Archives For BBC

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.

(Credit: Wikimedia/DarkGeometryStudios via Shutterstock/Salon)

(Credit: Wikimedia/DarkGeometryStudios via Shutterstock/Salon)

  • Let’s start off with Salon.com’s follow-up to the outing of rogue Wikipedia editor “Qworty,” which focuses on his strange vendetta against Pagan, esoteric, and occult pages. In the piece Andrew Leonard links to my run-down of the story, and manages to dig up some new information as well. Quote: “Every page deleted or altered by Young on grounds of self-promotion or conflict-of-interest clearly deserves a second look. And that great effort is already well under way. The Neo-Pagans are clamoring for the return of some of their deleted pages and scouring those that survived the purge to see which of Young’s cuts will be reverted. But Young didn’t confine himself to questions of notability or conflict-of-interest when tangling with the Pagans; he also challenged the basic tenets of Pagan spirituality. Wikipedia, he argued, should be debunking such things as Wiccan rituals or the exploration of drug-induced conciousness-raising, rather than reporting them.” This experience has left some Pagan Wikipedia editors disillusioned, to put it lightly. It will be interesting to see how things progress from this point. 
  • The branding of children as “witches” by pastors in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues. The BBC has a new documentary where a British citizen who was born in the DRC finds out her cousin has been accused of witchcraft and races to find her. Quote: “Journeying from her home in London to her birthplace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kevani tries to discover how ancient traditions have been hijacked in the name of Jesus, why families are singling out vulnerable children and hurting them and why toddlers are having to endure excruciating rituals in order to ‘rid them of demons’.” It should be noted that branding children as witches is illegal in the Congo now, but the pastors seem unconcerned.
  • The book “Ritual” by David Pinner, which inspired the 1973 film “The Wicker Man” is going to be getting a sequel. Pinner told Rue Morgue Magazine that he’s written a book set 30 years later entitled “The Wicca Woman.” Quote: “I’ve just completed the sequel to Ritual, after all these years, called The Wicca Womanthe children who are in Ritual are grown up in this. It’s set 30 years later just before the millennium. Wicker Man obsessives will no doubt want to keep an eye out for this one. Meanwhile, StudioCanal continues its hunt for lost footage from the 1973 film’s original cut in hopes of releasing a complete anniversary edition. 
  • Christianity in Britain could be declining faster than originally thought according to a new analysis of the 2011 UK census data. Quote: “A new analysis of the 2011 census shows that a decade of mass immigration helped mask the scale of decline in Christian affiliation among the British-born population – while driving a dramatic increase in Islam, particularly among the young. It suggests that only a minority of people will describe themselves as Christians within the next decade, for first time.” We may see a truly post-Christian Britain in our lifetimes. That new analysis is from the UK’s Office for National Statistics, by the way. 
  • John Macintyre, former president of the Scottish Pagan Federation, is interviewed by Patheos.com about the importance of Pagan involvement in interfaith. Quote: “Interfaith is not a threat, it doesn’t aim to change what Paganism is, still less to merge it into some kind of ‘one size fits all’ universal religion. It allows us to educate other faith groups and the wider society about the reality of modern Paganism, to challenge prejudice and negative stereotyping close to its sources, and to make a positive contribution as one of the many faith communities that make up our society.”
Santa Muerte

Santa Muerte

  • Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut, author of “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint,” writes about the Vatican’s ongoing battle with the cult of Santa Muerte. Quote: “In addition to theological objections, the current religious economy of Mexico and Latin America provides a compelling explanation not only for the condemnation of narco-saints but also for other dynamic religious competitors. For the past three decades both national bishops’ conferences and the Vatican have inveighed against the “invasion of the sects” in Latin America. Of course, Pentecostals, the most vibrant of the Church’s competitors, have been the primary object of condemnation, but Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Age groups and Spiritists have also been singled out.” 
  • PNC-Minnesota has an update on Pagan-initiated tornado relief efforts in Oklahoma. Quote: “As of Saturday, Solar Cross has collected $545 in donations and was able to send 400 N95 rated respirators, 58 pairs of work gloves, 50 safety goggles, 20 tarps, and 10 shovels. Tillison said, ‘Thank you thank you thank you! Your donations will be distributed within 24 hours of the time they arrive and sent out to Little Axe, Newcastle and the outlying areas that are not receiving the outpouring the greater area of Moore is.’” You can read my initial report on this, here.
  • When talking about legal protections, “who’s a journalist” is the wrong question. Quote: “When considering whether to grant legal protection for the gathering and dissemination of information, the question should not be the person performing those acts, i.e., “who is a journalist?,” but “is this an act of journalism?” Before the user-generated content revolution, focusing on journalists (i.e., people defined by their institutional affiliations) served as a functional if rough approximation of the true interests at stake (i.e., debate on issues of public concern). That is no longer the case.” This issue is an important one for all us Pagan media types who are not affiliated with a recognized institution. 
  • Paul Louis Metzger argues that sometimes Christians create the “idols” for modern Pagans out of ignorance of our actual beliefs and practices. Quote: “We Christians need to be on guard in our understanding of such movements as contemporary Paganism. We tend to lump all of modern Paganism into one general and distorted category. We often fail to account for the vast complexity within the movement and articulate Paganism accurately. For all our concern about pagan idolatry, we may be guilty at times of making their idols for them. We need to develop the practice of respect for understanding their practices, rituals, and beliefs.”
  • Wiccan love spells: sometimes they (kinda) work (at least for awhile). Quote: “Yes, I shed a few tears, but not because I was in love with him. I cried because the spell hadn’t worked, at least not all the way, and I was now forced to revert to being a Party of One after having had a brief, haunting reminder of the cozier aspects of being in a relationship.”

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

Yesterday the BBC News Magazine posted a look at “spiritual, but not religious” people, cobbling together various studies and perspectives to try and understand this rather nebulous (yet growing) demographic. Interestingly, the lump modern Pagans in as part of the larger “spiritual” trend noting that “the spiritually aligned range from pagans to devotees of healing crystals, among many other sub-groups.”

Mike Stygal, is a secondary school teacher who practises paganism in his private life. He believes in a divine force in nature. “I believe everything is connected, I feel very in touch with nature and the changing seasons. Awe is a very good word for how I feel. It’s a sense of deep respect for nature. I can communicate with the deity.”

They also point to a quote from pop superstar Pink where she talks about her spiritual-but-not-religious makeup.

Pink on the BBC, October, 2012

Pink on the BBC, October, 2012

“I love Native American spirituality and paganism, and I’ve studied Buddhism. I think organised religion is one of the top problems of the world actually, so no, I’d say I steer clear of religion and go straight towards spirituality.”

Increasingly, I think more and more people are finding Paganism not as discrete religions, but as a part of an open-sourced kit to build an individualized belief system or practice. They aren’t Wiccans, or Druids, or Asatru, they are practicing “Paganism” as a syncretic and eclectic system in its own right, people like Shirley McMichael a community engagement worker with the Policing Board in Belfast.

“The widow described herself as a pagan rather than a witch — although she does have a small ceremonial broomstick, a wand and casts spells. “Wicca (witchcraft) is more structured than our Pagan Voice group but we have quite a lot in common” she said. For Mrs McMichael, paganism — the worship of natural forces often personified as a god and goddess — is a way of being in tune with the environment.”

I think McMichael’s quote there is important because it highlights that she sees Wicca as a religious system that she chooses to work outside, though finds some affinity with. Likewise, turning back to the BBC News Magazine article, we find a woman reviving “ancient traditions” but with no real interest in labeling herself as a Pagan.

Bridget McKenzie, a cultural learning consultant, does daily walking meditations. “It’s about making time to contemplate the awesomeness of life on earth, the extraordinary luck this planet has in sustaining life.” She is not a pagan but for the summer solstice organises a Garlic Man Parade in south east London to reconnect with ancient traditions. “We all sense changes in the light as the seasons change. It’s important to mark the occasion.”

When the census data for England and Wales was released, I noted that as impressive as Paganism’s growth was, they may have been many more of “us” hidden in other categories.

Bringing to just over 80,000 (or so) Pagans. That number doesn’t count how many Pagans there might be lurking within the category of “Mixed Religon” (23,566), “Own Belief System” (1,949), or “Spiritual” (13,832). Other figures of note in the “Other Religion” category include Vodoun at 208, Traditional African Religion at 588 (both numbers that I think are too low), and New Age at 698 adherents.

The spiritual category might have included the Garlic Man Parade organizer mentioned above, the one who wants to reconnect with ancient traditions, and “mixed religion” would most certainly have encompassed a pop star who loves Native American spirituality, Paganism, and Buddhism. In short, Pagans are indeed much larger that some give us credit for, but our numbers will always be diffused through several categories because Paganism doesn’t demand brand loyalty or exclusive rights to your soul.

People are rejecting “religion” in ever growing numbers, and a growing number of individuals are defining themselves as “spiritual but not religion” even if they claim a religious affiliation. This decline simply speeds the decline further, as it becomes easier and more attractive to jettison religious labels.

Pagans dance in "nonreligious" Estonia. Photo: BBC.

Pagans dance in “nonreligious” Estonia. Photo: BBC.

“The idea is pretty simple,” said Richard Wiener of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, and the University of Arizona.”It posits that social groups that have more members are going to be more attractive to join, and it posits that social groups have a social status or utility. [...]  In a large number of modern secular democracies, there’s been a trend that folk are identifying themselves as non-affiliated with religion; in the Netherlands the number was 40%, and the highest we saw was in the Czech Republic, where the number was 60%.” The team then applied their nonlinear dynamics model, adjusting parameters for the relative social and utilitarian merits of membership of the “non-religious” category. They found, in a study published online, that those parameters were similar across all the countries studied, suggesting that similar behaviour drives the mathematics in all of them. And in all the countries, the indications were that religion was headed toward extinction.

What happens is that you start to encounter cultures where “nones” dominate, and where spirituality is often shaped by the landscape, and by the people living in it. This can be very Pagan as in the Pacific Northwest, where the authors of “Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia,” note residents are “eclectically, informally, often deeply ‘spiritual.’” Specifically, New Age and nature-oriented spirituality loom large among “nones” here.

“According to the just-published “Cascadia: the Elusive Utopia.” … a lot of these “nones” in the Pacific Northwest are actually very spiritual, walking a path of their own making, but not into organized religions and churches. Sociology professor Mark Shibley of Southern Oregon University wrote the lead essay called “The Promise and Limits of Secular Spirituality in Cascadia.” “This region is different. The people here are not as connected to religious institutions,” he says. The alternative spirituality here shows itself in two main ways, Shibley notes: “nature spirituality,” such as you see in the secular environmental movement, and the more well-known New Age spirituality, where the gaze is shifted inward.”

While some Pagans seem to scorn this growing contingent of eclectic, syncretic, label-free, spiritual people, I think it is this growing phenomenon that will deliver vital cultural shifts for those of us who are explicitly members of a Pagan religion. The rise of the unaffiliated in the world weakens the power of the religions that seek to create a homogenous “united” religious identity under their moral guidance. Call them wishy-washy, or unable to commit, or whatever invective you choose, but the “spiritual” people are the buffer that allows for the continued growth of Paganism around the world. Pink’s love of Paganism helps create a future where even more people can learn to love us.

Happy Friday everyone! Here are three cool (Pagan) things from the news to start off your weekend right.

How Will They Include the Footnotes? Den of Geek reports that the BBC will be making a six-part adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s landmark fantasy novel “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.” The book, which posits an alternate England where magic was once practiced but has fallen into the realm of antiquarians and scholars, tells the tale of two magicians and magic’s revival.

jonthan strange mr norrell

“6×60 series, based on the bestselling novel by Susanna Clarke and adapted by Peter Harness. Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell is set during the Napoleonic Wars in an England where magic once existed and is about to return.”

No further information has been announced, but the book is an utter delight, one that captures the thrill and dangers of rediscovering magic, while building an alternate England with delightful footnotes and references. I know a lot of people are looking forward to HBO’s American Gods series, but I think I might be more excited for this adaptation.

Scaring the Winter Ghosts in Austria: The Reuters photographers blog has a post up documenting the Perchten festival in western Austria, where townsfolk dress up as demonic figures to frighten Winter spirits and ensure a good harvest. The resulting photos are amazing, despite photographer Dominic Ebenbichler’s skepticism about the rites.

A man dressed up in tradtional Perchten costume and mask perform during a Perchten festival in the western Austrian village of Heitwerwang

A man dressed up in tradtional Perchten costume and mask perform during a Perchten festival in the western Austrian village of Heitwerwang.

“The explanation goes back to the years about 500 AD. Back then farmers performed pagan rites to disperse the ghosts of winter to help bring a fruitful harvest. They thought it might work with terrifying masks which should scare even ghosts. And what is more scarier than the devil himself? Right, nothing! Even ghosts have to be scared by the devil.

In 2012 not much has changed. Of course we know that scaring ghosts is not going to work, but traditions are deep-rooted and somehow people still believe in the power of pagan rituals. And in the countryside there is nothing more important than a good harvest, so why not help a good harvest along by getting rid of some winter ghosts one way or another. Old habits die hard I guess.”

The Perchten are the entourage of the goddess Perchta, a figure associated with Holda, whose name means “the bright one.” Perchta performed a Santa Claus-like role, dispensing gifts in winter to good children. The Perchten are a remnant of her worship.

How Ren. Faires Changed Everything: Finally, Chas Clifton points us to the release of a new book, “Well Met: Renaissance Faires and the American Counterculture” by Rachel Lee Rubin that “reveals the way the faires established themselves as a pioneering and highly visible counter cultural referendum on how we live now—our family and sexual arrangements, our relationship to consumer goods, and our corporate entertainments.”

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“In order to understand the meaning of the faire to its devoted participants,both workers and visitors, Rubin has compiled a dazzling array of testimony, from extensive conversations with Faire founder Phyllis Patterson to interviews regarding the contemporary scene with performers, crafters, booth workers and “playtrons.” Well Met pays equal attention what came out of the faire—the transforming gifts bestowed by the faire’s innovations and experiments upon the broader American culture: the underground press of the 1960sand 1970s, experimentation with “ethnic” musical instruments and styles in popular music, the craft revival, and various forms of immersive theater are all connected back to their roots in the faire. Original, intrepid, and richly illustrated, Well Met puts the Renaissance Faire back at the historical center of the American counterculture.”

Seems like a must-own for anyone interested in the development of American counter-culture, and the influence Ren. Faires had on the development of modern Paganism in the United States. As a young man I spent a few years working at the Bristol Renaissance Faire, and I think  those experiences were formative for the person I was to become, especially in showing how alternative religions and lifestyles were absorbed into one “faire family.” I’m very much looking forward to reading this.

That’s all for now, thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

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.

Ronald Hutton

  • The Somerset Guardian reports on a Clutton History Society meeting, featuring a talk from historian Ronald Hutton, author of “The Triumph of the Moon:A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft.” Quote: “After the summer break Clutton History Society resumed its monthly programme of talks in September with a visit from Professor Ronald Hutton, of Bristol University’s History Department, who gave a talk entitled Village Witchcraft. Appropriately the audience were spell bound with the professor’s informative and very interesting talk. Professor Hutton is a notable authority on early modern history, folklore and pre-Christian history.” For more on Hutton, here’s the scholar explaining how Puritans ruined our fun. We’re still awaiting the broadcast of “Britain’s Wicca Man,” a documentary about Gerald Gardner hosted by Hutton.
  • At Forbes, conservative Christian commentator Bill Flax admits that the United States isn’t a Christian nation (albeit with a number of caveats). Quote: “America wasn’t founded as a Christian nation and many of our beloved Forefathers sadly were not, yet America was largely comprised of Believers. Liberty allows us to worship freely or not at all per conscience. America was never meant to be theocratic or homogenous religiously, but Christianity has always been indelible to our social fabric.”
  • AlterNet interviews  Nancy L. Cohen, author of “Delirium: The Politics of Sex in America,” about why “sexual fundamentalists” still hold such much political power, despite shrinking as a demographic (in essence they’ve slowly entrenched themselves into the Republican base and presidential nominating process). Quote: “The secret to understanding American politics right now is to understand how these extremists are less popular yet more powerful than we imagine. The GOP platform is a good object lesson about how sexual fundamentalists operate within the Republican Party. The delegates that ended up at the convention are the most extreme of the Republican base. The people who were elected to be on the platform committee are the most extreme of the extremists. That’s how you end up with a platform that says not only no abortion with no exceptions, even for rape, but also includes a lot of junk science that says it’s proven women become depressed from abortion or that there is fetal pain.”
  • For those of you who’ve enjoyed the recent back-and-forth in our community concerning belief and religion, historian Kelly J. Baker, author of “Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930,” centers on the perennial question of ‘They don’t really believe that, do they?’ Quote: “If I, the person who studies “weird” or “exotic” religion, will assure them that these people don’t believe, then maybe they can rest easy. I cannot assure them. And, if I am being truly honest, I really don’t want to. Instead, I emphasize that this “belief” is materialized in every prophetic utterance, billboard proclaiming the date of the end, online discussion of reptoid encounters, and each weapon purchased for the possibility of race war.” 
  • Boycotts are awesome when we do them, and terrible when other people do them.
  • Ke$ha’s new album is about magic! The first single is called “Supernatural”! She had sex with a ghost! Quote: “It’s about experiences with the supernatural, but in a sexy way. I had a couple of experiences with the supernatural. I don’t know his name! He was a ghost! I’m very open to it.” So, yeah, that happened.
  • A Republican polling firm has found that 69% of hunters and anglers support reducing carbon emissions to combat global warming. Perhaps proof that climate change isn’t a partisan issue, and that denialists are increasingly out of step with the people they say they represent?
  • Naomi Wolf defends her new book “Vagina” at Slate.com. Quote: To Wolf, criticism of her choice to couch that information in hippie-dippy terms like “The Goddess Array” has also been used to suppress discussion of female sexuality. The concept of “transcendence,” she says, is based in a long literary tradition, and though it “can be seen as a mystical term, it’s also a clinical term.” She is not actually “making a claim for some dimension of reality that exists outside of the brain.” Instead, she’s calling on the gods in a literary attempt to push back against 5,000 years of human history, in which the vagina has been “demeaned, debated, debased, and stigmatized,” she says. “I chose the phrase ‘The Goddess Array’ flippantly, I suppose, because it’s like, ‘fuck you.’ Seriously!” The coinage was an attempt to “carve out a space for women where they feel a radical sense of self-respect,” she says. “Is that coinage working for everybody? Obviously not. But if you have a better word for radical female self-respect, please tell me, because it does not exist.”
  • BBC on the Druids.
  • Killing your religious disciple is not OK.
  • US Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe rejects calls for anti-blasphemy laws, saying that freedom of religion and freedom of expression are inseparable. Quote: “The inseparable freedoms of expression and religion are important not for abstract reasons [...] when these freedoms are restricted, we see violence, poverty, stagnation and feelings of frustration and even humiliation.”
Star Foster

Star Foster

  • In a final note, farewell to Star Foster, our Pagan Portal Manager, who’s leaving Patheos to concentrate on her new life in Paganistan. Quote:  ”So this is my last post for this blog. My fond farewell. I need to focus on something other than Paganism for awhile, or at least Paganism at large. My personal practice has suffered, and needs some tender loving care. I won’t completely disappear. I might do a story or two for the PNC. One day, I might even blog again. But I’m going to be silent for a long while. I need that desperately.” Thank you for all your work Star, and I’m sure this won’t be the last we see of you!

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

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.

Bull of Heaven publication party. (photo: Christopher Gregory/The New York Times)

Bull of Heaven publication party. (photo: Christopher Gregory/The New York Times)

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

Last week I deconstructed the Daily Mail’s sensationalist assertions regarding the teaching of Paganism in British religious education courses, specifically in Cornwall. I pointed out that there is no hard-and-fast mandate requiring schools to insert Pagan religions into their curriculum, and that the RE advisory council is exactly that, advisory. This didn’t stop conservative Catholic columnist Christina Odone from flying off the rails, using the story as a jumping-off point to rail against any who dare place non-Christian faiths on equal ground with Christianity.

“God, Gaia, whatever: school children are already as familiar with the solstice as with the sacraments. In pockets of Cornwall, children will point out a nun in her habit: “Look, a Druid!” Their parents will merely shrug — one set of belief is as good as another. How long before the end of term is marked by a Black Mass, with only Health and Safety preventing a human sacrifice?

So with the discourse on this non-event having sunk about as low as it could go, it was time for the journalistic grown-ups at the BBC to step in and set things to rights.

Sue Green, director of education, said Cornwall’s heritage was “quite unique” and must be celebrated. The director said the syllabus suggested if there was an important religious aspect of beliefs such as Paganism, teachers should “explore it”. “We must celebrate the spiritual and religious heritage for our children.” Ms Green said: “For many of our schools there will be children who come from Pagan families and we wouldn’t want those children to feel marginalised.” But she added, that “no school is being told to teach about Paganism”.

It should be noted that Sue Green is director of education for the Anglican Diocese of Truro, which serves Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, so not exactly a shill for the powerful (and largely imaginary) Cornwall Pagan lobby. Nor is Green the only prominent Cornish Christian to speak up in defense of the curriculum guidelines, a local paper in Cornwall interviews the Rev Mike Coles, pastor of Falmouth Evangelical Church, and chairman of Cornwall’s advisory body for religious education, about the council’s recommendations.

“It seems right to develop a distinctively Cornish element that included the early Celtic saints, the influence of John Wesley, and the history of Truro Cathedral, as well as the significance of pre-Christian sites.”

Rev. Coles is a conservative Baptist, again, not exactly a “rah rah Paganism” kind of guy. That paper also speaks with David Hampshire, RE adviser for Cornwall, who notes that the “option” (notice the word option and not “mandate”) was developed “in order to develop a ‘Curriculum Kernewek’ (Cornish curriculum),” and that Paganism would “not be a major feature” of the curriculum. Thus, yet another controversy constructed by The Daily Mail is laid to bed, though I’m sure critics will once again lash out at the BBC for being too “Pagan friendly” for daring to accurately report the news.

In a final note, only one news outlet bothered to get a statement from the local branch of the Pagan Federation, and that was the Huffington Post UK.

“Fiona MacDonald, co-ordinator of Cornwall’s Pagan Federation, said the group welcomed the decision to include Paganism on the curriculum. “We have been campaigning for schools to introduce it for the past 10 years,” she told The Huffington Post UK. “It is not a question of teaching children Paganism, rather teaching children about Paganism. ”We are just normal human beings with different ideas,” she added.”

So here’s to HuffPo UK for actually asking local Pagans what they think about a story that affects their lives. It’s sad that they were the only ones to do so.

So, to wrap up, an advisory RE curriculum is advisory, not mandatory, local Christians and Pagans don’t seem to have a problem with the RE curriculum, children are not being indoctrinated by Pagans, and the Daily Mail is a terrible way to get your journalism and you should really stop reading and linking to it.

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

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

Back in March the BBC reported on a study that predicted the extinction of religion in nine countries: Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland. The mathematical model used to make this prediction is very similar to one used to predict the extinction of languages. The idea is simple: as the population of religiously non-affiliated individuals grow, their preferences start to become attractive to more and more people.

Pagans dance in "nonreligious" Estonia. Photo: BBC.

“The idea is pretty simple,” said Richard Wiener of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, and the University of Arizona.”It posits that social groups that have more members are going to be more attractive to join, and it posits that social groups have a social status or utility. [...]  In a large number of modern secular democracies, there’s been a trend that folk are identifying themselves as non-affiliated with religion; in the Netherlands the number was 40%, and the highest we saw was in the Czech Republic, where the number was 60%.” The team then applied their nonlinear dynamics model, adjusting parameters for the relative social and utilitarian merits of membership of the “non-religious” category. They found, in a study published online, that those parameters were similar across all the countries studied, suggesting that similar behaviour drives the mathematics in all of them. And in all the countries, the indications were that religion was headed toward extinction.

This trend isn’t isolated to Europe, a new study by Duke Divinity School professor Mark Chaves, a specialist in the sociology of religion, says that religion in the United States is “softening”.

In “American Religion: Contemporary Trends,” author Mark Chaves argues that over the last generation or so, religious belief in the U.S. has experienced a “softening” that effects everything from whether people go to worship services regularly to whom they marry. Far more people are willing to say they don’t belong to any religious tradition today than in the past, and signs of religious vitality may be camouflaging stagnation or decline. “Reasonable people can disagree over whether the big picture story is one of essential stability or whether it’s one of slow decline,” said Chaves. “Unambiguously, though, there’s no increase.”

Another sociologist, Bradley Wright, notes that “it’s not random who’s leaving churches, as Christians affiliated more through the Republican Party, liberal, marginal churchgoers became offended and left.” At his blog, Wright points out that religion in American society has become increasingly polarized, with the people who find religion only “somewhat” important (you know, the “Christmas and Easter Christians”) a dwindling population.

“The last two years *may* represent a change in the importance of religion. While the most devout religious people (i.e., “extremely important) hold on to their beliefs, there is a significant drop in those who religion as “very” important, with these people appearing to transition to viewing it as only “somewhat” important. It’s too early to tell, however, whether this is a robust long-term trend. If it is, it could portend further polarization—as the middle ground of religious importance disappears.”

Most telling is the opinion of Chaves, who, according to the Associated Press, doesn’t think these trends “can be reversed by ramped-up evangelism or other conscious decisions by religious groups.” Now it should be noted that people with “no religion” aren’t without religious beliefs or ideas, a large number claim to believe in a divine power, and a recent study of the religiously unaffiliated  in the Pacific Northwest showed that many of them had adopted an informal sort of nature worship.

“According to the just-published “Cascadia: the Elusive Utopia.” … a lot of these “nones” in the Pacific Northwest are actually very spiritual, walking a path of their own making, but not into organized religions and churches. Sociology professor Mark Shibley of Southern Oregon University wrote the lead essay called “The Promise and Limits of Secular Spirituality in Cascadia.” “This region is different. The people here are not as connected to religious institutions,” he says. The alternative spirituality here shows itself in two main ways, Shibley notes: “nature spirituality,” such as you see in the secular environmental movement, and the more well-known New Age spirituality, where the gaze is shifted inward.”

So when we are talking about the decline of “religion” in the West, what we really seem to be talking about is a decline in traditional “churched” congregations. These “unchurched” individuals aren’t becoming atheists or religion-free agnostics, but are instead building their own spiritual practices, or turning to decentralized open movements like modern Paganism. Nor is that a trend isolated to the United States, as a recent BBC piece focusing on religion in Estonia, the world’s “least religious” country, will tell you.

“It is one in a chain of events that led the majority of Estonians away from God, but that does not mean they do not believe in anything at all. About 300km from Tallinn I journey to the forest to meet a group of nature lovers – nature worshippers you might call them. “We are pagan,” says Aigar Piho, father of eight children from the village of Rouge in southern Estonia. Sitting on a log in a forest clearing he tells me: “Our god is in nature. You must take time, sit down and listen.” Like many Estonians Aigar is spiritual. He defines his religion as Maausk – a form of Estonian nature spirituality – in which the trees and earth are cherished objects that possess power. Aigar says his place of worship is the forest yet with neither ceremony nor routine nor religious text, it is hard to say it is an organised religion.”

Sounds pretty religious to me! But I would say that, wouldn’t I? In any case, the idea that people who have “lost” religion will turn to Paganism, the New Age, self-constructed spiritualities, and nature-based religions isn’t just wishful thinking on my part, just listen to Bron Taylor, author of “Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future”.

“Where this cognitive shift has been made, traditional religions with their beliefs in non-material divine beings are in decline. The desire for a spiritually meaningful understanding of the cosmos, however, did not wither away, and new forms of spirituality have been filling the cultural niches previously occupied by conventional religions. I argue that the forms I document in Dark Green Religion are much more likely to survive than longstanding religions, which involved beliefs in invisible, non-material beings.”

It should be noted that these trends, while relatively fast-moving on a societal level, aren’t likely to produce massive shifts in power structures or political allegiances in the near future. Pagans, nature-worshipers, and the “spiritual but not religious” demographics will still have to deal with increasingly polarized mainstream religions fearful of a post-Christian future. That said, if you are looking for the hopeful note in all the stories lately about extreme and increasingly reactionary trends among the dominant monotheisms, here’s your light at the end of the tunnel. The promise of a more Pagan tomorrow.

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

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

“We will not listen to the things you’ve said to us in the name of YHWH. On the contrary, we will certainly do all that we’ve vowed. We will make offerings to the Queen of Heaven, and pour libations to her as we used to do – we and our ancestors, our kings and princes in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem – because then we had plenty of bread and we were satisfied, and suffered no misfortune. But since we ceased making offerings to the Queen of Heaven and pouring libations to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by sword and famine. And when we make offerings to the Queen of Heaven and pour libations to her, is it without our husbands’ approval that we make cakes in her likeness and pour libations to her?”Jeremiah 44:15-19, translation by Graham Harvey, from the Hebrew text of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, excerpted from “The Paganism Reader”.

I suppose it is somewhat appropriate that I mentioned a Christian sect obsessed with battling the “Queen of Heaven” yesterday, because today I’m looking at a new flurry of press about Her, or as they phrase it, “God’s wife.” The notion that the God of the Jews, and later the Christian God, was once part of a polytheistic landscape is fairly uncontroversial among scholars. Several books have been published on the subject, “The Hebrew Goddess”, “Did God Have a Wife?”,  “Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan”, and “The Early History of God”, among several others. NOVA on PBS even mentioned it back in 2008 for their “The Bible’s Buried Secrets” program. But modern journalism has a short memory, and the story has a new hook via Exeter University’s Francesca Stavrakopoulou, who’s presenting a new BBC production (coincidentally) entitled “The Bible’s Buried Secrets”. Stavrakopoulou and her BBC series have been making the rounds at The Daily Mail (sorry, I still don’t link to them), The Guardian, and The Telegraph.

“Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou has been given a primetime BBC Two series, The Bible’s Buried Secrets, in which she makes a number of startling suggestions. [...]  The idea that God had a wife is based on Biblical texts that refer to “asherah”. According to Dr Stavrakopoulou, Asherah was the name of a fertility goddess in lands now covered by modern-day Syria, and was half of a “divine pair” with God. Dr Stavrakopoulou is a senior lecturer in the Hebrew Bible at the University of Exeter, and gained a doctorate in theology from Oxford.”

Her suggestions are so startling that the story got picked up in America by Discovery News.

“In 1967, Raphael Patai was the first historian to mention that the ancient Israelites worshiped both Yahweh and Asherah. The theory has gained new prominence due to the research of Francesca Stavrakopoulou [...] “After years of research specializing in the history and religion of Israel, however, I have come to a colorful and what could seem, to some, uncomfortable conclusion that God had a wife,” she added. Stavrakopoulou bases her theory on ancient texts, amulets and figurines unearthed primarily in the ancient Canaanite coastal city called Ugarit, now modern-day Syria. All of these artifacts reveal that Asherah was a powerful fertility goddess.”

Her conclusions may indeed be “colorful,” but they are hardly new, as I pointed out above. Discovery News actually does a decent job in taking what were mostly warmed over press releases in the UK and giving the story some depth. Showing that Stavrakopoulou’s research is part of a long continuum of thought and study on this topic, interviewing other scholars to emphasize the points being made in her new show.

The ancient Israelites were polytheists, [Aaron] Brody [director of the Bade Museum and an associate professor of Bible and archaeology at the Pacific School of Religion] told Discovery News, “with only a small minority worshiping Yahweh alone before the historic events of 586 B.C.” In that year, an elite community within Judea was exiled to Babylon and the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. This, Brody said, led to “a more universal vision of strict monotheism: one god not only for Judah, but for all of the nations.”

The Discovery News report is also refreshing in that it avoids discussing her “fragrant air” and “good carriage” as John Preston at The Telegraph does. There’s a certain bitter irony in discussing the looks of a presenter on a program that touches on how the power of women was willfully erased from history. In any case, while the subject of God’s wife may not be new, reminding the world that monotheism didn’t spring forth whole-cloth, that it was artificially constructed and forcefully maintained by its early adopters is still quite needful. Especially in an age where the mere hint of a resurgent Western polytheism, and the endurance of polytheism around the world, seems to bring out irrational anger, fear, and hatred in certain corners.