the ctiy center to present myself at the police station; they handle the immigration process, and NTNU has arranged an all-day appointment for its students. I show up early, and barely have to wait, so it allows me to tour the downtown and take photos.

When I was a young girl I caught a vampire horror movie on TV late one night, likely at a friend’s house. Apart from being scared, I remember that the premise was that two yound men had somehow got caught in a vampire world, where there were no mirrors, and the sun never shined. Even in the daytime, the light was subsumed and muffled. Trondheim winter reminds me of that. The sun never rises high in the sky. It is always at eye level, usually hiding behind a hill just out of eyesight.

On the return I took the photos below. It is quite beautiful, really, my pictures do not do the city justice.

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The End Times at NTNU

First thing: yes, I finally have a bed, but much more importantly, World War III broke out on the NTNU campus today.

There has been some issue about my official status here doing independent research as a visiting PhD. In order to rectify the classification problem, I have been on campus negotiating the administrative confusion.

Walking between buildings on campus and thinking about my next step, I was jerked out of my reverie by a sudden ear-piercing, all-enveloping cacophonous air-horn reverberating throughout the sky overhead. You know the horn that was supposed to bring down The Wall in Game of Thrones? This is what it would sound like if god blew on it before he was about to send the Archangel Michael down to battle Satan in the End Times.

Luckily, I have audio. Turn down your speakers. Or turn them up to experience what the apocalypse sounds like.

There were several students calmly strolling through campus at the time, clearly unconcerned with their immortal soul.

When the apocalypse comes it is announced with a trumpet so no one sleeps through it.

When the apocalypse comes it is announced with a trumpet so no one sleeps through it.

First, the good souls get taken up to heaven.

First, the good souls get taken up to heaven.

They leave behind their worldly possessions, because heaven is a nudest colony.

They leave behind their worldly possessions, because heaven is a nudist colony.

They don't have caffeine in heaven, which is a point against its appeal if you ask this heathen.

When you are raptured you cannot bring your coffee or cell phone, which are points against its appeal if you ask this heathen.

Well if my pets can't come I have no interest in going anyway.

Well if my pets can’t come I have no interest in going anyway.

Since no one seemed to be preparing for nuclear war or was raptured up to heaven, I figured I was still safe. At the International House I am informed that twice a year the city tests the emergency warning system. You can tell them it totally works. I peed my pants a little.

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I’ll write more about the work I’m doing here in another post (coming soon). In the meantime, you may click the green icon below to donate funds to support my research. Many thanks to everyone who has already donated!