Today’s post is actually not much concerned with witchcraft or magic, so if you usually read for those reasons, you might want to skip it. Instead, I thought I’d share a few of the things I’m listening to or reading when I’m not focused on purely magical pursuits. It’s no secret I have a deep love for folklore and Americana, but I’m also deeply interested in science and history as well. I think they’re very important because they are two of the best references for understanding the world and our place in it we have available. They are balanced by folklore and magic, I think, and so I tend to get very into them. So here are some of my top new media (i.e. blog and podcast) sites:
The History of Rome – Podcast – Mike Duncan’s magnificent podcast has been going on for well over two years now, and shows no signs of slowing down. Each episode, which can range from 15 to 35 minutes long, covers a segment of Roman history, from the mythical origins to the military victories to the day-to-day life Romans endured or enjoyed depending on their station. I’ve learned so much from this show. Of particular interest to those who read this blog might be episodes 86, 87, and 88, which touch on the daily life of Romans, including their religious doings. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
12 Byzantine Rulers – Podcast – This series from Lars Brownworth, a noted historian and also the voice behind the Norman Centuries podcast, is a wonderful overview of the Byzantine Empire. Brownworth covers the rise and fall of one of the most interesting and oft-misunderstood empires in history with depth and narrative enthusiasm. If all history were this interesting, we’d have a lot more historians around. I also recommend his excellent book on Byzantium, Lost to the West.
Appalachian History – Podcast & Blog – This is a wonderful site and show which has the feel of an audio newsletter, complete with short tales, historical notes, and anecdotes about life in Appalachia, particularly during the Depression. The production is quite nice, with little filmstrip-soundtrack bells between each segment, and a brief overview of the topics covered in audio abstract format at the top of the episode. The site is updated more frequently than the podcast, but both are well worthwhile, and even occasionally touch on magical topics, as in the post on the Blood Verse.
The Blind Pig & the Acorn – Blog – This is a lovely and well done blog which looks at not only historical Appalachia, but modern-day mountain life, too. There are a number of topics covered, from gardening and self-sufficiency to medicine to music to storytelling. There’s even a wonderful series of posts about planting by the signs, which might be of interest to folks here.
Backstory with the American History Guys – Podcast – This NPR-produced show features three professors of history with different specialties (18th, 19th, and 20th centuries) tracing the course of particular topics throughout American history. Topics have included a history of courtship and romance, a history of ghosts and the supernatural, and even a history of climate control and air conditioning! The rapport between the hosts is stellar, and the information is always fascinating. If you have any interest in American history, give them a listen.
RadioLab – Podcast – This deeply fascinating WNYC/NPR show features two hosts with a lot of good questions tackling some very big topics in science. For instance, shows cover topics like dreams and Sleep, conceptions of the Afterlife, the nature of Words and language, finding Limits of human performance, the wonderful world of Parasites, and Stochasticity (I’ll let you look that one up). Jad and Robert make the universe seem like a playground, albeit a big, terrifying one sometimes, and their probing show really unearths a lot of new questions for the curious listener. The production values are phenomenal, too! Plus they often have great music (this is where I discovered the amazing cellist Zoe Keating, and They Might Be Giants are apparently fans of the show, too).
Earth & Sky – Podcast & Blog – This is a wonderful short series on the many different aspects of physical science that influence our daily lives. They cover everything from asteroids and space dust to the shifting coastlines of major continents to the influence of rare earth elements on our economy. You can subscribe to particular feeds following particular topics, or get your fill of the whole shebang if you prefer.
The Naked Scientists – Podcast – This show, which also features offshoot programs on Africa, Archaeology, Engineering, etc. is loaded with lots of short, fun, interesting segments. It primarily deals with the basic processes of science and how they relate to understanding our world today, but there are occasional segments related to historical science as well which are quite fascinating. They feature guests, field reports, and lecture-style deliveries on a wide range of topics, which should certainly whet the appetite of any eager science aficionados.
Nature – Podcast – A group of scientists connected with the journal of the same name host this very informative show which doesn’t focus on current events in science, but rather spends a lot of time looking at the natural world and trying to understand it. It gets some criticism because it is definitely aimed at scientists, but usually it’s not that hard to follow and the more difficult stuff just makes me more curious. Give it a listen if you have an interest in natural science!
Borealis Meditation – Podcast – Okay, okay, this IS a pagan podcast from one of our own, Kathleen. But let me be frank here in saying I get a huge education in earth science every time I tune into the show, and actually find myself listening more for that angle than any other. Great science, great host, very enjoyable show!
The Moonlit Road – Podcast – A delightful podcast which tackles individual tales from American folklore in every episode. Master storytellers recount these famous stories, like “Taily-po” and “The Blue Girl.” It has relatively high production values, and always makes me happy when I see a new episode available (though I could do without the cricket noises on the webpage). A great listen!
To the Best of Our Knowledge – Podcast – This one is not strictly folklore, but also covers things like science, sociology, literature, etc. However, I’ll be honest, I don’t always listen to the episodes on topics I’m not interested in, so I primarily hear the information on literature and folklore. Some of the great episodes in that vein have been the episodes on Magic and Fairy Tales.
Librivox – Audio Archive – I’m a huge fan of this project, which aims to take all public domain literature and provide volunteer-created audio recordings of it to everyone. I’m working on getting a few tales together myself for this site, and I love listening to all sorts of folklore, including the Grimm’s Fairy Tales and the Arabian Nights. As it is volunteer-based, the quality of the audio varies a bit, but overall it seems to be audible and there are a variety of voices to experience, which is very nice in my opinion.
Hometown Tales – Podcast – This show really focuses on listener-submitted lore, and as such, doesn’t get a whole lot of scholarly points. However, as far as fun and interest go, this podcast is really solid. The hosts have a good chemistry together, and the stories are presented with a little bit of humor and a sense of combined belief/unbelief that makes each topic more intriguing. If nothing else, it usually sends me scrambling for a pen so I can look up some of the lore they present and find out more about it, which is always a good thing.
The Moth – Podcast – Another show from NPR which isn’t so much about folklore as it is about storytelling. As such, I can’t really say it’s folklore in the way I usually mean it, but it still fits as storytelling is a major folk art and one I particularly love. And the stories are often very fun, funny, or poignant, with occasional forays into the magical. It’s a grab bag, really, but I think it’s worth listening to.
Speaking of Faith – Podcast – Host Krista Tippett discusses religion with some of the most fascinating religious figures out there. If you’re into comparative religion, I highly recommend this show. Some highlights have included episodes on ethical eating, a discussion on Ojibwe language and story, and a wonderful show about Haitian Vodou.
The SaintCast – Podcast – Dr. Paul Camerata does a marvelous job exploring the Catholic faith through the lives of the saints. While he would probably not be thrilled to see his show linked from this particular site, I personally love his show, which features “Saint Jeopardy!” and a weekly saints calendar. You get historical information as well as the lore surrounding the saint, often from primary sources, and it’s a lot of fun to listen to, if you happen to like saints.
I listen to a lot of podcasts, if you can’t tell, but I also have a heck of a commute to work every day. And I’m not even including things like my foreign-language podcasts which I use to help improve my Spanish and German vocabulary! I don’t know if this post will turn anyone on to some new listening material, but if it does, that’s great! Of course, I’m really hoping none of these shows will replace New World Witchery on your mp3 player…but that would be impossible, right? Right?
Thanks for reading!