Archives For Europe

The world is currently witnessing human migration on a massive scale, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean and in Europe. According to The New York Times, the population of asylum seekers in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan will rise to an estimated 4.7 million by the end of 2015. 1.3 million asylum applications are expected by the end of the year for the following six European countries alone: Germany, Austria, Hungary, Sweden, the Netherlands and Finland. And so far this year, some 549,000 asylum seekers have already traveled to Hungary, Greece, and Italy. Hungary has closed its border with Serbia, using water cannons, tear gas, pepper spray and batons against migrants seeking to travel through to the country to Northern and Western Europe.

The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, recently described migrants as a threat to European Christianity: “Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims […] This is an important question, because Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity.” Orban’s rhetoric raises the specter of such past events as the 1529 Siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Turks, the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, or perhaps the meeting of Pope Leo I and Attila the Hun in 452.

Pope Leo I and Attila the Hun [Photo Credit: Public Domain]

Pope Leo I and Attila the Hun [Public Domain]

Speaking of Attila and the Huns, the name “Hungary” came into usage in the 1300s, “probably literally meaning ‘land of the Huns.’ ” Modern-day Hungarians speak an Uralic language called Magyar. The Magyars were a people from the Ural Mountains of Central Asia who conquered the Carpathian Basin many centuries after the Huns: “Middle English uses the same words for both Attila’s people and the Magyars, who appeared in Europe in 9c. and established a kingdom in 1000” ( In a further irony, after the 1956 Hungarian Uprising of workers’ councils was crushed by the Soviets, thousands of Hungarian refugees fled to Austria and other neighboring countries.

I was originally planning on a straightforward comparison between the migration crisis in Europe and the fall of the Roman Empire, but the more I read on the topic, the more complicated that comparison reveals itself to be. Others have made the same connection recently, suggesting that “one of the key lessons” of Roman history “is that mass migration – motivated by war, societal collapse, and/or extreme poverty – is capable of destroying even the most powerful of empires.” On the other hand, Walter Goffart’s Barbarian Tides: The Migration Age and the Later Roman Empire, published in 2006, challenges the narrative that foreigners—particularly the peoples often anachronistically called “Germanic”—were responsible for toppling the Roman Empire.

Goffart argues that what is often portrayed as a monolithic Völkerwanderung or “Wandering of the Peoples” during the Late Roman Empire was actually a much more gradual and incremental process:

There was a multiplicity of barbarians. Those who moved did so from positions of rest, having lived near the Roman borders for so long as to lose any memory of living elsewhere. They moved at the prompting of distinct leaders, for definite reasons, and, in general, over short distances. (Goffart, p. 7)

In other words, the movements of “barbarians” during the Late Roman Empire was a very different phenomenon than the refugee crisis we see today, where people have been forced to uproot rapidly and travel long distances to seek asylum. We live in different times, of course, where rapid long-distance transportation is possible, though the routes of entry into the E.U. are largely controlled by professional smugglers.

Goffart also criticizes the tendency to speak of “the barbarians” as a unified whole, especially when they are anachronistically referred to as “Germanic” in any sense beyond the linguistic or the limited Roman usage of the term: “namely, the two Roman provinces of ‘Germania,’ on the middle and lower course of the Rhine river.” (Goffart, p. 187) He points out that, for the peoples being described, the linguistic connection was “(as far as we may tell) unknown to themselves until the eighth century,” and that they would have called themselves by names such as “Goths, Franks, Herules, Gepids, and Marcommanni,” and that they co-existed with non-Germanic-speaking peoples such as the Sarmatians. (Goffart, p.5,19)

In her article “The Matronae and Matres: Breating New Life into an Old Religion,” River Devora makes a similar point that the concept of pan-Germanic religion did not exist in antiquity:

It is important to understand that “pan-European” universal paganism never existed – there was never a single unifying set of religious beliefs nor pantheon that spanned all of Europe. There wasn’t even necessarily a “pan-Germanic” or a “pan-Celtic/Gaulish” paganism.

Every individual tribe had their own pantheons, with their own stories, rituals and worship styles, and their own individual deities that may not have been found in the next tribe over.

Even the more popular or larger, better known deities who may have been found in a number of different tribes may have had different divine relationships, different attributes, or different roles in the pantheon from tribe to tribe (which is why in some Germanic tribes, Odin was the head deity in the pantheon, in other tribes it was Freyr, in others Tyr, and in others Thor).

The implications of these parallels are two-fold. First, “the migrants” of today are not an amorphous mass either. They are, most commonly, Syrians, Afghans, Eritreans, Nigerians, Pakistanis, Iraqis, Somalians, Sudanese, Gambians, and Bangladeshis. Moreover, they are families and individuals: mothers, fathers, children. Second, the idea of a homogeneous “European identity,” despite the various attempts at political unification over the centuries, has forever been and still is a fiction.

Maelstrom, a Pagan professor from New York currently living and teaching in the Czech Republic for the fall, has similarly argued that European cultures have been heavily influenced by outsiders: “(1) European traditions were often formed by foreign intrusions, leading to this seemingly paradoxical, but historically supportable conclusion that (2) foreign intrusion is itself a very old European tradition.”

Of course, over the past five hundred years Europeans have carried out some “foreign intrusions” of their own, displacing, enslaving and decimating other populations around the world. Colonization, however, is not the same thing as migration, especially when accompanied by the establishment of missions and the deliberate destruction of traditional cultures. One example of this disconnect can bee seen in Pope Francis’s plans to canonize Junipero Serra, the founder of the California mission system, which was responsible for approximately 100,000 native deaths and the suppression of native cultures. According to ABC7 News, “Santa Clara University professor Robert Senkewicz […] is among a number of experts who believe the pope is trying to send a message to Americans about immigration.” If so, it’s a strange message, because Serra wasn’t an “immigrant:” he was accompanied by Spanish troops as part of a military occupation. And furthermore, those referred to as “immigrants” in the United States are largely of indigenous descent.

Europe’s own history of colonialism in recent centuries has led to a conflation of the concept of “migration” with those of “colonization” and “invasion,” which has contributed to the fearful language used around immigration in the United States and in Europe. The terms “heathen Chinese” and “Yellow Peril” or even “Yellow Terror,” for example, arose out of American and European anti-Chinese sentiment in the late nineteenth century. Currently,”the leading GOP candidate is talking about ferreting out, arresting, and forcibly removing a population of men, women and children roughly the size of the state of Ohio” or around 11 million human beings.

In his essay “But They’re There,” Wild Hunt columnist Rhyd Wildermuth writes that “Post-Colonialism […] seeks to liberate modern peoples from the lie that we are better than others in order to liberate those we conquer, be it through war or economic policy and consumption.” An examination of the historical complexities and nuances of human migration on the European subcontinent can challenge the idea that modern day Europeans or North Americans are better than those currently seeking refuge and sanctuary in those geographic areas. If, as Walter Goffart argues, even the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and the subsequent settlement of various peoples in its former territories does not really constitute a unified “invasion,” then neither does the movement of asylum seekers and refugees from regions of the world devastated by warfare and capitalism.

Migrants in Hungary, 2015. Credit: Gémes Sándor

Migrants in Hungary, 2015. Credit: Gémes Sándor

It is also important to consider the words and stories of “the migrants” themselves. Naaf, a Syrian from Kobani at the Calais migrant camp in France, told a journalist from The Guardian, “Fences? But people can always squeeze under a fence. I can show you five holes under fences over there. That won’t put anyone off.”

The same point was made by Alain, a charity worker at Calais: “For 12 years, authorities been building barriers and putting barbed wire here. It’s a waste of money. Do you think fences will have any effect? Someone who has travelled so far to get here, for months on end, who had seen terrible things and overcome huge obstacles, do you think they would stop at a fence?”

Hail to the Migrant Dead! Hail to the Migrant Ancestors, without whom no one would be where or who they are today! Hail to the gods and spirits who guide and protect migrants!

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

The Temple of Flux, 2010 (Rebecca Anders, Jessica Hobbs, Peter Kimelman and Crew)

The Temple of Flux, 2010 (Rebecca Anders, Jessica Hobbs, Peter Kimelman and Crew)

  • HuffPo Religion looks at 10 years of Burning Man temples, and quote scholar and friend-of-The Wild Hunt Lee Gilmore, author of “Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man.” Quote: “Burning Man is that wild, uproarious desert party that hits the Nevada desert every August. But to call it a party alone is to miss the critical spiritual dimension that grounds much of the festivities. This spiritual dimension is perhaps best characterized by the temple artists and architects build every year on the playa. The tradition began in 2000 with artists David Best and Jack Haye’s Temple of Mind. The temple took on greater significance after one of Best’s friends passed away weeks before the festival, setting the tone for what would become an annual space of memorial and contemplation on the playa, or what author and religion professor Lee Gilmore calls the ‘sacred heart of Black Rock City.’ (Black Rock City or BRC refers to the temporary town that Burning Man becomes every year.)”
  • Religion News Service analyzes the trend of the millennial generation abandoning formal religious affiliation in large numbers. Quote: “Any replacement for religious membership will have to match the moral power of religious narratives. It is always hard to keep going with civic and political work; persistence is a lot easier if you see yourself connected to a permanent community with a prophetic vision of the future. Religions also appeal to deep moral commitments. While you do not have to be religious to be moral, being a good citizen requires commitments to other people — and perhaps to nature — as intrinsically valuable. Those commitments do not come from science or reason. In fact, science suggests that people are dramatically unequal and that nature is fully exploitable. So responsible people develop ‘faith-based’ commitments. Secular equivalents must be at least as powerful.”
  • The U.S. Army has approved “Humanist” as a religious preference for members within their ranks. Quote: “Lt. Col. Sunset R. Belinsky, an Army spokeswoman, said Tuesday (April 22) that the “preference code for humanist” became effective April 12 for all members of the Army. In practical terms, the change means that humanists could face fewer hurdles in trying to organize within the ranks; military brass would have better information to aid in planning a deceased soldier’s funeral; and it could lay the groundwork for eventually adding humanist chaplains. The change comes against a backdrop of persistent claims from atheists and other nonbelievers that the military is dominated by a Christian culture that is often hostile to unbelief.” At the ACLU, Major Ray Bradley says that Army Humanists are “no longer invisible.” Pagan faiths are still engaged in this process, working to expand beyond the handful of options currently available (which includes “Wicca” and “The Troth”).
  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker writes about why myth matters for the Intercollegiate Review. Quote: “Against all odds, through popular culture, myth is more potent and omnipresent in modern society than anyone could have imagined. Why? Because in an increasingly global society, myth is a universal language. Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, Spiderman and Batman transcend cultural divides. Mythic heroes in movies communicate universal values in their fight against evil. In a culture where the abstract theories of academics are out of touch and meaningless, stories communicate more effectively and more universally. Furthermore, in an increasingly irreligious age, mythical movies and literature carry the truths that religion had traditionally conveyed.” Despite Fr. Longenecker’s theologically conservative brand of Catholicism, I think there are some interesting points raised here that some of my readers might appreciate.
  • Center-left American think tank the Brookings Institution has published a new report on economic justice and the future of “religious progressives.” Quote: “Religious voices will remain indispensable to movements on behalf of the poor, the marginalized, and middle-class Americans. The authors point to specific opportunities the progressive religious movement can act on.” Michelle Boorstein at The Washington Post notes that demographic shifts might bring about a bright future for left-leaning religious organizations. Quote: “The report sees perhaps a bright future for the religious left. One reason is demographics. A far bigger share of younger Americans call themselves religious progressives (34 percent of those ages 18 to 33) than religious conservatives (16 percent of the same group). Another is the model offered by the civil rights movement, which the report says ‘interwove religious and civic themes’. . . and was so successful because it was so ecumenical. We may be at such a moment, the report argues.”
Photo: VICE / Phil Clarke Hill

Photo: VICE / Phil Clarke Hill

  • VICE says that Santeria is growing in visibility and popularity in Cuba now policies regarding religion in that country have been relaxed. Quote: “The religion owes its continued existence over the centuries to the prevalence of the oral tradition, with believers passing on, preserving, and nurturing its secrets through countless generations. Today, Santeria has emerged from the shadows of a Cuban society now at liberty to practice religion, and is witnessing not only an increase of acceptance but also of popularity.”
  • The Economist explains how European politics are different than American politics, that there isn’t a “religious right” per se, but there are a number of “identity politics” camps that must be appeased if you want to win elections. Quote: “It is hard for European politicians to build a career by claiming the traditionalist ground; they would generally lose more votes than they would gain. What does exist in Europe is the politics of identity, including religious identity. In this area Europe’s parties and politicians always think carefully about the signals they send and getting it right or wrong has consequences. That’s a helpful way to see David Cameron’s re-embrace of the Anglican church.”
  • Barbara Falconer Newhall at The Huffington Post reviews Patricia Monaghan’s posthumous work, the new edition of her “Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines.” Quote: “I wish I had known Patricia Monaghan. She died a year and a half ago after a rich life as a poet, author, goddess scholar, and pioneer and mentor in the contemporary women’s spirituality movement. She was an academic, yes, but also a hands-on kind of woman. According to her husband, she was as concerned about the temperature of her root cellar as she was with the depth of her research. That research is stunningly thorough. I have in my hands the posthumously released revised edition of her Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. The first, very popular, edition was published in 1979. This beautiful, fat — in a good way — expanded version tells the stories of more than 1,000 ancient goddesses and heroines from such far-flung corners of the earth as Mongolia, Benin, Tierra del Fuego and Wisconsin.”
  • Jackson Free Press has an article focusing on Pagan author and teacher Chris Penczak. Quote: “While the Mississippi Legislature was polishing its Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which opponents say opens doors to legal discrimination for religious reasons), Christopher Penczak and other believers of a mostly misunderstood and reviled faith—Wicca—planned a workshop. Penczak, 40, is one of the founders of the Temple of Witchcraft in New Hampshire. From its humble roots as a magickal training and personal growth system, the temple has become a formal tradition of Witchcraft.”
  • The New York Times Magazine spotlights The Dark Mountain Project. Quote: “A man wearing a stag mask bounded into the clearing and shouted: ‘Come! Let’s play!’ The crowd broke up. Some headed for bed. A majority headed for the woods, to a makeshift stage that had been blocked off with hay bales and covered by an enormous nylon parachute. There they danced, sang, laughed, barked, growled, hooted, mooed, bleated and meowed, forming a kind of atavistic, improvisatory choir. Deep into the night, you could hear them from your tent, shifting every few minutes from sound to sound, animal to animal and mood to mood. […]  The Dark Mountain Project was founded in 2009. From the start, it has been difficult to pin down — even for its members. If you ask a representative of the Sierra Club to describe his organization, he will say that it promotes responsible use of the earth’s resources. When you ask Kingsnorth about Dark Mountain, he speaks of mourning, grief and despair. We are living, he says, through the ‘age of ecocide,’ and like a long-dazed widower, we are finally becoming sensible to the magnitude of our loss, which it is our duty to face.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these we 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.



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

Two articles from the Reuters newswire yesterday struck me as highlighting the difference in perceptions between religious groups who hold power, and those that don’t. First, Pope Benedict XVI, in a message for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Day of Peace, took time to place special emphasis on the “hostility and prejudice” towards Christians in Europe.

“… he reserved his strongest words for Europe, where the Church says it is under assault by some national governments and European institutions over issues such as gay marriage, abortion and the use of Christian religious symbols in public places. […] The Pope put what the Vatican has termed “aggressive secularism”, such as gay marriage and restrictions on religious symbols such as crucifixes, nativity scenes and other traditions, on the same level as religious fanaticism. […] “It should be clear that religious fundamentalism and secularism are alike in that both represent extreme forms of a rejection of legitimate pluralism and the principle of secularity.”

That Benedict would put gay marriage on the same plane as terrorism says a lot about how much a post-Christian Europe, specifically a post-Catholic Europe, scares him. Confusing a slip from utter social dominance with persecution and prejudice. Meanwhile, in Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church, in alliance with the government, is using laws against “extremism” to target religious minorities.

When armed Russian security officers forced their way into Alexander Kalistratov’s home, he hardly imagined they were after his books. The local leader of a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Siberia now faces up to two years in prison if found guilty this week of inciting religious hatred for distributing literature about his beliefs. […] In the case against Kalistratov, activists say local authorities are really aiming at cracking down on groups that are frowned upon by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Nor are Jehovah’s Witnesses the only group to feel the sting of this deepening collusion between church and state, Pagan groups in Russia, including the Mari Traditional Faith, are increasingly finding themselves accused of extremism for even mild criticisms of Christianity.

In response to an appeal by the local state prosecutor, Yoshkar-Ola Municipal Court found Vitaly Tanakov guilty of religious and ethnic hatred in 2006, sentencing him to 120 hours’ forced labour. In 2009, Mari El Supreme Court ruled that his leaflet – “A Priest Speaks” – contained religious and other extremism. It is now banned throughout Russia.

Peoples influenced by the Bible and Koran “have lost harmony between the individual and the people,” argues Tanakov, in what is actually one of only a few references to other faiths in his leaflet. “Morality has gone to seed, there is no pity, charity, mutual aid; everyone and everything are infected by falsehood.” By contrast, he boasts, the Mari traditional faith will be “in demand by the whole world for many millennia.”

One can only wonder what Benedict thinks of his Orthodox counterparts in Russia, does he envy them their power? Does he wish he could “suggest” raids on “secularists” and religious minorities that displease him? Does he long for a time when heads of state hung on his words and depended on the Church for social control? It seems obvious to those who are religious minorities that his attack on secularism is really an attack on the freedoms of non-Christians to live without the shadow of the Catholic Church hanging over every aspect of their lives. Why else would he care about crosses in the public square, or if gay couple were allowed to marry? “Christianophobia” is about control, the kind of control the Russian Orthodox Church seems to be enjoying once again in post-Soviet Russia.

August 26th in Italy sees the beginning of the 13th annual World Congress of Ethnic Religions. Formed in 1998 at the first gathering in Lithuania, the congress works to promote tolerance of ethnic indigenous religions and create networks of support among adherents of ethnic traditions across the world. There are member organizations from across Europe, and the Congress also welcomes delegations from India, Russia, and the United States. The theme this year is “Ethics in the Contemporary World”, and is being organized by the Italian organization Gentilitas.

“The Congress theme will be to compare the different ethical views of individual members of the religious associations within WCER to find a lowest common denominator or, more simply, to discuss ethical and religious views during the development of rings.”Federazione Pagana, Italy

WCER President Jonas Trinkunas (Romuva), who recently attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Australia, was inspired by his experiences there to propose a change of name and focus for the organization.

“In 2009 Romuva (Association of Lithuanian traditional religion) was invited to the Parliament of World Religions held in Melbourne, Australia. Romuva was invited to participate and was an active participant in the section of the Associations of indigenous religions. During the conference I presented not only the religious activities of Romuva, but the activities of the WCER as well. The invaluable experience of having taken part in the Parliament of World Religions after ten years of WCER encouraged me to see again and define the vision and the area of our activities. That’s why I want to reassess and redefine the term which we refer to ourselves. I refer to WCER – World Congress of Ethnic Religions (World Congress of Ethnic Religions). There is a word that I propose to discuss: the change of the term ‘world’ with ‘European’. Hence the change of name to ECER – European Congress of Ethnic Religions (European Congress of Ethnic Religions).”

In addition to the various European delegations, at least two Pagans of note from the United States will be in attendance. Andras Corban Arthen of EarthSpirit (also one of the Parliament’s Board of Trustees), and Prudence Priest, a COG Elder and co-founder of the American Vinland Association. At the AVA blog, Priest has a post running down the schedule of events at the WCER, and  talks about her role “promoting Heathenism” on her travels.

“Here’s why I’m always behind. Too busy out proselytizing and promoting Heathenism to stay home and deal with paperwork. And here’s what Marina sent me. I edited the most glaring mis-translations, but wanted all of you to know where I’ll be for my next adventure. I have never been to Italy, and when I asked all my friends, not one had been to Bologna. The only two things I know about it is when I watch the “Coliandro” mysteries on PBS (the mHz International Mysteries) and they show its environs as they do on “Streets of San Francisco”; and that some church there has the largest extant zodiac sundial.”

Priest also has a personal blog set up, so hopefully she’ll be sharing her experiences at the WCER as things progress. You should also keep an eye on the EarthSpirit Voices blog for any updates that may happen there. There is also supposed to be streaming video of the WCER proceedings, check out the WCER 2010 site for more details.

My hope is that, moving forward, the Pagan community can foster better lines of communication and resource sharing between communities in the Americas, Australia, the UK, and the rest of Europe (and ultimately the whole world). The World Congress of Ethnic Religions, soon to be the European Congress of Ethnic Religions, is laying the groundwork for a better awareness of Pagan religions (whether revived, reconstructed, or indigenous) across the globe. Creating networks that will be vital for future activism and collaboration. Modern Paganism is an increasingly global phenomenon, and it’s important that we pay attention to its growth and struggles.