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[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 companion to my usual Pagan News of Note, a series more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So lets get started!

International Pagan Coming Out Day: May 2nd has been announced as the first International Pagan Coming Out Day, an initiative “to achieve greater acceptance and equity for Pagans at home, at work, and in every community.” Cara Schulz, executive chair of the sponsoring organization, has a post up at Pagan+Politics explaining the event’s purpose and rationale, while Diana Rajchel at PNC-Minnesota interviews her about the new annual event.

Our website offers resources (like the IPCOD’s Guide to Coming Out authored by Drake Spaeth, PsyD) and encouragement for Pagans who choose to come out. We give Pagans a place to make their voice heard as they recount their personal stories of coming out or as they relate the experience that caused them to decide that they were not able or willing to come out yet. Through these stories, by more Pagans coming out and being visible, and by showing Pagan allies how they can stand with us, we hope to reduce stigma by putting a human face on Paganism. Some of the ‘out’ stories featured on our site are: A Pagan mother faces a home visit by her child’s teachers. Telling your parents. And my story, coming out in a police station.

The IPCOD site has listed ways in which individuals can participate, or if you’d like to become an IPCOD organizer. In addition to Schulz, the IPCOD executive committee is comprised of CUUPS Board Member Emeritus Dave Burwasser, licensed clinical psychologist, and Earth Traditions co-founder, Drake Spaeth, Anne Newkirk Niven, editor of three magazines for Pagans and their allies: SageWoman, Witches&Pagans, and Crone, writer and blogger Laura M. LaVoie, webmaster David Dashifen Kees, Nick Ritter, a Theodsman, and old Frisian and archaic Anglo-Saxon language specialist, and your’s truly. I have joined with Cara on this project because I think a unified effort towards ‘coming out’ is a needed one, a complimentary movement to our already vibrant Pagan Pride days. I hope you’ll support IPCOD, and help spread the word.

PantheaCon 2011 is Coming! PantheaCon, the largest indoor gathering of modern Pagans in the United States, held every President’s day weekend in San Jose, California, has posted their official schedule of events. A veritable “who’s who” of modern Paganism, Pantheacon features a large number of prominent authors, teachers, ritualists, and scholars giving talks, making presentations, participating in panels, and holding rituals. In addition, PantheaCon also hosts musical entertainment, including this year, Lasher Keen, Pandemonaeon, Wendy Rule, Land of the Blind, Celia, and Ruth Barrett. As I’ve mentioned previously, this year’s Pantheacon will feature a special screening of Alex Mar’s documentary “American Mystic”, which will be followed by a Q&A led by me with the director, Morpheus Ravenna, and members of Stone City Pagan Sanctuary.

Finally, on a personal front, I will be presenting an introductory talk on the Pagan Newswire Collective, followed later that evening by a special PNC meet-and-greet a the COG/NROOGD/NWC Suite. In addition I’ll be leading a panel discussion entitled  “Exploring New Media: A Pagan Perspective” featuring Thorn Coyle (Did you know she has a Twitter feed now?), Brandi Palechek from Llewellyn, Star Foster of Patheos, and Christine Hoff Kraemer from Cherry Hill Seminary. I’ll also be participating in a panel led by Devin Hunter entitled “Pagans in the Media: A Panel on 21st Century Pagan Leadership”. So it should be a busy time! Representatives from several PNC bureaus will be there, and I expect this may be covered PantheaCon yet! If you’re going, drop by and say hi!

After Datura, Mandragora: After the success of their anthology Datura (discussed here at TWH), Scarlet Imprint is planning a second collection of esoteric poetry, to be titled Mandragora.

“We are currently fielding poetry submissions from the global occult, magical and pagan communities for this work. Continuing in the same luminous, bejeweled tradition of excellence found in Datura, this new anthology will likewise combine a sampling of the best poetic work available from contemporary practitioners, as well as additional essays about the practice/performance of poetry, the role of poetry in devotional and ritual work, and the artistic culture of magic.”

Deadline for submissions is October 31st, 2011. To submit work to this project, please send 3-5 pieces of your best work along with a cover letter via email to collection editor Ruby Sara. For more information, check out the full announcement.

Pagans at the United Religions Initiative: Over at the COG Interfaith Reports blog, Don Frew reports from the in-progress first meeting of the Regional Leadership Team (RLT) of the Multiregion of the United Religions Initiative (URI) in Tepoztlan, Mexico. A Covenant of the Goddess National Interfaith Representative, Frew was recently voted in for another term as an At-Large Trustee for the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative.

“One of the CCs I coordinate – Spirituality & the Earth – is a Multiregion CC and was one of the founding CCs of the URI.  I had also served two previous terms on the Global Council.  Apparently they felt this gave me sufficient experience and ongoing connection to be able to jump right in and get to work.  (And boy did they have work for me to do!  In addition to helping revitalize the Multiregion, I was also asked to serve in the creation of and on the new External Affairs Committee, which will be responsible for crafting the URI’s official response to world events like what’s going on right now in Tunis and Egypt.  But that’s another story…)

While in many ways the Multiregion embodies the highest aspirations of the URI – people of all religions, spiritual expressions, and indigenous traditions working together around the world “to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence, and to create cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings” – it has always been sort-of the odd-man-out.  It’s been a lot easier to organize CCs who all live in one geographic area than it has been to organize something as far-flung as the Multiregion.  We have been VERY reliant on modern technology to create and maintain our network.  We had our very first face-to-face Regional Assembly only last March.  (See the reports in this blog in March 2010.)  That meeting generated a LOT of enthusiasm in the Multiregion and we really didn’t want to see this dissipate.”

You can read part one, here, and part two, here. COG as an organization has long been one of the trailblazers for Pagan involvement in the interfaith community. This work, while seemingly unexciting to the outside observer, creates huge dividends of good will and new networks with indigenous communities. To keep track of this meeting’s progress, be sure to subscribe to the COG Interfaith Reports blog.

Reporting on the Pagan Studies Conference: I’d like to close with a quick plug for the work of LA Pagan Examiner Joanne Elliott, who recently posted a two-part run-down of the recent Pagan Studies Conference at Claremont Graduate University.

“Pagan scholars discussed “Building Community” on Jan. 22 and 23 at the 7th Annual Conference of Current Pagan Studies in Claremont.  More than 70 Pagans gathered to hear the ideas and results of research by the 27 Pagan scholars, researchers and leaders who came from greater LA as well as from other areas of the country.

They gathered to discuss issues that relate to the Pagan community at large. It is important to that community’s health and growth to meet and learn from one another. It’s also important for all Pagans to be involved in the public arena and have their voices heard. With an estimate of over a million Americans now self-identified as Pagan, the Pagan religion is coming of age. And it is feeling, now more than ever, the need for trained leaders and clergy to build stronger Pagan communities that also see themselves as a part of a larger community.”

This event, sadly, wasn’t much covered, so I’m very happy that Joanne was there to keep us informed. Be sure and check it out!

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

Just a few quick news notes for you this Sunday morning.

Interview with a Pagan Anthropologist: PNC-Minnesota interviews Murph Pizza, a local Pagan and cultural anthropologist specializing in religions and American religious cultures, about “Pagan culture” and what common ground our diverse religions contain.

I make the argument in my thesis that yes, we do have some bottom, base line Pagan values. If you talk to Pagans, they have this weird cultural thing that we just disagree on everything and we’ll never agree on anything. That is really not true. We really are more alike than we realize. We seem to have a cultural habit of denying when someone says, “Well don’t you kind of share the same values?”, we say . “No we are all different, and we like that”. Interestingly, one shared Pagan value is the celebration of diversity. Diversity is one of the things it is hard to be unified about because, well it is diversity! <laughs> The fact that we are negotiating that we are sort of the same people and yet maintain our differences, values, paths, practices, etc, is a real interesting tension. I think it keeps the movement viable. It is frustrating when you are in it, but we need to remember that kind of tension keeps us living and breathing as a culture and a religion.

There is another shared value in that there is a genuine love of place, and of the planet. How it is expressed is where the diversity really hits. Some people become politically or socially active, like SuSu does with Coldwater Spring, or some people mya just keep it in their back yard. How it is expressed is different but there really is a shared sense that this spinning ball of mud is fantastic and it is all we have got. Let’s teach the next generation to keep it around. So that is just a couple of shared values. This shared divine sense of place and insistence on our diversity.

Pizza, who wrote her thesis on the Twin Cities (aka Paganistan) Pagan community, is in the process of having the work published as a book. I would recommend reading the entire, fascinating, interview.

Foreclosures in the Pagan Community: LA Pagan Examiner Joanne Elliott, who’s been doing an excellent job covering local Pagan-oriented stories, reports that Ed Fitch, Gardnerian elder and author of several influential Pagan books, has lost his home due to foreclosure.

“The place is stripped,” Ed Fitch reported on Tuesday of his Orange County home of 31 years as he showed off the empty rooms. He was not without a little nostalgia, though. “I raised my kids here, had a lot of pets,” he said. Then he laughed, “Had a lot of parties – pagan parties, the best kind!”

Fitch will be moving to Texas to live with his eldest son. Many have been hard hit in Los Angeles, though some, like Pagan performer Marguerite Kusuhara, have been able to modify their mortgage and remain in their homes. I suspect that these stories could ring true for many Pagans throughout the United States, as they try to save their homes in this economic crisis.

The Letters From Hardscrabble Creek: I’d just like to quickly note that Pagan academic Chas Clifton’s blog has been hitting on all cylinders the past couple weeks, and you should head over there if you haven’t lately. Covering Pagan chaplaincy issues, an American goddess, and several posts dealing with Pagan scholarship and the back-and-forth over Ronald Hutton’s “Triumph of the Moon” (and the new critique “Trials of Moon”), the results have been engaging to say the least.

“No topic is ever “closed.” Historical works—which is how Prof. Hutton would describe Triumph—are not holy scriptures. New thinkers and new generations bring new scholarship and new interpretations. But what Hutton has done is establish a standard. Anyone who challenges his conclusions (and given that ten years have passed, he has challenged some of them himself, I expect) must do at least as much in-depth research as he has done. They can’t just snipe from the sidelines. Rhetoricians talk about “invented ethos,” by which a speaker or writer displays their qualifications to engage a topic: I have studied such-and-such at this or that level. I have done such-and-such. I have experienced such-and-such. (“Invention” does not imply falsification in this context.) It is that level of ethos I see lacking in his critics—so far.”

I plan on exploring the ongoing Hutton/Trials of the Moon controversy/debate in more detail on this site soon, but until then, Chas’ blog is a good place to start your journey.

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