Archives For Amy Hale

Technological advances and access to technology have greatly changed the everyday experience of many communities around the world, especially here in America. Everything from access to information, training, and the ability to connect with people in different geographical areas, have made the process of connection much different than it was ten, twenty, or thirty years ago.

According to Internet World Stats, 84.9% of the population in the United States have internet access or are internet users. Avenues of communication in greater society have been largely replaced with social media platforms, email, video chats, and online learning systems; these same systems are translating to Paganism as well.

The impact of living in a booming technological age on Paganism has shown how interesting advances can enhance or hamper community connectivity. Building community looks much different when there is access to smart phones, iPads and computers, and the ability to generate connection among people can become more about branding than about personable connection that we find in consistent face to face engagement. As technological advances continue to thrive, so does the Pagan community in numbers, yet the freedom that the internet provides can add to misinformation, increased access to rumors, and national attention to otherwise local issues that happen within the Pagan community. Everyone can be an expert in the age of the internet, and all problems are at the fingertips of people around the globe. The increased access to training, research and information does not erase the potential problems that come from the use, and abuse, of technology in Modern Paganism.

The positive and negative impact of increased advances affect areas of community building, publishing, entertainment, small magical or metaphysical shops, organizational structures, information exchange, the media, and a host of other areas in our everyday world. Communities and organizations within Paganism are adjusting to the new ways of functioning efficiently within our modern times, which often highlights differences in cultural aspects of age and socioeconomics. We have seen this, for example, with how some organizations are moving towards the use of online telecommunication formats to incorporate more effective mediums for business, and national communication among members.

In exploring a few of the many areas that technology reaches within modern Paganism, I spoke with several people for perspective on the impact that these changes have had, and are having. As the circumference of the Pagan community has expanded, intersecting interactions have increased the usefulness of different methods of communication, connection and business.

Rachael Watcher

Rachael Watcher

Rachael Watcher, National Interfaith Representative for Covenant of the Goddess (COG), has been doing a lot of work within Pagan and interfaith organizations on a national level. In addition to interfaith work with COG, she is the North American Interfaith Network Regional Coordinator (NAIN) and works with the United Religions Initiative. Her work expands to areas of the world that require technology to access.

How have you seen technology incorporated into Pagan organizations and how does this contribute to the organizational function?

Over the past, umm, say twenty plus years, technology has changed a great deal.  As people have become more accustomed to using the internet, attitudes too have changed.  I remember a gathering of one of my traditions back in the, possibly early nineties.  I suggested that we develop a list to share information and make communications easier among us.  Such a hue and cry you have never heard.  “Oh we can’t do that.  Everyone would be able to see what we are discussing…even the secret stuff wouldn’t be safe anymore.  No absolutely not!”  So of course I purchased a domain name, put up a simple web site and put together a list making it clear that if one wished to be on that list an individual would have to let me know.  Well pretty soon everyone was on the list.  A few years later the list went down for some reason and once again a hue and cry went out, this time because the list was down and OMG how was anyone going to communicate, accompanied by appropriate hair pulling and teeth gnashing.

Today, the term “Google” is a household word meaning “to go out and search for”; the first thing on a new organization’s to do list is put up a website, and list serves are a mandatory part of doing business.  As the technology improves, so does our ability to communicate virtually, without the need for carbon footprint.

How do you feel that the use of technology has changed the Pagan organizations you work with?

With the advent of virtual communications the face of paganism has changed drastically. Before the use of electronic connections anyone interested in becoming an “official” pagan had to ultimately connect with others doing the work.  You will hear many stories from the fifty plus set about how they became pagans because they picked up one of the old magazines and found contacts, or were inspired to search for contacts and training.  People knew one another and knew who they were.

The up side to all of this is our new ability to gather for meetings without the necessity of even leaving the house.  It allows us to come together in greater numbers and have a larger say in the structure of our organizations allowing parents, the less abled, and those who must work, to join in meetings as never before and all without leaving such an oppressive carbon footprint.

Organizational bylaws are changing to allow virtual attendees to count for quorum where such issues are important and the alarming trend for organizations such as the Covenant of the Goddess, who meets once a year somewhere in the United States, to become an organization controlled by those with the funds to travel is certainly mitigated.

Perhaps best of all, people are coming to know us, at worst as harmless, and at best as people with serious theological underpinnings. In my work as an interfaith representative I have often referred folks to various web pages that saved hours of explanation, and frankly a quick bit of research during lunch in my hotel room has saved me serious embarrassment when dealing with religions with which I had not been familiar.

 

M. Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien), elder and Pagan author, works as an interfaith activist and works in several different capacities within the community. In her work as a member of the Cherry Hill Advisory Board member, and as a web weaver, technology plays a vital role in her work.

Macha

Aline “Macha” O’Brien

As an elder in our community, I imagine you have seen a lot of technological changes that are now incorporated in modern Paganism. What are some of the largest changes within in the past 10-20 years that now are common uses for technology in our community?

Change has come so fast and furious that I’m dazzled by its variety and complexity.  Media have combined to give us immediate updates and gales of opinions of every little topic that sparks a flame.  I try to stay current.  I have a cellphone and laptop and am on Facebook.  I subscribe to lists and groups where discussion can be rich.  Just as readily discussion can become heated and obnoxious.  As a social person, I find I have an appetite for engaging in civil discourse.   I find I’m easily seduced by all those virtual venues where ideas are shared.  The downside of that is such engagement can be a time-suck if you don’t maintain strict limits.

Do you think these changes have had more positive or negative impact on the current state of our community?

I definitely think these changes have had a positive effect overall.  Before the advent of the Internet, we had only fragmented communities and a tendency towards mistrust.  Over the years since Internet access has become more common, especially among younger people, we have used electronic communication to build virtual communities as well as to fortify and enhance efficient communication regarding our terraspace communities.  Further, we are able to mobilize quickly if we choose to.

Today we have news sites and networking sites, music and podcasts, special interest sites, as well as scores of blogs and vlogs — anything on everything.  Of course, there is the matter of discerning what sources warrant our trust for their accuracy, reliability, and thoroughness and which tend to be more superficial and inflammatory.  But you have that with any media.

As for teaching, while some kinds of magic-spiritual teachings must be in person, many kinds of teaching and learning can be done effectively online.  Plus, online learning is greener.  We now have institutions of higher learning where all or most of the campus is virtual.  Cherry Hill Seminary, for instance, except for annual in-person intensives, is entirely online, with cool Moodle classrooms, a virtual library, online bookstore.   We Pagans are a small, widely spread demographic, making conventional terraspace learning environments (i.e., schools with classrooms) impractical.  Thus, a teaching and learning institution’s cyberspace presence has made scholarly online learning more readily available to Pagans wherever they may live.

Dr. Amy Hale

Dr. Amy Hale

Education and research continues to be a major aspect of need within the Pagan community. Access to training, information and education around the many different intersecting areas of study has always been a source of discussion, but the methods for attaining such things has drastically changed. We have also seen an increased emphasis placed on higher education, and an importance placed on the value of academic study. Professor Dr. Amy Hale has worked extensively in designing and teaching within online academic formats.

As a professional that works in higher education, do you find that the use of technology in learning modalities are more accepted today than say 10 years ago?

Absolutely!  Educational technologies are becoming ubiquitous, and are found in all sorts of environments in addition to strictly educational settings.  We are seeing the use of technology to support everything from on site and contextual training for businesses to the use of mobile phones to educate children in combat areas.  As technologies develop, we figure out how to teach and learn with them, and as ever, the first to benefit (which may surprise some) are frequently underserved populations and women. Of course, not everyone is an educational technology advocate, some prefer the low tech approach, but I believe the benefits are clear.

How do you see the changing role of technology influencing modern Paganism and what can we learn from higher education institutions in this area?

Technology is, in my view, the driving force behind modern Paganism.  Communication and information technologies give us a way to learn, share and create community.  While I have occasionally heard concerns about “internet solitaries” who some believe may not be as connected to live Pagan communities,  I see no reason to assume that Pagans connected primarily by the internet are any less genuine or living their Paganism in a way that is any less “authentic”.

But technology is changing the way we think, and we need to be aware of how. As when the printing press first came into use, many modern information technologies have the great ability to challenge our relationship with authority and promote a democratization of information. This, however, does not mean that all information is good and that all opinions are equally valid.  This is why we have a much, much greater responsibility to foster critical thinking and a need to understand how to assess the mountains of information we have access to.  We are well past the time when the professor or teacher or church is the ultimate authority, and certainly in many educational settings we are embracing this development.  We need to have the tools to think for ourselves and to know how to craft solid arguments, and we need to learn to do this with respect and civility.   I would like to see Pagans become more rigorous thinkers and better assess their sources.  So many Pagans out there on the internet seem to lack basic information literacy in that they don’t know how to tell if a source is valid or if an argument is well supported. I think this is the challenge that all educational professionals face today, and this is the direct result of the free flow of information.

Cherry Hill Seminary is one of the ways that we have seen this method of higher education exchange take on technology to facilitate learning. Cherry Hill is currently teaching in an all online format.

Tim Titus

Tim Titus

Blogger Tim Titus wrote a recent piece about social media and the way that negative engagement can influence how people engage. Some of the unintended consequences of social media and the influx of online communication has contributed to emerging patterns in the development of community building. In Tim’s piece, Surviving Social Media’s Ocean of Negativity, he discusses some of his observations.  “But the problem I have is that most of the nastiness that circulates around social media, both within and without the pagan community, is petty and exhausting. There’s always someone complaining about life, the universe, and everything. They complain about their work day; they beat dead horses about situations that were resolved long ago; they call out friends for silly things.   We have all this amazing technology to build community around the world, and we use it as our personal bitching platform. If anger and argument were a drug, we’d need a national 12-step program.?”

In a small snapshot of how technology plays an intricate role in Modern Paganism, we see that there these forms of communication and engagement have become an intricate part of the format that we now exist within. The continued growth of our community will rely heavily on how these forms of technology are used and instituted in our functioning practice.

While there are a lot of positive connections that are made with the use of technological advances, we also have some interesting consequences that are a result of the fast paced environment that is created with immediate access to so much information, and lightning fast responses. As much as we thrive as a community with the use of additional methods of research, education, connection, and organizational options, we are also faced with the concept that this level of interaction moves a community into a fast paced momentum that can add to some steep learning curves and promote additional division in the ranks.

This is a large topic that could benefit from continuous unpacking. Exploring this topic brings us to some interesting questions we can ask ourselves in the process of community exploration. Has technology replaced some of the need for interactive personal contact within the Pagan community? How has the definition of community evolved with the use of this level of technology? Does technology give us the chance to connect more often, or does it create a barrier to genuine connection that builds healthy interpersonal relationships?

All very important questions to consider as we are enjoying the access that our various devices give to us, and that we are able to use in our experiences of Modern Paganism.

Happy May Day everyone! 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 lets get started!

Sacred Paths Center Announces Closure: Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (aka “Paganistan”), sent out an email today announcing their imminent closure. Executive Director Teisha Magee cited a lack of money, resources, and volunteers as reasons for this decision.

“After much heartache, soul-searching and tears, it has become clear that Sacred Paths Center cannot continue. Our expenses are too high in this location and we are just not getting enough money coming through the door. All of our resources are tapped, and our volunteers are worn out.”

This decision comes in the wake of a rocky 2011, one that featured an emergency fundraising campaign, and being temporarily closed  pending internal and external financial audits. It seems that Sacred Paths Center wasn’t able to overcome the many obstacles towards long-term sustainability, and it raises serious questions for other communities looking to follow in their footsteps. Stay tuned to PNC-Minnesota for further follow-ups on this story.

Maetreum of Cybele Denied Tax Exemption for 2012: The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, in an ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, has been denied religious property tax exemption yet again, even though they meet all federal and state qualifications. In a public statement, Rev Cathryn Platine of the Maetreum of Cybele noted that the town has spent an estimated quarter of a million dollars to deny their exemptions.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

“Despite the fact that the Town of Catskill offered no credible theory in court for their continued denial of exemption, I was just informed that the Maetreum of Cybele has been denied property tax exemption for 2012 meaning another entire round in this ongoing drama. The wheels of justice turn very slowly in Greene County, New York. The actual trial was split between two days last November and December but the final arguments in our court case still have not been submitted at this time. They are supposed to be due in about two weeks and then we will have to await the Judge’s actual decision after that. In the meantime we will once again have to go to the Board of Review hearing later in May and almost certainly be denied again and have to file yet another lawsuit against Catskill. Despite claims to the press for several years that Catskill did not question our legitimacy as a religion, the entirety of their case was exactly that we were not a legitimate religion under the IRS guidelines. Again despite the IRS recognition we are. We proved in court we met every one of the IRS “fourteen points” for determining what is or isn’t a church.”

As I’ve mentioned before, the law in this case seems pretty clearly on the side of the Maetreum of Cybele, but Catskill is going to wage a scorched earth legal campaign in hopes the Pagans run out of money and energy first. Acting Catskill Town Supervisor Patrick Walsh stated in 2011 that the town was already too deep into the case to give up and that significant dollars could be saved by preventing exemptions for illegitimate religions.” We’ll keep you updated on further developments. For those wanting to an make a tax-deductible donation to their $10,000+ legal bill, you can do so directly via paypal to: centralhouse@gallae.com. Or you can contact them through their website.

SAPRA’s Annual Advocacy Against Witch-Hunts Comes to a Close: With the issue of witch-hunts, witch-killings, and dangerous exorcisms very much in the news lately, I thought it appropriate to mention the work of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA), under the banner of ‘Touchstone Advocacy,’ has been doing since 2008 to raise awareness with their “30 Days of Advocacy Against Witch-Hunts” campaign, this year held from March 29th – April 27th. In 2011, the campaign won support from a government commission, and they continue to work to protect victims of witch-hunts while combating laws that seek to criminalize “witchcraft” as a solution.

“Since 2008 the South African Pagan Rights Alliance has repeatedly appealed to all Commissions for Human Rights internationally to encourage all governments to: a. halt the persecution of suspected or accused witches, b. uphold and strengthen a culture of human rights for all equally, c. respond appropriately and humanely to incidences of accusations of witchcraft, d. make the eradication of violence against suspected witches an international priority, e. train local police to manage witchcraft accusations and violent witch-hunts in a way that affirms the dignity and humanity of those accused of practising witchcraft, f. create victim support units to facilitate reintegration and conciliation of those accused, g. adopt comprehensive public education and awareness programmes aimed at eradicating the real causes of witchcraft accusations, and h. reform legislation that currently seeks to suppress witchcraft or criminalize accused witches.”

You can receive year-round updates on their campaign at their Facebook group page.

In other community news:

- At Lewelllyn, author and magician Donald Michael Kraig (“Modern Magick”“The Resurrection Murders”) has announced that he’s writing a book about his long friendship with Scott Cunningham, the seminal Wiccan writer who authored the paradigm-shifting “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.” Quote: “I hope you get an idea of who Scott Cunningham was. Many of the anecdotes and stories have never been published before. The stories and his magical methods pepper chapters on his theories and methods of performing natural magic, his approach to The Goddess and Wicca, and his love for the land, people and magic of Hawaii.”

- San Jose State University will be running a Pagan Studies conference semi-concurrently with the 2013 PantheaCon. Organized by Lee Gilmore (SJSU), author “Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man,” and Amy Hale (St. Petersburg College), “Pagans in Dialogue with the Wider World: A Pagan Studies Symposium” seeks to, quote, “focus on Paganism’s contributions to and engagements with broader cultural and religious dialogues in an increasingly pluralist world.” You can read the full announcement and call for papers at Chas Clifton’s blog.

- PNC-Washington DC covers the recently held 2012 Ecumenicon, an interfaith conference that was founded in 1987, and features significant Pagan and esoteric involvement. Quote: “The group that would ultimately found Ecumenicon realized that there was a hunger for actual religious education as it applied across all religions and particularly to alternative religions.  Ecumenicon comprises an ecumenical conference and ecumenical ministry, for those who seek such a path.”

- Is Pagan Spirit Gathering’s current home in Illinois in danger? PNC-Minnesota reports that a group of local citizens are petitioning to have Stonehouse Park rezoned back to agricultural use only (more on this here), complaining of noise and drug-use (none of the complaints are about PSG, but to other, non-Pagan events). PSG/Circle organizer Sharon Stewart is working with local officials, and hopes to obtain a special permit if the worst should happen. We’ll keep you posted on this as news develops.

- PNC culture blog The Juggler has an interview up with Pagan author Christopher Penczak (“The Inner Temple of Witchcraft”“The Outer Temple of Witchcraft”), talking to him about his career and teachings. Quote: “I think if you focus on your intention in the ritual, and then think which of these paths support that overall vision, you’ll be doing great. Avoid the “Everything but the kitchen sink mentality.” Every ritual doesn’t need every path. I think determining if it is inhibitory or exhibitory is the first step, then which paths will help in that method?”

That’s all I have for now, have a happy May Day!

Welcome to the latest installment of a new supplemental feature here at The Wild Hunt, The Wild Hunt Podcast (focus groups loved the name). This weekly podcast will take a deeper look at stories, links, and personalities that I feature in my daily updates. In this second episode of The Wild Hunt Podcast we chat with PNC Managing Editor Cara Schulz and resident Theodism expert Nick Ritter about the congressional candidacy of New York City Councilman Dan Halloran. Then, in the second segment, we interview folklorist and anthropologist Dr. Amy Hale about her recently-published paper “John Michell, Radical Traditionalism and the Emerging Politics of the Pagan New Right.” Finally, I speak briefly with Occupy Eugene activist Alley Valkyrie about separating your private life from the high-profile activism you’re known for.

Alley Valkyrie. Photo by Rob Sydor.

Alley Valkyrie. Photo by Rob Sydor.

You can listen to, and download, the episode at Archive.org.

Segment Listing:

  1. Intro
  2. “Psychopsis” by The Shroud from their album “In the Garden.”
  3. Talk with Nick Ritter and Cara Schulz about Dan Halloran’s candidacy.
  4. “I Can See Now (Live)” by Dead Can Dance from “Live Happenings IV.”
  5. Interview with Dr. Amy Hale about her Pomegranate article.
  6. “Beltane” by Seventh Harmonic from their album “Garden of Dilmun.”
  7. Interview with Occupy Eugene activist Alley Valkyrie.
  8. Outro

Relevant Links:

I hope you enjoy the show, stay tuned for next time where I’ll discuss chants, pilgrimages, and other journeys.

[The following is a guest post by Dr. Amy Hale. Dr. Hale is an anthropologist specializing in contemporary Celtic cultures, with an emphasis on modern Cornwall and contemporary Esoteric culture and history. She recently attending the Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle and files this report. All the photos used in this post were provided by Anima Nocturna via EBC Administrator William J. Kiesel.]

A couple of weekends ago, on the 10th and 11th of September, Seattle was again host to the Esoteric Book Conference, superbly organized by William Kiesel of Ouroborous Press and Catamara Rosarium of Rosarium Blends. Now in its third year, the EBC is becoming the go to event for thoughtful discussion on a variety of esoteric topics ranging from historical approaches to well considered practice. For many visitors, the highlight is on the books. The showroom presented 22 esoteric publishers such as Fulgur Limited, Ouroborous Press, Concrescent Press, Mandrake, Immanion and Ars Obscura, who featured their back catalogues and new releases. It provided a fine opportunity for excited shoppers to see what is new on the market, find a previously owned treasure, and also to peruse and fondle some exquisitely crafted specialist books. Authors had the opportunity to promote their work as well, for example, on Saturday afternoon, Brandy Williams launched her exciting new offering The Woman Magician hot off the presses from Llewellyn.

William Kiesel of Ouroborous Press and Catamara Rosarium of Rosarium Blends.

William Kiesel and Catamara Rosarium.

The EBC program of eleven speakers this year was ironically light on women presenters, but women featured heavily as topics of interest and exploration. Just to mention a few here, Brian Butler spoke on the life of the magician and artist Marjorie Cameron, wife of Jack Parsons, and shared with the audience some amazing rare film footage that demonstrated the power of this intriguing and compelling magician. Vere Chappell presented a standout and very touching lecture on the life and work of Ida Craddock, a pioneer of sexual education for both men and women who tragically became a martyr to the cause of sexual expression. Barbara Cormack led a refreshing and solid panel discussion of women involved with the practice of the Golden Dawn magical system. Another highlight of the lectures was the talk by Alchemist Robert Bartlett, who delighted the audience with a brief romp through the history of alchemy and shared some wonderful illustrations of his own practical alchemical work.

Barbara Cormack leading a panel discussion of women involved with the practice of the Golden Dawn magical system.

A panel discussion of women involved with the practice of the Golden Dawn magical system.

The EBC isn’t just about feeding the mind, however, there was plenty on offer to stimulate all the senses. Performance artist Oryelle engaged the audience with his multimedia piece Solve et Coagula, and the Saturday evening event showcased passionate performances from Amodali, LUX Interna and Waldteufel. EBC also hosts an art show, ranging from the ceramics of Seattle based artist and magician Denny Sargent to the whimsical and delightful prints of Liv Rainey-Smith and the oils of Daniel Schulke. One can only hope that this section of the EBC keeps expanding! On Sunday night the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn hosted a prosperity ritual based on the opening of their Neophyte Hall, which gave conference participants a rare opportunity to experience a full blown, formal Golden Dawn ritual.

Amodali performing at the Esoteric Book Conference.

Amodali performing at the Esoteric Book Conference.

Overall the Esoteric Book Conference is a fantastic event which is becoming very well beloved by its regular attendees. I look forward to seeing what next year will bring.

I hope you’ll forgive me while I briefly chat about some media I’ve been appearing in lately. First, I was interviewed by Steve McManus for his Forbidden America podcast, you can listen to that, here. I then appeared on the Witchtalk Conjure podcast/videocast, hosted by Karagan and Indigo Astrea. Both of those interviews were inspired in part by the ongoing initiative to get me on The Daily Show (something I didn’t initiate, but am flattered by). You can find the latest push in that effort, here. For my part, I suggested that folks interested in making minority religious voices heard turn that energy towards mobilizing the current campaign into a media watchdog organization. That has happened, and All Faiths Created Equal was born.

“This page is dedicated to spreading awareness of minority faiths, non-faith, religions, and practices. This page also aims to hold the media accountable for poor portrayal of minority faiths, and general spread of misinformation of these faiths and individual members/practitioners.”

They are just getting started up, so if you’re on Facebook, why not join them and help in their endeavour to give outrage and frustration with how the media handles minority faiths a productive outlet.

Former Get Religion contributor and religion journalist Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans has posted the second part in her series on New Age and Pagan religions for the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal (part one is here). I am again quoted in the column.

Paganism is a still-vital spirituality, one whose influence is difficult to calibrate. Modern paganism, a relative newcomer on the American scene, is an umbrella term for several distinct religions, pagan journalist Jason Pitzl-Waters said in a telephone interview. “While surveys suggest roughly a million pagan practitioners in America,” he said, “if you count people who have unorthodox religious views, then there are many millions of people.” [...]  When pagan thought was imported from Great Britain in the 1960s, in large part thanks to the work of British writer and Wiccan Gerald Gardner, it found a temporary home  in the New Age arena, Pitzl-Waters said. “There was enough overlap between our spirituality that when modern paganism appeared on the scene, it found a safe haven,” he said. But paganism has features that distinguish it from New Age spiritualities, Pitzl-Waters said. One example: “Paganism is very much a here-and-now theology,” he said.

It’s a nice column, though I would have expanded on the differences between New Age spirituality and modern Pagan religions. I’d also like to quibble and state that Raymond Buckland deserves mention as a force that brought Wicca to America. I’ve opined before on how many Pagans found safe haven and resources at New Age shops and events during the years when we were far more isolated and dependent on friendly fellow travelers. I came of age as that alliance was crumbling, and modern Pagans were becoming increasingly uncomfortable with being lumped in with New Age practitioners, taking pains to point out our different theologies and histories.

But enough about me! Before I go I wanted to quickly share a few links that I wasn’t able to round up yesterday.

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

[The following is a guest post by Dr. Amy Hale. Dr. Hale is an anthropologist specializing in contemporary Celtic cultures, with an emphasis on modern Cornwall and contemporary Esoteric culture and history.]

On Saturday May 14, the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall, celebrated 60 years of existence with a day of lectures, culminating with the launch of the new book The Museum of Witchcraft: A Magical History. The day of talks, titled “Guardians of Magic” featured lectures about three key, yet sometimes poorly recognized, figures in 20th century witchcraft and magical culture. The day kicked off with Kerriann Godwin and Joyce Froome presenting “Cecil Williamson-Life of an Occultist” an engaging profile of the man who founded the Museum of Witchcraft in 1951 on the Isle of Man. This was followed by Jason Semmens’ presentation on the life of William Paynter, a Cornish folklorist of the mid 20th century who collected tales and artifacts related to witchcraft and cunning folk. I finished the day with an illustrated lecture on the life of Surrealist and esoteric artist Ithell Colquhoun, whose life in Cornwall formed the background for much of her art and magical practice. The day closed with a launch of the volume, The Museum of Witchcraft: A Magical History which contains essays, poems and reflections of many prominent vistors throughout the years. For anyone wanting to purchase this fine, illustrated book, details can be found on the website of the Occult Art Company.

Kerriann Godwin and Joyce Froome. Photo by Sam Webster.

In so many ways, the Museum of Witchcraft’s success is a remarkable achievement, and testimony to the not only the enduring interest in the history of Witchcraft, but also to the robustness of contemporary witchcraft and Paganism. This history of the museum itself is quite amazing. In 1951 Naval officer and occult enthusiast Cecil Willamson opened his first Museum of Magic and Witchcraft on the Isle of Man, stocking it with exhibits relating to historical witchcraft (some of which were probably considered rather daring and outrageous for the time) and also displaying artifacts reportedly in use by British cunning folk. The dynamic and outspoken Williamson befriended Gerald Gardner to assist him, having him on site as the museum’s resident witch, but unsurprisingly, the relationship became acrimonious, and in 1952 Williamson sold his museum building to Gardner, and moved on, finally settling in Cornwall in 1960. What struck me during the day’s festivities is that while of course Gerald Gardner has his historical position within modern witchcraft secured, Williamson is much less well known, despite being a contemporary of Gardner. Williamson did not found a religion, but he worked in that interesting historical space in the 20th century documenting and displaying traditional folk practices while the revival and reframing of witchcraft into a new religious context was occurring. That project deserves a fair bit of recognition.

Amy Hale. Photo by Sam Webster.

Additionally, for a small, independent museum to have flourished in such a remote location in Cornwall for 50 years, is really quite an accomplishment. Cornwall has a reputation for being rather otherworldly, so is well suited for such an institution. It has an interesting history of not only local healers and cunning folk, but the region has attracted Pagans and other more magical practitioners since the early 20th century. When Graham King took over the museum in 1996, he genuinely built on Williamson’s legacy, and, uncompromisingly, in my view, created an educational center devoted to honoring and explaining the traditions and practices of a range of modern Pagan practitioners. Graham and his team have preserved a magnificent resource for the entire Pagan community. If you have not paid it a visit, put it on your bucket list.

Today at The Wild Hunt I’m featuring a guest-post from Amy Hale.

Amy Hale is a writer and anthropologist who specializes in Cornwall and modern esoteric culture and history. She is a recent contributor to Women’s Voices in Magic (Megalithica 2009) and Ten Years After Triumph of the Moon (Hidden Publishing 2009) and is currently working on a manuscript on the artist and esotericist Ithell Colquhoun (Francis Boutle 2011).

Reassessing Chaos

When Chaos Magick sprung forth in Britain in the 1980s, it styled itself as the naughty child of magickal movements. Inspired by a combination of punk and DIY culture, the work of Austin Osman Spare, Thelema , Robert Anton Wilson, and popular culture, Chaotes like Ray Sherwin and Peter Carroll proposed a rejection of “orders” and “traditions” and “lineages” and advocated a emphasis on the perfection of magickal technique for the purposes of getting results by concentrating on the universals of magickal technology. It was a movement that commented on the confines and limitations of magickal orders , promoted experimentation and technical excellence. Part of the ethos of Chaos Magick was that the practitioner needed to be able to genuinely adopt a variety of perspectives, even radically opposing ones, in order to experience the truth in everything, to cultivate mental flexibility and above all to not become consumed by the artifice of religious dogma. But in recent years there seems to have been a growing dissatisfaction with the fruits of Chaos Magick. Chaotes are frequently seen as dabblers, people with more style than substance, and sadly, as having a lack of dedication to genuine, sustained practice. What happened to this potentially revolutionary movement?

I love Phil Hine. I really do. He played an instrumental role many years ago, in helping me coalesce my ideas about Chaos Magick and in shaping my decision to go down that path and identify as a Chaote. I liked his work over that of Peter Carroll because Carroll, to me, could never escape what he was critiquing, regressing into obtuse writing and IOT shenanigans. Hine, however, is clear, concise, funny and effective. In Condensed Chaos (1995) he articulated a nice set of principles concerning some basic skills of doing magick, and discussed the universality of the tech involved. This provided a much needed critique of the very problematic role of tradition as a yardstick in assessing the effectiveness of magick, and also took a slice at the very messy issues of cultural context surrounding a lot of contemporary magickal practice. With the focus on the tech instead of the trivia, grades and ego production, the idea is that Chaos Magick can be an excellent training ground for genuine magickal proficiency.

With that in mind, I’ve been reading Phil Hine’s new (2009) introduction to Prime Chaos (first edition 1993) in which he presents some important critiques of the ways in which Chaos Magick as a culture developed and some of the problems that arose from the extreme and necessary relativism of the 1980 and 1990s in which Chaos Magick emerged. One point he makes, with which I am in hearty agreement, is that the notion that everything is equally “true”, or that all systems are equally valid, needs to be reassessed. One of the more unfortunate aspects of fallout from postmodern relativism is that we now have some Creationists arguing that Jesus rode dinosaurs because their “relativist” arguments concerning the authority of “standard” knowledge production took a deuce on the scientific method. I do think the pendulum needs to swing back, but as magickians I think our duty is to do this with nuance. Some facts really are more true than others, and we need to be able to assert this vigorously, and support our statements with evidence. But we still need to cultivate the intellectual and critical rigor that will not blindly accept the validity or “truth” of a magickal tradition or path. At the end of the day, some magickal and spiritual approaches will work better for some than others, and it is the initial discernment and investigation that will tell you this, along with a willingness to experiment and find what works for you and know how to explain why.

Another very important critique that Hine makes is that cultural context matters, and yes, it does. I’m an anthropologist, so of course I think this! Groups develop cultural responses as a form of adaptation to a variety of circumstances, and we need to respect the unique conditions under which magickal and religious systems and practices emerge. I can see a danger in reducing practices to just “tech” in that we then may not have an appreciation of how they function for various peoples and how they are valued . Not only do we not do them a service in that reduction, but we may not gain the fullest understanding of how that tech works anyway. I believe that this perspective arose out of a genuine concern about appropriating the ecstatic techniques of other cultures. Hey, if it’s ONLY tech, we can do this sweat lodge or throw those cowries without guilt, right? The point Hine is making is that there is a tendency among Chaotes to simplify, reduce and not take the advantage of committing to and living with a set of practices and beliefs because of the assertion that we can just perfect the tools and be done with it. I think he is right, as long as we don’t reify the system itself and give it power uncritically, because then we are back to square one. I still think this is a genuine problem in magickal culture, and I fear I don’t see an end to it anytime soon. In fact, it may be getting worse.

I firmly believe that Chaos Magick can still provide the critique it was designed to deliver. Part of the problem, however, is in the wider magickal culture in which it is situated. We are quite good at attracting rebels and misfits, but once inside the culture, the need for individual legitimacy, approval and a measure of accomplishment (underscored by the problems with poor self esteem that frequently plague people with an interest in magick) supports the conditions for over inflated ego development in teachers and systems which are entered into uncritically and unchallenged. This is why so many “Chaotes” are far better suited for a round of Magickal Jeopardy then they are to face the tests and trials of real life. Knowing cool shit gets you biscuits (cultural capital) and these people have to get feedback from *something*. The result is that the critiques that Chaos Magick should deliver, in many cases, were badly underdeveloped within the actual culture because I don’t think many people had the background to implement them well. Yes, we still need to focus on tech, we still need to challenge dogma, and we also need to have the courage to enter deeply into practice and understand the great value in doing so. I still believe that eclecticism should be respected as the mark of the adept, not a superficial indulgence of the dilettante, but to achieve this we need to focus on nurturing genuine critical skills (not Internet flame wars) and lay the groundwork for the real exploration of divine self.