Pagans Studied: The 2013 Conference on Current Pagan Studies

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 30, 2013 — 75 Comments

[The following is a guest post from Patrick Wolff. Wolff is a professor of religious studies and holds a PhD in the history of religious thought. His interests include studying religion and Romanticism, playing Classical and Celtic music, and reading science fiction/fantasy literature. Spiritually he’s either openly eclectic or hopelessly muddled, depending on who you ask.]

The ninth annual Conference on Current Pagan Studies met at Claremont Graduate University in the city of Claremont, California on January 26-27. This is a unique academic conference, not only for its topical focus on Pagan Studies, but for its inclusion of both academic and non-academic Pagans as presenters. Both the conference theme and the selection of keynote speakers exemplified the desire to, as the tagline of the conference website puts it, bring “Academia and Community Together.” The conference theme, “Pagan Sensibilities in Action,” covered not only ritual and spiritual practice but history, art, social justice, environmental concerns, psychology, politics, and other topics. The theme reflected a concern that is current in many religions, a desire to explore the implications of one’s theology (or thealogy, or theoilogy, as the case may be) in all aspects of life.

The two keynote speakers embodied this theme, one a recognized scholar in the fields of folklore and anthropology and the other an activist with experience fighting for social justice as well as service through disaster relief and emergency care. Dr. Sabina Magliocco, Professor of Anthropology at California State University, Northridge, and author of numerous books including Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America and Neo-Pagan Sacred Art and Altars: Making Things Whole, presented a lecture titled “The Rise of Pagan Fundamentalism.” Joking that she hoped to avoid being tarred and feathered, Magliocco identified two tendencies of Pagan Fundamentalism, both of which centered on the concept of belief. As a broad religious phenomenon, fundamentalists in all religions insist on a literalist interpretation of foundational texts, and demand conformity of belief as the primary marker of a genuine religious identity. Those who do not share these essential beliefs are viewed with suspicion, or rejected as imposters.

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

The first belief is in the literal historicity of the foundational narrative of paganism as an unbroken stream flowing from the ancient past to the present. This “received” view of Pagan (particularly Wiccan) history, shaped by Margaret Murray and Gerald Gardner, holds that the Old Religion persisted throughout the centuries amidst persecution, passed down as a closely guarded secret to initiates into the present day. However, when subjected to the scrutiny of critical historical scholarship, the foundational myth of pure Paganism transmitted through the ages was revealed to be lacking in solid historical evidence. Revisionists, most notably English historian Ronald Hutton, author of Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, contended that Wicca was better understood as a new religious movement than as a preserved ancient one. Counter-revisionists, such as Ben Whitmore, author of Trials of the Moon: Reopening the Case for Historical Witchcraft, have objected that Hutton overstated his case, ignoring or minimizing evidence for continuity in the transmission of Wicca (to which Hutton has replied in his article “Revisionism and Counter-Revisionism in Pagan History” in the most recent issue of Pomegranate). The claims of revisionist historians can come as quite a shock to Pagans who never had reason to question the received myth of Pagan origins, and while many were open to the new perspective, others experienced a crisis of cognitive dissonance which was countered by an uncritical insistence on the literal truth of the myth of pagan origins and a dismissal of, or attack on, revisionist arguments. Since the revisionist perspective presented Wicca as an eclectic, creative religious movement influenced by other forms of occultism and Romanticism, those most opposed to it were often those whose Paganism was heavily invested in the claim of possessing secret knowledge passed through carefully guarded secret initiations. This debate over Pagan origins is not merely an ivory tower discussion, since how Pagans view their past will shape their future.

The second tendency that has emerged in Pagan Fundamentalism is a belief in gods and goddesses as literal spiritual persons, formulated as a reaction against the emergence of humanistic paganism and panentheistic or archetypal interpretations of the divine. However, Magliocco argued, historically Wiccans have varied greatly in their theology, and found unity not in right belief, but in common practice. Against this non-dogmatic tradition of finding shared identity through ritual, Pagan Fundamentalists seek to exclude those who do not hold to their “orthodox” pagan belief in the nature of the gods. This is problematic, Magliocco argued, because it imported a criteria from the dominant Abrahamic faiths that was ill-suited to the ritual-focused nature of Paganism.

Why has belief emerged as a critical identity marker now, when it did not function this way in the past? Magliocco pointed to several reasons, such as a desire legitimate Paganism as a “real religion” in the eyes of adherents of other religions (which comes as a result of the growth in size and influence of Paganism), and a quest for certainty in a tumultuous marketplace of religious ideas (a motivating factor in the fundamentalist strand of all religions). But her third reason pointed to what would become a theme throughout much of the rest of the conference: the role of the Internet, and particularly comments on blogs, that dank and murky lair of trolls, where insults fly freely and rational reflection is beaten down by bombast. The Internet tends to encourage “enclaves of idiosyncratic views,” unchallenged by real-world interaction with those holding differing views, and provides a veil of anonymity that allows abusive behavior that would not be tolerated in face to face interactions. After her presentation, one questioner raised the intriguing possibility that the Internet actually encourages fundamentalism, since online (particularly in blogs and blog comments) individuals are easily reduced to text-based persons.

The second keynote address, “Stirring the Cauldron of Pagan Sensibilities,” was presented by  Peter Dybing, a national disaster team Section Chief with experience as a firefighter and EMT as well as serving on the board member 100% for Haiti and a former National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess. Stressing is non-academic identity, Dybing challenged attendees to “suspend your academic approach, and access your emotions,” issuing a call to action rather than offering intellectual reflection. His first two points called for a new look at the questions of Pagan leadership and the role of elders. While acknowledging the strengths found in Traditional (hierarchical, individual-focused) and Organic (communal and local) models of leadership, as well as the dangers of what he termed Fantasy Leadership (the self-appointed blogger harassing his or her enemies online, “liked” by clique of online admirers ), Dybing drew from his experience in disaster relief to formulate a Transformative model of leadership, one that is mission-based and organizationally-focused. Leadership should not be limited to the Priest or Priestess as representatives of the God or Goddess, but should be shared based on recognition of diverse skills and expertise. On the related topic of Pagan elders, Dybing stressed the importance of honoring the body of work left by an elder without venerating the person. Elders, even after death, must be remembered as human beings, not saints.

Peter Dybing (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Peter Dybing at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Though the first part of presentation took up the majority of his time, it was in the second part that Dybing most fully revealed his own heart through a call to service as an expression of Pagan spirituality. It was in offering direct aid for the good of others, whether in international aid or in community service, that Dybing said he most fully felt the presence of the Goddess. In a time of environmental degradation, Dybing warned, we must expect a future of natural disasters on an unprecedented scale, and Pagans are uniquely qualified to respond to these challenges. While Magliocco made the case that Paganism should continue to value ritual action over belief, Dybing called on Pagans to pursue active service as a practice of Pagan spirituality.

The other twenty-five presentations were too varied and rich to be adequately summarized here, with topics ranging from theology to psychology, good pedagogy in the classroom to creating masks (and even the pedagogy of making masks), environmentalism, politics, and mysticism. One particularly exciting project described was the Pagan History Project, which will record oral histories of Pagans, similar to the oral history project being conducted by many universities of World War II veterans. Several times a desire was expressed to continue discussion after the conference ended, either on the conference website or Facebook page. This does not seem to have happened yet, but it would be another way to bring Pagan scholarship into conversation with the broader Pagan community. In addition to the thoughtful nature of the presentations, two other aspects of the conference are worth noting. First, there was an ethos of dialogue and conversation among the approximately fifty attendees, so much so that interaction between the presenter and audience sometimes broke out in the middle of a presentation, a rare occurrence in a typical academic conference. Second, the atmosphere of the conference could be described as convivial, with a great deal of laughter and good spirits. In this way, the conference itself was a manifestation of Pagan sensibility.

Pagan Studies has come under recent criticism by some for a lack of necessary critical distance from its subject (see, for example,, Markus Altena Davidsen, “What is Wrong with Pagan Studies?” in Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, available online). This criticism is not without merit. The calling of a scholar of religion is not to support the religion being studied, but to understand it, and the conclusions that come from scholarly inquiry are not always welcome to those being studied (hence Magliocco’s “tar and feathering” comment). Further, too much of an “insider” atmosphere can create an us-and-them dichotomy which distances or even excludes outsiders. The “them” could be non-insider scholars or practitioners of other religions, viewed as outsiders who can never really “get” those on the inside (some of this could be seen by the dramatic eye-rolling and snarky asides from one presenter whenever he made mention of Christian beliefs, something that would not be tolerated in other academic conferences). One Pagan Reconstructionist presenter admitted she had felt nervous about attending a conference of Wiccans and Neopagans, and while she was warmly welcomed, her initial misgivings say something about how the conference could be perceived by outsiders.

The lines of insider and outsider in scholarship are not always clear cut, however, and if there is a danger in insider scholarship designed to offer the benefits of scholarly insight to contribute to the flourishing of one’s own religious community, the opposite danger is scholarship for the sake of no one, except perhaps the expansion of the scholar’s own reputation (and ego). Granted that much of what academics call risky seems rather dreary to most people, the conference organizer, Dorothea Kahena Viale, should be commended for taking the risk of envisioning a conference that seeks to connect scholars with practitioners and intellectuals with activists. There must be a place for scholarship for the good of the community, and for Pagans, one place this can be found is the Conference on Current Pagan Studies.

ADDENDUM: For another perspective of the 2013 Conference on Current Pagan Studies, see Donald Michael Kraig’s blog at Llewellyn.com.

ADDENDUM II: I’d just like to note that this piece is an effort on Patrick Wolff’s part to convey the messages of the two keynote speakers, and of the general tone of this conference. The views expressed are not necessarily those of Mr. Wolff or any other Wild Hunt contributor. Our goal, as always, is to inform our readership about events that could impact the broader Pagan community. I (Jason) hope to weigh in soon with an editorial touching on some of the issues raised here.

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  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Academia will not come crashing down if the insider/outsider boundary is occasionally violated in an organized way. It’s a counteragent to the tendency of academics to regard scholarship as the complete story, to the detriment of what the followers of a religion are actually doing and thinking.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ConviventiaWolff Patrick Wolff

      Agreed, and it’s certainly rare to ever hear an economist or political scientist criticized for engaging economic or political policy making.

  • http://twitter.com/lysana Brenda/Lysana/either

    I begin to think snarky asides and eye-rolling about other faiths shouldn’t be allowed at that conference, either. But that’s me again with thinking professionalism would make us look better than them instead of sinking to that level.

    As someone who’s personally experienced pagan fundamentalism, there’s a related thread to what was presented there within at least reconstructionist traditions. One True Wayism when it comes to the older texts has broken friendships within Celtic reconstructionism and led to our own petty schisms. Similar dynamic to the arguments over the history of Wicca, really. I’ve seen the same dynamic when arguing over the fact St. Patrick’s snakes weren’t really pagans. The dragon St. George killed was paganism through and through, but picking on the Irish seems more useful to some people.

    We need to release our dependence on One True Ways. It’s a nasty holdover, it’s sloppy thinking, and it serves us and the gods (however we see them) very poorly.

  • http://johnfranc.blogspot.com/ John Beckett

    Thanks for the report and the detailed summary of the keynote presentations. Are any of the papers and presentations available online? So much good academic research ends up locked behind ridiculously high journal pay walls…

    • http://www.facebook.com/sabina.magliocco Sabina Magliocco

      I plan to submit my piece to the Pomegranate as a review article, which will be available online free of charge. Thank you for your interest.

  • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

    The second tendency that has emerged in Pagan Fundamentalism is a belief in gods and goddesses as literal spiritual persons, formulated as a reaction against the emergence of humanistic paganism and panentheistic or archetypal interpretations of the divine.

    Seriously? Can we please drop this ‘Pagan Fundamentalism’ nonsense?

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Alas, it’s not nonsense, Kauko. I’ve met enough Pagan Fundamentalists, in person and online, to know the reality of the phenom. My way or the highway thinking, denigration of others’ gods or approaches to same, scorn at any interpretation of Deity other than their own, insistence on performing a seasonal ritual on exactly the proper day whilst simultaneously claiming to hark back to an era that lacked calendars, Many blowups we’ve had here on TWH can be attributed to an attack of Pagan Fundamentalists. Ironically one of my favorite foes of Pagan Fundamentalism of the first kind Magliocco listed, is a Pagan Fundamentalist of the second kind.
      We usually think of fundamentalism as a result of indoctrination, and might assume that people who get their religion from personal revelation are immune. Alas, it seems to be a product of personality no less than of training.
      It shouldn’t be surprising, actually. A religion scholar (Martin Marty iirc) listed some of the inputs to Fundamentalism other than specific doctrine. Two elements were a sense of being beseiged by enemies, and belief in a Golden Age when everyone follow The Rules and everything was fine. It’s an objective fact that Pagans have serious enemies, and most Pagan mythos harks back to earlier times. Looks like we have to live with it.

      • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

        It is, of course, convenient that the ones who are fundamentalists are the ones who advocate a different opinion than the one throwing the term around. Pagan fundamentalism is invariably a label thrown on those of us who go against the Pagan/ Wicca status quo.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          Certainly the term can be abused, and is. Like the term “Pagan” is. Doesn’t mean the term itself is invalid.

          • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

            Alternately, like the term Pagan, the word fundamentalism is being watered down into meaninglessness through overuse.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            If it had no meaning there would be no objection to its use.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Apart from those who object to its lack of meaning.

        • Tasman

          I think you hit the nail on the head there. That is certainly my experience too, Kauko.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chkraemer13 Christine Hoff Kraemer

      Perhaps this part of the paragraph was badly phrased. The article goes on to say, “Against this non-dogmatic tradition of finding shared identity through ritual, Pagan Fundamentalists seek to exclude those who do not hold to their ‘orthodox’ pagan belief in the nature of the gods.” Not having seen the text of Sabina’s speech, I can’t be sure, but what I understood from the summary is that her definition of fundamentalism was THE DESIRE TO EXCLUDE based on belief or lack of it, not the belief itself.

      • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

        Are there any actual groups or organizations out there excluding people on such a lack of belief, though? I can’t say I’ve personally heard of any. At most, I’ve heard individuals state that they only want to do rituals with other people who believe in literal gods, and I can’t say that I see that as fundamentalism; I see that as the right of any individual to only worship with like-minded people, if they so desire.

        • http://www.facebook.com/chkraemer13 Christine Hoff Kraemer

          I don’t know about groups, but I’ve read a few polytheists writing about their desire not to have humanist Pagans in their groups.

      • http://www.facebook.com/sabina.magliocco Sabina Magliocco

        Yes, you’re right, Christine. Belief on its own can’t be fundamentlaist, unless that belief is something like “Anyone who doesn’t believe like us is evil and trying to destroy us.” It’s *attitudes* around belief that can become rigid and dogmatic. To be very clear, my talk NEVER labeled particular historical or theological beliefs as “fundamentalist.” See my comment below for more on how I defined and problematized the term.

    • David Griffin

      A tree without roots quickly dies.

      First they tried to cut the modern Pagan movement off from any roots in antiquity whatsoever by creating the myth that the history of any Pagan survival since antiquity stands or falls with Wicca in Britain.

      Next they attempt to deprive us of our Gods, reducing them to mere archetypes,

      And now they try to demonize anyone today who still has roots or Gods as “Fundamentalists.”

      If these were propaganda strategies to destroy Paganism from within, then they are extremely good ones!

      Are those of us who still have roots and Gods truly Fundamentalists?

      In any case, if these were propaganda strategies, they would be the stuff that would have made the Inquisition proud!

      David Griffin

      (Lupercus del Bosco Sacro)

      • Northern_Light_27

        I’m sorry, but precisely who is “they”? I’ve never seen anyone trying to do either of those things. In other words, nice strawmen.

  • cernowain greenman

    Since Wicca was launched by an amateur anthropologist, I think it is fitting that Wiccans especially embrace the learning that can come from scholars.

    And if we dare to build our religious beliefs, in part, upon scholarly finds then we also must be ready to change our beliefs when the majority of scholarship disprove those beliefs. That is a hard thing to do when a belief has helped you to make meaning in your personal life. But, it is part of the Pagan dance that we do in an ever-changing universe.

    • Genexs

      True. But it’s also true that we should be thinking people. Just because a
      certain academic says something should not make our belief systems
      melt and drip out our ears. As pointed out, Fundamentalism may
      certainly be an issue that needs to be examined. But I would suggest,
      (all snark aside), we should also beware of an odd strain of
      Absolutism, where honest disagreement in regards to a theory or
      hypothesis is portrayed as “cognitive dissonance”.

      • David Griffin

        Let us recall that every academic writer has a bias and an agenda. The agenda in Prof. Magliocco’s presentation seems clear enough to me. To demonize anyone with roots in Pagan antiquity outside of Wicca, as well as any Polytheists as “Fundamentalists.” Such a bias, at least in my book, belongs more to the rough and tumble world of politics than to legitimate academic discourse.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Helmsman-Of-Inepu/100002281476991 Helmsman Of-Inepu

    If someone has academic aspirations, they should consider finding some “value-neutral” terms instead of “pagan fundamentalism.”

    I would really like to see some examples of these fundamentalists. Examples that aren’t just internet trolling. Because the fundamentalists I see are the ones who say “All pagans are earth-centered,” “Pagans see the gods as archetypes,” etc. Which brings “conformity of belief” to mind.

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      Here’s more from the conference by Donald Michael Kraig:
      http://www.llewellyn.com/blog/2013/01/standing-for-sanity/

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Alas, vocabulary is conservative. Enough people call themselves “Pagan” that another term would detract from clarity. “Fundamentalism” is a term of art in this branch of academia, and you’re never gonna get them to give it up.
      To see whether the people you meet who say such things as you cite are Pagan Fundamentalists, try contrary facts. “I’ve met Pagans on-line who think the gods are external sentiences.” If they start saying that archetypes are how they see their own gods, break in with something like, “I’m not arguing with how you see yours, just sayin’ some people’s mileage varies.” See if they can have a discussion that distinguishes their own path with some mythical One True Way.

  • Macha NightMare

    I’m working on some reports of my experiences at this conference, which were, overall, excellent.

  • Northern_Light_27

    “The second tendency that has emerged in Pagan Fundamentalism is a belief
    in gods and goddesses as literal spiritual persons, formulated as a
    reaction against the emergence of humanistic paganism and panentheistic
    or archetypal interpretations of the divine. However, Magliocco argued,
    historically Wiccans have varied greatly in their theology, and found
    unity not in right belief, but in common practice.”

    This paragraph had a needle-scratch disconnect for me, as it went from talking about Pagans who insist on a belief in gods and goddesses as literal spiritual persons, and then went to talking about how *Wiccans* have varied in their theology. Maybe there’s a movement toward hard polytheism in Wicca of which I’m unaware and that’s all this presenter was discussing, but every time *I’ve* seen that view articulated– particularly in response to humanistic or archetypal/soft polytheism– it has been a Reconstructionist articulating it, not a Wiccan. Jason, could you or Mr. Wolff clear up the confusion? Because from here it looks like a Pagan=Wiccan jump, but it could simply be a miswording.

    I’m also a titch dismayed at how this post portrays the internet: “the role of the Internet, and particularly comments on blogs, that dank
    and murky lair of trolls, where insults fly freely and rational
    reflection is beaten down by bombast”. Really? I’ve seen plenty of rational reflection amidst the bombast. Also, the internet is accessible to those of us who aren’t BNPs, who perhaps *couldn’t* have a conversation IRL with the big names (particularly because we simply cannot afford the travel fees, or, for some of us, disability makes it impossible), and certainly makes it easier for people with divergent views, whatever the divergent views, to say so without fearing that it will earn them IRL enmity for their criticism. (Honestly? Having participated in a non-Pagan internet space where everyone is completely anonymous– no real names and no pseuds, just “anonymous”– but is well-moderated, sometimes I’d love to see a Pagan version of it because being able to have discussion without having to contend with other discussants’ reputation in this or that clique is quite freeing to discourse. Yes, sometimes there’s trolling, but there’s better discussion than you might expect.)

    And again, with this comment: “Fantasy Leadership (the self-appointed blogger harassing his or her enemies online, “liked” by clique of online admirers”. This seems to ignore that quite a number of our leaders offline are “self-appointed” by virtue of starting a group that people then feel motivated to join. What makes a blogger’s “clique of admirers” any different than an offline group leader’s clique of admirers? I see a similar dynamic at work between both, honestly– if people didn’t find a blogger’s work interesting, the blogger would have no traffic, the same way if people don’t find a group leader’s leadership useful, people won’t stay in the group. If Mr. Dybing thinks that Pagans in group leadership positions offline are less likely to complain about and snark at their perceived foes than bloggers are online, perhaps he’s met a completely different sort of Pagan than I have, as the ones I’ve known seem pretty free with their criticism of other Pagans.

    Perhaps there was a lot more material at the conference with a more favorable view of Pagan online activity than these excerpts, I hope so. From where I sit, the internet has mainly served to allow a lot more people access to discussions that would otherwise be happening without them, and allow for wider sharing of views that already existed in offline discussion.

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      I wasn’t there, so I can’t speak to what was and wasn’t said. Hopefully Mr. Wolff will drop by to answer some questions here.

      I also think it’s important to note that Mr. Wolff is trying to convey what the keynote speakers were saying, and is not trying to pass judgment on the content either way.

      As for Pagan online activity, I’m for it. I obviously think there’s a lot to be gained from online discussion and online reporting.

      • Northern_Light_27

        Thanks for the reply. No, I don’t expect that Mr. Wolff was trying to pass judgment on the content, I just wondered if the reports of the two negative comments from presenters about internet activity were countered by more positive comments, because they seemed surprising to me.

        It’s the Wicca comment that I’d love more clarification on (I mentioned you less in the sense that you’d know the answer in more to the idea that you could perhaps pass the question on to Mr. Wolff if he’s not reading comments) because I’m genuinely curious to know if there is, in fact, a similar movement of hard polytheists insisting on hard polytheism among Wiccans as there is among Reconstructionist Pagans, or if Mr. Wolff or the presenter simply misspoke. If there is, that would be fascinating and point toward quite a sea change in Pagan ideas about belief.

        • http://www.facebook.com/ConviventiaWolff Patrick Wolff

          Sorry if I was unclear, and thanks for asking so I can add a clarification. Neither of the keynote presenters were critical of internet activity in general, but only the negative attacks that often occur in blog comments behind the veil of anonymity (incidentally, personally I agree that pseudonyms can be used responsibility, but it does take an extra effort of mindfulness, since they make it easy to say things that would not be said in a face to face encounter). It might have helped if I had noted that Peter Dybing’s comments on the internet at one point were accompanied by a powerpoint image of a troll at a computer as a backdrop. I did mention the desire in the conference to make use of the internet to extend the conversations held at the conference, both in time and in audience, so that’s one positive role for the internet that was mentioned. Also, Dying himself maintains a blog, which I linked to in the post.

          Sabina Magliocco’s point was that the internet can create a kind of alternate universe, where idiosyncratic views that would not receive much credence in face to face communities (and means of expression that would likely not be used in face to face discussion) can take on a life of their own with a veneer of credibility since they are in print. This a problem with internet discourse that goes beyond the realm of Paganism. This aspect of the internet relates to the rise of Pagan Fundamentalism, but is not the whole story (or even most of the story) when it comes to the place of the internet.

          On your other question, my understanding is that she was addressing Paganism generally but using Wicca as her primary example, since it is the oldest international variety of Paganism (“pace Pagan Reconstruction,” she added as an aside). The intention was not to narrow in on Wiccans and their belief in the nature of divine as the issue, but to use Wicca as an example of the historic importance of ritual over belief, which was also true of Paganism generally. So the argument is, some Pagans are making a particular belief in the nature of the divine the test of Pagan orthodoxy, but historically, Pagans (with Wiccans as an example, being the largest single group) found unity in ritual and practice rather than belief, so it’s a mistake to now elevate belief as the test of true Pagan identity.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Why would it be a mistake to elevate belief as the test of Pagan identity?

            Circumstances change and so do people’s priorities.

            It could easily be asked what purpose the rituals and practices serve, without some belief behind them. (I use belief in the vaguest sense here, rather than in a purely theological one.)

          • Northern_Light_27

            Thank you for the response, I really appreciate it.

            I guess I still find Ms. Magliocco’s use of Wicca as an example kind of strange, because again, I’ve never once heard the particular thing she’s talking about (the insistence on hard polytheist belief) from a Wiccan, yet it’s not something completely new this year to some reconstructionists, by a long shot. It just seems like, to use an analogy, “Christians are suddenly doing this thing, which is odd, because Catholics generally don’t do this thing” when said about something done almost exclusively by Baptists. It’s a bad example, because while she’s right that it would be a strange thing to encounter among Wiccans, it isn’t and hasn’t been a strange thing to encounter among Reconstructionists, the people who are putting this idea forward in the first place. I think it would have been perhaps more useful as a data point to examine how beliefs within the subsection of Paganism that’s putting this forward have and haven’t changed.

          • http://www.facebook.com/sabina.magliocco Sabina Magliocco

            Let me just clarify here that when I never used Wiccans as examples of hard polytheists. While there *are* some Wiccan hard polytheists, you’re absolutely correct about that theological position being more common among Reconstructionists. And my broader argument *was* about changing beliefs and practices over the last 20 years — specifically, a movement away from Wiccan eclecticism and towards more defined theological positions and historical Reconstructionism. NONE of this is “fundamentalist,” BTW — this is just the evolution of the Pagan movement. See my comments above for a more specific definition of how I used the term “fundamentalist,” and with what reservations.

          • Northern_Light_27

            That makes more sense, thank you. I’ve noticed that too, what seems to be movement away from Wiccan eclecticism and toward more Reconstructionism, but I’ve often wondered how representative my experience is of wider Pagandom.

            I think it’s fantastic that you plan to submit to the Pomegranate as a free-access article, I can’t wait to read it!

    • Peter Dybing

      In fact, I believe that the internet is a valuable tool that has served the community well. Discourse in comments sections, however, has often been given over to those who wish to create discord. My comments at this conference referenced the need for the community to confront disrespectful tone and language on the internet, thereby providing a place for reasonable discussion and debate. As for your referencing of BNP’s. My experience last year taught me that, with the exception of a couple of names, there are no BNP’s. What I discovered is that most Pagans have no idea who most of the so called BNP’s are. It is an example of the communities inflated view of the importance of internet debate. Seems most Pagans are to busy being Pagan and manifesting community in their lives to track or care about the personalities associated with internet debate. The medium makes equals of all, a good thing with some challenges coming from the anonymous nature of discussion threads.

      • Northern_Light_27

        I was speaking of the big names who travel the festival circuit, which isn’t beholden to “the importance of internet debate”. As should have been clear from my comment about travel fees. As for knowledge of names, all of the people I meet IRL in my area seem pretty well acquainted with who the BNPs in their particular Pagan religion are.

        As for the rest, I just don’t agree. There are, actually, several things I’d say anonymously online that I wouldn’t say face-to-face, that’s true. But they’re not what you’d think– they’re mainly a desire to be able to talk about things like ableism in the Pagan community without being seen as a shit-disturber for bringing it up. The last time I said anything about the subject face-to-face, the person– to my face– told me “you’re being a bitch” for doing so. Funny, I’ve never had a misogynistic slur flung at me for talking about accommodations online, even when debate has been heated, but it happened in the supposedly so much more polite and respectful RL world. Yes, I know people use that word plenty online too, my point is that I fail to see the difference between the two. IME people angry at getting their buttons pushed are going to be obnoxious online or off– the difference is that it’s a hell of a lot safer to be part of a marginalized or oppressed group and talk about it online than it is offline.

    • harmonyfb

      This paragraph had a needle-scratch disconnect for me, as it went from
      talking about Pagans who insist on a belief in gods and goddesses as
      literal spiritual persons, and then went to talking about how *Wiccans*
      have varied in their theology.

      The needle-scratch for me was the bald statement that belief in the gods as literal spiritual persons was a reaction against the archetypal/humanist/pantheistic vision of the Gods. I don’t know about you, but my beliefs are based on my experiences of the divine, not rebellion against some ‘other’ (and I don’t take issue with anyone who has differing views of Paganism and/or the Gods – religion is a personal thing.)

      • http://www.facebook.com/ConviventiaWolff Patrick Wolff

        It’s not holding the belief that is the reaction, it’s the insistence that holding this belief is the only authentic Pagan option.

        • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

          Can you supply an example of someone claiming that it ‘is the only authentic Pagan option’?

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I made that claim a while back. It got challenged. After reasonable debate I altered my stance.

          • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

            I guess what I’m getting at is: does it just amount to a very few isolated examples; or is it a demonstrably widespread enough phenomenon to justify this level of hype?

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Does seem to be the minority view.

          • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

            That you can do that speaks volumes to your character.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            When at college, I studied science, not religion. I treat my all my beliefs equally – that start as a hypothesis until I find reason for them to be confirmed as belief/fact or discarded as erroneous.

      • http://www.facebook.com/sabina.magliocco Sabina Magliocco

        I think there may have been an unintentional misrepresentation of what I actually said. My argument was that constructing a shared identity around belief is problematic, because belief is based on experience. If the gods choose to reveal themselves differently to different people, and if belief is changeable and emergent, as belief scholarship shows it to be, then shared identity needs to be based on something other than belief.

        Let me also clarify that belief in and of itself is not “fundamentalist” ( a word I adopted polemically and with some reservations). It is the insistence that only one sort of belief is correct, and the demonization of those who disagree or whose experience is different, that can lead to a dogmatic rigidity that we might want to avoid.

        • harmonyfb

          Thanks for clarifying, Sabina! :)

    • Genexs

      Heh, perhaps the reason certain scholars view the internet much like Roman soldiers viewed the Teutoburg Forest is because of the reception they’ve received there.

  • Deborah Bender

    ” Dybing drew from his experience in disaster relief to formulate a
    Transformative model of leadership, one that is mission-based and
    organizationally-focused.”

    This is not new. Back when the NROOGD tradition of witchcraft was being formed, Aidan Kelly remarked, “Those who show up are members. Those who do the work are leaders. Everything else is bullshit.”

    • Peter Dybing

      Deborah, Transformative leadership is an entire school of thought. The author is correct, it is my experiences in leadership positions that inform my ideas and opinions. I was not there when NROOGD was formed. I have little trouble tho accepting that “There is nothing new under the Sun” as the saying goes! Blessings

      • Deborah Bender

        Peter, having exercised leadership in a few small ponds (I organized a bootstrap coven and founded a women’s festival), your observations on leadership as summarized by Mr. Wolff struck me as common sense, at least with respect to the formative period of an organization. As time passes and the organization expands, sometimes qualifications beyond skills and expertise (such as familiarity with the organization’s culture) become relevant. Unfortunately, sometimes the added-on qualifications end up supplanting skills and expertise, to the detriment of the organization’s goals.

        I did not know that Transformative Leadership is an entire school of thought. I inferred, wrongly, that it was a label you had coined to describe your own approach to organizational leadership. Now that I know, I’ll keep an eye out for information about it. I can see that my response may have come across as dismissive, and I apologize for that.

  • Deborah Bender

    “One Pagan Reconstructionist presenter admitted she had felt nervous
    about attending a conference of Wiccans and Neopagans, and while she was
    warmly welcomed, her initial misgivings say something about how the
    conference could be perceived by outsiders.”

    Or it might be an indication that the Reconstructionist group she belongs to is a cult in the pejorative sense. Such cults reinforce group solidarity by isolating their members from contact with the outside world. One way they do this is by telling the membership how awful everyone who isn’t a member is, that outsiders should be feared, and that the cult is their only true family. Domestic abusers use the same technique, as do some Christian sects.

    It’s always wise to measure any group one is involved with against Bonewits’s ABCDEF scale.

    • Nick Ritter

      As a Reconstructionist myself, I understand how the presenter in question might reasonably have experienced some misgivings at attending a conference of “Wiccans and Neopagans”, and that has nothing to do with belonging to a “cult in the pejorative sense.” Rather, it has to do with the normal sense of unease that someone might feel attending a conference where one’s own beliefs and approach to religion are in the minority.

      Frankly, as one of the main speakers seemed to link literal belief in gods (a facet of most Reconstructionist traditions, I believe) with “Pagan Fundamentalism,” I think the Reconstructionist presenter’s nervousness was justified.

      • cernowain greenman

        I concur with Nick here. It is hard to be in the minority. And I also feel putting the “Fundy” label on henotheists is highly inaccurate. One can be an atheist and still act like a Fundamentalist in their thinking and in their interactions with others. One can even approach religion in a literalistic way and still not be Fundy, as Fundamentalists are “my way or the highway” folks.

  • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

    I’d like to announce the formation of a new group: The Fundamentalist Pagan Society! In out bi-weekly meetings we will be discussing the violent overthrow of the The Evil Pagan Establishment (TM). Other topics that we will explore are:

    Making fun of memes featuring adorable cats,

    Taking candy from babies,

    How to best step on flowers,

    Cutting in front of elderly women waiting in queues,

    and

    How to demonize those with whom you disagree by applying hyperbolic labels to them.

    Light food and beverages will follow each meeting.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      You won me over at making fun of cat memes.

    • Nick Ritter

      Someday I will have to tell you about the Theodish Flag.

  • http://paganlayman.wordpress.com/ Soliwo

    “The second tendency that has emerged in Pagan Fundamentalism is a belief
    in gods and goddesses as literal spiritual persons, formulated as a
    reaction against the emergence of humanistic paganism and panentheistic
    or archetypal interpretations of the divine”
    Did Magliocco herself come up with the term fundamentalism?

    • cernowain greenman

      The term Fundamentalist arose in the early 1920’s as a reaction against the advancement of Evolution and Modernity.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Craig-Schumacher/100000319992310 Craig Schumacher

        A classic clash between Phase II and Phase III (see my comment in the ‘Post-Christianity thread).

        • David Griffin

          A tree without roots quickly dies.

          First they tried to cut the modern Pagan movement off from any roots in antiquity whatsoever by creating the myth that the history of any Pagan survival since antiquity stands or falls with Wicca in Britain. And now they attempt to deprive us of our Gods, reducing them to mere archetypes, and demonizing anyone today with roots or Gods as “Fundamentalists.”

          If these were propaganda strategies to destroy Paganism from within, then they are extremely good ones!

          Are those of us who still have roots and Gods truly Fundamentalists?

          Or are Ronald Hutton and Sabina Magliocco the Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh of the Neo-Pagan community?

          In any case, such propaganda strategies are the stuff that would have made the Inquisition proud!

          As a Golden Dawn leader, I realize that I am at the fringe of the Pagan community. Thus many might have missed my reply to Ronald Hutton’s latest article at:

          http://hermetic-golden-dawn.blogspot.com/2013/01/exposed-vatican-conspiracy-and-pagan.html

          David Griffin

          (Lupercus del Bosco Sacro)

    • Deborah Bender

      Karen Anderson’s The Battle for God is a good history of fundamentalist movements in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The book explains how modernism created problems for these religions and that fundamentalism is one attempt to find solutions. This book is also a good introduction to Islamic political thought.

      Not to be confused with Anderson’s best-selling book with a similar title, A History of God.

  • null2099

    Is Pagan Fundamentalism a BAD thing? Why the flight from the term? What if I am absolute in my beliefs that the Spirits are Living Beings? Does this make me inferior?

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Not all that long ago, ‘Pagan’ was a pejorative term. In some social circles, it still is.

      The same could be said for fundamentalism.

      The term could easily be reclaimed. What are the fundamental beliefs/tenets of Paganism? Why would it be a good thing to remove the fundamental beliefs from Paganism?

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        Leoht, the term “Fundamentalist” is an historical accident. About a hundred years ago some Christians decided they had spotted the “fundamentals” of the Bible. Naturally, they got called “fundamentalists.” But the term came to be applied to the “my way or the highway” approach they took toward their beliefs, rather than the doctrines themselves, and is now used generally, eg, on Moslems and Pagans with the same approach.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          You missed my point.

          Definitions shift. What was once negative can become positive, and vice versa.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            “Fundamentalist” is, or was, positive among those who accept the doctrine.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            And ‘Pagan’ is still negative amongst those who dismiss it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/sabina.magliocco Sabina Magliocco

        I agree that the word “fundamentalist” is problematic, and I laid that out in my talk. It’s often used as a pejorative label; discourse about “fundamentalism” is always at root about who has the authority to speak. My use of it was intentionally polemical, because I wanted to point out some trends that could rigidify and become dogmatic in the movement unless we remain vigilant and keep the lines of communication open.

        I also defined “fudamentalism” as characterized by rigid, either-or moral arguments, the exclusion and demonization of other perspectives, and a preoccupation with identity — who’s in and who’s out. I argued that while much of the discussion around the factuality of the Wiccan foundational narrative displays these traits, the discussions around belief in the gods are actually of a different nature. Some of these nuances were necessarily lost in the summary of my talk provided here.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          I actually think that some fundamentalism of the ‘my way or the highway’ flavour would be beneficial to paths within the Pagan Umbrella.

          Not to the level of ‘all other paths are invalid’ but enough that if a person’s belief doesn’t match the accepted line within a tradition they should look to another rather than attempting to change the one they like the look of.

          In some ways, I am a fundamentalist – I will happily spend all day telling monotheists that they are wrong. Because I have the conviction in my beliefs that there are numerous distinct gods and when someone says to me that I am misled by the Devil or that I simply do not grasp that the gods are merely facets of a overreaching ‘supreme deity’ I see their stance as incorrect (not to mention pretty insulting.)

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Null, there is nothing wrong with that belief. However, if you took the position that yours was the only valid Pagan approach, you would define yourself as a Pagan Fundamentalist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Craig-Schumacher/100000319992310 Craig Schumacher

    “On the related topic of Pagan elders, Dybing stressed the importance of
    honoring the body of work left by an elder without venerating the
    person. Elders, even after death, must be remembered as human beings,
    not saints.”

    Is there any tendency in current paganism to venerate out ‘mighty dead’? If so, I’ve yet to encounter it.

    “Against this non-dogmatic tradition of finding shared identity through
    ritual, Pagan Fundamentalists seek to exclude those who do not hold to
    their “orthodox” pagan belief in the nature of the gods. This is
    problematic, Magliocco argued, because it imported a criteria from the
    dominant Abrahamic faiths that was ill-suited to the ritual-focused
    nature of Paganism.”

    There is another path to viewing spirituality besides either belief or praxis. That is to consider the functional objective of that spirituality. What do people want or believe they and/or others get out of it?

    • http://www.facebook.com/ConviventiaWolff Patrick Wolff

      I know that there is in the Temple of Witchcraft tradition. Christopher Penczak has a new book (I think titled, _The Mighty Dead_) and will be presenting on it at Pantheacon this year. Beyond that, I can’t say.

    • http://www.facebook.com/MachaIsAline Aline O’Brien

      I just wrote an informative response — at least I thought it was informative — and it disappeared. Grrr! Rather than reconstruct it, here’s a bit I wrote about the Mighty Dead in 2001. http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usca&c=holidays&id=3673

      • http://www.facebook.com/MachaIsAline Aline O’Brien

        The above post is by Macha NightMare. For some technical reason, her comments are not being accepted in this forum. Weird, because earlier in this discussion my comments show as being from Macha. ::sigh::

  • Kilmrnock

    As a recon , CR , myself i have a problem with calling recon faiths fundimentalists . What we do generaly , not all mind you , is focus on one ethnic pantheon . For example most Celtic Reconstructionists focus on / honor the Tautha De Dannan and our Ancestors .One group,family or Pantheon of gods of a particular ethnicity and the ancestors is how most polytheists/recons practice thier faiths. Not all but generaly most recons focus on an ethic faith /ways of their own ethnic heritage . There are some recons that follow/ or honor more than one or even multiple pantheons but still within a recon frame of mind . Altho there usualy is a set way of doing things , culturaly set usualy i wouldn’t consider recon faiths fundimentalist.The High days or Holidays are set , as are our Gods . The main thing most recons are trying to do is re estabish our ancient faiths with a modern sensibility , though literary , scholarly and historic sources when possible to use a little UPG as possible and to be as accurate as we can reasonably be , also with use of folk sources as well. We are trying as best we can to rebuild the Pre Christian faiths of our ancestors just as modern Heathens are in the Norse/Germanic traditions . This to me isn’t fundementalist , as there still isn’t any exalted from on high dogma