Archives For AAR

The American Academy of Religions held its annual meeting in sunny San Diego, California from Nov. 22-25. The event attracted thousands of professors, students, writers, religious leaders and others from across the globe to participate in workshops, lectures and events related to religious studies and theology. In attendance and presenting were a growing number of Pagans.

{0b895c50-c9a2-db11-a735-000c2903e717}“The AAR annual meeting is a huge intellectual energy infusion, not to mention a social occasion with Pagan Studies scholars from around the world,” said Chas Clifton, co-chair of AAR’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Group. “There are literally dozens of sessions happening at any one time-slot, so people are always having to compromise.” He added that the Pagan-focused programming, which began in 2005, attracts an average of 40-50 attendees per session, which he called “respectable for a small sub-field.”

The sessions, which were run in part or in whole by the Pagan Studies Group, included such topics as, “The New Animism: Ritual and Response to the Nonhuman World” (Michael Houseman, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes); “Evolving or Born this Way: Conversion and Identity” (Hannah Hofheinz, Harvard University); “New Paganism(s) around the Globe” (Chas Clifton, Colorado State University); “Animism and Paganism: The Dialog Continues” (Jone Salomonsen, University of Oslo) and “From the Charmed Circle to Sacred Kink: Theorizing Boundaries in Religion and Sexuality.” And those are just a few highlights.

Dr. Wendy Griffin, Professor Emerita and Chair of the Department of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality at California State University and Academic Dean of Cherry Hill Seminary said, “As the founding co-chair of the Pagan Studies group at the AAR years ago, I have seen the attendance grow with real pleasure. The reception has always been positive.”

Chas Clifton

Co-Chair of AAR’s Pagan Studies Group [Courtesy Photo]

Clifton agreed, saying, “The question of “reception” never was cast in religious terms, in other words, some kind of discrimination against Pagans — despite the AAR’s roots in Protestant Christian theology.” He explained that the founders had to prove that their programming didn’t fall under another already established category, such as “New Religious Movements.” AAR rejected the application in 1997, but than accepted the Pagan Studies group in 2005. Its been going strong ever since.

Clifton added, “The academic study of Paganism is not about either explaining Paganism to others or teaching Pagans how to be better Pagans. For the latter, I suppose you go to PantheaCon.” The discussions at AAR fall more into the academic realms of mapping emerging practices, presenting trends or vital discourse.

M. Macha Nightmare has been attending AAR off and on since 1998. She said, “I [went] mainly to support the group that was then formulating the implementation of a Pagan Studies section … Since that time, I’ve joined the Academy and have attended as many meetings as possible. During that time, I’ve seen the proposals and acceptance of the Pagan Studies section flourish. ”

Part of her connection to AAR is through her work with Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS). Nightmare said, “In fact, on my way to the 2009 annual meeting in Atlanta, I encountered Wendy Griffin in the women’s room of the Dallas Airport where we both had a layover on our trips … She asked what I had been up to and I replied that CHS was seeking an Academic Dean.” After several discussions with Director Holli Emore, Griffin was hired. Now, Griffin admits that one of her motivations for going to AAR is to “promote Cherry Hill.” She added, “This year, I believe, we found 2 new international students.”

People attend AAR for a variety of reasons. Amy Hale, Ph.D., Undergraduate Director of Instructional Technology and Teacher Excellence at Golden Gate University, has been “delivering workshops for AAR’s Employment Services on the theme of career transition away from academia.” Hale also sits on the Pagan Studies Steering Group. Of this year’s event, Hale said:

AAR can be huge and overwhelming but the conversation is lively and stimulating. I particularly loved the Esotericism in African American Religion session which included some excellent scholarship that rightfully expands the boundaries of Western Esoteric Studies.

Jeffrey Albaugh attends, in part, to help his own work for the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. He said that attending AAR “helps in how [he] thinks about how the conference is run.” He added, “My work occupies the confluence of psychology and religion, so attending AAR offers me new perspectives to consider.”

Dr. Sabina Magliocco, Professor of Anthropology at California State University, only attends on occasion since her “primary professional association is the American Folklore Society (AFS).” Fortunately, this year’s meeting was close to her home and, therefore, she was able to easily attend. Additionally, Magliocco was invited to be a respondent on a panel about folkloristic approaches to the study of religion. She said:

I also had recent research results from my project “Animals and the Spiritual Imagination” that I wanted to present and get feedback on.  AAR fits with my work as a folklorist and anthropologist because of my focus on vernacular religion and expressive culture.  I can network with others who share those specific interests, as well as ones in ritual studies, Pagan studies, and new religious movements.

Australian Professor Douglas Ezzy presenting [Courtesy J. Albaugh]

Australian Professor Douglas Ezzy presenting [Courtesy J. Albaugh]

As Clifton noted, this year’s Pagan Studies presentations included an international element. Clifton presided over a Global Paganisms panel that included scholars from the United Kingdom, Brazil, Israel, Norway and the Netherlands. In addition, Clifton presented a paper by Dmitry Galtsin, a researcher in the Rare Books Department of the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Unfortunately, Galtsin was not able to raise enough funds to make the trip himself.

Israeli Ph.D candidate Shai Feraro said, “It was first time at AAR, after attending several conferences in Europe. I decided to attend the annual meeting due to its status as the largest and most important conference dedicated to the study of religion and spirituality.”

Douglas Ezzy, Ph.D, associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Tasmania in Australia, was attending the annual meeting for the 4th time. He said, “The AAR is a very important forum for me as a Pagan Studies scholar. It is one of the few places where I can meeting a large group of other academics who share my interests and have a detailed familiarity with the Pagan Studies literature.” Ezzy’s paper and recent work focus on “Relational Ethics, Ritual and the New Animism.”

Of this year’s AAR meeting, Ezzy said, “I heard some wonderful papers on ritual studies, mysticism, gender and religion and Paganisms. I also renewed some friendships and developed new ones.” That sentiment was echoed by several of the attendees. Feraro noted that a Pagan Studies group dinner was held at a local restaurant, where he was able to finally meet some American Pagan scholars whose books influenced his own research.

Douglas Ezzy, Chas Clifton and Shai Feraro at Pagan Studies group dinner

Douglas Ezzy, Chas Clifton and Shai Feraro at Pagan Studies group dinner

Hale agreed, saying “Another highlight is spending time with my colleagues, who are cherished friends. AAR just creates community.”

Next year’s American Academy of Religions annual meeting will be held in Atlanta Nov. 21-24. Clifton says that, over the next few weeks, the organization will be setting the 2015 themes. The call for papers will be issued in January.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. Our hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Doreen Valiente Foundation

On Thursday, Nov. 20, the Doreen Valiente Foundation (DVF) made a statement regarding the local showing of a horror film called The Wicca Man.” The Liverpool Echo described the film, directed by Jacqueline Kirkham, as being “inspired by notorious Blundellsands-born satanist Gerald Gardner” and, as reported, is about a filmmaker who “[infiltrates] a witches’ coven with disastrous consequences.”

After the article was published, the Foundation became inundated with requests to respond to the film and subsequent media coverage. However, DVF opted to issue a statement to its community and supporters instead. The message read, in part, “We don’t encourage public displays of outrage on behalf of Witches or Pagans in relation to this movie specifically. We believe that a low-budget, local movie  for which even the local paper story could only attract 3 comments, mostly criticising the film for being poorly made, doesn’t deserve such attention and is best left to be ignored … That’s NOT to say that we don’t believe in standing up for the rights of Witches and Pagans not to be defamed! We just think that it is a long war to fight and picking the battlefields is the strategic key to success.” To read the full statement and reasoning, go to the Foundation’s site.

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michigan_council_of_covens_solitaires_gift_box-re9f68ce3c3b84d1fabcf66bb8b6f8a0c_aglbn_8byvr_324The Michigan Council of Covens & Solitaires (MCCS) has launched its Yuletide/Christmas “Adopt A Family” program. Organizers explain, “Every year there are children in the U.S. that go without presents for Christmas. There are children right here in Michigan that wonder where their next meal is coming from. DHS doesn’t cover everything, that’s where other organizations like MCCS step in.”

MCCS is holding a food and toy drive through Dec. 13 at The Smokey Crystal in Woodhaven, Michigan. Monetary gifts are also being accepted and will be used to purchase needed items that were not donated directly. The website also contains a link to the form used to nominate a family that may be in need of help this holiday season.

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{0b895c50-c9a2-db11-a735-000c2903e717}Over the past weekend, the American Academy of Religions held its annual meeting in San Diego. There were many Pagans in attendance including Sabina Magliocco Ph.D., M. Macha Nightmare, Jeffrey Albaugh, Chas Clifton, Amy Hale, Wendy Griffin, Rev. Patrick McCollum and others. The organization itself, as well as attendees, live tweeted with the hashtag #sblaar14 and #aar.

This year’s AAR meeting included discussions on climate change. During the event, AAR, in conjunction with the Public Religion Research Institute, released a report titled: “Believers, Sympathizers, and Skeptics: Why Americans are Conflicted about Climate Change, Environmental Policy, and Science.” The report was compiled from the “findings from the PRRI/AAR Religion, Values, and Climate Change Survey.” We will be reporting more on the AAR Pagan experience in the near future.

2014-Climate-Change-cover

In Other News:

  • Yvonne Aburrow announced the release of her book All Acts of Love & Pleasure: Inclusive Wicca. Published by Avalonia Press, the book “is a companion guide to inclusive Wicca, which includes all participants regardless of sexual orientation, disability, age, or other differences, not by erasing or ignoring the distinctions, but by working with them creatively within initiatory Craft.” It is currently available for pre-order.
  • Photographer Daragh McDonagh left his adopted city of New York to return to his Irish homeland and “reconnect with the natural world.” After some time, he turned parts of his experience into a series of photographs that explore Irish Shamanism. The resulting collection is called: Daragh McDonagh: The Modern Pagan. McConagh told The British Journal of Photography that, in the photographs, he attempted to capture “a compelling presence that in some way reflects the inner spirituality of each sitter.” Some of his striking photos can be seen on the magazine’s website.
  • “Lithuania Romuva elected a new guide, Inija Trinkūnienė,” as announced by ECER. Trinkūnienė has the distinction of being the first woman ever elected to this position of Kriva (supreme priestess). According to ECER, her election was part of broader discussions on “looking forward” into the religion’s future.
  • Chas Clifton announced the release of a new anthology called Sexuality and New Religious Movements published by Palgrave Macmillan. According to a blurb on Amazon, “Issues relating to sexuality, eroticism and gender are often connected to religious beliefs and practices, but also to prejudices against and fear of religious groups that adopt alternative approaches to sexuality.” The book explores the subject through a number of different religions. Clifton is one of the essayists, and the co-editor is Henry Bogdan of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies and Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism.
  • On Nov. 20, Mythicworlds announced that “Einar Selvik, founder of the acclaimed Nordic band, WARDRUNA and a composer for the hit series, VIKINGS, on the History Channel will make his premiere appearance at Mythicworlds in Seattle on February 20-22.” He will be doing three workshops and talking about his involvement on Vikings.

That is all for now. Enjoy your day.

 Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Elk_River_WV_mapSince I’ve started tracking Pagan responses to the West Virginia water contamination crisis, the fundraiser set up by Solar Cross Temple to aid locals has raised over $1100 dollars. Quote: “Since the 15th, Solar Cross has received $1165 in donations for this cause. We will be sending money to West Virginia tomorrow. We give thanks to everyone who spread the word, and to Crow, Ellen, Kristina, Shannon, Christine, Jenya, Samara, Marian, Laura, Helene, Mary, Fortuna, Jody, James, Tony, Sean, Joan, Lily, Karen, Denise, Rebecca, Rosalind, Kimberly, Elizabeth, Jason, Gerald, Lezlie, Kimberly, Justyna, Christine, Rhiannon, Jennifer and Misha.” In addition, organizers of the CUUPs ritual in West Virginia, which drew support from Pagan leaders like Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, said that “the energy surge we felt came from folks all over the U.S., as well as Italy, France, & Australia.” Events and actions in West Virginia, and other affected areas is ongoing. Recent commentary highlighted here from Anne Johnson and Sara Amis give some much-needed perspective as this story progresses. We will keep you updated.

Oberon (Tim) Zell, an important figure in the early Pagan councils.

Oberon Zell.

Back in December, I spotlighted efforts by Oberon Zell and a coalition of Pagan scholars who are advocating capitalization of the word “Pagan” by journalists when referring to the religious movement. Now, Zell and his coalition have sent out a new press release, and are promoting a Change.org petition, which they hope will garner 500 signatures. Quote: “To address this issue, a coalition has been formed of academic scholars in the field of religious studies, who have done research into contemporary Paganism, and written books on the subject. Their purpose was to create a simple petition to the Associated Press and Chicago Stylebooks to capitalize “Pagan” and “Paganism” when speaking of the modern faiths and their adherents in future editions. The petitions were mailed off to the Stylebook editors on Monday, Dec. 2, with 60 extremely impressive signatures. Many people concerned with religious equality subsequently asked to sign the petition, so to facilitate further signatories, the coalition has created an online master version in Change.org.” You can see the original appeal and signatories, here.

Christine Hoff Kraemer

Christine Kraemer

Christine Kraemer, a scholar and Managing Editor of the Pagan Channel at Patheos.com, has launched a new initiative for, quote, “building Pagan intellectual culture face-to-face.” The concept is simple enough, an organized book club with a local face-to-face component. Quote: “Each month, we read a book: popular fiction (dystopian and utopian novels are a favorite genre); literary fiction, like Candide; modern social or historical commentary, like Neil Postman’s Technopoly; or classics of philosophy, like The Symposium (which we actually repeat once a year). Next, we gather in person with a set start and end time – no Pagan Standard Time here. Once gathered, we sit around a table so everyone can see each other, books in hand, pitchers of water in the center, and glasses for each of us. Alcohol consumption and snacks are put off until the formal discussion is finished. To open the seminar, a participant offers an opening question (usually a different person each meeting). And then we’re off!” You can read more about the initiative, and how to participate, here.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

 

PSG 2014 Logo White Small for Web

  • Hey Pagan Spirit Gathering fans, the popular Pagan festival has unveiled its official artwork for 2014. Quote: “While we have been holding Pagan Spirit Gatherings for over thirty years, each year’s gathering has its own unique character and energy,” said Selena Fox, Executive Director of Circle Sanctuary. “To help guide that energy we give each year has a theme that explores different aspects of the celebration and our community. This year’s theme is ‘Heart and Harmony’ and I’m thrilled our beautiful new logo that so perfectly captures the spirit of that idea.”
  • As mentioned in our latest Pagan Voices, Morning Glory Zell is currently in the hospital due to kidney problems, with doctors re-starting chemo treatments. A new update on her status (which seems to be improving) and a suggested visualization for those wanting to do healing work has been posted on Facebook. Quote: “Please visualize a huge IV bag, larger than the hospital, hanging above the hospital. It is filled with pulsating, rainbow, glittering, swirling vortices of energy. A silver tube runs from the bag to MG’s left arm, where it joins the IV. MG is using this visualization – and is feeling the energy coming from ALL OF YOUR PRAYERS, CANDLES AND RITUALS. MG has asked that I thank everyone who is working on her behalf. She knows you are there.” May her recovery be swift and complete.
  • Just a reminder that the Maetreum of Cybele is still trying to raise funds to fight an appeal of their win in the Appellate court. Quote: “The well pump for the Maetreum died last Sunday and we are still trying to raise the 3000 needed for the last legal fees of our battle. Please contribute if you can via paypal to centralhouse@gallae.com. The contributions stopped over the weekend.”
  • Phantasmaphile has news of an upcoming London exhibition of channelled artworks by Ethel le Rossignol. Quote: “Huge kudos to Mark Pilkington and his Strange Attractor for putting together an astounding-sounding show of Ethel le Rossignol’s channeled paintings.  A spirit medium in the early 20th century, she and her teeming, mystical visions fall into vibratory lockstep with the Hilma af Klints, Wassily Kandinskys, and Emma Kunzes of the era – though hers appear to be decidedly more figurative.”
  • Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum will be speaking at the “Life, Death, Near Death and Beyond: An Exploration” event in March. Quote: “Together we will look at the issues of life, death, near death and beyond. All at a gorgeous eco-retreat center and certified organic farm on Maui.” The event headliner is Ram Dass. You can see a promotional video, here.

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

maetreum sign large

  • As I reported this past weekend, the Maetreum of Cybele has finally won their property tax fight against the Town of Catskill in New York. So far, the only mainstream media (non-Pagan) outlet to report on this has been The New York Law Journal (registration needed to read the article), who note that town officials are “disappointed” with the ruling, and are weighing whether to appeal the ruling to a higher court. “[Attorney Daniel] Vincelette said town officials believe the primary use of the property is as a ‘residential cooperative,’ not for religious purposes. He denied that the nature of the group’s pagan beliefs has been a factor in the town’s opposition to the property tax exemption. ‘It was never ever a consideration or an issue at all,’ he said.” That statement seems rather laughable, considering the lengths the town has gone to fighting their exemption.
  • So, anybody read the New York Times lately? In an article about Teo Bishop re-embracing Jesus, reporter Mark Oppenheimer interviews T. Thorn Coyle, Amy Hale, and myself, about the story (and the meta-story, I suppose). I thought that, all told, it was a fair and balanced snapshot of the situation, and I’m pleased that we weren’t subjected to a Christian counter-point for the sake of “balance.” This being a New York Times piece, it has gotten a lot of commentary and links, including from a local Portland paper, and our “friends” at Get Religion. For those dismayed at the amount of attention this is getting, I encourage you to help build our community’s journalistic apparatus so we can have a bigger influence on mainstream journalism. Journalism isn’t something that just happens to us, it is something we can do.
  • Religion Clause points to a Japan Times article on the growing influence of Shinto in Japanese politics. Quote: “‘They’re trying to restore what was removed by the U.S. Occupation reforms,’ explains Mark Mullins, director of the Japan Studies Center at the University of Auckland. If it succeeds, the project amounts to the overturning of much of the existing order in Japan — a return to the past, with one eye on the future. […] Many of the nation’s top elected officials, including Abe and Shimomura are members of the organization’s political wing, Shinto Seiji Renmei (officially, the Shinto Association of Spiritual Leadership — eschewing the word ‘political’ from the title) […] Seiji Renmei sees its mission as renewing the national emphasis on ‘Japanese spiritual values.’ […] Since its birth in 1969, Shinto Seiji Renmei has notched several victories in its quest to restore much of the nation’s prewar political and social architecture.” This is a story I’ll be paying close attention to in the future, and one that Pagans who are interested in Shinto should also note.
  • Religion in American History looks at Vodou in the early American republic, and finds more questions than answers. Quote: “Finding the place of Vodou in the early republic presents problems of definition and problems of sources and evidence relating to the practice of Vodou and the experiences of Dominguan migrants. In considering these issues, I stand by my interpretation of the evidence for Philadelphia, and now agree that Vodou may have been practiced in Dominguan communities elsewhere in the United States; however, there is much that remains unclear.” 
  •  Last week major environmental advocacy groups walked out of the climate talks in Poland, stating that there’s been a lack of progress on achieving a sustainable future. Quote: “This is the first time environmental groups have walked out of a UNFCCC conference. In astatement, the groups said they had grown tired of the conference’s gridlock over issues such as aid to help poor countries adapt to and mitigate climate change, as well as the apparent disconnect between Poland’s commitment to coal and its job as host of this year’s conference.” News post-talks described this round of talks as “uneventful.” 
Sylvia Browne and Montel Williams.

Sylvia Browne and Montel Williams.

  • Famous psychic and author Sylvia Browne died last week at the age of 77. A Gnostic Christian, Browne emerged as a popular figure in the 1990s and oversaw a vast media empire that included talk-show appearances, bestselling books, and luxury cruise ship experiences for fans. During her life, Browne came under fire from many who saw her off-the-cuff style as irresponsible, especially when it concerned life-or-death matters. Quote: “Although Ms. Browne often appeared on shows like ‘Larry King Live’ and was a regular guest on ‘The Montel Williams Show,’ much of her income came from customers who paid $700 to ask her questions over the telephone for 30 minutes. She was frequently taken to task by skeptics, most notably the professional psychic debunker James Randi. But the questions raised about her abilities did not damage her appeal as an author. She published more than 40 books, and many were mainstays on The New York Times’s best-seller list.” No doubt Browne’s legacy will continue to be debated, and depending on your beliefs, perhaps she’ll still want a say on what that legacy was.
  • An Egyptian statue that had been rotating, seemingly of its own accord, has been explained. Quote: “An engineer, called in to look at the statue, found that that vibrations from a busy nearby road were causing the 3,800-year-old stone figure to rotate. The convex base of the figure made it ‘more susceptible’ to spin around than the cabinet’s other artefacts.” Sorry, folks, maybe next time.
  • Indian newspaper The Hindu has agreed to stop using the word “primitives” to refer to tribal groups. Quote: “The ‘Proud Not Primitive’ movement to challenge prejudice towards tribal peoples in India is celebrating a major success after ‘The Hindu’, one of the world’s largest English language newspapers, pledged to no longer describe tribal peoples as ‘primitive’. Several journalists from renowned Indian publications have also endorsed the movement, including Kumkum Dasgupta of the Hindustan Times, Nikhil Agarwal of the Press Trust of India, and V Raghunathan of the Times of India.” Congratulations on this step forward in respect for tribal and indigenous peoples.
  • Should artists form their own political party? Maybe? Quote: “In the main hall, a Salvador Dali impersonator acted as the compere as figures from the arts world mounted a kind of pulpit to deliver short sermons on the state of the arts.” Just so long as they don’t elect Koons as party chair, I’m down.
  • The American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting just happened, and I know a bunch of Pagan stuff happened. I’m hoping to get some of the inside scoop soon. Stay tuned!

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

[This is the second post on my trip to the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting in Chicago, for yesterday’s post, click here.]

My first session on Sunday covered material that I was pretty familiar with, the Pew Forum’s Religion in Prisons survey, a groundbreaking work that gave some key data points concerning minority religions in prison that before we had only speculated on. You can read my initial analysis of that data, here, and Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum’s views on the survey, here. This special topics forum featured two researchers who worked on the Pew survey, and chaplains with direct experience either in prison chaplaincy, or working with minority religions.

Special Topics Forum: Pew Forum's Survey on Religion in Prisons.

Special Topics Forum: Pew Forum’s Survey on Religion in Prisons.

Patrick McCollum’s initial comments seemed to set the tone for much of the panel, and the questions that followed, when he talked about the “dominant religion lens” that Christians view minority religions, particularly in prison. Many working prison chaplains had some very critical things to say about how the data might be skewed by the opinions of a predominantly conservative and Christian chaplaincy body. From what I’ve heard, Pew is very interested in doing a follow-up study on religion in prisons, something I welcome. The role of a Pagan, McCollum, in shaping this discussion shows just how vital we’ve become in this process.

After that forum, I attended the second Contemporary Pagan Studies panel entitled “Sex, Metaphor, and Sacrifice in Contemporary Paganism,” which featured very diverse papers from Jone Salomonsen on the religious writings of Oslo mass-murderer Anders Breivik, which fused Christian and Pagan elements, Jefferson Calico, on how the Heathen mead hall operates as a central metaphor for interaction between the gods and humanity, and most interesting, Jason Winslade’s “When Pan Met Babalon: Challenging Sex Roles at a Thelemic/Pagan Festival.”

Jason Winslade presenting his paper.

Jason Winslade presenting his paper.

“Concentrating on ritual performances around the bonfire at Babalon Rising, a yearly festival in Indiana whose attendees follow a mix of Paganism and Thelema, the teachings of Victorian magician Aleister Crowley, this paper will demonstrate how participants grapple with challenging sexual roles, manifested in their dances and their ritual play as deities from Crowley’s mythos. Chief among these is his version of the Pagan god Pan who, at Babalon Rising, engages with participants, intentionally pushing boundaries, and creating a setting for festival goers to more freely explore these issues. What results is a messy mix of progressive and regressive attitudes towards sexuality as a metaphor and a vehicle for transformation that potentially challenges essentialist notions of gender and sex in contemporary magickal practice.”

Winslade gave an engaging and interesting presentation, and while this panel seemed not a thematically cohesive as advertised, all the subjects covered were certainly important and fascinating.

The final Contemporary Pagan Studies session I attended was on Monday morning, and it was, by far, the most important and exciting of the weekend. Held as a joint session with the Indigenous Religious Traditions Group, “Contested Categories: Indigenous, Pagan, Authentic, and Legitimate” struck right at the heart of the some of the most vital questions modern Pagans face collectively. All the papers presented, from Koenraad Elst’s exploration of The Gathering of Elders in India, to Sabina Magliocco’s (author of “Witching Culture”) examination of authenticity within modern Paganism (read by Chas Clifton since Sabina couldn’t make it) pointed out the very real hurdles we’ll collectively face as we decide how we’ll define ourselves in the years to come. However, my two favorite paper presentations were Mary Hamner’s “Middle-Class Vodou: Spirit Possession and Marginality in the United States,” and Thad Horrell’s “Becoming Indigenous in a Reconstructed Ancestral Tradition.”

Thad Horrell and Mary Hamner at the Pagan Studies and Indigenous Religious Traditions joint session.

Thad Horrell and Mary Hamner at the Pagan Studies and Indigenous Religious Traditions joint session.

“This paper will investigate the contemporary Heathen project to create an indigenous identification accessible to White Americans, asking to what degree this project escapes the critiques leveled against other attempts to develop White indigenous identifications. Being rooted in European indigenousness rather than an appropriated American Indian indigenousness, does Heathenry escape the usual post/anti-colonial critiques commonly leveled at such projects? How are “indigenous Europeans” in the United States different from White “wannabe Indians?” What, if any, commonalities do they share? Are the differences sufficient to overcome the usual criticisms, to produce a more healthy and respectful cognitive relation between White Americans and American Indians? Or, do contemporary Heathen claims of indigenous identity continue to reify White racial conceptions of dominance over the racially-other Indian?”

I felt both of these papers were so compelling that I spoke with Mr. Horrell and Ms. Hamner after the session about presenting their research here at The Wild Hunt. Both seemed open to the idea, and I hope that this will not only expand the coverage of Contemporary Pagan Studies at the AAR Annual Meeting, but introduce productive dialog on issues that have provoked a lot of debate among modern Pagans.  So stay tuned!

Once I get home later today I hope to start a longer rumination about the important conversations that happen between the panels and presentations, how the AAR Annual Meeting provides fertile soil for future collaboration and helps sustain Contemporary Pagan Studies. Conferences are often about who you meet, who you connect with, as much as the paper you present. As I said before, Pagan scholars are like a microcosm of the Pagan community as a whole: diverse thoughts, theories, and ideas debating, interacting, and spinning off into new directions. Interactions that could provide a road-map for the larger community to move forward. I feel lucky to have been a small part of these discussions, and to have attended these sessions.

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 DruidAssembly of the Sacred Wheel,Brotherhood of the PhoenixEgregoresIx Chel WellnessMill Creek SeminarySolar Cross Temple,Stone City Pagan SanctuaryTeo BishopThe SummerlandsUrania’s Well, and Wiccanwoman. Thank you. You make this possible.

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.

psychic city chicago panel

Roundtable: Re-examining Psychic City.

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.

terra mysterium patrick

Matthew Ellenwood, Patrick McCollum, and Keith Green after the Terra Mysterium performance.

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.

Contemporary Pagan Theology and Praxology panel.

Contemporary Pagan Theology and Praxology panel.

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.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

tow new home

The Temple of Witchcraft’s new Salem home.

  • The Temple of Witchcraft, a religious organization co-founded by author Christopher Penczak, is still encountering difficulties in getting their new building in Salem, New Hampshire the proper zoning so that they can build a parking lot and make improvements. Neighbors say it isn’t about the Witchcraft, just traffic, but at least one neighbor disagrees with the notion of them identifying as a “church” even though no Christian denomination would receive such a challenge. Meanwhile, a new Hindu temple in the same area has been approved, while the Temple of Witchcraft is still having their essential “church”-ness questioned. Make no mistake, the Temple is in the legal right here, and I hope this is resolved before lawyers have to file litigation, costing Salem quite a bit of money.
  • Remember my analysis of last week’s elections here in the United States? I noted that religious demographics were shifting, and this may have been the first post-Christian election. To add more data to my assertions, Discover Magazine notes that Asian Americans, who voted heavily Democratic this cycle, have also become far less Christian, influencing how they vote. Quote: “Barry Kosmin has documented that between 1990 and 2010 Asian Americans have become far less Christian, on average. Meanwhile, the Republican party has become far more Christian in terms of its identity. Do you really require more than two sentences to infer from this what the outcome will be in terms of how Asian Americans will vote?” In short, the more some Republicans want to become “God’s Own Party,” the more a growing number of votes will simply evade them.
  • Over at HuffPost Religion Deepak Sarma addresses the question of white Hindu converts, and whether this growing group, sincere or not, are engaging in a unintentional mockery of that which they profess to honor.  Quote: “So, no matter their sincerity, or self-proclaimed authenticity, their mimicry seems more like mockery. And, unlike the forced mimicry of the Diaspora Hindu, which may have subversive undertones and may destabilize the dominant ideology, reverse mimicry, ironically, merely reinforces existing hierarchies and paradigms. In fact, some claim to be more “authentic” than Diaspora Hindus and, in so doing, deny the voice of those they mimic/ mock.” Sarma goes on to posit that perhaps white converts can never understand the experience of the Hindu diaspora and wonders if welcoming Western Hindu temples and homes suffer from “post-traumatic, post-colonial, servile disorder” by accepting these converts. It should be interesting to see the debate and discussion this post incites.
Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

  • Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary has passed another important hurdle on their road to becoming an established, recognized, seminary. After awarding its first Master of Divinity in Pagan Pastoral Counseling, graduate, Sandra Lee Harris has had her credentials examined and accepted by the Board of Chaplaincy Certification, Inc., the credentials-examining body for the Association of Professional Chaplains. This frees her to complete the process of becoming a board-certified chaplain. Quote: “David Oringderff, Ph.D., Harris’s department chair and adviser at Cherry Hill Seminary, congratulated her on her achievement, “This is indeed a milestone, both for your professional aspirations and for Cherry Hill Seminary.”  Oringderff noted the precedent set by the BCCI/APC decision, which could strengthen the case for future acceptance of Cherry Hill Seminary degrees by other institutions, the U.S. Department of Defense, for example.” We’ll have more on this story, and its implications, in the near future.
  • Check out this interview with West Memphis 3 member Damien Echols, conducted by Henry Rollins, who talks to Echols about “his life before and after his trial, including his spiritual and intellectual journey in prison as well as his wife, Lorri Davis, whom he met and married while on death row.”
  • Back in 2010 I announced that long-running web magazine Heathen Harvest, which covered post-Industrial and neofolk music, was closing down. Now, the site has returned at a new address, with new owners, and with the blessing of the original founder. Quote: “Heathen Harvest’s second major incarnation came into being on 4th July 2011, learning from the past by chiefly reviewing digitial promos and concentrating only on the most stimulating music received. The new site has been respectfully named The Heathen Harvest Periodical to distinguish it from the old website, which still remains archived at www.heathenharvest.com. We continue to cover all material from the darker musical underground and to serve the needs and works of musicians, artists, authors and journalists alike all across the post-industrial spectrum.” The new site can be found at: www.heathenharvest.org.
  • In other Pagan-friendly music news,  UK Pagan band The Dolmen have just released a new album entitled “Wytchlord,” while fellow UK Pagan artist Damh the Bard (a most excellent human being) is coming out with a new album, “Antlered Crown and Standing Stone,” on November 17th.
  • At the New Yorker, Michelle Dean wonders if the folkloric witch has been tamed to its own detriment. Quote: “But the witch is no longer terribly wild to us; she’s domesticated, normal, prone perhaps to a spell of madness but one from which she’ll emerge sunny and whole. She no longer signals a liberating spirit. Culturally, we have replicated witch-figures like Samantha of “Bewitched,” whose powers aid her in serving her husband. Our emblematic witch is Hermione Granger, who performs all the magic and takes none of the credit from Harry Potter. She is self-effacing and noble and never in any real danger of contamination by the dark. There are bad witches in Harry Potter, indeed, bad witches in many stories. But their cartoonish one-dimensionality cancels out any real portent. The internal conflicts go to Snape, while Bellatrix is irretrievable.” Dean feels we need the uncontrollable and unpredictable witch in order to do battle with those who seek to control women.
  • The Fourth Circuit Federal Appeals Court ruled that a prison does not have to provide an outdoor worship space for Asatru in prison, noting that there’s no authority requiring it. Quote: “A federal trial judge concluded that Krieger failed to show how the practice of his religion, which is called Asatru, was harmed by the lack of a worship circle outdoors. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision.
  • In a final note, tomorrow I’ll be heading to the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting in Chicago. and I’m hoping to post updates during my time there, and bring back some interviews as well. You’ll also have regular updates from Wild Hunt columnists and reporters to read while I’m away. I’d like to thank everyone who funded this coverage trip back in April, and will do my best to transmit what’s happening in Pagan Studies and Pagan scholarship to you.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

We live in an unparalleled and historic time for the evolution and growth of Pagan-oriented media, and the development of journalism within our interconnected communities. In the span of a decade we’ve gone from counting notable self-identified Pagan journalists on one hand, to watching the evolution of a grass-roots Pagan newswire project, and the emergence of a vibrant and unprecedented interview culture thanks to podcasts and Internet radio. I’ve been truly blessed, through The Wild Hunt, to be a participant, booster, and  direct beneficiary of this phenomenon. I’ve been an ardent evangelizer for the power of new media within our community, and I’m always looking for new ways Pagan journalists and media professionals can do their work in a sustainable manner.

Over the years, I’ve often been asked if I can cover a certain event, or if I’ll be attending a festival or conference. While I wish the answer could always be “yes,” I’ve often been limited in what I could afford to do. While Patheos does pay me something for writing here, it amounts to hundreds of dollars per month, and (sadly) not the high end of “hundreds.” Simply put, I don’t even make minimum wage writing and reporting for the Pagan community on a daily basis.  I don’t say this to garner sympathy, but to just plainly state what the fiscal realities are of the current job I perform. Most of the events I cover in person have been possible because the organizers have covered my expenses, or else I sprung for the costs myself. Because of this, whenever an event is too far away, I usually can’t go, and instead hope that others will do first-hand accounts that I can build from.

http://www.indiegogo.com/thewildhunt-AAR

http://www.indiegogo.com/thewildhunt-AAR

So, starting today, I’m beginning a new experiment in “crowdfunding” Pagan journalism. I’m going to start launching small campaigns through Indiegogo to raise travel and living expenses for events that I feel are important for me to cover in person. If the event gets funded, then I go. If it doesn’t, I won’t. My first campaign is to raise funds for the American Academy of Religion’s 2012 Annual Meeting in Chicago. The AAR is the world’s largest association of academics who research or teach topics related to religion, and their annual meeting has become a vital place to hear about the latest scholarship in the field of Pagan Studies (and just about every other religious and philosophical tradition as well). In 2011, my trip to the AAR’s Annual Meeting in San Francisco allowed me to share a talk by Starhawk on elemental theology, and explore Paganism’s solitary, eclectic, future. Not to mention the many connections and sources I was able to meet firsthand.

All of these campaigns will be relatively small-dollar in scope, usually 1-2 thousand dollars for each trip. The amount raised will only cover travel, food, and lodging. Any savings I make due to alternate living/eating/travel arrangements will be forwarded to the next campaign.  I will also take suggestions on events that I should cover and open the idea up to comment here at The Wild Hunt. Should I go to the Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle? Paganicon in Minnesota? What about an event in England? Make your voices heard, and if there’s enough demand, we’ll try to fund them one at a time. Ultimately, I would like to build this up and work towards funding a trip to the 2014 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Belgium.

See the campaign, and donate, here.

All trips that are successfully crowdfunded will come with expectations on what I will deliver. Daily reports, yes, but also exclusive audio interviews that I will make freely available for any Pagan media outlet to use, and groundwork for larger, more in depth, stories. Ideally, this project will not only give you more on-the-ground journalism at events that are important to us, but create a model for other Pagans to try as well. If I succeed, it means it can succeed for others like me. In the end, it will mean a richer, more robust, Pagan journalism. I hope you’ll join me in this quest, spread the word, donate what you can, and help me in continuing to push the barriers of Pagan media.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Perhaps one of most thought-provoking presentations I attended at the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting in San Francisco was that by sociologist Helen A. Berger at the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group panel “Pagan Analysis and Critique of Religion.” Her talk, “Fifteen Years of Continuity and Change within the American Pagan Community,” was a flurry of statistical information  gleaned from a 2009 re-visitation of the Pagan Census project. This isn’t the first time Berger, co-author of “Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States,” has presented some initial finding from this new collection of data; in late 2010 she wrote an editorial for Patheos.com’s “Future of Paganism” series where she revealed where the data was leading.

Helen A. Berger presenting at the AAR.

Helen A. Berger presenting at the AAR.

“In comparing the two surveys [The Pagan Census and the Pagan Census Revisited] I found that the number of Pagans who claim to practice alone has grown from 51% to 79%. The growth of solitary practitioners has been facilitated by books and the Internet. During the 1960s and 70s when the religion was initially spreading, it was passed from person-to-person, most commonly in groups, such as covens. This has clearly changed as in the PCR only 36% state that they were trained in a group. […] Parallel to the growth of solitary practitioners is the increase in people who state that their primary form of practice is Eclectic Paganism, which is the most common designation, with 53% of the respondents claiming this designation.  Additionally, 22% state that they are spiritual but dislike labels.”

That essay got very little attention at the time, even though it held some remarkable data of interest to our communities. Perhaps there were so many thought-provoking editorials produced for that series that it was drowned out a bit? In any case, the collection of religion scholars, Pagan scholars, journalists, and interested local Pagan community members, were very interested in what Professor Berger had to say about her (as yet unpublished) data. We found out that 40.8% of young self-identified Pagans never or “nearly never” meet with other Pagans for the purposes of ritual or religious observance. We found that a vast majority, 79%, primarily practice alone (solitary), and we found that Wicca, once the statistical heavyweight of the modern Pagan movement, is quickly losing ground to Pagans with eclectic practices. At one point Berger made an allusion to Robert Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community”, saying that a similar book about the Pagan community could be called “Circling Alone.”

How often do we communicate with other Pagans?

How often do we communicate with other Pagans?

However, while Pagans are increasingly solitary in practice, we do interact with one another, but that interaction is happening increasingly on the Internet. More than half of Pagans today use blogs, message boards, and social media to connect with the wider Pagan world, the only method of communication and interaction that garnered a majority. Are such methods of communication and connection enough to bind us together as a movement?

“Paganism is a community of spiritual individualists that is well integrated, on both the local level through gatherings, festivals and open Sabbats and on the national and international level through websites, message boards, and blogs. As much of the integration takes place on the Internet or person-to-person, it is unclear how important umbrella organizations such as Covenant of the Goddess or Pagan Associations will be in the future. However, the desire for individuals to practice together and to get together for spiritual purposes suggests that they may grow in import as they help to organize gatherings, rituals, and classes. Paganism will continue to provide a new image of what religion can be in a postmodern world; one without churches or clear boundaries, based on books and the Internet and individuals gathering together and interacting and then returning to practice what they see as their own eclectic religion.”

Berger stressed repeatedly during her presentation that she hasn’t come to any firm conclusions about the data she’s collected in 2009, and what it might mean for modern Paganism’s future. That said, she did wonder if modern Pagans were building a new model of religious growth that flies in the face of the traditional growth arcs (the building of congregations, for example). Paganism is still growing, albeit not at the explosive levels of the 1990s, and if our movement survives over the long term it could completely change ideas of how religions survive and thrive in a post-modern (and increasingly post-Christian) world. I’m hoping we see more from Berger on this data soon, and I’m hoping to contact her for a more in-depth interview about the findings she presented at the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting. For now, I think our organizations, activists, and clergy need to start grappling with the directions our movement is headed, and shift their expectations and methods accordingly.