I arrive in Chicago, now, as an outsider. Though I have lived near Chicago in the past, I’ve become a true transplant to the Pacific Northwest and find myself newly awed by the scale of this city. The buildings, the public art, and even the convention center are massive, sprawling, and alive. Before I attend any session at the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting, I’m able to make it to the end of a day-long pre-conference event on Friday entitled “Mapping the Occult City: Magick & Esotericism in the Urban Utopia.” Co-sponsored by DePaul University and Phoenix Rising Academy.
During a roundtable discussion on the “psychic city” featuring several local Chicago Pagan and occult leaders, including Angie Buchanan of Gaia’s Womb, one of the current owners of The Occult Bookstore, and a representative of the local OTO Lodge. It was clear that Chicago has a very distinct character, one that defies easy categorization, and one very much tied to the unique landscape of this metropolis. It’s a place where syncretism, religious cross-pollination, and a respect for the deep roots placed here generations ago.
Roundtable: Re-examining Psychic City.
As fascinating as that discussion was, the real highlight of that evening was a special performance from Terra Mysterium, a local collective of actors, singers, musicians, poets, and magicians, who weave theatre and the esoteric arts in a way that’s captivating, and deliriously enjoyable. Truly you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a banish-off between an un-orthodox Witch and a group of ritual magicians doing the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram (in song)! An extra bonus was seeing Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum, who’s going to be on a panel discussing the Pew Forum’s prison chaplaincy survey.
Matthew Ellenwood, Patrick McCollum, and Keith Green after the Terra Mysterium performance.
After that enriching evening, it was time to start the AAR Annual Meeting proper, and the Pagan Studies programming track began bright and early with “Contemporary Pagan Theology and Praxology.” This panel, which featured papers from Michael York, author of “Pagan Theology,” along with Christopher Chase, Michelle Mueller, and Morgan Davis, mirrored conversations that have been happening with increasing regularity in the Pagan community. The tensions between practice and theology, between community and individuality, and what the best lens is to view these issues. It shows how Pagan scholarship isn’t disconnected from what concerns us, but is instead deeply interconnected. Their work helps us move forward.
Contemporary Pagan Theology and Praxology panel.
Tomorrow I’ll recount the experiences and interactions I had on Sunday and Monday, and talk more about how what happens in the academy not only mirrors our experience as Pagans, but informs and shapes it as well.
Happy May Day everyone! 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 lets get started!
“After much heartache, soul-searching and tears, it has become clear that Sacred Paths Center cannot continue. Our expenses are too high in this location and we are just not getting enough money coming through the door. All of our resources are tapped, and our volunteers are worn out.”
“Despite the fact that the Town of Catskill offered no credible theory in court for their continued denial of exemption, I was just informed that the Maetreum of Cybele has been denied property tax exemption for 2012 meaning another entire round in this ongoing drama. The wheels of justice turn very slowly in Greene County, New York. The actual trial was split between two days last November and December but the final arguments in our court case still have not been submitted at this time. They are supposed to be due in about two weeks and then we will have to await the Judge’s actual decision after that. In the meantime we will once again have to go to the Board of Review hearing later in May and almost certainly be denied again and have to file yet another lawsuit against Catskill. Despite claims to the press for several years that Catskill did not question our legitimacy as a religion, the entirety of their case was exactly that we were not a legitimate religion under the IRS guidelines. Again despite the IRS recognition we are. We proved in court we met every one of the IRS “fourteen points” for determining what is or isn’t a church.”
“Since 2008 the South African Pagan Rights Alliance has repeatedly appealed to all Commissions for Human Rights internationally to encourage all governments to: a. halt the persecution of suspected or accused witches, b. uphold and strengthen a culture of human rights for all equally, c. respond appropriately and humanely to incidences of accusations of witchcraft, d. make the eradication of violence against suspected witches an international priority, e. train local police to manage witchcraft accusations and violent witch-hunts in a way that affirms the dignity and humanity of those accused of practising witchcraft, f. create victim support units to facilitate reintegration and conciliation of those accused, g. adopt comprehensive public education and awareness programmes aimed at eradicating the real causes of witchcraft accusations, and h. reform legislation that currently seeks to suppress witchcraft or criminalize accused witches.”
Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note 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!
“Since signing a lease for the space in October 2011, volunteers have logged over 1,500 hours organizing the collection, as well as preparing the physical space–painting, moving furniture, assembling shelves, and installing lighting. ”None of this would have been possible without a dedicated group of volunteers who carried boxes, built shelves, sorted, searched, catalogued, numbered and shelved thousands of books,” OHF Library Trustee and Library Volunteer Coordinator, Aderyn Benvenga. [...] ”We have designed the OHF Library according to professional principles and best practices for a community library with full searching capability available online,” said OHF Librarian, Eric (Fritter) Riley.”
Northern Dawn Local Council Discusses Its Future:At PNC-Minnesota, Nels Linde reports on a recent town hall meeting to discuss the possible closure of the Northern Dawn local council of the Covenant of the Goddess (NorDCOG). The Covenant of the Goddess, formed in 1975, is a consensus-based religious legal umbrella organization for Wiccans and Witches that has engaged in important work for the rights of modern Pagans. Regional councils, like Northern Dawn, are how many people engage with and interact with the organization. Formed in 1982, NorDCOG serves Minnesota and Wisconsin, and has a long history of putting on public rituals and acting as a contact for local media and law enforcement. However, lately, the council has been moribund with several unfilled positions, leading to its current uncertain future.
Northern Dawn council logo.
The immediate cause for the meeting was the lack of participation that has become a crisis in functioning as an organization. Several board positions are unfilled, including a ritual officer, so no public rituals have been planned. Meetings have been unable to meet quorum standards, and this has prevented NorDCOG to conduct business or consider active solutions to be considered and enacted, including possible changes to the bylaws. As a local of the national organization, mandates of operation are also in place that may pose a conflict in some considered changes within the organization. [...] Tim, NorDCOG first officer, offered this summation of the meeting, “We had a wonderful meeting with members of the community who came together to help Northern Dawn figure out what we need to do to survive and remain viable in the future. I think it was wonderful that we had so many diverse people show up tonight. We will be working on scheduling a followup meeting ”
Z. Budapest Wants “Theft” of “We All Come From The Goddess” to Stop:Dianic elder Z. Budapest has issued a statement calling for an end to alternate versions and unlicensed recordings of her chant “We All Come From The Goddess,” saying that, quote, “It is my intellectual property. it is NOT a folk song, which by the way is the fate of many composers whose songs are stolen.” Budapest further stated that to “steal my song from now will have consequences. You put men into the song, like God, a hex will be activated.”
“Theft is theft. I cannot be everywhere, but i have experienced women making up new words,attaching it to my song that NEEDS NO attachments. Have you ever heard a man writing a song about the gods, and then put females in it?? Never. So stop you generosity attacks with my songs, write an original .Men who had Mozart and Schubert amongst them,surely will come up with their own songs . Women like to give away and include but please do it with your own intellectual property. I wrote that song for the Goddess worshipping women. Its gone around the globe. I don’t mind you singing it, only selling it and not giving me credit. Its a sacred song, and i will protect it! Speak up when you hear this song abused, and write to me. Blesssed be!”
When asked for clarification, Budapest said that she “wanted the song to be OUT there and reach everybody. The Goddess includes all of us. Just don’t try to ad on ‘god’ stuff.” So I assume she means alternate versions like “We All Come From the Horned God” that have been created over the years. Does this “hex” also include “Hoof and Horn,” a chant often intertwined with “We All Come From the Goddess”? Certainly it is her right to assert copyright and demand fair credit, though I wonder if the toothpaste can be pushed back in the tube when it comes to variants and performances of them in the Pagan community.
While covering last year’s American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting in San Francisco one recurring theme I noticed when attending the sessions for Contemporary Pagan Studies, and listening to more informal discussions, was how scholars could better interact and communicate with the Pagan community. Since many Pagan scholars are themselves Pagans, the disconnect between their work and the wider Pagan community, or worse, the misapplication or misunderstanding of their work, has been an ongoing concern. One of the reasons I wanted to start a Wild Hunt podcast was so I could have semi-informal chats with Pagan scholars about their work in order to humanize them, making their research and findings more accessible. Now, a new project seeks to take the wider Pagan community on a journey through the history of Contemporary Pagan Studies using The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies as a guide.
“There are several reasons for initiating this coverage of the Pomegranate. First, as we have seen in Catherin Tully’s article, there is a gap bewteen academics and practictioners that sometime results in heated debates and cognitive dissonance. Second, not everyone has access to an academic library or to those academic articles and books that are relevant to Contemporary Paganism. As a result, I will be reviewing and presenting a synopsis of these articles for practicing Contemporary Pagans – a set of cliff-notes, if you will, that can be read to gain the primary points of the article. It is my hope that these synopses are not only educational, but will stimulate discussion and debate amongst practitioners, which is the fertile soil where great ideas are birthed.”
According to Hoshour, several of the academics he’ll be referencing have agreed to engage in the comments section, so that follow-up questions, clarification, and updates, can be shared.
This should be a great service to the Pagan community, and I’ll hope that many of you decide to head over to The Pagan Perspective, subscribe to its updates, and engage in the conversations that will follow. For my part, I’ll try to remind my readers here of future updates in the series, and look forward to getting feedback from Contemporary Pagan scholars when I attend the 2012 AAR Annual Meeting this November.
It’s Tuesday morning and I’m at the San Francisco International airport awaiting my flight back to Oregon. There’s so much I have to report on and write about concerning the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting but it will have to wait until I’m back at my own desk with hours of uninterrupted writing time ahead of me. But rest assured, there’s a lot to come, and many projects that are now gestating due to this meeting. In the meantime, for today, I’d like to share a few more photos from the AAR to tide you over until I get home.
Sociologist Helen Berger discussing new Pagan census data (more on that soon).
Suzanne Owen (Leeds) discussing The Druid Network gaining charitable status.
Christopher Chase discussing West Coast Pagan practices and ideas.
There’s more to come! So do stay tuned! I’ve spoken with several scholars this weekend, and I’m hoping to spotlight some of their voices and research in the weeks to come here at The Wild Hunt. Also, before I sign off, I’d like to thank Solar Cross for being my host for the AAR Annual Meeting and making my stay a very pleasurable one.
“Starhawk is the well-known feminist Witch, Earth activist, and writer who initiated the Reclaiming Witchcraft Tradition in San Francisco in 1979. Her books on Pagan ecospirituality, such as The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion (HarperOne, 20th anniv. ed., 1999) and the novel The Fifth Sacred Thing (Bantam, 1993), are still bestsellers. Over the last four decades her thinking and practices have spun off the emergent Goddess spirituality movement, but have also provoked and influenced feminist theologians. One of them is Rosemary R. Ruether, herself a major contributor to feminist theologizing in all Western traditions — be it Christian, Jewish, or Pagan. Over the last ten years, Ruether and Starhawk have developed similar interests in feminist earth practices, honored the four elements and permacultural social principles, and have quoted each other’s work respectfully. In this session all are invited to reflect on the notion of “elemental theology” and/or “feminist Earth practices” as a possible crossroad for feminist theology of different faiths to meet.”
I was lucky enough to get permission from the Contemporary Pagan Studies group to record this talk so that they could make a transcript available later. I’d like to post an excerpt of the entire panel, featuring Starhawk’s opening remarks.
As you can hear, its a wide-ranging speech that touches on elemental theology, activism, the Occupy movement, permaculture, and other topics. I hope to, in the future, feature more excerpts from this panel, as the contributions were important, not only from Starhawk and Rosemary R. Ruether, but from the responders: Marion S. Grau, Jone Salomonsen, and Heather Eaton. In addition, there was a spirited and interesting Q&A period that should also interest readers here. Once details emerge as to where and when the transcript will be published, I’ll post that information.
“…for this reason the differences between Graeco-Roman polytheism and the Jewish, Christian, or Islamic monotheisms, which have dominated our own religious and cultural experiences since the end of antiquity, pose a serious challenge to our understanding of the past. We view ancient religion through a filter of assumptions, experiences and prejudice. Monotheism contains its own internalized value judgments about polytheistic paganism, and these have always influence, and sometimes distorted, the academic study of ancient religion.”
“[Stephen] Mitchell’s essay ends with a statement worthy of concluding the volume: “We cannot call the cult [of Theos Hypsistos] monotheistic in the strictly exclusive sense that is applied to ancient Judaism and Christianity, but it involved a series of coherent and explicit rituals and practices which were based on belief in a unique, transcendent god, who could not be represented in human form” (p. 197). The acknowledgment that Theos Hypsistos is not exactly like other monotheistic religions does not mean, as Mitchell rightly argues, that elements of monotheism cannot be found in it and in other pagan cults. But this lack of exclusivity does open up the possibility of claiming that pagan monotheism also has elements of polytheism. The fluidity in defining pagan monotheism reflects the fluidity of the religious realities in which these cults were worshipped.”
Books like “One God” seem to be asking whether monotheism as a system of religion must be inherently intolerant, or if it was merely “concomitant aspects of religious change which are subsumed within monotheism” that caused such a shift towards religious intolerance. To German Egyptologist Jan Assmann, who released “The Price of Monotheism” in 2009, it comes down to what he calls the “Mosaic Distinction,” which created a distinction between “true” religions and “false” religions.
“This shift does not just have theological repercussions, in the sense that it transforms the way people think about the divine; it also has a properly political dimension, in the sense that it transforms culturally specific religions into world religions. [...] What seems crucial to me is not the distinction between the One God and many gods but the distinction between truth and falsehood in religion, between the true god and false gods, true doctrine and false doctrine, knowledge and ignorance, belief and unbelief.”
To Assmann history is full of “monotheistic moments” where this distinction between true and false religion rises up to cause mayhem and destruction.
The back-and-forth of scholarship may seem a bit too “inside baseball” to matter, but the debate over the nature of religion in antiquity and late antiquity casts a shadow on more popular works today, including in journalism, and helps shape the way we think about a topic. Whether acknowledged or not, there are competing narratives in works like Alan Cameron’s “The Last Pagans of Rome”, which argues that paganism was a spent force that went out with a whimper, or the work of Owen Davies in books like “Paganism: A Very Short Introduction” or “Grimoires: A History of Magic Books” that looks at how pagan ideas and beliefs managed to persevere, adapt, and survive. That “in contemporary society, Paganism can be a liberating spiritual and social force [...] it is no less relevant than it was when it was redefined by Christians nearly two millennia ago. It has retained its ability to stimulate intellectual curiosity and spiritual exploration.”
The shift to reevaluate polytheism has almost certainly influenced figures like religion professor Stephen Prothero, whose 2010 book “God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World-and Why Their Differences Matter”, while no love letter to polytheism, did insert Yoruba into the pantheon of religions that “run the world”. Prothero is the go-to guy for religion at CNN’s Belief Blog, and was a main source for the PBS series “God in America,” how he thinks about polytheism today has far-reaching effects. It is also why the field of Pagan Studies is so important. Pundits, bloggers, and journalists regularly turn to “experts” for new information and confirmation of their ideas and theories, the more good information there is about the validity of polytheism and of contemporary Pagan religions, the more people like me have to reference when we make our own arguments in the public sphere. That there is a wide-ranging discussion about polytheism and monotheism within academia should excite modern Pagans, as it means there could be a seismic shift in how our culture approaches these topics as well.
I was able to briefly speak to Goodwin about the award, and here’s what she had to say:
“I’m honored to receive the award, and look forward to working with the HRC’s mentorship program. My research explores the crucial role sexuality plays in constructing American religious intolerance. As a queer Pagan scholar, I’m committed to writing about religious and sexual difference — I feel fortunate that the Human Rights Campaign wants to invest in that work.”
News of Goodwin’s award has already started to spread through Pagan scholar networks, and Christine Hoff Kraemer, Ph.D., the department Chair of Theology and Religious History at Cherry Hill Seminary, the premier distance-learning institution for professional Pagan ministry, released a statement on the occasion.
“It’s fantastic that the Human Rights Campaign recognizes the important role that non-mainstream religions are playing in our culture’s thinking about sexuality. Megan Goodwin’s research stands to make a valuable contribution, not just to academic Pagan studies, but to religion and sexuality studies in general.”
Academic scholarships by any number of organizations and institutions are awarded every year, but I think this specific award is significant for our communities. Not simply because Megan Goodwin is Pagan, but because her work was singled out by a highly visible and politically active organization that sees Goodwin as part of a larger mission to change our religious culture. The HRC is up front is wanting to change “how pastors, rabbis, and others of deep faith approach religion and LGBT Equality,” to create a paradigm shift in how they approach “sexuality and gender identity in their congregations and classrooms.” Her selection by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation LGBT Scholarship and Mentorship program for Religious and Theological Study sends a message that Pagan voices, and by extension Pagan theologies, are an important part of that process. My congratulations go out to Megan Goodwin. I’m hoping to spotlight her work here at The Wild Hunt soon.
“I have no interest in contesting the claims of modern Pagans to represent a secretly surviving tradition, as long as the practitioners do not attack me or offer any actual historical evidence for scrutiny. If they do neither, then they are effectively standing outside history and are not the concern of a historian. I regularly read articles by contemporary witches, expounding one system or another which they say has been passed down through their family or their initiatory tradition for centuries, and offering no evidence to support this claim. They are no concern of mine, and it is open to others to believe or disbelieve them as they will. Gerald Gardner’s Wicca was, however, based on specific historical evidence, above all the early modern trials, and academic framework of interpretation of it, which were very much the business of historians.”
I encourage anyone with any interest in Hutton’s work to head over and read the entire thing. There’s really too much to easily summarize, and quite a bit of insightful commentary concerning history and modern Paganism. In addition, Hutton generously lays out his plans for future books that may be of interest to modern Pagans, including works on witchcraft, and Britain’s pagan heritage. Thanks to Caroline Tully at Necropolis Now for making this happen.
The joint session with the Religion and Ecology Group, “Elemental Theology and Feminist Earth Practices,” will feature a panel discussion with groundbreaking feminist theologian Rosemary R. Ruether and Reclaiming co-founder Starhawk. In addition, other sessions will see paper presentations from Helen Berger, Christopher W. Chase, and Christine Kraemer (a department chair at Cherry Hill Seminary) among others. All that is in addition to the thousands of other presentations on just about every facet of religious experience you can think of. I will be there this November to cover the event, and hope to bring you special reporting, interviews, and access to a gathering few outside the world of religion studies experience.
In Other News:
Berkeley-based Sunrise Bookshop is going out of business, part of larger trend in the area of metaphysical shops closing down. The recent downturn in the economy is blamed as the “final blow” that made the business unsustainable.
Al Jigen Billings and Catherine Kehl have launched a new project entitled Pagan Dharma,“a site that looks at the Dharma, the teachings and way of being derived from the Buddha, from the point of view of being a pagan, in whatever loose sense we want to define that.” Looks like it might become a great resource for the many Pagans out there interested in Buddhism, or utilizing Buddhist practices.