Archives For Google

Technoccult uses Google’s new Ngram Viewer, which searches for trends among various corpus of books Google has scanned, to track a seeming explosion of interest in the occult and “magick” in the mid-1980s. So I decided to do my own search, and compare the terms “Wicca”, “Paganism”, and “Magick.”

Both Wicca and Magick, as terms in published books, experienced a dramatic period of growth starting around 1985, not starting to decrease again until around 2003. Paganism, as a more general term used in many different contexts, also saw a rise of interest, but didn’t experience the downturn of the other two. This could be because of the non-religious contexts, but also because many books targeting the modern Pagan community started using “Paganism” in titles instead of “Wicca” or “Neopaganism.”

Searching for the terms “Asatru” and “Heathen” you also see growth, though not as dramatic in nature.

In the case of “Asatru” it’s the 1990s where you start to see growth, and then seems to level off around 1995 and stays there. For “Heathen,” again a general term used in many contexts, it also rises in the 1990s and seems to have enjoyed a resurgence of use since then.

So it does seem something sparked in the publishing world in the 1980s, not only within Pagan/occult publishing contexts, but, as Technoccult points out, with the “Satanic Panics” pushing up interest as well. Anyone involved in the Pagan publishing world in the mid-1980s, perhaps you can shed some more light? Another interesting question is the rapid decline in mentions of “Wicca” and “magick” starting in the mid-2000s. Is this an artifact of the books Google has scanned, or a larger trend in an ongoing downturn?

I encourage my readers to use the Ngram Viewer to check for other terms of interest, and see if they can spot any pertinent trends for our communities.

Top Story: The Los Angeles Times covers a three-day conference about the future of American Christianity at the Claremont School of Theology. Entitled “Theology After Google”, the main focus was on how Christian churches need to change with the times, but there was plenty of food for thought for non-Christians interested in the future of religion.

“The consensus: It’s a whole new world out there. Churches will ignore it at their peril. “I think things like denomination and ordination are part of the old system of control and domination that has to go,” [Pastor Doug] Pagitt, 42, said as he relaxed after the conference’s first day at the Theo Pub set-up for participants … Jon Irvine, a 30-year-old Web designer who works with the “emerging church” movement, said the church of the future will have to be less hierarchical and more freewheeling and ecumenical … In this new world, he said, “You can be a free agent. You could start your own church, go to a little faith community down the street, you could go to a mega-church. You could be a Methodist today, Anglican tomorrow — it’s your choice.” That might sound like heresy to some, for whom doctrine is immutable. But it fit well with the spirit of the conference, where nothing with the exception of the corn toss tournament trophy, was etched in anything solid.”

I don’t know about you, but this new post-Google religious ethos sounds suspiciously Pagan-friendly to me. Or, more to the point, modern Pagan communities have been wrestling with ideas concerning religious community in a post-ordination society (or, even more to the point, a society in which everyone is conceivably ordained), and the realities of religious “free agents”, for decades. Having now attended some mass pan-Pagan events it’s obvious that many of us are quite comfortable with the “new” freedoms that are causing such concern among more rigid and hierarchical faith traditions.

To me, when Christian theologians and pastors start talking about dealing with a “post-Google” religious reality, what they are really talking about is a post-Christian religious reality. A world where a potential church-goer can not only  jump denominations, but jump religions, belief systems, or simply start a whole new faith. All the Internet has done is speed up the process in which individuals can enter into a post-Christian mindset. I don’t really know if allowing Twitter in the pews, or creating “Church 2.0″ will really stem the slow mass-exodus away from the dominant monotheisms in the West.

Dreher Defends His Anti-Vodou Attitude: Here I was going to praise Beliefnet blogger Rod “Crunchy Con” Dreher for making a whole post about modern Pagans without descending into his usual mockery or prattle about demon-worship, but then he wrote a long USA Today column defending his, and other writer’s, wrong-headed assertions that Vodou is a “harmful cultural force”. He tries to bolster his defense of  “tough questions” by selectively reading essays by scholars dealing with the Haitian religious world-view. He even has the audacity to subtly praise himself at the end of his anti-Vodou apologia.

“A world in which most people believe that reality is governed by the occult caprice of the gods will be a very different place than a world in which people believe events can be explained according to either a Christian or a scientific materialist metaphysic. It’s as legitimate to ask what role voodoo plays in Haiti’s fathomless social troubles as it is to ask the same question about fundamentalist Islam in the Middle East, conservative Christianity in the Bible Belt, or militant atheism in the land of academia. And it’s as necessary. Ironically, intelligent critics of voodoo show more respect for the religion than do its would-be media protectors, simply by taking voodoo seriously enough to fault it.

Yes, that is ironic! Don’t ya think? OK Sherman, I think it’s time to use the wayback machine and remind ourselves of how Rod Dreher was really respecting Vodou by faulting it.

“I think it’s a mistake to see vodou as benign or positive…”, “Haitians would be better off at the Church of Christopher Hitchens rather than as followers of voodoo.“, “I believe these well-intentioned people are playing with fire. Real spiritual fire.”.

Can’t you feel the love? So much respect! I won’t even get into all the “respect” other commentators have shown towards Haitian Vodou, since I’m just welling up with the sheer empathy on display already. You know, asking tough journalistic questions is one thing, and something that I’ve always supported, but being a triumphalist jerk isn’t journalism, and the idea that Haiti is being held back, or actively harmed, by Vodou isn’t supported by any reasonably fair scholar of the religion.

The Living Goddesses in School: I’ve reported before on Nepal’s Kumari, the pre-pubescent girls who are chosen as living goddesses and worshiped until they reach puberty. Some worried that Nepal’s new Maoist government would ban the practice, but the popularity, and tourism dollars, the tradition inspires trumped secular ideology. Considered a “cultural” practice by the new government, the young girls are now required to receive schooling, and not live the same sheltered life, a life that often ill-prepares them for their post-Kumari existence, that had been traditional. Sify News reports on a current Kumari who is now juggling being a goddess with private tutoring and government-mandated examinations.

“One of the many thousands of students appearing for Nepal’s tough school-leaving examinations is Chanira Bajracharya, who is also worshipped in Kathmandu’s neighbouring Lalitpur city as Kumari, the ‘Living Goddess’ of Nepal. The pre-pubescent girl will appear for the School Leaving Examination from the Bhaswara Higher Secondary School, the Kantipur daily reported … Chanira, the Living Goddess’ routine has changed due to the imminent exams. She starts her morning with a two-hour tuition after which she becomes the Kumari again, taking part in her daily worship ritual. The worship is followed by brunch break following which she is required to appear before her devotees. In the evening, she becomes a student again.”

Chanira says she’s interested in becoming a banker once she finishes being a goddess. This will most certainly be a net-positive for the young girls chosen to become Kumari, and provides a striking insight into how ancient religious traditions are adapting to modern expectations and values. For more on the Kumari, I recommend the documentary “Living Goddess” (available on Netflix), which captures a snapshot of their lives just before the Maoist uprising that ended the Nepalese monarchy.

Asatru in Prison: The Ravencast podcast interviews Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum concerning Asatru in prison.

“This episode may likely be our most controversial one. Patrick McCollum is a pagan Chaplin working with the Cherry Hill Seminary. He works with about 2,000 Pagan Prisoners in California and has run into a gauntlet of administrative outright discrimination. Many of those prisoners are Asatruar, who are looking for some means to worship. We pop a few prison myths about racism and whether we should act at all.”

This interview is a good reminder of why McCollum’s ongoing legal battle with the state of California is important to all modern Pagans, and should be an excellent companion to the recent interview done by Anne Hill. This is a must-listen!

ABC Notices Pagan Chaplain: In a final note, the ABC News “Campus Chatter” blog just noticed that Syracuse University has appointed a Pagan chaplain for its student body.

“Syracuse University has tapped Mary Hudson to be the school’s first pagan chaplain. That makes Hudson, 50, the second pagan chaplain appointed at a U.S. college. The only other known school to have a pagan chaplain is the University of Southern Maine.  Internationally there are a few in Canada, Australia, and the UK.”

That’s not too bad, only a month after the story actually broke. Who says the immediacy of blogging hasn’t changed the mainstream news networks? Still, I suppose good press is good press.

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

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens. What? You didn’t think I was going to get caught up in one day did you? I have so much more to cover before we can settle down to a more sedate pace!

We start off today with word from Thorn Coyle that Diana’s Grove, a 102-acre Pagan-owned sanctuary in Missouri, is going to sell off the land due to hardships brought on by our current economic climate.

“While blessed with these wonderful supporters who have given so generously of their time, energy, and money, Diana’s Grove Center has nevertheless been suffering under the current economic climate. It’s founders no longer have the energy and stamina required to support their dream, in it’s current form, in these challenging times. They have decided to make major changes before major changes are forced upon them, and will be selling Diana’s Grove. It is their intention, and the intention of the residential and Mystery School staff, to make this transition with as much positive energy and integrity as we can.”

The sanctuary’s founders and care-takers, Cynthea Jones and Patricia Storm, plan to continue currently scheduled programming at the site through 2010, and then continue the Diana’s Grove Mystery School at different locations in the future. They have reassured supporters that the land will not be sold to loggers or developers, and investors will be refunded after the sale. I wish them all the best for the future, and wonder if Diana’s Grove isn’t the only Pagan-owned land that is experiencing increased hardships in our current economic climate. Will the downturn end up rolling back some of the Pagan-owned land advances made in the 1980s and 1990s?

Since I first reported on it, the story of the fired Bath & Body Works employee who claims she was let go after her newly appointed superior found out she was Wiccan has spread like wildfire through the Pagan community with many calling for a boycott of the chain until they resolve the matter favorably. Meanwhile, some have wondered if there is more to this story, or if Gina [Last name removed by request.] was fired (after 8 years) for some sort of negligence or performance issue. I’m not omniscient (yet), so I can’t know for sure, but the complaint does seems rather convincing, and Bath & Body Works have either refused to comment, or have released a canned statement implying that [Last name removed by request] was fired justly.

“My name is Linnea, and I work for Bath & Body Works. I know there’s been a lot of discussion about accusations that one of our managers fired someone due to their religion. I can assure you that once we became aware of the allegations, we immediately conducted a thorough investigation which showed that our internal policies and the law were being followed and that no one had been discriminated against. We are confident that the court will agree with our investigation findings. Bath & Body Works is an equal opportunity employer, and we do not discriminate against race, color, religion, gender, gender identity, national origin, citizenship, age, disability, sexual orientation or marital status. I don’t take this topic lightly and I hope you understand that my company doesn’t either.”

If that isn’t prose written by a lawyer I don’t know what is. So we’ll all have to wait for the trial to learn more about the firing, and make our own personal judgments in the meantime. I doubt it’ll be popping up in the news much until the trial since all parties involved are clamming up. However, an employment lawyer speaking to the Connecticut Law Tribune did say that the Bath & Body Works will either have to prove that  [Last name removed by request] was fired for performance/disciplinary issues (the complaint claims she had a stellar performance record until her firing), or that her beliefs that prompted the time off weren’t sincerely held. Since the latter is a hard thing to prove, you can bet Bath & Body Works is scouring their files for any hint of performance problems.

Speaking of Pagans fired from their jobs, Bath & Body Works isn’t the only employer with an unhappy ex-Wiccan. TechCrunch reports on the case of James Bara, a Google employee who claims he was singled out, had his faith mocked, and was ultimately fired after he came to the defense of a female transgender employee.

“Bara complained about the comments to Sohn, who Bara says turned on him and began to treat him, and the other men in the office unfairly. Bara, who is a member of the Wiccan religion, also said that Sohn made inappropriate comments directed towards him about witches and his religion that made him feel uncomfortable. For example, Sohn would sing The Wizard of Oz’s “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead.” Bara’s employment was eventually terminated by Google after long standing issues with Sohn.”

You can read Bara’s lawsuit, here. Like Bath & Body Works, Google claims the firing was just and did not involve discrimination or any kind.

“After a thorough investigation, we have no reason to believe James Bara was discriminated against or treated unfairly, and we’ll defend ourselves vigorously against these charges. Google values a diverse and respectful workforce and does not tolerate discrimination.”

If Google is liable (and if should be noted that this discrimination didn’t happen at their headquarters, but at an Atlanta-based data center) they’ll be a bit hard to boycott considering their ubiquity on the Internet, nor would such an action really harm the Internet search giant (they aren’t a retail chain dependent on holiday sales). Instead, concerned parties should read the lawsuit, decide if it seems a valid complaint, contact the company with your views, and then publicize the matter on your own site, blog, journal, or newsletter. I imagine Google would respond to an influx of traffic calling them out for this incident.

Turning to politics, last week President Obama attended the The White House Tribal Nations Conference, there he addressed issues of poverty, sovereignty, law enforcement, and education to representatives and leaders from all federally recognized tribes. During a speech he not only referenced his adoption into the Crow Nation, but told leaders that he was on their side.

“I get it. I’m on your side. I understand what it means to be an outsider. I was born to a teenage mother. My father left when I was 2 years old, leaving her — my mother, my grandparents to raise me. We didn’t have much. We moved around a lot. So — so even though our experiences are different, I — I understand what it means to be on the outside looking in. I know what it means to feel ignored and forgotten and what it means to struggle. So you will not be forgotten as long as I’m in this White House.”

Those are some pretty strong words of support, it should be interesting to see how that support develops over his term, and how Native Americans will view the president’s performance on issues important to them. White House spokesmen also stressed that this was part of his ongoing outreach to “all Americans”, does that mean we might see a meeting with religious minorities sooner rather than later?

In a final note, it seems that monotheistic faiths don’t like their forms of animal sacrifice being equated with, well, you know, animal sacrifice. Ever since press have reported that Theodism, and now-famous adherent of Theodism, New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, occasionally partake in a ritual animal sacrifice (in which the animal is then eaten) the Republican councilman has been trying to put the practice in a context people might understand. Before the election he equated it with kosher butchering, which made a Democratic Jewish supporter of his opponent all but call him a Neo-Nazi. Then, after the election, he equated it with the Greek Orthodox tradition of roasting a whole spring lamb on Easter. That got him in trouble with New York’s first Greek-American elected official, Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (a Democrat).

“If Dan Halloran feels the need to explain his religious beliefs to the public, that’s his business. In doing so, he should not mischaracterize the faith of thousands of his new constituents … Easter lamb roasts have absolutely nothing to do with the religious animal blood sacrifices practiced by Dan Halloran. Dan Halloran must immediately apologize to the Greek Orthodox community for his offensive comments as should anyone who is associated with him.”

So, for the record, when an Abrahamic tradition ritually slaughters and eats an animal it is not animal sacrifice. It is only animal sacrifice when Heathens (or possibly Santeros) do it. As for Halloran, he seems done trying to explain his faith to outsiders.

“The fact that my religious beliefs are not mainstream or are not part of what popular culture would consider the norm should have no bearing on my issues.”

Something tells me that despite Halloran’s wishes this isn’t the last I’ve heard of this issue, or the last his opponents will attempt to use his faith against him.

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

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

Will the Goddess Movement thrive after the Baby-Boom generation is gone? That’s the concern of Sage Starwalker, co-editor of the MatriFocus e-zine, which just released its Lammas 2009 issue. Starwalker argues that the Goddess Movement needs to be more engaged online in order to reach members of Generation Y and beyond.

“What can we do to make sure that the Goddess Movement lives beyond our generation? I’ve asked myself this question many times. Recently I asked a room full of Goddess Scholars[1] to consider: While some young girls are lucky enough to be invited to rituals, and some are educated about the Goddess by their families, many girls, young women, and nascent queens have yet to discover Goddess. If they’re not in our homes or attending our public rituals or our workshops, where do we find them? Or perhaps the better question is this: Where do they find us?  … If the serious archeological, philosophical, and historical Goddess work and the community of scholarship and shared discussion aren’t happening on the Web, the members of GenY (and their younger siblings) won’t be likely to find their home in it.”

Starwalker endorses the use of social media like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and LiveJournal to reach out to younger people, a tactic that others in the Goddess Movement must agree with since you can find folks like Z Budapest, Susan Weed, and Carolyn Lee Boyd twittering away at Twitter. Whether this inter-generational networking will grow the Goddess Movement for the future remains to be seen, but you should all head over to MatriFocus and read the entirety of Sage Starwalker’s interesting editorial.

As much as it pains me to mention Robert Wright again after his rather disastrous essay on shamanism and neo-shamanism for Slate.com, both The Daily Dish and the Religion News Service Blog have mentioned an excerpt from his new book “The Evolution of God” on a subject near and dear to many Pagan hearts: “Did Yahweh have a wife?”

“One oft-claimed difference [between the pagan gods and Yahweh] is that whereas the pagan gods had sex lives, Yahweh didn’t … It’s true that there’s no biblical ode to Yahweh that compares with the Ugaritic boast that Baal copulated with a heifer “77 times,” even “88 times,” or that El’s penis “extends like the sea.” And it seems puzzling: If Yahweh eventually merged with [the Canaanite god] El, and El had a sex life, why didn’t the postmerger Yahweh have one? Why, more specifically, didn’t Yahweh inherit El’s consort, the goddess Athirat? Maybe he did. There are references in the Bible to a goddess named Asherah, and scholars have long believed that Asherah is just the Hebrew version of Athirat. Of course, the biblical writers don’t depict Asherah as God’s wife … However, in the late twentieth century, archaeologists discovered intriguing inscriptions, dating to around 800 BCE, at two different Middle Eastern sites. The inscriptions were blessings in the name not just of Yahweh but of ‘his Asherah.'”

For Wright, this is just further confirmation of his theory that “God” evolved into his/its current (mostly) benevolent  (and monotheistic) form (instead of it being mere religious revisionism). This “polytheism evolved into monotheism” idea has been a popular theory amongst certain Christian thinkers for ages. The trouble is that you have to ignore a lot of stuff (or make some rather insulting generalizations about non-monotheistic cultures) to make this idea work.

“How good is his theology? Wright has done extensive homework, and recounts the history of the Abrahamic faiths in detail, beginning with the animism of early hunter-gatherers and moving through polytheism and monolatry (the worship of several gods with one dominating) to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, ancient and modern. (What about other faiths? In his zeal to pull societies toward moral perfection, did the Lord of the Universe forget the Hindus, aboriginals, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Scientologists?) The problem is that Wright has a tendency, already demonstrated in Nonzero, to dwell on data that support his theory and to ignore those that do not support it.”

Wright’s idea of an ever-evolving (single) God bringing us all to benevolence is a fantasy to reassure nominal Christians and borderline agnostics that religion isn’t an obstacle to enlightenment and peace. The trouble with his theory is that it privileges monotheism with an ethical uniqueness that it simply doesn’t posses.

For a change of pace, let’s look at a newly released book that I’m looking forward to reading. The University of Chicago Press has recently released a new book by Cathy Gere entitled “Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism”, on how British archaeologist Arthur Evans’ excavation and reconstruction of the palace of Knossos on Crete helped inspire a generation of thinkers and artists.

“With Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism, Cathy Gere relates the fascinating story of Evans’s excavation and its long-term effects on Western culture. Gere shows how Evans’s often-fanciful account of ancient Minoan society captivated a generation riven by serious doubts about the fundamental values of European civilization. After the First World War left the Enlightenment dream in tatters, the lost paradise that Evans offered in the concrete labyrinth—pacifist and matriarchal, pagan and cosmic—seemed to offer a new way forward for writers, artists, and thinkers such as Freud, James Joyce, Georgio de Chirico, Robert Graves, Hilda Doolittle, all of whom emerge as forceful characters in Gere’s account.”

Sounds like a must-read for anyone interested in the cultural threads that ultimately fed into the rebirth of Paganism. You can view the table of contests, here, and read the introduction, here. You can read an interesting review of the book, here.

The Nanaimo Daily News has a by-the-numbers piece on a local Pagan Pride Day event in case you feel nostalgic for the good old days of journalistic accounts of modern Paganism.

“There will be no sacrifices, disembowelling of chickens of goats or the casting of spells to turn someone into a toad. But don’t be shocked if you run into your neighbour at the Pagan Pride Day celebration at Departure Bay Beach on Saturday … “They find out we all have children, so obviously we don’t eat them. They realize it’s a very gentle and personal religion,” she says.”

Come to Pagan Pride Day! We won’t dismbowl a goat in front of you, turn you into a toad, or eat your children!

In a final note, Google News has been slowly building up its newspaper archives, recently quadrupling the number of articles you can search at the beginning of August. As journalism’s history gets digitized, it will allow us to get a clearer picture of how coverage of modern Paganism has (and hasn’t) evolved. A neat function of the Google News archive search is looking at the cool little interactive news-volume graph when you search within a set number of years.

The above graphic is mentions of the word “Wicca” from 1970 to 2009. From it you can see that 1999 was a watershed moment in being noticed by the press. You can also see how it is now possible to do a daily blog centered on Pagan news. If only they had a digital record of British newspapers, we could really track the history of modern Paganism through journalistic accounts.

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