I arrive in Chicago, now, as an outsider. Though I have lived near Chicago in the past, I’ve become a true transplant to the Pacific Northwest and find myself newly awed by the scale of this city. The buildings, the public art, and even the convention center are massive, sprawling, and alive. Before I attend any session at the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting, I’m able to make it to the end of a day-long pre-conference event on Friday entitled “Mapping the Occult City: Magick & Esotericism in the Urban Utopia.” Co-sponsored by DePaul University and Phoenix Rising Academy.
During a roundtable discussion on the “psychic city” featuring several local Chicago Pagan and occult leaders, including Angie Buchanan of Gaia’s Womb, one of the current owners of The Occult Bookstore, and a representative of the local OTO Lodge. It was clear that Chicago has a very distinct character, one that defies easy categorization, and one very much tied to the unique landscape of this metropolis. It’s a place where syncretism, religious cross-pollination, and a respect for the deep roots placed here generations ago.
As fascinating as that discussion was, the real highlight of that evening was a special performance from Terra Mysterium, a local collective of actors, singers, musicians, poets, and magicians, who weave theatre and the esoteric arts in a way that’s captivating, and deliriously enjoyable. Truly you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a banish-off between an un-orthodox Witch and a group of ritual magicians doing the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram (in song)! An extra bonus was seeing Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum, who’s going to be on a panel discussing the Pew Forum’s prison chaplaincy survey.
After that enriching evening, it was time to start the AAR Annual Meeting proper, and the Pagan Studies programming track began bright and early with “Contemporary Pagan Theology and Praxology.” This panel, which featured papers from Michael York, author of “Pagan Theology,” along with Christopher Chase, Michelle Mueller, and Morgan Davis, mirrored conversations that have been happening with increasing regularity in the Pagan community. The tensions between practice and theology, between community and individuality, and what the best lens is to view these issues. It shows how Pagan scholarship isn’t disconnected from what concerns us, but is instead deeply interconnected. Their work helps us move forward.
Tomorrow I’ll recount the experiences and interactions I had on Sunday and Monday, and talk more about how what happens in the academy not only mirrors our experience as Pagans, but informs and shapes it as well.
I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to the campaign to send me to AAR, including the underwriters who joined us during that time: A Modern Druid, Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, Brotherhood of the Phoenix, Egregores, Ix Chel Wellness, Mill Creek Seminary, Solar Cross Temple, Stone City Pagan Sanctuary, Teo Bishop, The Summerlands, Urania’s Well, and Wiccanwoman. Thank you. You make this possible.