Archives For Conference on Current Pagan Studies

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!

Stephanie Jean Clement, Ph.D.

Stephanie Jean Clement

Today, we start with some sad news. Author Stephanie Clement, who wrote several titles for Llewellyn Worldwide, including “Meditation for Beginners,” passed away last week after a diagnosis of cancer. Quote: “It is with sadness that we share the news of author Stephanie Clement’s passing. According to her husband, Greg, she passed away last Wednesday evening after being diagnosed with a form of cancer a few months ago. Stephanie was the author of several Llewellyn books. Her book Meditation for Beginners remains among our perennial bestsellers, and Stephanie authored many astrology titles over the years (including the Astrology Made Easy Series). Stephanie was also a former Llewellyn employee; after leaving our offices she worked for a time as an Acquiring Editor contracting new astrology-based titles. She was a practicing astrologer for more than 30 years and is former president of the American Federation of Astrologers. Our thoughts go out to Greg and the family.” Our thoughts go out to the friends and family of the author, what is remembered, lives.

Morpheus Ravenna

Morpheus Ravenna

Artist and ritualist Morpheus Ravenna has announced that she is starting a new book project dedicated to the goddess Morrígan. Quote: “My book project, a comprehensive book on the lore, history, and worship of the Morrígan, now has a publisher: independent esoteric publishing house Concrescent Press. Concrescent is the imprint headed by Sam Webster, M.Div., a brilliant scholar of Pagan studies and the magical arts, as well as an old and dear friend. I am delighted to be working with Sam and Concrescent on this project. My tentative working title for the book is The Book of the Great Queen. I’m completing the final 5% or so of primary research, and will be completing the writing of the book over the coming months, to deliver by the end of the year. You can view an early, general topical outline here.” Ravenna spearheads a priesthood dedicated to the Morrígan called Coru Cathubodua, which is planning an Ireland trip for 2015. A crowdfunding campaign to fund her book project will be coming soon. Here’s a sneak peak at some of the work being done on the book project.

Patheos Pagan Portal contributors after their thought-provoking panel on intrafaith efforts within our community.

Patheos Pagan contributors

The religion website Patheos is celebrating its 5th anniversary today. While initially aiming to be a scholar-approved resource site for various religious traditions, it quickly evolved into the multi-faith blogging/opinion-driven platform you see today. It became a popular Pagan destination thanks to its Pagan “channel” (they used to be called “portals”), which recruited a number of writers and columnists, including, for a time, me. Here’s a quote from their official press release: “Patheos.com, the world’s premier destination for dialogue on religion and spirituality, today announced that the site crossed 6 million unique monthly visitors for the first time since its launch five years ago today. This puts Patheos in the top 500 websites in the U.S., according to Quantcast. Since launching in 2009, Patheos has grown to be the largest independent religion and spirituality website. Many of the site’s faith channels have become the largest online space for that community, so that Patheos now contains the largest Catholic website, the largest Atheist website, the largest Progressive Christian website, and the largest Pagan website – all at the same time.” They’re the biggest! Congrats to everyone at Patheos Pagan, I wish them every success moving forward.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • Cultural anthropologist, author, and educator Angeles Arrien passed away unexpectedly last week. Quote: “Our beloved Angeles Arrien passed away unexpectedly last Thursday afternoon April 24, 2014. This Monday her office started to inform hundreds of organizations, colleagues, friends, and thousands of students nationally and internationally of her unexpected death. Angeles was a person of deep faith, compassion, kindness, generosity and honesty, and an authentic, vital, joyful presence everywhere she went, and with whomever she interacted.” Arrien is perhaps best known for her “Four-Fold Way” teachings, which many Pagans took part in. Our condolences to her friends, family, and students.
  • The 2014 Pagan Podkin Supermoot (PPSM), a gathering of Pagan podcast producers, has been announced. Quote: “If you’re a podkin who would like to attend the event, please email FireLyte@IncitingARiot.com using the subject line PPSM5 Attendance. Please make sure to include whether you would like to present a class at Chicago Pagan Pride and a summary of your class, so that I may pass it along to Twila.” The gathering will take place Friday, September 12 through Sunday, September 14 in Chicago, Illinois. Here’s the Facebook invitation.
  • The 2014 Beltane issue of ACTION, the official newsletter of AREN, is now available. As always, it is chock-full of interesting interviews (plain text version). Featured interviews this time out include Ivo Dominquez Jr, Lynne Hume, Eleiren Bowen, and more. Plain text version here. A reliable Pagan media treasure, and they’re looking for more people to interview! So, drop them a line!
Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

  • The Conference on Current Pagan Studies has released its 2015 call for papers. Quote: “Monotheistic notions over the past two millennia have separated and polarized our manner of being in the world into realms of light and darkness, positive and negative, holy and desacralized, valued and devalued. Polytheists, Pagans, animists, et al view differently the interplay of light and dark, and seek to revalue, re-sacralize, and retrieve the dark. How do we interpret the Darkness? How do we imagine and reimagine our relationship with the Dark? Are there treasures hidden in the gloom, or are the shadows themselves treasures? Can monsters be gifts? How do we address the relationship between Darkness and Light?” Abstracts are due by September 20, 2014. Here’s a report from the 2014 conference.
  • The statement that Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum gave during the service held at the UN interfaith chapel prior to an interfaith meeting on nuclear disarmament that I reported on last week, has been posted. Quote: “The Earth Traditions honor the sacredness of every sentient and non-sentient being. We see all of creation as being a sacred and intricately intertwined web of life. Nuclear weapons and their proliferation stand in direct opposition to this premise and therefor are in direct opposition to our beliefs, morals, and values.”
  • Heather Freysdottir has some sad news to report about a local Pagan shop in Nova Scotia. Quote: “This is our last call email – if you are interested in the business, it is still for sale and we’d be happy to hear from you. In light of the shortening time frame, we are also willing to entertain alternate suggestions or to consider the sale of aspects of the business (you might be setting up your own venture and would like to buy only the store inventory, fixtures and supplier list. Possibly you’d like to take Little Mysteries on line and want the stock, name and branding and our online presence. If that sounds of interest, let’s talk.” More here.
  • Megalithica Books, an imprint of Immanion Press is seeking submissions for “Finding the Masculine in Goddess’ Spiral: Men in Ritual, Community and Service to the Goddess.” Quote: “This anthology will explore men and their relationship with the Goddess and the overarching Pagan community. We’re looking for essays and articles that detail personal experiences with the Goddess, How as men we come to know the Goddess, and ways you have worked through challenges and obstacles being a man within the Pagan movement.” Deadline for submissions is July 30th.

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

[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!

conference-logo-transparent-background1The Conference on Current Pagan Studies has announced that author (and Wild Hunt columnist) Crystal Blanton will be one of the keynote speakers at their 2014 conference this coming February. At her official Facebook page, Blanton asked followers which of three topics they would prefer she address with her keynote; the effect of racism within the Pagan community, the different forms of axiology within ethnic cultures and how that applies to the assessment of value within the Pagan community, or understanding cultural sensitivity and the need for collective healing for healthy racial integration within Paganism. Each of these topics would fit in well with 2014’s theme of “Relationships With The World.” Quote: “What is our relationship as contemporary pagans with the rest of the world at this point in history? What is the nature of our relationship with ourselves? With others? With the Divine? Who do we reach out to? Who do we support? What kind of communities are we building? As we ask for acceptance, who are we accepting? Who do we reject? Who do we love? Who do we make the enemy?” The deadline for paper proposals is September 15th.

booktitleProlific indie esoteric filmmaker Antero Alli has a new movie coming out called The Book of Jane that explores mythic themes and the idea of fate. Quote: “Alice, a Professor of Comparative Religion, is writing a book exalting the ancient values of pre-Hellenic goddess mythologies and Feminine deity worship. One day she meets Jane, an enigmatic older woman who roams the university campus, sleeps under a bridge, and rattles Alice with her disturbing insights. At home, Alice is the muse to her partner Colette, an artist who is painting a series of goddess portraits. When Colette hears about Jane, she encourages a reluctant Alice to invite her over for dinner. “The Book of Jane” is a story of three women bound together by fate to advance the values of an ancient culture into contempory life — at a deep cost no one expected.” Making an appearance as the goddess Morrigan is artist, teacher, and spiritual worker Morpheus Ravenna. You can watch a clip featuring her embedded below, or simply click here.

pcThe Centre for Pagan Studies and the Doreen Valiente Foundation have announced that they will be holding a one-day Witchcraft conference in honor of Patricia Crowther on April 6th, 2014, in Nottingham. Quote: “We are continuing our series of ‘A Day For . . ‘ events and this year we will be honouring the achievements and contribution to the Witchcraft and Pagan community of Patricia Crowther. Patricia is one of the few remaining contemporaries of Gerald Gardner and has to be considered one of the true Elders of the Craft. She was initially reluctant to allow us to hold a day in her honour but we have persuaded her that the Craft and pagan communities deserve their chance to pay her their respects and celebrate her so we are very pleased to announce that all being well she will be our guest of honour on the day. We will also present talks by Vivianne & Chris Crowley, Rufus & Melissa Harrington, Philip Heselton and Patricia’s good friend and astronomy expert, John Harper.” You can purchase advance tickets now. You can also download and share a flyer if you wish. If I were in the UK, I would love to attend this, so don’t miss out!

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • Initial guests and bands have been announced for FaerieCon West in Seattle, including German Pagan-folk band Faun, and authors John Matthews (see our recent interview with him), Raven Grimassi, and Stephanie Taylor-Grimassi. The event takes place February 21-23rd (the weekend after PantheaCon), and has moved to the Seattle Doubletree Hilton. For those on the East Coast, FaerieCon East in Baltimore is coming up November 8th – 10th, and also features a lot of wonderful guests. Full disclosure: I work for the company that produces these events, but I think their quality stands up even if you account for my conflict of interest.
  • An IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign has been launched for a new online magazine called Limina. Quote: “Limina is an online magazine of women writing about faith. The word Limina means ‘she who is standing on the threshold.’ We hope to explore matters of faith, culture, politics, and arts from that position. We are diverse and inclusive, representing many religions, spiritualities, and faith traditions, as well as atheists and agnostics. We take our voices seriously, we take our position seriously, and we honor the work of those who came before us and made what we do possible. But we can be irreverent at times. We’re here to engage readers, and to make them think, and occasionally, to prod them into action.” I’ve spoken with one of the organizers, and she says they are planning to include several Pagan voices. I’ve embedded their pitch-video below.

  • Funds are currently being raised to create an Avalon. Quote: “Thanks for taking the time to visit our JustGiving page.  We’re fundraising to create a sacred grove in Avalon, in a small but beautiful privately-owned field right on the slopes of Glastonbury Tor.  It’ll be formed of a circle of twenty-four trees, mostly Apple, with Rowan marking the four entrances and Oak standing as guardians around the space.  Aromatic herbs on the ground and evergreen plants  all around will give atmosphere and privacy.  It’s still a mystery what will go in the centre – perhaps a small pool, perhaps a fire dish: it’ll become clear as the project unfolds.” One of the co-organizers of this project is author Sorita d’Este.
  • Alane Brown, Witch, and composer for the musical group Crow Women, is currently in the midst of a two-year stint with the Peace Corps in Peru. She’s been keeping a wonderful blog of insights and experiences that I think many of you might enjoy. I think her post about celebrating the Winter Solstice is particularly good.
  • Aidan Kelly has written a remembrance of Allan Lowe / Demian Moonbloode, a NROOGD Elder who played a key role in the formation of the Covenant of the Goddess. Quote: “He was very involved in the creation of the Covenant of the Goddess, designing the original masthead for the COG newsletter and serving as a local and national officer during its first years. He went on to found Silver Star [...] one of our more radical and liberal covens, and it became the ancestor of about 90 percent of the NROOGD covens that have existed since then.” What is remembered, lives.

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

[The following is a guest post from Dr. Kimberly Kirner. Dr. Kirner is a cultural anthropologist specializing in applied cognitive anthropology, working on issues in political ecology and ethnoecology, medical anthropology, and the anthropology of religion. She is interested in understanding the relationships between cognition, emotion, and decision-making; the construction of identity, place, and community; and the way cultural knowledge systems interact with policy and large-scale systems to impact human behavior. Her research has focused on the political ecology of the American West and the medical anthropology of minority religious traditions in the United States. In addition to Dr. Kirner's academic work, she has worked as an applied anthropologist in program design, evaluation, and fund development.]

Some of you know me as the cultural anthropologist who began the Pagan Health Survey Project, which collected responses a large dataset from Pagans across the United States in 2010 and 2012. I’d like to take this opportunity to update you all on the Pagan Health Survey project and a new study that I’d love you to participate in: the Pagan Practice Project.

Kimberly Kirner (photo by Tony Mierzwicki)

Kimberly Kirner (photo by Tony Mierzwicki)

 The Pagan Practice Project: Pagan Identity, Spiritual Practice, and Sustainability

As an environmental and medical anthropologist, I became interested in potential connections between Pagan traditions and sustainable actions people may take. There is a body of literature on indigenous animist traditions (the traditions of Native peoples that believe the natural world is full of spirits) that suggests that nature-centered or earth-based spiritual traditions better motivate people to act sustainably – consuming less, considering the local ecosystem when making decisions, being interested in learning about one’s local environment, and so forth. At the same time as I’ve been contemplating these theories about links between spirituality and sustainability, there have been many discussions in the Pagan blogosphere this year about what it means to be Pagan. Are Pagan traditions deity-focused, earth-based, nature-centered, something else, or some combination of these? How do people understand their identity as a Pagan (or Heathen, or other related group)? What is the focus of various traditions’ beliefs and practices, both in solitary and group settings, and how significant is a focus on the natural world and non-human beings like animals, trees, and elementals?

I felt that collecting a large amount of survey data on these topics may help to illuminate these issues and help us better understand trends in individual traditions and Paganism as a whole. To this end, I would love you to participate in the Pagan Practice Survey at www.surveymonkey.com/s/paganpractice. It’s a chance for your voice to enter the conversation, even if you don’t blog about it! While this survey doesn’t have any implications for gaining us more rights and understanding from the mainstream cultural world, it may help us better understand ourselves, our identities, and how much Pagan traditions are focused on sustainability – and that can contribute in a unique way to the conversation our community is having about what Paganism is. It will also result in papers that could be used to help us explain to the non-Pagan world who we are, what we believe, and what we do.

Update on the Pagan Health Survey Project

The Pagan Health Survey went wonderfully this year – we collected over 1800 responses and are now in the midst of analyzing and writing! I have received a small grant from California State University Northridge to have a graduate student intern help me analyze the remaining data and compile a public-friendly report on both datasets that should be released in December (I’ll provide a link through the Wild Hunt). I anticipate three academic articles being released in the next year based on the project, which I hope will be of use to both Pagan Studies scholars and to the health care community.

conference-logo-transparent-background1The 2010 results were presented at the American Public Health Association meeting in 2010, the Current Conference on Pagan Studies in 2011 and 2012, and the Society for Anthropological Sciences meeting in 2012. Some initial results from the 2013 survey were presented at the Current Conference on Pagan Studies 2013. Copies of these papers and PowerPoint slides (with graphs of the data) are available by request. A recently graduated Master’s student at CSUN, Charlotte Turvey, has also used the data in her thesis on creative adjustments Pagans make in 12-step programs (which are Christian-focused), which was also presented at the Current Conference on Pagan Studies 2013. Pagan Studies scholars can, by request, query the datasets for their own research. Finally, as a result of the project, the Association of Pagan Therapists was founded by Los Angeles area Pagan therapists (of course!), which provides Pagan-friendly referrals and allows Pagan therapists to discuss relevant topics. There has also been discussion of the formation of an association or group for health care practitioners and biomedical researchers. I’m so pleased that this project has garnered support from both the Pagan community and my university, and is beginning to deliver results!

If you have any inquiries, you can contact me via email.

Thanks to everyone who has participated – I hope the new Pagan Practice Project also proves fruitful to Pagan Studies and the Pagan community.

Bright Blessings,

Kimberly Kirner, PhD
California State University, Northridge
Department of Anthropology

[The following is a guest post from Sabina Magliocco. Sabina Magliocco Ph.D. is professor of Anthropology and Folklore at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). She is an author of non-fiction books and journal articles about folklore, religion, religious festivals, foodways, Witchcraft and Paganism in Europe and the United States. A recipient of fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, Fulbright Program and Hewlett Foundation, Magliocco is an honorary fellow of the American Folklore Society.]

I am very grateful to Jason Pitzl-Waters for making this blog available to me to expand upon Prof. Patrick Wolff’s summary of my keynote presentation, entitled “The Rise of Pagan Fundamentalism,” at the Conference for Contemporary Pagan Studies at the Claremont Graduate Institute in Claremont, California on January 26, 2013.  It’s exciting that people have been discussing some of the ideas I presented, because that was exactly my goal: open discussion and critical self-reflection are healthy in any religious movement, and can help prevent the kind of rigidity and dogmatism that I critiqued in my talk.  At the same time, certain questions have been raised about my work, and I hope that I can address some of them here.

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Let’s start with the first one: what did I mean by “Pagan fundamentalism,” and how can a concept that developed to describe a Protestant movement based on literal biblical interpretations and tenets of faith even apply to modern Paganisms?  The application of the term “fundamentalism” to modern Paganisms is problematic, and I adopt it with some caution, because I’m well aware that it has often been used by those in power to stigmatize worldviews that differ from the mainstream.  I defined it as a form of ideology, religious or secular, characterized by a black-and-white, either-or, us-vs.-them morality that precludes questioning.  It generally involves insistence on belief in the literal truth of some canon, as well as a concern with identity politics and boundary-setting.  Fundamentalisms are inflexible and have difficulty adapting; they have a strong need for certainty and a clear sense of belonging, and anyone who disagrees is labeled an enemy or heretic.  My adoption of the term was both descriptive and provocative: I wanted to foster awareness and discussion about strains of ideology that could be deleterious to modern Paganisms.

So, are modern Paganisms fundamentalist according to this definition?  On the whole, no.  Dogmatism and rigidity are rare among most modern Pagans.  Nevertheless, there have been some discussions, mainly on Pagan Internet blogs and responses to them, which show some of the characteristics of fundamentalism, particularly an insistence on a single correct form of belief, and the demonization of those who hold different beliefs and opinions.  These have centered around two hot-button topics: the historicity of Wiccan foundational narratives, and the nature of the gods.

Is any form of belief fundamentalist?  Of course not.  Belief only courts fundamentalism when it becomes dogmatic, when we say “it’s my way or the highway,” when we attribute malice and ill intent to those whose beliefs differ from ours.   Ironically, those very sentiments were expressed towards me by a few respondents to Patrick’s post last week, confirming my hypothesis that there is a trend towards fundamentalism among a small number of Pagans.

Are Paganisms becoming more focused on belief? What’s interesting to me as an anthropologist of religion, an observer and participant in the Pagan movement for the last 20 years, is the shift I’ve seen towards an emphasis on belief, whether in the historicity of our foundational narratives, or the reality of the gods.  Twenty years ago, Pagans were insisting that Paganism was not about belief at all; it was about practice.  This appears to be part of an evolution, a dynamic change in the nature of modern Pagan religions, and perhaps part of the trajectory of religious development in general.  And no doubt the fact that we’re surrounded by a Christo-centric mainstream culture in which faith is considered the touchstone of membership influences the way some individuals and groups in our movement think about belief.

But there are a few reasons why we might want to be cautious about using belief as a criterion for defining ourselves.  The first is that belief is emergent, shifting and contextual.  It can change over the lifetime of an individual, and it is quite diverse within any community; even traditional indigenous communities have believers, skeptics and those who are in between.

Secondly, in many cases, belief is dependent on experience.  Many Pagans come to this group of religions as a result of having experiences that lead them to question the nature of reality and the teachings of mainstream science and religion.  Among the individuals I have interviewed, they run the gamut from feelings of unity with the world around them – a blurring of boundaries or feeling that everything was interconnected and part of a larger whole – to personal visions of goddesses and gods who had specific messages to convey.  I spoke with people who felt connected to animal and plant spirits, who connected with places in the natural world, as well as those who struggled to feel any sort of “woo,” but shared the values and aesthetics of modern Pagans.  Each of these individuals developed their own style of practice and belief as a result of their experiences.

What this shows us is that belief cannot be compelled.  If we accept a universe in which the gods and spirits are real, we can say that they choose to reveal themselves differently to different people.  If we prefer a more materialist interpretation, we can say that humans are uniquely adapted to have the kind of spiritual experience that is most helpful and meaningful to them, and that partakes of both their larger religious/cultural milieu and their personal experiences and memories.  Some people have a greater capacity to perceive spirits – or to have these experiences – than others.  It is therefore not helpful, useful or even fair to make belief a touchstone of religious or community membership.

Some Pagans feel that pointing out the difference between our foundational narratives and historical facts de-legitimizes the movement.  But the factuality of foundational narratives has no relationship to the legitimacy of a religion, nor does it make the spiritual experiences of its practitioners less real or authentic.  What seems to matter much more than the veracity of foundational narratives is their ability to capture the imagination of practitioners; that spark can lead to spiritual enlightenment.  There are better ways of constructing legitimacy than relying on foundational narratives: we can make reference to our now respectable age, our prominent public presence, the important contributions of our members to intellectual and theological exchanges, the depth of our religious experiences, the beauty of our expressive culture, and the influence of our core values of social justice, gender equality, and environmental sustainability on the future of our society and the world in which we live.

So is there no relationship between ancient and modern Paganisms?  No, and no reputable scholar has ever said that.  There are very clear links between ancient and modern Paganisms, but they are not the ones laid out in the foundational narratives.  The links can be found in folk customs, in the Western tradition of magic and esotericism, and in art, literature and philosophy.  Even if the people executed during the witchcraft persecutions were not the practitioners of a fertility religion going back to the age of the Venus of Willendorf, the threads of our modern practices can be traced back at least as far as Classical antiquity.  However, that transmission was not always direct or unchanging; all traditions are constantly adapting to their surrounding historical and social contexts.

I hope this clarifies some of the ideas I expressed in my paper; a fuller version will, I hope, be published in the near future in a way that makes it accessible online to the public.  I invite thoughtful discussion and debate on these issues that deeply affect our community.

Finally, I want to counter some of the malicious and untrue rumors about me that are being spread on the Internet by a few detractors: for example, that I am an infiltrator sent by an outside organization to destroy Paganism from within. These falsehoods impugn my integrity as a scholar and could threaten my ability to continue to work with the Pagan community.

As an anthropologist, I am bound by a code of ethics which demands that I put the good of the communities I work with before anything else, including my research program and professional advancement.  Research I do with human subjects must be approved by university Internal Review Boards, and peer review committees must approve any grants I get. My published work is likewise reviewed anonymously by my colleagues. Of course, no scholar can ever be completely objective, but at least I state my biases up front and publish material under my own name, instead of hiding behind an alias.  If anything, some professional peers have criticized me for portraying modern Paganisms in too favorable a light.

I have been studying modern Paganisms for twenty years now, and have been an active member of the community since 1996.  I lead an eclectic coven in the Los Angeles area, and am a member-at-large of a Gardnerian one in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I am a member of Covenant of the Goddess and hold ministerial credentials through them. While I may be critical of certain aspects of the movement, my criticisms are based on data, and I make them because I want to see the Pagan community live up to its promise and be taken seriously as a group of religions – not out of a desire to de-legitimize or destroy them.

I have worked with news media, law enforcement and other mainstream institutions to explain modern Paganisms, always emphasizing their positive qualities as creative, life-affirming religions. My books, articles and films have introduced countless academics, college students, and interested lay readers to Paganism, both in the US and beyond.  I donate 100% of my royalties from those books to Pagan causes.  I have dedicated my life and academic career to creating bridges between scholarship and modern Paganisms, bringing the results of my research back to the community for comment and critique, including at conferences and events such as the one that led me to make this blog posting. If I really wanted to destroy the movement from within, you’d think I’d find better ways of doing it that involved less of my time, energy and money – and surely it would have taken me less than twenty years to inflict the damage.  From my perspective, Paganism is emerging as a significant player on the global religious stage – larger, stronger and healthier than it was two decades ago.  I hope it continues in that direction, because it has a great deal to offer in terms of values and ideals that support a humane and sustainable future.

Just a few quick notes to start off your Monday.

A History of Pagan Councils in the United States: In my recent examination of the Pagan label, I pointed to Chas Clifton’s “Her Hidden Children” while examining how “Pagan” became the default term for our interconnected movement. In that process I also mentioned the early Pagan councils of the 1960s and 1970s, which were largely failures, but did lay ground for future cooperation and the creation of a “Pagan community.” For more depth on the topic of early Pagan councils and similar initiatives, I would point you to Aidan Kelly’s blog at Patheos which has been running a series on those early councils, and how they eventually led to the creation of the Covenant of the Goddess (COG).

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

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

“The attempt to create an umbrella, church-like organization for Pagans was begun by Michael Kinghorn in Los Angeles in 1967. His work led to the creation of the Council of Themis, which, after being founded in 1969, acquired an international membership steadily until 1972. [...] Given the profound theological differences between these groups, it should not be surprising that their coalition was inherently unstable.”

I recommend tracking down all the posts in that series, and his other posts on the history of Wicca and Witchcraft in North America. I recognize that Kelly can be a controversial figure for some, but his work here is much-needed. If we are going to be having debates and discussions about the future of the Pagan label, we should understand the history that formed the current understandings and institutions that many of us now participate in.

Sabina Magliocco Clarifies What Her Pagan Studies Conference Keynote Says: There has been a lot of discussion stemming from The Wild Hunt’s coverage of the ninth annual Conference on Current Pagan Studies, specifically the lecture by Dr. Sabina Magliocco, Professor of Anthropology at California State University, Northridge, and author of “Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America” entitled “The Rise of Pagan Fundamentalism.” In a comment on the original story on the orignal story by contributor Patrick Wolff, Magliocco clarifies an “unintentional misrepresentation” in Wolff’s reporting.

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

“I think there may have been an unintentional misrepresentation of what I actually said. My argument was that constructing a shared identity around belief is problematic, because belief is based on experience. If the gods choose to reveal themselves differently to different people, and if belief is changeable and emergent, as belief scholarship shows it to be, then shared identity needs to be based on something other than belief.

Let me also clarify that belief in and of itself is not “fundamentalist” ( a word I adopted polemically and with some reservations). It is the insistence that only one sort of belief is correct, and the demonization of those who disagree or whose experience is different, that can lead to a dogmatic rigidity that we might want to avoid.”

I have been in contact with Dr. Magliocco, and I’m hoping to showcase a longer essay from her regarding some of these issues very soon. As the editor of The Wild Hunt, I’d like to personally apologize for any misrepresentations, unintentional or not, that may have been spread regarding her work. We always strive to accurately report the positions of figures within our community that we report on, and are committed to correcting our account when mistakes happen.

The Green Man is a Green Terrorist: In a final, unrelated, note, English poet, actor, and playwright Heathcote Williams has released a new poem entitled “The Green Man is a Green Terrorist.” According to culture critic Jan Herman, it is “a rhymed marvel of CAT-scan clarity” that  “will be seen one day as a YouTube classic.”

Thanks to subversive stone masons in the Middle Ages
This green remnant of man’s pagan past
Finds its way onto church ceilings, corbels, and bosses
Along with Sheela na gigs mad with lust.

Williams is best known for his environmentally themed poems, most notably “Whale Nation.” What do you think? Classic? Or stuff that’s been done before, just not to a non-Pagan audience?

That’s all I have for the moment. 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.

  • It’s Groundhog Day! That day of the year in which we all sit down to watch one of Bill Murray’s finest films. It’s also Candlemas
  • If you’re a dealer in outsider art, you simply must have a Witch. Quote: “When asked why she decided to participate in the fair for the first time this year, Santa Fe dealer Laura Steward succinctly explained, ‘One of my artists is a witch,’ referring to sculptor Erika Wanenmacher, a.k.a. Ditch Witch. ‘I like this fair because it’s more interested in people, in the artist’s minds.'”
  • More witchcraft-television is coming your way thanks to the Lifetime network. Quote: “Based on Melissa de la Cruz’s best-selling novel, Witches Of East End centers on the adventures of Joanna Beauchamp (Ormond) and her two adult daughters Freya (Dewan-Tatum) and Ingrid (Boston) — both of whom unknowingly are their family’s next generation of witches. Amick stars as Joanna’s mischievous witch sister Wendy.”Will the television series go as far as the novels? If so, it will be very Pagan-y indeed. 
  • The very first Parliament of the World’s Religion in 1893 wasn’t all handshakes and pluralism, Michael J. Altman at the Religion in American History blog points out that Swami Vivekananda (representing Hinduism  had some very pointed critiques of the dominant monotheisms that were essentially edited out of the official history. Quote: “We who come from the East have sat here on the platform day after day and have been told in a patronizing way that we ought to accept Christianity because Christian nations are the most prosperous. We look about us and we see England, the most prosperous Christian nation in the world with her foot on the neck of 250,000,000 of Asiatics. We look back into history and see that the prosperity of Christian Europe began with Spain. Spain’s prosperity began with the invasion of Mexico. Christianity wins its prosperity by cutting the throats of its fellow men. At such a price the Hindoo will not have prosperity.” As is almost always the case, the truth is messier than the narrative crafted by history. 
  • Congratulations to Crystal Blanton on the publication of her new book, “Pain and Faith in a Wiccan World: Spirituality, Ethics and Transformation.” Quote:  “[The book] fuses spirituality and counseling concepts to add a deeper layer of personal growth and connection to living the Wiccan path. This book looks beyond the concepts of ritual and reaches into previously untouched territory within the Pagan book market to address thriving as a Pagan.” Crystal is a friend, and someone who truly walks her talk. Be sure to check this out. 
  • M. Macha Nightmare adds her own take on the recent Claremont Pagan Studies Conference. Quote: “Others have written about Sabina Magliocco’s keynote speech on Saturday on “The Rise of Pagan Fundamentalism.”  I will only add a few notions I jotted down.  She spoke of the fact that foundational narratives foster group cohesion, and the core experiences are those common to all people of all religions.  She pointed out that the reconstructed traditions are growing faster than witchen traditions, and that their practitioners tends to disdain syncretism.” For more on this, check out the guest post from Patrick Wolff here at The Wild Hunt

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.

[The following is a guest post from Patrick Wolff. Wolff is a professor of religious studies and holds a PhD in the history of religious thought. His interests include studying religion and Romanticism, playing Classical and Celtic music, and reading science fiction/fantasy literature. Spiritually he's either openly eclectic or hopelessly muddled, depending on who you ask.]

The ninth annual Conference on Current Pagan Studies met at Claremont Graduate University in the city of Claremont, California on January 26-27. This is a unique academic conference, not only for its topical focus on Pagan Studies, but for its inclusion of both academic and non-academic Pagans as presenters. Both the conference theme and the selection of keynote speakers exemplified the desire to, as the tagline of the conference website puts it, bring “Academia and Community Together.” The conference theme, “Pagan Sensibilities in Action,” covered not only ritual and spiritual practice but history, art, social justice, environmental concerns, psychology, politics, and other topics. The theme reflected a concern that is current in many religions, a desire to explore the implications of one’s theology (or thealogy, or theoilogy, as the case may be) in all aspects of life.

The two keynote speakers embodied this theme, one a recognized scholar in the fields of folklore and anthropology and the other an activist with experience fighting for social justice as well as service through disaster relief and emergency care. Dr. Sabina Magliocco, Professor of Anthropology at California State University, Northridge, and author of numerous books including Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America and Neo-Pagan Sacred Art and Altars: Making Things Whole, presented a lecture titled “The Rise of Pagan Fundamentalism.” Joking that she hoped to avoid being tarred and feathered, Magliocco identified two tendencies of Pagan Fundamentalism, both of which centered on the concept of belief. As a broad religious phenomenon, fundamentalists in all religions insist on a literalist interpretation of foundational texts, and demand conformity of belief as the primary marker of a genuine religious identity. Those who do not share these essential beliefs are viewed with suspicion, or rejected as imposters.

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

The first belief is in the literal historicity of the foundational narrative of paganism as an unbroken stream flowing from the ancient past to the present. This “received” view of Pagan (particularly Wiccan) history, shaped by Margaret Murray and Gerald Gardner, holds that the Old Religion persisted throughout the centuries amidst persecution, passed down as a closely guarded secret to initiates into the present day. However, when subjected to the scrutiny of critical historical scholarship, the foundational myth of pure Paganism transmitted through the ages was revealed to be lacking in solid historical evidence. Revisionists, most notably English historian Ronald Hutton, author of Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, contended that Wicca was better understood as a new religious movement than as a preserved ancient one. Counter-revisionists, such as Ben Whitmore, author of Trials of the Moon: Reopening the Case for Historical Witchcraft, have objected that Hutton overstated his case, ignoring or minimizing evidence for continuity in the transmission of Wicca (to which Hutton has replied in his article “Revisionism and Counter-Revisionism in Pagan History” in the most recent issue of Pomegranate). The claims of revisionist historians can come as quite a shock to Pagans who never had reason to question the received myth of Pagan origins, and while many were open to the new perspective, others experienced a crisis of cognitive dissonance which was countered by an uncritical insistence on the literal truth of the myth of pagan origins and a dismissal of, or attack on, revisionist arguments. Since the revisionist perspective presented Wicca as an eclectic, creative religious movement influenced by other forms of occultism and Romanticism, those most opposed to it were often those whose Paganism was heavily invested in the claim of possessing secret knowledge passed through carefully guarded secret initiations. This debate over Pagan origins is not merely an ivory tower discussion, since how Pagans view their past will shape their future.

The second tendency that has emerged in Pagan Fundamentalism is a belief in gods and goddesses as literal spiritual persons, formulated as a reaction against the emergence of humanistic paganism and panentheistic or archetypal interpretations of the divine. However, Magliocco argued, historically Wiccans have varied greatly in their theology, and found unity not in right belief, but in common practice. Against this non-dogmatic tradition of finding shared identity through ritual, Pagan Fundamentalists seek to exclude those who do not hold to their “orthodox” pagan belief in the nature of the gods. This is problematic, Magliocco argued, because it imported a criteria from the dominant Abrahamic faiths that was ill-suited to the ritual-focused nature of Paganism.

Why has belief emerged as a critical identity marker now, when it did not function this way in the past? Magliocco pointed to several reasons, such as a desire legitimate Paganism as a “real religion” in the eyes of adherents of other religions (which comes as a result of the growth in size and influence of Paganism), and a quest for certainty in a tumultuous marketplace of religious ideas (a motivating factor in the fundamentalist strand of all religions). But her third reason pointed to what would become a theme throughout much of the rest of the conference: the role of the Internet, and particularly comments on blogs, that dank and murky lair of trolls, where insults fly freely and rational reflection is beaten down by bombast. The Internet tends to encourage “enclaves of idiosyncratic views,” unchallenged by real-world interaction with those holding differing views, and provides a veil of anonymity that allows abusive behavior that would not be tolerated in face to face interactions. After her presentation, one questioner raised the intriguing possibility that the Internet actually encourages fundamentalism, since online (particularly in blogs and blog comments) individuals are easily reduced to text-based persons.

The second keynote address, “Stirring the Cauldron of Pagan Sensibilities,” was presented by  Peter Dybing, a national disaster team Section Chief with experience as a firefighter and EMT as well as serving on the board member 100% for Haiti and a former National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess. Stressing is non-academic identity, Dybing challenged attendees to “suspend your academic approach, and access your emotions,” issuing a call to action rather than offering intellectual reflection. His first two points called for a new look at the questions of Pagan leadership and the role of elders. While acknowledging the strengths found in Traditional (hierarchical, individual-focused) and Organic (communal and local) models of leadership, as well as the dangers of what he termed Fantasy Leadership (the self-appointed blogger harassing his or her enemies online, “liked” by clique of online admirers ), Dybing drew from his experience in disaster relief to formulate a Transformative model of leadership, one that is mission-based and organizationally-focused. Leadership should not be limited to the Priest or Priestess as representatives of the God or Goddess, but should be shared based on recognition of diverse skills and expertise. On the related topic of Pagan elders, Dybing stressed the importance of honoring the body of work left by an elder without venerating the person. Elders, even after death, must be remembered as human beings, not saints.

Peter Dybing (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Peter Dybing at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Though the first part of presentation took up the majority of his time, it was in the second part that Dybing most fully revealed his own heart through a call to service as an expression of Pagan spirituality. It was in offering direct aid for the good of others, whether in international aid or in community service, that Dybing said he most fully felt the presence of the Goddess. In a time of environmental degradation, Dybing warned, we must expect a future of natural disasters on an unprecedented scale, and Pagans are uniquely qualified to respond to these challenges. While Magliocco made the case that Paganism should continue to value ritual action over belief, Dybing called on Pagans to pursue active service as a practice of Pagan spirituality.

The other twenty-five presentations were too varied and rich to be adequately summarized here, with topics ranging from theology to psychology, good pedagogy in the classroom to creating masks (and even the pedagogy of making masks), environmentalism, politics, and mysticism. One particularly exciting project described was the Pagan History Project, which will record oral histories of Pagans, similar to the oral history project being conducted by many universities of World War II veterans. Several times a desire was expressed to continue discussion after the conference ended, either on the conference website or Facebook page. This does not seem to have happened yet, but it would be another way to bring Pagan scholarship into conversation with the broader Pagan community. In addition to the thoughtful nature of the presentations, two other aspects of the conference are worth noting. First, there was an ethos of dialogue and conversation among the approximately fifty attendees, so much so that interaction between the presenter and audience sometimes broke out in the middle of a presentation, a rare occurrence in a typical academic conference. Second, the atmosphere of the conference could be described as convivial, with a great deal of laughter and good spirits. In this way, the conference itself was a manifestation of Pagan sensibility.

Pagan Studies has come under recent criticism by some for a lack of necessary critical distance from its subject (see, for example,, Markus Altena Davidsen, “What is Wrong with Pagan Studies?” in Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, available online). This criticism is not without merit. The calling of a scholar of religion is not to support the religion being studied, but to understand it, and the conclusions that come from scholarly inquiry are not always welcome to those being studied (hence Magliocco’s “tar and feathering” comment). Further, too much of an “insider” atmosphere can create an us-and-them dichotomy which distances or even excludes outsiders. The “them” could be non-insider scholars or practitioners of other religions, viewed as outsiders who can never really “get” those on the inside (some of this could be seen by the dramatic eye-rolling and snarky asides from one presenter whenever he made mention of Christian beliefs, something that would not be tolerated in other academic conferences). One Pagan Reconstructionist presenter admitted she had felt nervous about attending a conference of Wiccans and Neopagans, and while she was warmly welcomed, her initial misgivings say something about how the conference could be perceived by outsiders.

The lines of insider and outsider in scholarship are not always clear cut, however, and if there is a danger in insider scholarship designed to offer the benefits of scholarly insight to contribute to the flourishing of one’s own religious community, the opposite danger is scholarship for the sake of no one, except perhaps the expansion of the scholar’s own reputation (and ego). Granted that much of what academics call risky seems rather dreary to most people, the conference organizer, Dorothea Kahena Viale, should be commended for taking the risk of envisioning a conference that seeks to connect scholars with practitioners and intellectuals with activists. There must be a place for scholarship for the good of the community, and for Pagans, one place this can be found is the Conference on Current Pagan Studies.

ADDENDUM: For another perspective of the 2013 Conference on Current Pagan Studies, see Donald Michael Kraig’s blog at Llewellyn.com.

ADDENDUM II: I’d just like to note that this piece is an effort on Patrick Wolff’s part to convey the messages of the two keynote speakers, and of the general tone of this conference. The views expressed are not necessarily those of Mr. Wolff or any other Wild Hunt contributor. Our goal, as always, is to inform our readership about events that could impact the broader Pagan community. I (Jason) hope to weigh in soon with an editorial touching on some of the issues raised here.

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.