Editorial: the Importance of Archiving

Heather Greene —  March 30, 2014 — 15 Comments

Before beginning I’d like to express my enthusiasm for the future of The Wild Hunt. Writing for and about this extended community has been both challenging and invigorating. One of the perks of the job is in the education. Every time I write an article or retell someone’s story, I learn something new. That’s the gift that I receive in return for my time and effort. In addition, I am ever thankful to Jason for instilling his trust in me to help usher in a new decade for this amazing resource.

That brings me to the subject for the day: resources or, more specifically, archival resources. Over the past 10 years Jason has been cataloging Pagan news. The Wild Hunt has become an historical archive containing data on many past events. Each post is a point in time providing a snapshot of what’s going on – the good and the bad; the progressive and the not so progressive and the downright ugly. It catalogs our successes and our failings as well as capturing the whimsy in celebration and expansion.

Photo Credit: Flickr's timetrax23

Photo Credit: Flickr’s timetrax23

Archival research has always been essential to much of my work and that remains true to this day. As I child I was told to never make a statement without 3 supporting facts. My teacher would often say, “Prove it.” I took her advice to heart and will do an excruciating amount of digging before making any type of claim. Now I find something very exhilarating in the finding of the “tiny needle in a haystack” after hours digging through archival material.

However the preservation of historical data serves more than just research junkies like me. There is a higher purpose. The founders of The Adocentyn Research Library explain, “We are living in a period of growth, diversity and change akin to the first few hundred years of Christianity. Future scholars shouldn’t have to rely on the discovery of a future Nag Hammadi library in order to understand our diversity and our history.” This is a project whose time has come.

Here’s an example from my favorite subject: film history. At the turn of the 20th century, movies were considered lowbrow entertainment or sideshow novelties. Nobody thought much more about the filmed product. Technical innovators focused on production while producers focused on the building of a commercial venture. Nobody stopped to catalog or archive the footage being shown. Nobody considered or knew how highly flammable the early celluloid material would be. The American film Industry focused on the doing and not the archiving. Consequently most early films are lost in whole or in part. The historical data contained in those early film reels and in the production processes are completely gone. That’s nearly 40 years of lost material.

Photo Credit: Flickr's Sonear

Photo Credit: Flickr’s Sonear

The Pagan Movement, as it’s been called, is now well beyond the stories of Gerald Gardener, Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune and the like.  Up to this point the focus has been more on the doing and not the archiving. No doubt much has already been lost. Regardless we still have many long trails of breadcrumbs through our cultural forest that can be captured. Sabina Magliocco, one of the founders of the Pagan History Project says:

It’s clear that we’re now one of the fastest-growing new religious movements in the world. The documentation of our early history is thus doubly important, especially as the movement is changing in important ways. The elders who were involved in the movement’s early days are now in the twilight of their lives; we have already lost a number just in the last year. Recording their histories and archiving documents from the beginning of the diffusion of modern Paganisms in the US will help preserve that history for future historians.

Just in the past two weeks, Judy Harrow’s crossing came as a surprise to many. Director Holli S. Emore says, “At Cherry Hill Seminary we are all too painfully aware of how the loss of someone like Judy Harrow inserts a sort of glottal stop in the narration of how we came to be where we are today. Anything we did not learn from Judy before last Friday is now gone forever.”

There are lessons to be learned from past experience at all levels of practice. What worked and what didn’t? Why did this group fold and this one last for 30 years?  Shauna Aura Knight is an author and presenter whose focus is on Pagan leadership skills. She says:

When I travel and teach Pagan leadership, what I see over and over is reinventing the wheel … I’ve seen local Pagan unity-type organizations–with actual not-for-profit status–folding because the leaders couldn’t sustain the organizations any longer. Thus those resources become lost, and any future group has to start again. 

Fortunately a number of projects have formed or are forming to fill this very need. Located in California’s Bay Area, The Adocentyn Research Library aims to preserve an expansive amount of material from a variety of religious communities “including indigenous, tribal, polytheistic, nature-based, and/or Earth-centered religions, spiritualities and cultures around the world and throughout human history.” They currently have cataloged more than 6,000 books and are working with the “Lost and Endangered Religions Project on conservation and storage of Pagan materials from India, Turkey and Guatemala.”

Similarly, in southern Delaware, the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel is raising money to finish the construction of the New Alexandrian Research Library (NAL). The “Library will be collecting materials from all religious traditions focusing on their mystical and the spiritual writings.” Founders hope that NAL will serve as both a functional community and research center as well as become a “cornerstone for the new magical Renaissance.”

Photo Credit:  Circle Sanctuary, Circle Magazine

Photo Credit: Circle Sanctuary, Circle Magazine

All archiving doesn’t need to be done by librarians and institutions. Several groups have digitized their own newsletters such as the Georgian Wicca Tradition and the Covenant of the Goddess. Back Issues of old print periodicals are available for purchase such as Circle Magazine whose offers issues dating back to 1980 when it was still called “Circle Network News.” The Founders of Adocentyn say “Archiving our history ourselves is important because we take our movement seriously, know how parts relate to one another, and understand it.”

Another recent development is the effort to capture individual stories. Shauna Aura Knight is co-editing a new anthology for Immanion Press has that very aim. She says, “I hope to start collecting the stories of what works and how leaders can use that, but also, what hasn’t worked. What are the mistakes we want to avoid in the future?”

The Pagan History Project has a similar objective. Sabina Magliocco explains:

The Pagan History Project is modeled after other oral history projects such as the American Folklife Center’s Veterans’ History Project. We rely on community members to record oral histories from other community members. These digital documents will be posted on a website and made available to other community members and scholars. … At this point, we are focusing on interviewing elders in our community who were involved with the inception of Paganisms in the US.

The Project seeks to create a “mythic history” that captures our humanity through the recording of voices. Currently organizers are looking for volunteers to go out into their communities and interview anyone willing. In this way future generations can benefit from the experiences of even those who have chosen to lead a quiet, non-public life. Holli S. Emore says,”For the many mystics among us, and most certainly for reconstructionists, an understanding of our historical roots has proven to be a vital part of our spiritual journey …  We are deeply enriched by learning the many layers and traces of Pagan history.”

The preservation of the past serves to not only enrich our present experience but to help build a stronger future. Together all these records will tell the greater story of a Movement or Movements with all the nuance and color one might expect. And, if nothing else, these archives will help future historians, research junkies and Wild Hunt journalists look back and say, “So that’s how it all came to be…”      

Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer, film historian, and journalist, living in the Deep South. She has collaborated with Lady Liberty League on religious liberty cases, and formerly served as Public Information Officer for Dogwood Local Council and Covenant of the Goddess. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History from Emory University with a background in the performing and visual arts. Heather's book on witches in American film and television will be published by McFarland in 2018.