Archives For academia

As some Pagans attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up that challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.

Economic analysis proves another theory of Delphi’s power:

The Oracle of Delphi was located between the powerful Greek city-states of Athens, Corinth, Sparta, and Thebes and was extremely influential starting in the 8th century BCE. Once a month petitioners would gather at the site to ask the Oracle of Apollon, called the Pythia, questions about what they should do in any given situation. The answers were thought to come directly from Apollon to the Pythia but were often riddles that the petitioner must puzzle out for himself. The rich and powerful were no exception and they often gathered in advance and mingled and traded information.

Aegeus receiving the oracle of Delphi painted on a kylix,  440 BCE. [Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin]

Aegeus receiving the oracle of Delphi painted on a kylix, 440 BCE. [Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin]

Prof. Colleen Haight, an associate professor of economics at San Jose State University, uses economic analysis as an analytic lens to help explain what she calls “seemingly irrational behavior such as relying upon the supernatural judgment of an oracle to make life-and-death decisions.”

The economic theory of how religion affects cultures have largely been split between monopolistic state religions and laissez faire religious competition. Religious monoplies mean that the secular ruler is also in control of the relious institutions. This allows them greater control over their population, but can breed distrust in the legiticmacy of both the religion and ruler. Laissez faire religious competition is a benefit to religious groups, which are often numerous in an area, but doesn’t grant any more power to secular rulers.

Prof. Haight posits a third theory that fits Delphi – the neutral nexus.

In this situation, secular leaders maintain control over their own cults within their own territory, but also rely upon an outside, third-party source of religious legitimation for their rule. This is the role that the Oracle of Delphi played. With several ancient Greek city-states essentially locked in a balance of power, the city of Delphi could assert its neutrality amidst the larger political players of the region (i.e, Sparta, Athens, Corinth, and Thebes). More importantly, the rulers of each of these city-states could use the Delphic Oracle as a source of information regarding future military campaigns or other major decisions.  It was in the interest of each of secular rulers both to provide the oracle with valid information and to rely upon its pronouncements as valid. In many ways, this helped to mitigate conflict between the different regional powers. It was only when one ruler (Philip II of Macedon) was able to consolidate territorial power over the bulk of ancient Greece that the Delphic Oracle lost its neutrality and, hence, its authoritative power.

You can listen to the podcast interview with Prof. Haight here.

Tomb of Alexander the Great’s mother found?

Greece is abuzz on the discovery of a tomb of a royal queen that dates back to the period immediately following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE. The tomb, located beneath the great mound at Amphipolis in Macedonia, is considered such a significant find it was unveiled in August, during a visit by Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras. Greek Reporter writer Andrew Chugg believe the tomb is that of Alexander’s mother, Olympias.

This tomb, if it is that of Olympias, would be of particular interest to those Pagans who worship Alexander as a deified Hero. In mythos, Olympias was impregnated by Zeus’ thunderbolt and Alexander was the result of that union. Olympias helped Alexander to become King after her husband, Philip II of Macedon, was assassinated. Alexander went on to become on of the greatest military generals of all time, building one of the largest empires of the ancient world through conquest. It stretched from Greece, into Egypt, and into present-day Pakistan. When he died at age 30, his empire was divided up between his generals. After a brief revolt by his mother and his wife, Roxane, against the general who took control of Macedonia, both women were put to death along with Alexander’s son, Alexander IV.

The tomb is thought to be Olympias because of the size, the decorations that closely resemble the tombs of Alexander’s father and his son, the unusual presence of sphinxes, and its location.

Painted decoration in the tomb at Amphipolis (left) and the tomb of Alexander IV (right) - [Greek Reporter]

Painted decoration in the tomb at Amphipolis (left) and the tomb of Alexander IV (right) – [Greek Reporter]

On this evidence I consider Olympias to be the leading contender at the time of writing (6/9/2014) for the occupant of the magnificent tomb at Amphipolis currently being excavated with Roxane also a strong possibility. It should be recalled that the tomb mound has a diameter of 155m, larger even than the Great Tumulus at Aegae and posing the question of whom the Macedonians would conceivably have spent this much money and effort upon commemorating, Olympias is by far the most convincing answer at present. Although it is true that the ancient accounts say that she was unpopular at the time of her death, it is nevertheless clear that she was only really unpopular with Cassander’s faction, whereas Cassander himself was sufficiently worried about her popularity as to arrange her immediate death in order to prevent her addressing the Macedonian Assembly (Diodorus 19.51). Furthermore, her army under Aristonous stayed loyal to her cause long after she herself had surrendered. Ultimately, her cause was seen at the time as identical with the cause of Alexander himself, so it was in a sense Alexander whom they honoured by building his mother a spectacular tomb.

You can read more about the tomb here.

With Viking burials, a sword does not a man make:

A new study of Viking burial remains in England is challenging the previously widely held theory that Viking women stayed home. It’s also firming up a changing view of Vikings from violent thieves to marriage-minded colonists.

The Vikings invaded England in waves starting around 900 AD and founded a medieval kingdom called theDanelaw. Originally, archaeologists thought the Viking settlers consisted almost exclusively of men because of written Christian accounts and because most of the Vikings buried in England from that time were buried with swords and knives.

A new study of 14 Viking burials published in the Early Medieval Europe Journal by Shane McLeod of the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Western Australia puts those assumptions in doubt.

10th century Viking grave in England. [British Department of Culture, Media and Sport.]

10th century Viking grave in England. [British Department of Culture, Media and Sport.]

McLeod reports that 6 of the 14 bodies are women, seven were men, and one was indeterminable. This was determined by examining isotopes found in their bones and looking at the osteological signs of which gender they belonged to, rather than assuming that burial with a sword or knife denoted a male.

For example, at one mass burial, three swords were found and yet all three bodies whose sex could be determined were female. This new study suggests that women made up roughly ½ to 1/3 of Viking settlers in England.

A nice look at the new evidence and what it means for the idea of Viking female warriors can be found in a comment on an article here.

Solomon’s mines worked by Magicians, not slaves:

In another theory that turns out to not be true, the Edomite’s who worked King Solomon’s copper mines in Timna were highly paid “quazi-magicians,” not slaves. Of course, they may not have been working for Solomon, either, but Egypt. Or themselves.

Archaeologists originally thought the workers were slaves because of the harsh desert conditions, how uncomfortable it would be to work the hot furnaces, and a massive stone wall that was thought to prevent escape. The Timna valley is located in present day Southern Israel.

Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen, of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures, say the workers were highly skilled, and highly pampered, artisans. They analyzed the remnants of food from 3,000 years ago, which were perfectly preserved by the arid conditions of the site. The workers who manned the highly sophisticated kilns were fed imported and expensive meats, fruits, and grains. The wall, once thought to keep slaves in, is now thought to be a protective barrier to keep workers safe. They also claim the advanced skills needed to work copper would place these artisans in a social class similar to that of “quasi-magicians” because the complex process, in which 30-40 different variables were managed by the smelter, would seem like magic to ordinary persons of that time. The mines themselves, however, may have used slaves or criminals for labor.

[Wikipedia Commons]

The Timna Valley mines are located in the southern edge of the Kingdom of Edom [Wikipedia Commons]

The kingdom of Edom was located in the Southern Levant south of Judea on the shores of the Dead Sea. Its people were Semetic and followed a Canaanite religion, although not much is known about their specific practices. Canaanite religions were typically polytheistic, with a strong focus on ancestral household deities. According to Jewish tradition, the Edomites were conquered by Israel in the late 11th century BCE, although archaeologists argue that the scale of 10th century BCE mining on Edom lands and signs of sporadic wars with neighbors over many centuries, are evidence of a strong and independent Edomite kingdom well into the 4th century BCE.

Stonehenge has a sibling (and then some):

Archaeologists, using ground-penetrating radar, magnetometry and other techniques, have found 50 massive stones buried just 2 miles away from Stonehenge. The sibling henge, along with 17 other Neolitihic and Bronze age religious monuments, were found during a four year investigation into Stonehenge’s sacred landscape. The finds indicate the monuments formed a processional walkway to the main sacred site and formed a cohesive religious complex.

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[Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project]

The sibling henge, dubbed Superhenge, helped form a c-shaped enclosure and it faced the river Avon. Later it was fully enclosed to make a circle.

The monument was later converted from a c-shaped to a roughly circular enclosure, now known as Durrington Walls – Britain’s largest pre-historic henge, roughly 12 times the size of Stonehenge itself. As a religious complex, it would almost certainly have had a deeply spiritual and ritual connection with the river. But precisely why is a complete mystery, although it is possible that that particular stretch of water was regarded as a deity.

The sibling henge stones are roughly 10 ft long and 5 feet wide and are laying down horizontally, although they could have originally stood vertically in the ground. It’s estimated they were placed on site around 2500BC.

“This radically changes our view of Stonehenge,” said Vince Gaffney, head of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project at Birmingham University. “In the past we had this idea that Stonehenge was standing in splendid isolation, but it wasn’t … it’s absolutely huge.”

You can see images and links to more information of the new discoveries at the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project.

A two-part special BBC Two documentary (Operation Stonehenge: What Lies Beneath), being shown tonight and next Thursday, is set to reveal the details of many of the investigation’s new discoveries.

Divinations

Eric O. Scott —  May 9, 2014 — 9 Comments
The Hooded Man, from the Wildwood Tarot. Deck by Mark Ryan and John Matthews. Art by Wil Worthington.

The Hooded Man, from the Wildwood Tarot.
Deck by Mark Ryan and John Matthews.
Art by Wil Worthington.

“I feel like doing Tarot readings,” says Jeff.

It’s about 8:45 and on most nights we would be packing up to leave the Freebirds Burritos restaurant by now, but tonight Jeff decides he wants to run out to his car and grab his deck. There are only three of us – Jeff, Sielach, and me – at this week’s meeting of Hearthfires, a local Columbia Pagan Forum that I have been attending for a few months. I’m thinking about how much work I have to do before the end of the semester and how spending an hour here doing divination is an hour I can’t spend writing my seminar paper on Giambattista Vico and the completely arbitrary relationship I am drawing between his philology and the Icelandic Sagas.

But Jeff wants to do a reading, so we do a reading.

He sorts out the deck onto the wooden table. His deck is called The Wildwood Tarot; I have not seen it before. The artwork is full of nature imagery and fairy-tale settings; in the world of these cards, there is little evidence of human civilization at all, outside of a few human characters and the tools they carry. I search through Jeff’s deck and look at the major arcana. I don’t recognize the names of most of the cards. I only own three Tarot decks, and they all tend towards the traditional – Rider-Waite-Smith, Thoth, Tree of Life. (Tree of Life is my favorite, even though it has no illustrations except for diagrams of the relationship between the cards and the sephira. I am a sucker for diagrams.) I’m accustomed to the seventh card being the Chariot, for example; in this deck, it is the Archer. I don’t know its meaning.

I mention all this to Jeff, and he shrugs. He has looked at the Rider deck before, he says. “But I never got anything from those cards. There’s something in the rigidity of the artwork.”

Jeff begins to draw cards from the deck for me. I don’t mention any specific question for him to look into, in part because I’m interested to see what he pulls together and in part because I don’t have any questions that I want to voice aloud. I have two main concerns in my life right now – in a few weeks, I will be going to Iceland, and in a few months, I will be getting married. Sielach had given me a reading the week before about Iceland, so that seemed covered, and frankly, the wedding seems too distant and overwhelming to worry about now.

Jeff places nine cards down in a pattern – center, cross, left, below, right, above, and then four cards along the side. He describes this pattern to me: the card in the center represents me as I am now. The cross card can be thought of as either my obstacle or my guide. To the left is the recent past; to the right is the near future. The card above is the Sky, or an ideal outcome. The card below is the Root, or the source of my question. The cards along the side give a rough timeline of events, beginning at the bottom and proceeding into the future as we move to the top.

I watch Jeff with curiosity as he lays the cards out on the table. I have never taken to divination of any kind, despite being raised in a Pagan household where I had plenty of opportunity to study it. I’ve never done a Tarot reading for anyone, though I have, in the past few months, begun to do rune readings. I’ve always been more interested in looking at these tools in terms of systems than in terms of oracular use. After I read Alan Moore and JH Williams III’s Promethea, I spent a lot of time thinking about the connections between Tarot and Kabballah, but it never occurred to me to actually shuffle up the cards; I couldn’t get my mind past the inherent randomness of the process.

“I see a lot of Air in the center of the table,” he says as he looks over the tableau. The center card is a Knight of Arrows, or the Hawk. The cross is the Nine of Arrows, which is glossed as Dedication. In the traditional decks that I am familiar with, Air would be associated with the suit of Swords, but the Wildwood Tarot changed the suits. Here, Swords are Arrows, Cups are Vessels, Wands are Bows, and Pentacles are Stones.

Jeff goes through the rest of the cards: the Mother Bear is my Sky, my near future is Healing. (What would I need to heal?, I wonder.) He details a timeline that seems like it might correspond to my time in Iceland – The Pole Star, The Ancestor, The Wheel, The Great Bear – but I am barely paying attention. I am too busy being struck – terrified, actually – by the card in the Root position.

The card is marked number 9. Normally, I would know it as the Hermit; here, it is the Hooded Man. He says that here it has an association with death, which is, of course, not necessarily a bad thing; death can simply mean change. Jeff reads this card as being about living through the winter. But that is not the association I carry.

“I wish I had brought my book with me,” he says, referring to a handbook that provides a list of interpretations and correspondences for each card. “I feel like some of my interpretations are off tonight.”

I nod. “I know I feel differently about the Hooded Man,” I say. “I don’t think that’s about death at all. Especially not at the Root. I think that’s a different Hooded Man altogether.”

Sielach nods as she comes to understand what I mean. Jeff doesn’t, though. “Oh. So you’re dealing with some other hooded person?”

“Maybe not a person,” says Sielach. “A hooded personage.”

I have trouble expressing just how spooked this Tarot reading made me. I had a moment of strong cognitive dissonance. My rational mind pushed strongly against any kind of deep meaning to a particular reading; it’s a random deal of the deck, after all. Which card ends up in which place is just a matter of chance.

And yet I read everything about the tableau in relation to Iceland, and it fit. Including the Root. Especially the Root. The Hooded Man. Card number nine. (Nine. Another spooky coincidence.) Of course he would be at the heart of the question.

I remembered pacing back and forth in my advisor’s office two months ago. I had just found out that I had been accepted into a summer Icelandic program through the University of Minnesota, but I hadn’t been offered any money; it would have cost me thousands of dollars that I just didn’t have. We called every university we were in contact with, every Scandinavian educational association, even the Icelandic embassy, looking for grants. Nothing. Too late to apply. We accepted that I probably couldn’t afford to go this year; our best hope was to defer the admission until next summer, when perhaps I could get a better jump on the grants.

The next day I started a fundraising drive, just to see. Within 24 hours, people – mostly my friends and family, but some people I barely knew, and even some people who I can only assume just knew me through my work – had pledged two thousand dollars. The total climbed to over three thousand by the end of the two month drive. I was dumbfounded. I really had not expected it to work. But it did.

As Florence says, “This is a gift. It comes with a price.”

I leave for Minneapolis, and from there Reykjavik, in a little over two weeks. As that day approaches, I find myself thinking more and more about the bargains I have struck. I made a bargain with myself to quit my job and return to academia; now I have made a bargain with everyone who donated to make sure this endeavor is worthwhile.

And of course, I wrote here not that long ago about the bargain I struck with the Hooded Man himself. And there he is, card number nine, staring at me from the root of the world, exactly where I knew he would be when I began this journey last year.

I have been thinking a lot about divination since last night; what to make of it, how to approach it. How any of this applies to changes I have made in my life, and the changes yet to come. What I might believe about what goes into a Tarot reading.

I believe that the cards in any given tableau are random, arbitrary. I believe they have only the meanings we attach to them.

I believe the cards are fated, fixed. I believe each reading tells us exactly what we need to know at that moment in time.

I believe in all and none of these things.

Eric’s note: This post has been updated to feature the actual Hooded Man card from the Wildwood Tarot. Many thanks to the creators for letting us use the image.

[The following report was written by Joanne Young Elliott, and was originally published at PNC-Southern California. It is being republished here with the permission of the author.]

The tenth annual Conference on Current Pagan Studies this past weekend in Claremont brought to bear the research of two dozen scholars and alternative religious activists to consider issues including Pagan identity, racism and homophobia within the community and the environmental impact of what has often been referred to as an “earth-based religion.”

Friday night celebration with cake. Photo by Charles Elliott.

Friday night celebration with cake. Photo by Charles Elliott.

The Feb. 8-9 conference at Claremont Graduate University, an official event of the Women’s Studies in Religion program at Claremont, focused upon the theme “Relationships with the World.” It fittingly began with a video from Patrick McCollum, a Wiccan Priest who has been invited to represent American paganism the UN and to large religious gatherings around the world. The video was a hello to us from India as he made his way to the Mahayaga in Kerala. Patrick was invited to co-facilitate this multi-million person spiritually-based event. He stated in his video that, “We need a new narrative that includes everyone.” He believes that within Paganism we have an inclusive story.

There were twenty-three conference presenters including the two keynote speakers, Lon Milo DuQuette and Crystal Blanton. Everyone had something interesting to say, but I will only give an overview of important highlights for the Pagan community. You can see the full list of presenters here along with the titles of their papers. If you want a detailed account of all the speakers you can check out Tony Mierzwicki’s blog, The Emerald Tablet. (To be up within the next couple of days.)

Joseph Futerman in his paper “The Burning Times Bugaboo—Using Fear to Create Insiders in Contemporary Paganism” asked us: “Why do we keep this myth of destruction, sadness and loss alive?” It hasn’t stopped genocides. He later went on to say that he was using the word “myth” to mean story or narrative and not an untruth, but a greater truth. What is that greater truth we think we are telling ourselves and what does the myth of the Burning Times give us? He suggested that it gives us our identity, the Insider versus the Outsider. He then asked a few more questions:

  • What is the effect of interacting from fear, suspicion and anger?
  • What is the effect of claiming that we are the disempowered few?
  • Is this what we seek to teach?

Joseph likes to ask questions, at some point later in the conference he said, “I only ask questions, I don’t have the answers.” This is what this conference is all about. And his provocative questions sparked some interesting comments during the Q&A. Sabina Magliocco talked about the trope of the disempowered and identity and how that has helped create some important movements like Feminism and the Civil Rights Movement. Joseph suggested that working from this identity ultimately leads to war in terms of things like the war on poverty. He also mentioned that embracing this role means we’re agreeing with those who think we shouldn’t be here. There was a lot to contemplate.

So what else do Pagans have in common? Pagan therapist Scott Gilliam presented “The Reemergence of the Pagan Soul and Its Voice in the World.” In his research he discovered twelve shared themes amongst Pagans who became Pagan and were not brought up Pagan. One of them was that feeling of coming home once they discovered there was such a thing as Paganism. The most important theme in terms of the conference topic was a feeling of purpose in the world. He said Pagans see themselves as active, not passive participants in the unfolding of history. Patrick McCollum is a perfect example of this shared theme. Scott also speculated that there is a pagan dimension to the soul that has long been neglected in our society and is now reemerging for a reason.

Paganism seems to be going through an identity crisis with much discussion going on around the Internet about whether or not we should be using Pagan as an umbrella term. What kind of relationship can we have with the rest of the world while breaking up if that’s what is happening?

One relationship that has been going on a long time is that between Pagans and Christians. Sam Webster addressed this in his paper: “The Relationship of Christianity with Paganism.” This paper came about when he got an intense response to his blog post on Patheos: “Beginning the Pagan Restoration” in which he stated “And, no, you can’t worship Jesus Christ and be a Pagan.” And the subsequent post: “Why You Can’t Worship Jesus Christ and Be Pagan.”  The flurry of over 300 comments gave Sam some data to work with regarding the Pagan community. Here are a couple of things that he came up with:

  • There is a need for better identity formation and education in history and theology in the Pagan community.
  • A deeper discussion about authority is needed because we are framing things in a Christian way.

Although recently more people report that they are “Christian Pagans,” Sam sees Christianity as a threat. Christianity is a challenge to anyone or culture that is not it and he said he doesn’t want to see the dilution of Paganism.

Margaret Froelich: “The Maiden, the Mother and the Other One: Testing the Triple Goddess for a Feminist World” and Amy Hale: “Cell Block Arcadia: “Nature Religion” and the Politics of Being Pagan” both brought up ideas about how the frameworks and names we use may not fit us and what we actually practice. Margaret said that we should make sure our symbols reflect our values and that the triple goddess model doesn’t fit our modern life, it’s not inclusive enough. Amy argued that calling Paganism a “Nature Religion” may replicate an antimodernist view and perpetuate “noble savage” ideology. By using this as a claimed characteristic of Paganism, Amy states that it may impact the potential ability of Pagan groups to develop.

In terms of Pagan history which is often thought of in terms of our ancient ancestors several presenters in this conference have been investigating our more recent past as a way to help us build our identity and relate to the world we live in today.

Jacqueline Rochelle in “Psycho-Magickal Analysis of the Industrial Revolution and the Rise of Contemporary Paganism” suggests that modern Paganism emerged in the tension between industrialization and the agnostic counter culture.

Armando D “Murtagh An Doile” Marini in “Proto-Pagans: Precursors of the Modern Pagan Movement – Seeking the Themes of Myth and Magic in the American Experience (1850 to 1975)” also sees the Industrial Era as the place where modern Paganism begins. He states three great awakenings:

  • 1731-1755 – Great religious tolerance reigned.
  • 1790-1840 – Period of the Transcendentalists, Mesmerism, Spiritualists and Theosophists.
  • 1850-1900 – The social gospels emerge.

Murtagh’s wife Elizabeth Rose-Marini in “Mythic Landscapes: California and the West Coast – 19th Century Utopias, Cultural Creatives, Health Pioneers and Proto-Pagans” looks at a particular group to give us a sense of what the “Proto-Pagans” were doing and how what they did is connected to what we do now. The Temple branch of the Theosophical Movement used the four quarters in their rites, wanted spirituality to be useful, and empowered women.

There is so much more to their research than I can give here. Please follow them and the Pagan History Project here.

The work of Kimberly Kirner: “Relating to Nature: Spiritual Practice and Sustainable Behavior” and Sabina Magliocco’s “Animal Afterlives” brought out some interesting and somewhat surprising information about Pagans.

Kimberly discovered through her research that the practice of Paganism does not lead to environmentally sustainable behavior. There are non-Pagans who live a sustainable life. Though many Pagans practice small acts of recycling and reusing, this behavior does not reduce overall consumption. Kimberly did find that Pagans that practice in groups did more outdoor ritual and connecting to place. The non-solitary was more likely to be an activist, according to her data. She ended her presentation with a question: “What is our relationship with the earth and its creatures with whom we claim connection?”

Sabina’s work centered on how Pagans confer spiritual personhood on their pets. She noted that this wasn’t something special to Pagans. She discovered that 81% of her survey respondents believed animals have souls regardless of religious affiliation. Like Kimberly’s findings, Sabina noted that Pagans are not as likely to make the personal and political sacrifices for animals that animal workers, who are often atheists, do. Pagans tend to work with animals spiritually.

During the Q&A Sabina mentioned that anthropomorphizing animals began in the mid-1800s with the rise of industrialization. The distance from animals due to the move to urban centers allowed this to take place. Kimberly noted that farm workers don’t see animals as having souls. She noticed a difference between the rural and urban Pagan in this matter. Sam Webster joined the discussion saying that our culture needs to change at the systems level. All the little things we do are not making a difference, he maintained. He believes that religion might be the way to change enough hearts and minds to have a major impact. Kimberly and Sabina pondered how Paganism can be that religion when there is a major dissonance between ideals and action. They did remind us that Pagans are more likely to take action if they belong to groups. Sam thought that it was not just actions, but the act of living a meaningful life that was the key.

Some disturbing information was provided by Tony Mierzwicki: “Ancient Greek Racism, Homophobia and Misogyny?” and Kat Robb: “A Study of Lesbiphobia in the Pagan Community”. This discrimination isn’t just in the past as shared by Marie Cartier – who read from her new book: Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars and Theology Before Stonewall. Both Tony and Kat brought up specific examples of current racism and homophobia within the Pagan community.

Tony shared an online discussion filled with hate speech by a Greek Reconstructionist. He went on to describe how Ancient Greece was filled with racism, homophobia and misogyny. There is a need to be careful when recreating these various Paganisms. As mentioned earlier by Amy Hale and Margaret Froelich, we need to question whether or not what we do has relevance in our modern world.

Kat Robb’s survey showed that even in what she thought of as an inclusive, sexually open religion there are exclusionary tendencies in some individuals and groups. She shared a personal experience of exclusion that left her in tears.

Crystal Blanton. Photo by Charles Elliott.

Crystal Blanton. Photo by Charles Elliott.

Keynote speaker Crystal Blanton gave a powerful and moving presentation, “Cultural Empathy, Collective Understanding and Healing within the Pagan Community.” She said that Paganism has grown beyond the bounds we have set for ourselves so this healing is important. Paganism needs to include more than just Euro-centric cultures now, she suggested. In the past Crystal said she felt she had to leave a part of herself – her black culture – outside the circle, but she no longer chooses to do so. She asks: Can we have a relationship with the world if we can’t be authentic with each other?

She goes on to talk about how we can heal this in such a diverse community. We need to truly listen to one another and not assume to know another’s cultural story. All of us need to be able to feel safe to be fully who we are in all of our communities. She let us know that “It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about understanding. In order to learn, you must unlearn what you think you know about diversity, cultures and people.” She provided us with so much more information shared with much love for this community. If you’d like to know more about the resources she shared you can contact her via her website.Lon Milo DuQuette’s talk was called “Good and Evil? Get Over It!” and as always he entertained us while enlightening us. He shared his music and wisdom. Through his story of a personal experience of awakening he realized at more than an intellectual level that all is one. He connects to this one via the god Ganesha. He says you get over the idea of evil by expanding your consciousness to include everything. Though we are all unique it’s important to remember Lon’s message as we move forward as a community.

Lon Milo DuQuette. Photo by Charles Elliott.

Lon Milo DuQuette. Photo by Charles Elliott.

These conversations I’m sure will continue this weekend at PantheaCon. If you are going, seek out those I’ve mentioned. Talk to them. Listen. Ask questions. Share your ideas. Be a part of the conversation. Carry the conversation out beyond the walls of any conference. It’s important at this time when the world needs a new story, a new paradigm. Paganism/Paganisms are coming of age and have something important to offer to the world.

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!

6a00d83454ed4169e201901ee8f344970b-500wiThe Occult Humanities Conference: Contemporary Art and Scholarship on the Esoteric Traditions will be taking place October 18th-20th in New York City, hosted by Hosted by Phantasmaphile, Observatory and the NYU Steinhardt Department of Art and Art Professions. Quote:  “The conference will present a wide array of voices active in the cultural landscape who are specifically addressing the occult tradition through research, scholarship and artistic practice […] The presenters at the OHC represent a rich and expanding community of international artists and academics from multiple disciplines across the humanities who share an exuberance and excitement for how the occult traditions interface with their fields of study as well as the culture at large. The small scale of this conference (approximately 100 attendees) will give ticket holders an intimate look at the presenters and their views.” Participants include Robert Ansell of Fulgur Esoterica, Pam Grossman of Phantasmaphile fameIthell Colquhoun expert Dr. Amy Hale, and author Gary Lachman, among others. If I had the budget for it, I’d be there in a heartbeat! If you’re in New York, you should check it out!

wp27cover1bIssue of #27 of Witches & Pagans Magazine is scheduled to be released on October 15th, and features an interview with Teo Bishop, conducted by T. Thorn Coyle. Quote: “This issue guest-stars a triplet of fascinating Pagan notables. Paranormal and detective novelist Alex Bledsoe sold his first magickal “Lady Firefly” story to PanGaia in 1998. Catch up with his journey in this conversation with Deborah Blake; then listen in as the inimitable T. Thorn Coyle talks with Pagan blogger, mystic, Druid and musician (aka Matt Morris) Teo Bishop; and visit with Renaissance woman, writer, and community leader Tish Owen.” Meanwhile, the rest of the issue is water-themed. Quote: “What would it be like to experience water viscerally? Susan Harper teaches us to become conscious of the sacral nature of this ubiquitous element in her article ‘Sensing Water.’ Loremaster P. Sufenas Virius Lupus writes about the ability of water ­ and even of drowning ­ to assist in the apotheosis of humans in his fascinating look at classical Greek and Roman paganism ‘Deification by Drowning.’ Leni Hester introduces us to the Lady of Fresh Water, Ochun, in ‘No One is an Enemy to Water.'” You can pre-order the issue, here.

The Warrior's CallLast week I reported on an upcoming Pagan-led public ritual in the UK to protect the land near Glastonbury Tor from the practice of “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing to extract oil an gas from the earth). Since then, more Pagan leaders have stepped forward to weigh in on the topic. Author and activist Starhawk said it was “almost unbelievable” that the UK government “would threaten the purity of Chalice Well in Glastonbury, a site sacred to both Pagans and Christians!” So far, over 1000 people have committed to attending the ritual, with many more promising energetic work in solidarity. In addition, Druid leader John Michael Greer writes at length about the false promise, and dangerous effect of the practice. Quote: “The increasingly frantic cheerleading being devoted to the fracking industry these days is simply one more delay in the process of coming to grips with the real crisis of our time—the need to decouple as much as possible of industrial society from its current dependence on fossil fuels.” Could fracking become a new rallying point for Pagans drawn to environmental activism? We’ll keep you posted as this issue develops.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

  • “Tales of Albion,” an 8-part web-based film series follow-up to the Pagan film “The Spirit of Albion,” has posted several production pictures taken over the Summer. Quote: “We are now scheduling like crazy for the next few shoots which will see us tackle a legendary outlaw and the once and future king. We will travel to an 11th Century monastery, the Bronze Age and even Neolithic caves. We will see two world wars, the 95thRifles and a priest with writer’s block! It’s going to be quite a ride…”
  • The Open Hearth Foundation in Washington DC has a library. Here it is in six seconds.
  • October 11-14th will be Twilight Covening, a yearly event held by the EarthSpirit Community. Quote: “Twilight Covening is a three-day institute of Earth spirituality held within a continual three-day ritual. It is a time for exploring ways to deepen Earth-centered spiritual practice and a time to develop our collective wisdom in a shared sacred space as we move into the dark time of the year.”
  • Friday, September 20th will see the launch party for Abraxas Issue Four, at Treadwells in London. Quote: “A night of partying,  40 minute session of speeches, short presentations and a few words from each of the contributors who can join us.  When you’ve finished looking at the art on the walls we will serenade you wtih three short readings. Think of it as a salon for magic and the imagination. Join us, meet the contributors, and revel in the delight of magic and the imagination.”
  • The Delmarva Pagan Pride Festival in Delaware happened yesterday. They had symphonic gothic metal band Cassandra Syndrome play, which you have to admit is pretty hard-core for a Pagan Pride Day event.

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

[The following is a guest post from Holli Emore.  Holli Emore is the founder and priestess of Osireion and Executive Director of Cherry Hill Seminary for Pagan Ministry, where she previously served as Chair for the Board of Directors. Committed to building interfaith relationships, Holli is a member of the board of directors for the Interfaith Partners of South Carolina. Holli often teaches public groups about the rapidly-growing NeoPagan religions, and has served as a regional resource for law enforcement and victim services since 2004. Holli is the co-founder of the original Pagan Round Table. Osireion is a Pagan tradition which draws its inspiration from the religions of ancient Egypt.]

“Sacred Lands and Spiritual Landscapes” was the first academic symposium presented by Cherry Hill Seminary, in partnership with the University of South Carolina. More than a year in the planning, Sacred Lands took on a topic which turns out to be very popular this season for other academic groups (ASWM Regional Symposium, St. Paul, MN; ). It’s a subject which can also be puzzling for contemporary Pagans, mobile, multi-rooted and fiercely self-determining as we are.

SacredLands100dpi

The range of papers illustrated the complexity of the theme:

  • “Traveling the Land Within” (Wendy Griffin, about the lesbian land movement in 1960s-70s America)
  • “Spiritual Landscapes: An ecofeminist process philosophy view” (Lisa Christie)
  • “Into the Sacred Woods: The inner and outer value of a Pagan sense of place” (with a focus on boys’ experiences in woods) (Elinor Predota)
  • “Born Again Pagans: An industrial band discovers ‘sea, hill, and wood’” (Hayes Hampton on the band “Coil”)
  • “Betwixt and Between the I-and-Thou: Imaginal dialogue and the psychic cartography proposal” (Jeffrey Albaugh)
  • The Tour as Pilgrimage: The seduction of Avalon” (Christina Beard-Moose)
  • “Song of the Chattahoochee: On being a southern (Pagan) Witch in Atlanta’s urban landscape” (Sara Amis)
  • “Rock-Candy Cairns: How the Irish and Scots-Irish diasporas produced Pagans in Old Appalachia” (Byron Ballard)
Ronald Hutton (center) with symposium presenters and CHS staff.

Ronald Hutton (center) with symposium presenters and CHS staff.

Sacred Lands opened on Friday with greetings by Holli Emore (CHS Executive Director), Wendy Griffin (CHS Academic Dean), and greetings by proxy from Jonathan Leader, Chair of the USC Department of Archaeology, and South Carolina’s State Archaeologist. Jonathan had a back injury on Thursday which prevented him from attending any of the symposium, much to his and our disappointment. He has plans to present his paper to a small group on campus soon and videotape it so we can share with symposium attendees. On Saturday, Carl Evans, Chair Emeritus of the USC Department of Religious Studies, was able to join and address the group briefly.

Our guest keynote speaker, Ronald Hutton of Bristol University in England, then gave a talk about his current research on the actual records of the witch trials in Europe. As might be expected, the information was tantalizing; unfortunately, it will not be published for several years. Meanwhile, the group in attendance heard fascinating insights:

  • It appears that more men than women were killed in several areas;
  • Most victims were not burned alive, but after execution by another means, such as strangulation or beheading, to dispose of a body deemed unworthy of a Christian burial;
  • Where there was strong centralized government, there were fewer executions of witches: the body counts soared wherever a heavily localized system of justice effectively put the accusers in charge of the trials. Small German states were one example of this latter situation, Scotland another.
  • Areas of Celt cultural influence had far less witch trials;
  • Professional inquisitors made very little money from witch trials.

A subsequent reception at the S.C. Institute for Archaeology & Anthropology gave attendees the opportunity to discuss Professor Hutton’s talk and meet the man himself, as well as visit with each other, before walking down the street for dinner out. Columbians Pam and Mary put together a lovely reception, assisted by volunteers Deb and Jeff of North Carolina.

Ronald Hutton

Ronald Hutton

On Saturday morning presentations began in earnest, with critique offered by guest respondent Chas Clifton, editor of The Pomegranate. Professor Hutton delivered his keynote address, “Britain’s Pagan Heritage” with astonishing mastery and aplomb. The speech used the story of the Lindow Man (a bog body) discovery and subsequent controversy to illustrate the nature and value of historical research to society in general, including those of us who call ourselves Pagan. For years Lindow Man has been used as evidence that ancient druids practiced human sacrifice when, in fact, several forensics experts gave the opinion that the body was more accurately dated to the Roman period of Britain. The original assertion that Lindow Man showed wounds indicating ritualistic killing was challenged by several scholars, among them Hutton. About a decade’s worth of visitors to the British museum read display materials about druid human sacrifices before the exhibit was finally changed. (Unfortunately, the misleading copy is still found on the museum’s web site.) Note that Professor Hutton does not dispute ritual sacrifice as one possibility, but rather he insists that the actual evidence be examined without bias. Lindow man may have been the victim of a mugging, or an executed criminal, or simply an unlucky victim of an accident. Professor Hutton also devoted as much time to discussing interpretations of Stonehenge, and ended with a plea for individual people to be left ultimately to make up their own minds about the nature of ancient British religions; he also recognized how difficult in practice this was.

After more papers by independent scholars in the afternoon, the group moved outside to close the symposium with a drum circle. Many who stayed overnight gathered for brunch on Sunday morning before scattering back to the 18 states and one country overseas from which they had journeyed. More thanks go to volunteers who managed the registration and support areas at the symposium: Susan, Elizabeth, Sabina, Gin and Doug. Melissa, Juan, Destiny and Clyde loaded up drums and rattles, carried them onto campus for our drum circle, then packed them back up and took them away again on Saturday.

While “Sacred Lands” was an academic symposium, it was marked by a distinctly celebratory mood. Jon Leader of USC was genuinely pleased to be approached last year about collaborating on the symposium; he teaches the undergraduate anthropology course “Magic and Religion” using Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon as a text, as well as a film documentary of the Pendleton witch trial, and had met Hutton in England during a past visit. We at CHS were very happy to be deemed worthy of such a collaboration by our esteemed colleagues at this more than two centuries-old institution.

While some of our participants sat through the de-icing of their plane before departure, and others skirted tornadoes and flooding rains, Columbia, South Carolina, was dressed to impress in a spring display of flowering trees and swelling green. With weather in the low 80s, visitors soon shed their jackets to enjoy the sweet air on the historical part of the campus. (Professor Hutton commented that he loved the humid, warm air, which reminded him of his native India.) Spin-off outcomes from the symposium included discussions with potential new board members, CHS being approached by two publishers, the possibility of a new library volunteer, and many new relationships. While no plans have been made yet, USC has invited CHS to return in 2015 to do a next symposium, and Professor Hutton has offered to serve on our CHS Advisory Board.

What did we learn from this experience? Professor Hutton reminded us that we should be continually testing our assumptions, and that history is never completely written because we continue to learn and adjust our theories of the past. Hutton was also strongly affirming of Pagan practitioners, reminding us that the authenticity of our religion need not rest on ties with antiquity, though we may be proud that such ties exist.

An account of the symposium would be incomplete without reporting the two comments most frequently heard: that Hutton was “brilliant” and that he is one of the kindest and most courteous people one could ever hope to meet. But the event was about more than our illustrious keynoter. The variety of presenters and guests gave a rich texture to the weekend. Even with the depth of paper topics, a great many more aspects of the topic remained unaddressed, a fertile field for future gatherings and discussion.

[I would like to thank Holli Emore for taking the time to write a report on this symposium for The Wild Hunt’s audience. For those wanting to hear more from Ronald Hutton, Cherry Hill Seminary has just posted a short interview with the historian.]

We just a have a few quick (Pagan) news notes for you today, enjoy!

Sarah Pike on Studying Religion, Paganism, and Spiritual Festivals: The always-excellent Religion in American History blog interviews religion scholar Sarah Pike, perhaps best known to modern Pagans as the author of “Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community” and “New Age and Neopagan Religions in America.” In a fascinating interview, Pike talks about how she got into studying religion, the “internal revolutions” of young people, and the current state of Paganism in the mainstream media (among other things).

Sarah Pike

Sarah Pike

In a chapter I wrote recently on “Wicca in the News” about changing representations of Witches in American news media since the 1960s (Oxford Handbook of Religion and the American News Media, 2012), I argue that reporters today rarely depict Witches as evil or satanic, even though stereotypes from the 1960s and 1970s of sexy young female Witches or cuddly cookie-baking elderly Witches-next-door still remain. In the past 25 years since I entered my first occult shop and started asking questions, the boundaries between categories like religion and magic and the differences between “folk,” “popular,” and “institutional” religion are treated with more nuance. And scholars of American religions are more likely to take traditions like Wicca seriously than they did when I was a graduate student, because Neopaganism has become firmly established across North America and formally recognized in government branches and institutions such as the military and prisons.”

The whole thing is worth a read, I’m particularly intrigued by her upcoming focus on “the lineage of twenty-first century spiritual festivals,” which seems to intersect with recent work on “transformational” festival culture.

James Arthur Ray Still Trying to Evade Responsibility: “Secret”-peddler and New Age guru James Arthur Ray, currently in prison after being convicted of negligent homicide in three 2009 sweat-lodge ceremony deaths, is still in the process of trying to get that conviction overturned despite asking the families for forgiveness and saying that “I’m disappointed in myself and I don’t have any excuses.”

James Arthur Ray

James Arthur Ray

“Attorneys for a self-help author imprisoned in the deaths of three people say the prosecution has done little to show the case wasn’t plagued by error. James Arthur Ray wants his conviction on three counts of negligent homicide and his 2-year prison sentenced overturned. His attorneys have called into question some jury instructions and the conduct of prosecutors from Yavapai County in briefings to the Arizona Court of Appeals. […] In a cross-appeal, the attorney general’s office says jurors should have been told that Ray had a duty to aid participants in distress and to avoid creating a situation that put them at unreasonable risk of harm.”

If Ray were truly the spiritual visionary he claims to be, he would bear the paltry sentence given him (just over two years for three deaths) and work to re-build himself once free.  Reaching out to the families he’s harmed, and speaking out on the dangers of appropriating cultures one doesn’t understand. The reverberations from this case are still being felt, and it remains to be seen if the right lessons have been learned. We’ll keep you posted on his appeal.

Orion Foxwood Heads to Paganicon, Talks About His Personal Journey: Spiritual teacher, conjurer, and seer Orion Foxwood, author of “The Candle and the Crossroads: A Book of Appalachian Conjure and Southern Root-Work” and “The Faery Teachings” is headed to Paganicon in Minnesota this week, and PNC-Minnesota interviews him before the event.

Orion Foxwood (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Orion Foxwood (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

 “I have three major streams I work with. There is my Pagan witchcraft, Faery Seership, and Southern conjure. The Faery Seership grew along a parallel path with my craft work. I was influenced in a major way by R.J. Stewart in my Faery work, and through his work attained a contact in the spirit world named Brigh.  Brigh and I have continued to develop that work over the years. I teach much of that, it is more of an integrated, co-created practice working with the more invisible side of nature. All three streams of practices really come together with their own unique insights. They all have a way of speaking as to how my soul has grown; spiritually, magically, and mystically. They all support my work in the world, and within myself. They give me a broader set of language to often say the same things. It makes it easier to reach many kinds of “ears”, including people with different types of spirit work.”

The entire interview is interesting reading if you’re unfamiliar with Orion’s background and practice. I’m hoping to hear a lot more from Paganicon this weekend, where Orion Foxwood will be joined by Brandy Williams, author of “The Woman Magician: Revisioning Western Metaphysics from a Woman’s Perspective and Experience” as featured guests.

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

In Memoriam: Kyril Oakwind (1951-2013): Word has come to us that Gardnerian and Church of All Worlds Priestess Kyril Oakwind passed away on March 9, 2013 after a long struggle with metastatic breast cancer. Oakwind served as a board member for Sweetwood Temenos, was founder of the Madison, Wisconsin area Pagan Tea & Talk, and publisher of Converging Paths Magazine. In a post today at her Facebook page, Selena Fox at Circle Sanctuary sent blessings for Kyril Oakwind’s many contributions to the Pagan community.

Kyril Oakwind

Kyril Oakwind

“Remembering Wiccan priestess, Pagan elder, neighbor, & friend Kyril, who died yesterday after a long battle with breast cancer. Thankful for Kyril’s many contributions to Paganism, near & far, over the years. Blessings to her in the realm of the Ancestors. Condolences & support to her family, friends, & all of us mourning her passing. Blessed Be.”

In an email to me Selena Fox went on to add that “she not only did teaching, rituals, and networking in the great Madison, Wisconsin area, but did writing and editing of Pagan publications that connected Pagans further away.” May we remember her, and all those who did the work of building connections in our community. Our condolences go out to her friends and family. What is remembered, lives.

The Return of Coreopsis: Coreopsis, a peer-reviewed journal of myth and theatre, is returning to publication thanks to Concrescent Scholars, the academic wing of Concrescent Press in Richmond, CA. According to Editor-in-Chief Lezlie Kinyon, Ph.D, the Spring/Summer issue will be published April 29 and the Fall/Winter issue will be published on October 29.

cropped-Final-Banner-theatre-949x152

“I am overjoyed to tell all of you that my peer review journal, Coreopsis, is coming back into publication. The submission period is open for 2013 – We go “live” on February 14 on our new site now published by Concrescent Scholars, the academic wing of Concrescent Press in Richmond, CA.  Submission are open to young scholars and working artists as well as established scholars.”

While the submission period for the Spring/Summer issue has now passed, the Fall/Winter issues submission deadline is August 15 with a theme of “Penny tae th’ Guisers: An examination of medieval performance before 1400.” Submission guidelines can be found, here.

Spiral Rhythm Turns to Kickstarter to Fund New Album: The band Spiral Rhythm, a regular fixture at many Pagan festivals and events, launched a Kickstarter to fund the recording of a new album. Now, with one week left, they need just over $3000 dollars to make their $10,000 goal.

Spiral Rhythm performing live.

Spiral Rhythm performing live.

“For several years we’ve been working towards a goal that you, our fans, set for us- make another album! With an eye towards stepping it up a notch, we will be entering a professional recording studio. We are hoping to cover studio and mixing/mastering time as well as post production pressing, packaging, and pachyderms (just kidding about that last bit – wanted to see if your paying attention), Spiral Rhythm is throwing ourselves upon the mercy of you, the fans, by initiating this Kickstarter project. Our hope is to make one shiny new CD, but if we raise the roof with this thing, we have enough material for two. Two! Want to help? Of course you do.”

If you’re a fan of Spiral Rhythm’s work, now’s the time to support them in their efforts. A $20 donation gets you a digital download, and a $35 donation gets you a copy of the physical CD (once recorded). The band adds that “we all do this for love, not profit, and we have to take into account jobs, children, family, all of which can interfere with the concrete reality of making a new CD.” They vow the new music will get recorded, but I’m sure it would help if they made their fundraising goal.

In Other Pagan Community News:

That’s all I have for 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.

Pagan Federation banner.

Pagan Federation banner.

correspondences

Correspondences journal.

  • A new academic journal of Western Esotericism, Correspondences, has been announced.  Quote: “By providing a wider forum of debate regarding issues and currents in Western esotericism than has previously been possible, Correspondences is committed to publishing work of a high academic standard as determined by a peer-review process, but does not require academic credentials as prerequisite for publication. Students and non-affiliated academics are encouraged to join established scholars in submitting insightful, well-researched articles that offer new ideas, positions, or information to the field.” First issues is due in June, call for papers, here.
  • Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll is a thuggish Christian power-tripper who thinks he’s edgy because he writes about having sex with his wife. He’d be a huge joke were it not for his rampant (almost cultish) popularity in the Pacific Northwest. Now, the Seattle mega-pastor is attacking Twilight (because he’s oh-so-relevant) for sinking teen girls into Paganism and the occult. Quote: “…girls the same age of my 15-year-old daughter are talking about “awakening,” which is their word for converting to paganism (like the Christian word “born again”). In a perverted twist on Communion, their sacraments include the giving of your own blood by becoming a “donor.” This is entirely pagan.” No, this is entirely inane. Despite his Seattle-denizen ambient hipster facade, Driscoll is your typical evangelical social conservative who pearl-clutches over the thought of Paganism.
  • The creepy UK Pagan who was caught with a semi-undressed underage girl in the woods has narrowly avoided being put on sex offenders registry after the judge decided that the “sexual element” wasn’t sexual enough to justify his inclusion. Quote: “Sheriff Noel McPartlin said it was ‘hard to escape the view that him being naked in the room with the girl might suggest a sexual element […] I am a bit hesitant but I do not think the sexual element is significant enough to justify placing him on the register.'” 
  • As a counter-point to the hysteria of Mark Driscoll, Richard Stearns, president of World Vision (the largest evangelical Christian relief organization in the world), suggests a culture-war cease fire between Christians and non-Christians. Quote: “We need to find a way to live in a pluralistic society without engaging in an arms race with those who are not Christians.”
  • Indian Country Today Media Network reports that a coalition of Native American spiritual leaders have signed a declaration opposing Canada’s oil sands and the new Tar Sands pipeline being proposed. Quote: “The statement, signed by more than 20 spiritual chiefs at a Sundance this summer in South Dakota, includes members of the Lakota, Navajo, Apache, Mohawk, Dine, Aztec and Ojibwe nations, spanning much of Turtle Island.”
  • Riordons Witchcraft Emporium in Australia wants you to know that they have a screening process: “Are they a borderline schizophrenic … or somehow mad? There are many vulnerable people in the world and you don’t want to make their situation worse.” Also profiled in the article is the shop Spellbox. Both establishments take pains to stress that they aren’t like Harry Potter, and they aren’t “New Age.”
  • Counter-cultural magazine Arthur has announced its return, featuring many of the magickal luminaries that made it such a hit in the first place. Quote: “Arthur’s gang of idiots, know-it-alls and village explainers are back, from Bull Tonguers Byron Coley & Thurston Moore to radical ecologist Nance Klehm to trickster activists Center for Tactical Magic to Defend Brooklyn’s socio-political commentator Dave Reeves to a host of new, fresh-faced troublemakers, edited by ol’ fool Jay Babcock and art directed by Yasmin Khan.” I suspect that this news will excite a certain portion of my readership.

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.