Quick Notes: Alex Mar, Witch School, and a Romanian Valentine

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 14, 2011 — 37 Comments

Just a few quick news notes to start off your Monday.

American Mystic Director on Pagan Centered Podcast: The Pagan Centered Podcast has just posted its latest episode, featuring an hour-long discussion with Alex Mar, director of the new documentary “American Mystic”. You can download the program, here.

“The PCP Crew interviews Alex Mar of American Mystic, the first movie branded as a Pagan movie to be released to the general public in theaters! The crew discusses their thoughts about the movie with Alex and we all explore the movie at a greater depth. Don’t worry, even though we screened the full movie, we were able to negotiate the right to release the trailer to you as part of this episode so you will have some idea about what we are talking about. Special thanks again to Alex Mar and Empire 8 for making this happen on such short notice!”

Alex and “American Mystic” has been making the rounds of Pagan media lately, doing interviews with The Modern Witch Podcast (not to mention The Wild Hunt), and receiving positive reviews from a number of national Pagan outlets. The DVD will be available for sale at PantheaCon, and will be distributed exclusively to the Pagan community for a few months, before going “wide” this Summer on Netflix and iTunes. This year’s Pantheacon will feature a special screening of “American Mystic”, which will be followed by a Q&A led by me with the director, Morpheus Ravenna, and members of Stone City Pagan Sanctuary.

Witch School Names New President: The Internet-based WitchSchool has named Rev. Anna Rowe, Head of School for Europe and the UK, as the learning institution’s new president.

“Towards the end of January Ed Hubbard CEO of Witchschool asked me to consider the position of President of Witchschool. Ed has said that he has faith and trust in me to do the job so therefore I accepted. I have an extensive knowledge of how Witchschool works from the bottom up as I have been a member of Witchschool since it was originally just the Daily Spell going out via email. […] I hope that every member of Witchschool will support me in our continued effort to provide anyone, anytime, anyplace with a Magical, Pagan and Wiccan Education. Witchschool is a valuable and growing aspect of the Pagan and Wiccan community and we are open to anyone who wishes to become a member and participate in our peer to peer learning.”

CEO Ed Hubbard commented that this move shows “that Witch School can develop global Pagan leadership.” While WitchSchool has drawn quite a bit of criticism and controversy during its existence, it has also developed a truly global network of students and practitioners, boasting ties from India to Brazil. Will the appointment of a president outside the United States denote a new focus on its international students? How will this affect their Salem campus? I’ll be paying attention as these issues develop.

A (Witchy) Romanian Valentine For You: The Canadian Press notes that a number of Romanian witches, led by Witch Queen Mihaela Minca, have performed a public ritual to help you find love on this Valentine’s Day.

“Joined by a handful of apprentice witches, queen witch Mihaela Minca led Monday’s outdoor ceremony, casting spells with peacock feathers and rose petals. The witches wore colorful, glittering robes in freezing temperatures to perform the ritual in the lakeside village of Mogosoaia.”

In addition to these amorous actions, Minca has been vocal lately in opposition to Romania’s new laws regulating witchcraft and fortune-telling. An issue I’ve covered quite a bit recently. Under proposed new regulations, could she be penalized if you fail in your romantic pursuits? It seems a silly thing to conceive of, but that’s exactly the road Romania’s been traveling down lately.

That’s all I have for now, have a great (Valentine’s) day!

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • http://www.thehighwayhermit.com highway_hermit

    Maybe the first step Rev. Rowe will take will be to re-design the website so it will have a more professional appearance – I've visited the site a few times and I always feel like I'm navigating into a Harry Potter book.

  • Chris Boydston-Taub

    Anyone hearing criticisms about the Sun Dance being filmed/photographed? I'm reading a few message boards that are covering the film and there's more than a few complaints about this – as well as their rituals being linked with Paganism.

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    I saw one complaint at Youtube. But they must not have seen the movie. The Sun Dance is never filmed, and the movie does not link Native American beliefs with modern Paganism (or Spiritualism for that matter).

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    "as well as their rituals being linked with Paganism."

    Their rituals are Pagan. People have to learn to distinguish between cultural preservation and the dead-end of identity-politics.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Just from the trailer it would seem the movie covers a much broader selection of American mystical religion than what we usually mean by "Pagan,"

  • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com kauko

    I remember when I looked at the preview months ago on Youtube the comment section was filled with complaints from people about the Sun Dance supposedly being filmed as well as complaining about any Native American spirituality even being shown in the same film as Paganism/ witchcraft etc. The general mindset of those people seemed to be that Wicca/ witchcraft was a bunch of nonsense and they were offended at it being given any place in the film beside Native spirituality.

  • Chris Boydston-Taub

    I believe the accusation stems from whites taking the rituals of First Nations people and making them their own.

  • Scott

    Their rituals are "pagan" using the common English meaning of "not Christian." Their rituals are *not* Pagan, where the capitalization indicates a distinct religious movement which began in the twentieth century. That's sort of an important distinction. And while I agree that identity politics can be destructive, I think we ought to default to the agency of the people we'd like to include in a coalition, rather than presuming their willingness.

  • https://www.facebook.com/people/Amber-Roth/1597618062 Amber Roth

    Take a listen to the interview we did with her for a more accurate elaboration, but she was very respectful of when and what she was filming. She worked according to the wishes of those attending, and followed quite well what she was allowed to film, and what she was not. As Jason said, the Sun Dance was never filmed.

    She also explains a bit of why she came to film them all together and her goals of filming them together quite well in the interview as well. ^.^

  • Cathryn Bauer

    Go, Queen Mihaela! Imagine if we were all caught up in love, to the point where battle and destruction and turf wars became simply uninteresting! Well, can't stop us dreaming…

  • https://www.facebook.com/people/Amber-Roth/1597618062 Amber Roth

    This is pretty much true. I mean hell, look at just dreamcatchers…

    You also have the fact that a lot of natives in today's world are still Christianized, so while it's easy to call them Pagan, most have fought hard to be looked at differently than Pagans doing witchcraft. So they have mixed their traditional beliefs to meld with those of Christianity.

    On the more traditional side, you also have the fact that there are a lot of them that see how Pagans present their beliefs, and understand them to be fundamentally different in their approach to ritual. Some see it as unbelievably disrespectful to invoke any type of spirit during ritual, or the idea that the individual has power.

    Really, it depends on which native person you're talking to. Just like it depends on if you're talking to a Reconstructionist Kemetic compared to a Neo-Ecclectic Wiccan who loves Isis…you'll get different world views.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    Chris Boydston-Taub: "I believe the accusation stems from whites taking the rituals of First Nations people and making them their own."

    That is one aspect of it. Another aspect is First Peoples, many of whom are Christian or have otherwise abandoned "their own" religious traditions, perpetuating bigoted misconceptions about modern Paganism. There is nothing new about that. Conquered peoples often internalize the ideologies of those who conquer them.

  • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com kauko

    None of what I said was meant to indicate that that was my opinion on the movie nor encourage anyone else to believe that. I was merely reporting an attitude I had encountered a lot among people commenting on the trailer of the film on YouTube, as it seemed relevant to the comment to which I was responding.

  • Adon

    "Not Christian" isn't the common English meaning of pagan, it's the common "christian" meaning of pagan and there's a huge difference.
    And every primal religion is pagan one way or another (with or without the capital "P", whatever) including the native american ones. And primal religions didn't begin in the twentieth century by the way.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    Scott, Paganism is not a "distinct religious movement which began in the twentieth century." I would refer you to the writings of noted scholar of religious history, professor Ronald Hutton, who has concluded that modern Paganism is the contemporary form of a religious movement which began at roughly the same time as the Jesus cult. (Personally I differ with professor Hutton in that I believe Paganism goes back much further.)

  • Jonathan

    I think the issue is whether or not those First Nation practitioners want to be associated with the "Pagan" label. The distinction between "Pagan" and "pagan" might not matter at all to them.

  • Adon

    *primary (not primal) – stupid typo

  • Scott

    While the OED may recognize that the definition I gave is on its way to being "largely historical," it's still the first definition given, so I stand by my characterization of it as the common English meaning. And the capital "P" is actually really important there, as it appears to be passing into common usage as a way to distinguish modern Paganism from ancient paganism. If Apuleius did not intend its use in that way in his comment, I will happily accept a correction from him. I also stand by my point that it is arrogant to assume the willingness of First Peoples, or anyone else whose religious tradition falls into the small-p "pagan" definition, to associate with the capital-P "Pagan" community as allies, which was the subtext I read from the previous comment (and to which, again, I will accept a correction from the original poster if he meant something else).

  • Scott

    Very funny. And really missing my point.

  • Chris Boydston-Taub

    I'm referring to Paganism with a capital "P", created by modern movements on old ideas. Sedona, AZ is a good example of what happens when uninformed people emulate First Nations traditions. James Arthur Ray is standing trial for the death of 2 people who paid a four-digit amount of money for a sweat lodge experience that turned ugly; if for the simple reason that he didn't build it correctly, let alone his obvious intention of cashing in on self-improvement spirituality.

    I'm only saying that I understand the frustrations of First Nations people and wanted to clear up whether they viewed the film and didn't like what they saw…did the film maker get permission, etc. I'd be interested in knowing.

  • Peg Aloi

    I have to agree that Scott's clarification and distinction is correct and appropriate. Referring to "paganism" is not the same as referring to "Paganism" and it is useful to differentiate the two terms. They really should not be used interchangeably. The neo-paganism or modern pagan witchcraft that came about in the 20th century is NOT the same concept as the paganism of the ancient world or the generalized meaning of polytheistic or animistic beliefs. The ancient Celts, for example, were conceivably "pagans" but they were not "Pagans."

  • Peg Aloi

    And can this discussion please not dissolve into a protracted and generic pissing contest among people who haven't even seen this film? Because this forum has increasingly been the site of some really irrelevant and self-serving chest-thumping lately. The comments go on and on and on and rarely have little to do with the original point. It's rude to hijack Jason's site in such a way.

  • Adon

    But in your logic Peg, the same applies to all religious traditions, for example Christianity of the first century is different from the post-Nicean one and the latter is different from the one we see today, but i didn't see anyone who defends the "Neo-pagan" label demanding to call modern day Christians "Neo-Christians", or demanding to come up with labels like Neo-Jews, or Neo-Hindus or Neo-Shinto.
    Maybe the reason that no one demands that is that Christianity have general traits that make it seem as one stream from the roman days till now, but so is paganism even if the general common traits of paganism are less obvious since it's a non-canonical primary organic religion.

    And religions do evolve and grow and are a fluid expression of the human relationship with the Divine, so even if our paganism today isn't 100 % similar to ancient paganism (i think it is) it still paganism.

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat_C_B

    It's not just Peg's logic, Adon. If you were to look at common usage among those of us who have openly identified as Pagan for the last twenty years or more, there is a consensus usage that uses the lower case "pagan" to refer to various non-Christian groups (generally polytheist and/or earth based) which may or may not have any direct or lineal relationship with the Paganism we practice here and now, and reserves the upper case "Pagan" to refer to those of us who practice one of a family of religions, generally held to have at least an indirect relationship to the indigenous pagan religions of Europe. Other qualifiers for the upper case would include self-identification, polytheism/animism/pantheism, and (arguably) nature-centeredness. (Less arguably, world-affirming rather than world-denying theologies.)

    Yep, there's disagreement on some of this, and not just from the disagreeable. Michael York refers to modern non-European based polytheisms as pagan in a sense meaning something rather more than non-Christian, and closer to the usage generally given to the modern religious practices which self-identify as Pagan… and does so without regard for any connection to European cultures. On the other side of the spectrum, Andras Corban Arthen refers to our modern religious practices as pagan with a lower case "P," though I am unclear whether that is because of his non-theist stance or because he feels that our religious movement is too diverse to be characterized as a single religion (and thus, should not have a capital letter normally reserved for a proper noun or proper adjective.)

    Now, it's true that this usage may continue to change, and you are free to argue that it should. There is room for debate, as our practices and our boundaries are evolving day by day.

    But there is an emerging consensus already. Peg is not arguing that we should be "Neo-" anything, but rather, has added her voice to the many that reserve the upper case "Pagan" for those who self-consciously identify with a specific religion: Paganism. Practitioners of Shinto, Taoism, Hinduism, and a host of Native American and African religions do share important traits with Paganism, as Paganism shares with the paganisms of the ancient world. But where the word "pagan" is used as an adjective, not as a label for a specific religion identified as such by its adherents under that name , both grammar and common usage favor Peg's position.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    Religions are capitalized. Period. This includes extremely broad and mind-bendingly vague religions with made-up histories and no internal theological coherence, such as Christianity.

    Whatever "consensus" exists concerning Pagan versus pagan is not fundamentally an orthographic convention, but rather reflects a decision to treat those categorized as pagans as not constituting an actual religion. This in turn, is done only by arbitrarily applying criteria to Pagans that are not applied in the case of Hindus, Buddhists, etc.

    There is absolutely no justification for referring to the ancient devotees of Isis, Athena, Hermes, Pan, Dionysos, etc, as "pagans", so long as the category of "Christian" with a capital "C" includes Mormons, Christian Scientists, Spiritualists, Quakers, Unitarians, Seventh Day Advantists, Copts, Pentecostalists, Nestorians, Arians, Valentinians, Irvingites, The Eternal Sacred Church of Cherubim and Seraphim, Great Commission Churches, Unity, Church of God With Signs Following, Church of God and Saints of Christ, United Church of God, Restored Church of God, Living Church of God, Global Church of God, Worldwide Church of God, International Church of God, Church of the Great God, Church of God Preparing for the Kingdom of God ….

  • Adon

    Thank you for the time and effort that you put in your post Cat.
    I do understand the context of the differentiation, especially that the word pagan has been used as an adjective for a long time in the West.
    However, i agree with Apuleius that i still can't see why we should apply on paganism what doesn't apply on other religions, really. For example the scope of differences in Hinduism may be way larger than the one that exists right now between "Neo-pagan" traditions, yet they have a common denomination and they use the proper names of their specific traditions when they need more specification. I think the same applies to us. Most of the ancient civilizations during the primary religions period didn't even had a word for religion, because it was so intertwined with their life but also because they simply saw everyone to have the same religion even if their ways are different.

    Also, maybe i don't relate much to the discussion about the capital "P" because in my native tongue (lebanese arabic) there are no capital letters at all, and so is the case in most of the semitic languages that i know of including Hebrew, ancient Canaanite and Phoenician. That means that however i write the name of my religion in my original language, it indicates to the same meaning that it had before the coming of monotheism.

  • Jonathan

    Self-identification is really the key issue. I know many Hindus who don't want to be called "pagan" any more than "Pagan". Because this distinctions is far less important to people outside of our communities.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    But "Hindu" is not actually a term of self-reference either. Many people labeled as Hindus prefer the term "Sanatana Dharma", but accept the term Hindu as an imperfect convention. For that matter, neither "Buddhist" nor "Buddhism" are labels that arise from within the tradition of those who follow the Buddha Dharma. The same is also true of "Confucianism" and "Confucianist", and so forth.

    And there are also Hindus who recognize the affinity between Paganism and Hinduism. This is true in the case of two very prominent western converts to Hinduism, Linda Johnsen, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism (which is very good and is quite popular among Hindus in the US), and Dr. David Frawley, one of very few westerners recognized in India as a respected Hindu scholar. But there are also "native" Hindus who have voiced similar sentiments, such as Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel.

    For anyone who is interested, I wrote about Johnsen, Frawley, Swarup and Goel a while back on my blog: Hindus and Pagans: "A return to the time of the Gods".

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat_C_B

    It is because the word "paganism" can be used either to denote a religion–in which case, Ap is quite right, and the word should be capitalized ("Pagan") or a general descriptor, like "monotheist" or "animist."

    In the case of the word "pagan" being used to describe pre-Christian religious movements from a variety of European and Mediterranean locations, which shared ideas but no single religious identity, it is being used as a descriptor. An adjective, but not a proper adjective.

    Clearer?

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat_C_B

    I agree that this is a contested area; no single usage has yet made clear the relationship between Paganism and Hinduism.

    Unlike the acceptance of the term Hindu "as an imperfect convention," which has arisen from within that tradition and is widespread, as you note.

    As for the adoption of words and names from outside a religion as perhaps less valid, that would make all names difficult for religions as old as Hinduism… and there is a long tradition of religious movements taking on not only names given them by outsiders, but names given them derisively by outsiders, and making them their own.

    (As a Quaker, I know all about that one!)

    What I'm arguing for is waiting for the adoption to be made by the members of a religious group before we impose it from without. (And I agree that Hindus come quite close in many cases, and that it may well be that the future holds as much common identification, at least, between Hindus and Pagan groups like Asatru and Wiccans as it does between Asatru and Wiccans today under the label "Pagan.")

  • Jonathan

    Apuleius,

    You make a really good point. But although "Hinduism" is really a collection of various traditions (sometimes with almost nothing in common), the umbrella term "Hindu" has been accepted by convention none the less.

    You are right that "paganism" is sometimes accepted as a label by Hindu, Yoruba, or indigenous spiritual practitioners. But it isn't a convention. And so we shouldn't treat it as one, since significant numbers of people don't accept this label.

    Likewise, we shouldn't assume that people reject this label either, or that paganism and Native Spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive.

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat_C_B

    I agree.

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat_C_B

    "Pagans" is not capitalized because it lacks specificity as well as self-identification for the ancient pagan religions you talk about, Ap, not because they are not religions.

    As far as I know, there is no controversy anywhere about capitalizing "Khemetic," "Hellenic," or even "Classical" when they describe religions of the ancient (or modern) world.

    This really is about the grammar, not the dignity of our forebears.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    By definition, such "conventions" are moving targets. I think it is far more important to make one's own meaning clear than it is to attempt to adhere to some "convention".

    But I still contend that the issue of "pagan vs. Pagan" goes far beyond a harmless & convenient orthographic convention. Rather it represents a highly problematic decision to treat certain subsets of religious beliefs and practices as not constituting "real" religions. The shifting and arbitrary arguments that are given to justify this judgment, if any justification is bothered with at all, quickly reveal that this "convention" is not one that is worthy or respect.

    And really, it is ludicrous to call Plutarch, one of antiquity's greatest minds and a priest of the God Apollo, a "pagan", while Silver Ravenwolf is dubbed a "Pagan", especially since the implication is that there is something more coherent and well established in Silver Ravenwolf's religiosity than there was in Plutarch's.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    We have to examine this assumption: "pre-Christian religious movements from a variety of European and Mediterranean locations … shared ideas" but did not constitute a "single religious identity."

    There is actually strong evidence to contradict this assumption. Different people from very different cultures/regions of this period can be shown, conclusively, to have shared a very strong sense of religious commonality with each other. This strong sense of commonality was noted by Ramsay MacMullen in his 1984 book Paganism in the Roman Empire, and it was even more clearly, and emphatically, articulated by James B. Rives' Religion in the Roman Empire (written in 2006, 22 years after MacMullen's book). In fact, this commonality is the reason that Rives refers to Religion, singular, in the Roman Empire.

    It turns out that the very concept of "different" religions separates monotheists from polytheists. Polytheists assume that everyone everywhere worships the Gods, just in different ways. Monotheists assume everyone everywhere lives in Error until and unless they convert to the one true religion, all other religions just being so many variations on the themes of abomination and idolatry. Modern scholars of religion obviously tone down the most obviously subjective aspects of that mindset, but still retain the concept of "rival religions", a concept that is foreign to Paganism.

    Therefore the underlying assumptions behind the supposed orthographic convention in question silently and uncritically privilege monotheism as the normative model for religion generally.

  • Robin Artisson

    I have always capitalized Pagan and will continue to. I also capitalize Gods.

  • Jonathan

    But I wasn't talking about the "pagan vs. Pagan" orthographic convention. I was talking about the fact that the umbrella term "Hinduism" is accepted among widely divergent traditions.

    I think you misunderstand my use of the word "convention". Any convention by nature is arbitrary and subject to change. But when a convention is adopted by a group of people to describe their sense of identity, then we should respect it.

    Regardless of the reason, neither "paganism" nor "Paganism" is widely accepted as an umbrella term by members of such widely divergent traditions as Hinduism, Yoruba religion, Wicca, Voodoo, Shintoism, etc, etc. There are many many reasons (some of them contradictory) why people are adverse to this term. But the reason doesn't matter.