Pagan Voices: Chas Clifton, Morpheus Ravenna, Steven Abell, and More!

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 1, 2013 — 18 Comments

Pagan voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

Chas Clifton

Chas Clifton

“[Jone Salomonsen] and I have felt from the beginning that Pagan studies is not so much about this group or that, but about Paganism as a way of being religious. For example, we have had presentations that focused on the treatment of images in a Pagan setting and in Mediterranean Catholic settings, which leads to joking about ‘the i-word’ (idolatry) and to discussions of whether it is useful and usable in a scholarly setting or whether one would do better to adopt some term like ‘sacred materiality.’”Chas Clifton, from an interview conducted by Ethan Doyle White.

“The workshops varied in scope and I found myself torn at every single time slot trying to determine which workshop to attend. Attendee’s had 40 workshops to choose from, varying in scope from Shamanic Body Posture to Strategic Sorcery to Secret Societies and more. This feel of the workshops at this event was unlike anything I’ve experienced at past Pagan conferences and conventions. With a target audience of advanced practitioners, the instructors clearly felt comfortable with skipping past cursory introductions to topics and dove right into the depths of the topic at hand. With the many options available in each time slot, classes stayed at respectable sizes small enough for questions from participants and responses from the instructors. Nothing I attended felt rushed or impersonal. Of course, there were presentations by world-renown occultist Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki which filled an entire ballroom of people, but other workshops tended to stay at around thirty people or less.”David Salisbury, from his overview of the recent Between the Worlds 2012 conference.

“Some people read the myths, whether our Scandinavian/Germanic ones or those from somewhere else, and find that the old stories just won’t leave them alone. And, while we have very few instructions from a thousand years ago on how to practice Ásatrú, there is broad agreement on how those stories advise conducting one’s life. Hairsplitting theological discussions aren’t necessary. For a lot of people, this thing, this practice, just works. Over all those centuries, how many de facto Heathens spent their lives hiding out in their own minds? Now that we don’t have to hide anymore, at least in much of the world, how many more are still hiding out just because they think they are alone in their feelings?”Steven T. Abell, discussing proselytizing from a Heathen standpoint.

jonathan korman

Jonathan Korman

“If we cannot describe pagan-ness, we end up with an unarticulated sense that Pagan means “Wicca and things like it”, which should satisfy no one. To sneak up on the problem, I want to resist questions as grandiose as Who Pagans Are or What Pagans Do or What Pagans Believe. (Indeed, that last is particularly pernicious; defining a religion in terms of what onebelieves is a distinctively Protestant move; let’s not go there.) Rather, I want to talk about what I call the “pagan sensibility” — note the deliberate use of the lower-case p. Not a statement of the True Pagan Nature or an explanation of the Pagan community, but a description of what kind of thought and action makes things pagan flavored. I think that one can describe that briefly and clearly, including everything one wants while excluding everything one doesn’t.”Jonathan Korman, laying out his case for a “pagan sensibility.”

“Polytheists like to claim that the multiplicity of gods breeds a kind of pluralism that makes intolerance and acts of religious violence less likely. But as an earth-centered and Self-centered Pagan, I see more similarities than dissimilarities between polytheism and the monotheisms. And I wonder if what really distinguishes Paganism from the Abrahamic faiths is not the number of gods, but the belief that in some sense we are God. A polytheist would call this hubris and a monotheist would call it heretical. (At least an orthodox monotheist would. There have always been mystical strains within the monotheistic traditions which sought union with God.) But for many Pagans, the hubris of the statement, “Thou art God/dess”, is an article of, well, faith.”John Halstead, on the role of faith and hubris in Paganism.

Morpheus Ravenna with Chrigel Glanzmann of Eluveitie.

Morpheus Ravenna with Chrigel Glanzmann of Eluveitie.

“Come the night, when the crowd roared and Eluveitie took the stage. When the mad, fierce, raging joy poured out of the musicians and swept through the crowd, churning the sea of people into a frenzy of violent celebration in the mosh pit. When the impassioned, screaming songs were sung out in the ancient language. Songs full of raw, deep emotion, telling the story of the Gallic wars and the nation that was, with joy, with pride, with rage, with anguish, with heart, the sounds of Celtic instruments swelling on a thunderous tide of metal. Songs of all that was lost, yet I could not help feeling how alive we were, how full of pride, how the flame of the Celtic spirit blazed in us in answer to the power in that music. Come the night, I felt the lost nation of Gaul singing through her descendants on the stage, echoing back from the ecstatic crowd. Everything lost is found again.”Morpheus Ravenna, describing her meeting with Chrigel Glanzmann, the lead singer and lyric-writer of the band Eluveitie.

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

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Medeine Ragana

    “while we have very few instructions from a thousand years ago on how to practice Ásatrú,there is broad agreement on how those stories advise conducting one’s life.” I strongly recommend folks taking the “Introduction to Greek and Roman Mythology” course given by given by Dr. Peter Struck of the University of Pennsylvania under the auspices of Coursera, if and when it is offered again. It was one of the most enlightening courses in how mythology, in general, works. Now when I read the mythologies of various groups, I look at it with an entirely different eye.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      You don’t think that, perhaps, different cultures approach myth and legend in different ways?

      • Medeine Ragan

        Before taking this course I would say yes. After taking the course – no. What I learned in that course really opened my eyes to how mythology works in general, and I have started looking at our own “modern” culture’s mythologies in a very different way. I can’t summarize the whole course here, but I really, really learned a lot. There were a lot of Pagans taking the course as well.

  • Chas S. Clifton

    One small correction: It’s not “[John] Jones” but Jone Salomonsen, co-chair of the Pagan Studies group, whom I was referring to.

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

    “Sacred materiality” has a lot of potential. But I think that good old “Idolatry” has more punch to it. I think it would be good to popularize and promote the use of “Idolatry”, while expanding on the phrase “sacred materiality” as the go-to 25-words-or-less explanation of what is intended by using “Idolatry” in a positive, religious sense.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Agreed. Nothing wrong with a bit of idolatry.

  • Gareth

    I did my dissertation on York’d idolatry, ecology and the sacred as tangible. Presuming I correctly understood it I’m for using idolatry. To me “Sacred materiality” smacked of Judeo-Christian appeasment and pussy-footing.

    • Chas S. Clifton

      I agree, but there are some people — often young scholars — who are nervous about “the i-word.”

  • Patrick

    Often words with negative popular connotations are used without those connotations in scholarship (“cult”), so I don’t see why the same can’t be true for idolatry. Outside of Judeo-Christian traditions, I’ve visited Hindu temples and had English-speaking Hindus point proudly to statues of gods and goddess and say without hesitation, “These are our idols.”

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

      “These are our idols.” Say it loud, say it proud.

      One of the really wonderful things about the movie Gladiator was its nonchalant, but quite exquisitely sensitive, portrayal of everyday Pagan idolatry.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-H-Halstead/1170545330 John H Halstead

        I liked the series Rome for that reason as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1186404199 Crystal Hope Kendrick

    The quote by John Halstead really set my eyes to rolling. Do we really feel the need to have such divisions and othering in our community? The less-Christian-than-thou argument is getting really really tiresome.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-H-Halstead/1170545330 John H Halstead

      I think you called that one right, Crystal. But the quote above is a little out of context, which makes it seem more provocative than it was. One of the purposes of my post was to point out how one way in which different kinds of Paganism are similar: we are all trying to connect to something larger than ourselves — albeit in different ways.

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

        Thanks for that clarification, John. But I don’t think that quite manages to completely address your sweeping conflation of monotheism and polytheism with respect to the issue of tolerance. It is simply a matter of well-documented historical fact that the historical transition from polytheism to monotheism (in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, in particular) coincided precisely with a transition from societies in which dozens, or even hundreds, of religious traditions coexisted, to societies in which one religious tradition was violently imposed on everyone. That is a very crucial fact for both polytheists and monotheists to recognize.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-H-Halstead/1170545330 John H Halstead

          The Jews were monotheists for centuries before that and for the most part did not seek to impose their religion on anyone else. The Roman Empire was polytheistic before it was montheistic, and I think it could be argued that the violent imposition of religious tradition by the late Roman Empire was just an extension of the imperialism that began when Rome was polytheistic. You may say that the Empire did not force its religion on others, but the Jews who had a statue of Zeus set up in their temple would disagree. It’s not that the Empire did not impose its religion (people were required to make observe the state cult), but it’s just that the polytheistic populace was able to accommodate this imposition easier. People will find a reason to be imperialistic if they want and religion (of any flavor) can be used for that purpose. And Rome’s syncretism could be seen as a more subtle form of cultural imperialism. I have heard polytheists be as intolerant and dogmatic as any monotheist.

          • Nick Ritter

            “The Jews were monotheists for centuries before that and for the most part did not seek to impose their religion on anyone else.”

            After a considerable period of bloody and forcible conversion of the Canaanites and related peoples, you mean? The slaughter of the priests of Ba’al by Elijah is a good example, and paved the way, I think, for such intolerance to be spread outside of Israel by the sects that developed out of Judaism. The subsequent (and ongoing) persecution of polytheistic religions grew from this sort of seed.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-H-Halstead/1170545330 John H Halstead

            The Canaanites were not “converted”. The conquering of Canaan was not an attempt to impose Yahwehism. The idea would have been foreign to them, since Yahwehism was an ethnic religion. I’m not suggesting that their attempt to conquer what they considered their homeland was not bloody, just that their monotheism did not make them more or less bloody than other civilization at the time.

            As for the slaughter of the priests of Baal, that was Israelite on Israelite violence. In any case, I’m not suggesting the Jews of the time were pacificist, just that they were no more violent than anyone else. There is no indication that the Baalists were pacificists for example. You can see same kind of violence by other civilizations when Israel was conquered and pillaged over and over.

          • Nick Ritter

            “The Canaanites were not “converted”. The conquering of Canaan was not an attempt to impose Yahwehism. The idea would have been foreign to them, since Yahwehism was an ethnic religion.”

            This line of thought depends to a large extent on accepting the biblical evidence over the archaeological evidence. Archaeologically, according to what I’ve read (for instance on the non-evidence of an invasion of Canaan from Sinai), the Hebrews were a subset of Canaanites. The spread of their hegemony was therefore not merely a matter of territorial conquest, but one of religious conquest as well. If the Hebrews were a subset of Canaanites to start with, then the “foreign gods” that the Old Testament prophets rail against were not foreign to that population at all, but rather ancestral.

            One way or the other, whether intolerant monotheism came from within or outside of Palestine, it destroyed a number of polytheistic religions, and it did so _purposefully_, with the intent to destroy idols, places of worship, and traditions of worship; in short, to destroy the worship of any god in the region other than Yahweh.

            “As for the slaughter of the priests of Baal, that was Israelite on Israelite violence.”

            And the destruction of temples after Constantine was generally a matter of Roman-on-Roman violence, and the bloody conversion of the Saxons by the Franks was German-on-German violence, and the conversion of Norway by Ólafr was Norse-on-Norse violence. I do not see how that makes a difference.

            “In any case, I’m not suggesting the Jews of the time were pacificist, just that they were no more violent than anyone else. There is no indication that the Baalists were pacificists for example. You can see same kind of violence by other civilizations when Israel was conquered and pillaged over and over.”

            All of this is true, however: we are not talking about any kind of violence whatsoever. We are talking specifically about a kind of violence in which one attempts to destroy an entire religion, by destroying the places, articles, and traditions of worship, and by forcibly converting or killing the worshipers. This sort of violence was carried out on behalf of the cult of Yahweh in the region where Judaism came to be, and the records of it (and the propaganda on the part of the prophets that lead to it) was used later and elsewhere to justify this same sort of violence outside of that region. This sort of violence has continued into the modern day, and the descendants of the people among whom it seems to have originated have – ironically and tragically – fallen victim to it themselves often over the last several centuries.

            One way or the other, I do not think it serves justice to ignore the destruction of the religions of pre-Israelite Palestine, nor does it serve wisdom to ignore the ideological roots of the very sort of intolerance that we and others face today.