Archives For Reconstructionism

In ways the various founders, visionaries, and clergy could never have anticipated, modern Pagan faiths have thrived and become world religions. In many instances our faiths have entered the mainstream. Sometimes, embedded within the interconnected Pagan communities, dealing with the day-to-day controversies and obstacles, it’s hard to see just how far we’ve come. This isn’t to say that no challenges remain, or that we enjoy complete parity with other, more dominant, faiths, but we have reached a place that few could have initially hoped for. Further, larger shifts in Western culture towards a post-Christian social and political reality, along with important advances in interfaith initiatives, create a fertile soil for a number of religious minorities to grow at impressive rates in relative peace.

Pagans at Stonehenge.

Pagans at Stonehenge.

This relative safety, this freedom to venture outside the dominant monotheistic paradigm, has seen our community grow and change faster than its already established leaders and clergy have prepared for. Changes that in other contexts could have taken decades, even generations, are now happening in a matter of years. This has caused increasing tensions among different generations, religious groups, and schools of thought. It has caused many to critique, and in some cases completely abandon, the label “Pagan,” finding the term too limiting, too burdened with preconceptions as to what one might find under the Pagan “umbrella.” These debates over the term “Paganism” are not new. You could argue they began with the emergence of modern Heathenry in the 1970s, and grew only more heated as the second wave of modern polytheistic reconstructionism coalesced in the 1990s. A compelling argument could be made, looking at Chas Clifton’s “Her Hidden Children,” that the limitations of creating a “Pagan” community were apparent from the very beginning.

“Much of the credit for the popularization of Pagan and Neo-Pagan goes to Church of All Worlds (CAW). In a tract published in the 1970s, “Neo-Paganism: An Old Religion for a New Age,” Tim Zell, who was chief CAW spokesman, makes all the popular, if sometimes historically inaccurate, arguments that characterized the movement at the time […] by the early 1970s, with Green Egg serving as the official journal of the Council of Earth Religions – a brief successor to an earlier pan-Pagan group, the Council of Themis – the utility of Pagan and Neo-Pagan as umbrella terms has become well established […] the word Pagan, with its overtones of nature religion, was a good fit for these groups, and it rapidly shouldered aside its only competition, Aquarian (as in “Age of Aquarius”), which has been chiefly used in the title of the Aquarian Anti-Defamation League (AADL).”

Those early “councils” faced the problems of how big (or small) to make one’s umbrella, and often suffered for it, usually imploding over personal conflicts and arguments over who could and couldn’t be included in their ranks. Meanwhile, the very groups that would challenge the effectiveness of Pagan as a political label were already emerging, as a growing number of Witchcraft Traditions, Druid groups, and organizations like CAW, were settling on Pagan as a descriptor for the larger religious movement that they all saw themselves as a part of. For twenty years or so this accord largely held, as Heathens at that time had their own internal issues to sort out, and the second wave of polytheistic reconstructionism was still largely pre-formative. Long enough for Paganism (with and without the “Neo”) to be adopted by religious scholars (instead of “New Age”), and for the movement to establish a number of important wins in the realm of equal treatment under the law. To seep its way into our pop-cultural consciousness, and in some ways, to become something out of the control of the groups that adopted it as an umbrella term.

Which brings us to the present day. As I mentioned earlier, the climate today is very different than what it was in the 1970s. Wiccans and Pagans in the United States number anywhere from 700,000 to over a million, depending on how you crunch the available data. In England and Wales, official numbers for Pagan faiths jumped from around 40,000 to around 80,000, with many thinking the true number is larger still. Likewise, Australia also saw census counts rise, though more modestly than in the UK. This is all good news for us, but perhaps more importantly the number of religiously unaffiliated individuals, the “spiritual but not religious,” has exploded in the West, and non-Christian religions like Hinduism and Buddhism have seen ongoing strong growth. The unaffiliated and “other” non-Christian religions made up 32% of Barack Obama’s winning coalition in his recent re-election to the presidency. The unaffiliated are now on statistical parity with evangelical Christianity in America, creating new paths to victory that don’t depend on courting Christian culturally conservative issue stances. It’s natural in such a climate to perhaps reevaluate the Pagan label, and for groups dissatisfied to voice displeasures that were before muted due to more pressing political considerations.

Erynn Rowan Laurie and some anonymous blogger.

A Wiccan and a Celtic Reconstructionist.

This brings us to the issue of solidarity. When we say “the Pagan community,” that is a form of solidarity in action: several discrete groups (Wiccans, Druids, etc), with their own identities, banding together for a common purpose. Similarly, the initialism “LGBT” is another term of solidarity, showing the political alliance of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered individuals (expanded in various permutations, like “QUILTBAG”). While there are a growing number of people who identify their religion simply as “Pagan,” we must remember that this term started as an umbrella that could be used for shorthand when encountering groups outside the established (albeit permeable) boundaries. It was a way to say, We are allies in a common struggle, and an injustice against one is an injustice against all of us. However, solidarity is not unity. Too many battles have been fought over well-meaning but wrong-headed initiatives to get us all singing from the same choir book (so to speak).

In the last twenty years a growing number of Pagans have allied themselves with, and sometimes even joined, a variety of faiths outside the Pagan umbrella as it was understood in the 1970s, including African Diasporic and African Traditional Religions, Dharmic faiths like Hindusim and Buddhism, and, to a lesser degree, Native American and other indigenous religious expressions. This tendency finds its perfect expression at a convention like PantheaCon in San Jose, which while a “Pagan” event, also draws polytheistic reconstructionists, practitioners and initiates of Palo, Vodou, Hoodoo, and Santeria, Hindu converts along with representatives from Hindu groups, and a good number of Pagans who have embraced or converted to Buddhism over the years. In short, it’s a place where new ideas of solidarity are being negotiated in real time, and the utility of the Pagan label is both strengthened and regularly questioned. PantheaCon isn’t necessarily unique in this, but its size and proximity to large urban areas facilitate more diversity than at some of the outdoor festivals or smaller conventions.

Zan Fraser (Second row, far left) at NYC's Pride Parade.

Zan Fraser (Second row, far left) at NYC’s Pride Parade.

So should the Pagan label be scrapped for something better? Something more inclusive and flexible? I’m certainly open to the notion, and perhaps it could even come to pass as the next generation who embraced, or were raised in, Paganism comes into their full power and leadership. Until then, perhaps we can acknowledge that we are doing solidarity differently in 2013 than we are in 1970. That “Paganism” and the “Pagan Community” may still work for a large number of individuals, but feels stifling to some who would be our allies and friends. We should encompass an expanding Venn diagram of coalitions that have overlapping goals and features, but are still distinct in identity. There can still be a “Pagan Community,” but it will exist in a constellation with the “Polytheistic Reconstructionist Community” and the “Hindu Community” and the “African Diasporic Community.” There will be a growing number of individuals who have a foot in more than one of these communities, and we can attend each other’s open events without the expectation that we will also be forced to adopt the labels of those gatherings. More importantly, we can work on the many issues that still face non-Christian religious minorities in the West (and elsewhere) without re-litigating who is and isn’t a Pagan.

Finally, speaking personally, I think that the act of leaving the Pagan label behind casts a new light for those who want to keep being “Pagan.” It should inspire us to think, to reevaluate, to constantly question our goals. The debates over terminology and theology within the Pagan umbrella have led me to view my membership within the Covenant of the Goddess very differently than when I first started the process, over a year ago. I now see that COG needs to revitalize and strengthen its place as an explicitly Wiccan voice and advocacy organization. While I may be comfortable being called a Pagan, I need to spend more time existing within a Wiccan frame of reference. By enriching Wicca, I better prepare it collectively for what the future may bring.

Our models of solidarity are only as strong and vital as those who use them, and the component parts need to be strong enough to shift and reform should we change, or our needs change. None of us has clairvoyance enough to fully anticipate what our culture will be like in another twenty years, but I can guess that we will still have political and cultural goals to rally around, and that our movement’s name will shape itself to the times. Who can say if Paganism will be that name?

I am happy for my Polytheist brothers and sisters for emerging into and finding their preferred collective identity, just as I am happy for any group or individual that realizes itself and acts to claim the power in naming. This time does not need to be rancorous, and we all need to rise above the fear and anger that can come so easily when these shifts happen. There is still much we can share, can have in common, and can work together to achieve; we just have to do so differently, with greater mutual respect and consideration — with more outreach, and more listening. If these developments result in the Pagan umbrella shrinking, I find solace in the fact that my faith is still there, my conception of the sacred is still there, and my friends are still there.

I have much more to say on this issue, but I will save the rest for a talk I’ll be giving at PantheaCon this February entitled “Preserving our past, Preparing for our Future.” There I will lay out some suggestions, and some thoughts as to how we, how Pagans, how our friends and allies, should confront our successes and the challenges ahead of us. I’ll make sure to have an audio recording for those of you unable to come, and hopefully will have even more to share once I’ve given the talk. If you are attending, I hope you’ll come and share your own thoughts.

At the beginning of this month, a wooden idol of the god Perun, installed in the Ukrainian city of Kiev by Slavic Pagan reconstructionists/revivalists (known as Ridnovir), was destroyed by unnamed vandals. According to the Native Faith Association of Ukraine (ORU) this was a coordinated effort that required machinery and multiple people to accomplish. This desecration comes after a Ukrainian Pagan temple was attacked at the end of 2011 in Poltava.

The European Congress of Ethnic Religions (ECER) released a statement saying that this event “rocked all those who respected the ancient Slavic faith.”

Perun idol in Kiev before the desecration.

Perun idol in Kiev before the desecration. (Photo: ORU)

This event rocked all those who respected the ancient Slavic faith. In Poland, in the name of Rodzimo Wiaro (Stanislaw Potrebowski), an appeal on behalf of their fellow Ukrainians was released. The appeal reads “With pain we are going through the news of your idol’s desecration in Kiev. Through this tragedy we stand in solidarity with you. The authors of this crime should not feel like they still live 1000 years ago, when the sacred groves were destroyed and our people’s idols were profaned. Across Europe, the old spiritual traditions are being reborn, and that which has been persistently forced on us is drawing back. The destruction of our idols and beliefs will not minimize our fidelity to our ancestral faith. Let this sordid crime become one more stimulus to move us into restoring and strengthening our indigenous culture. “

This incident seems to be part of a larger tapestry within the Ukraine, where tensions between competing worldviews seem to be ratcheting up. Back in August members of the Ukrainian feminist group Femen took a chainsaw to a giant wooden cross to protest the treatment of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, while the recent Ukrainian elections were very controversial (and very close), causing mass demonstrations. No doubt some see the rise of Slavic Paganism as an affront to traditional Orthodox values, even though adherents of the traditional pre-Christian faiths in the Ukraine are hardly heterogeneous in political or social views (Ridnovir was recently denied inclusion in national religious organizations).  Unlike other European countries, clergy in the Ukraine are very involved in politics, fueling tensions with those who feel the Orthodox and Catholic churches in that region exercise too much control over society.

Within Slavic Paganism Perun is the highest power, controller of thunder and lightning. He shares many, but not all, characteristics with the Norse god Thor. As mentioned above, Ridnovir maintain that this desecration of Perun’s idol will simply become a “stimulus” towards growing and strengthening their faith. As I find more information on this incident, and the larger picture of current tensions between Pagans and Christians in the Ukraine, I’ll post updates.

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!

Vivianne Crowley joins Cherry Hill Seminary: Pagan author, former Pagan Federation secretary, and Jungian psychologist Vivianne Crowley has joined the faculty of Cherry Hill Seminary, a distance education institution for professional Pagan ministry. In a recent news update sent to supporters of Cherry Hill, Crowley, the author of works like “Wicca: A Comprehensive Guide to the Old Religion in the Modern World,” expressed excitement at joining CHS.

“I am excited about teaching for the first time Master’s level programmes with groups of Pagan students. I hope that the programmes that I teach at Cherry Hill will help students to deepen their understanding of religious practice and the dynamics that influence Pagan groups. Psychology of Religion is an important discipline for religious leaders and clergy of all faiths in understanding their own spiritual journey and that of those whom they serve, and the issues of Death and Dying are some of the most sensitive and important that we care called upon to deal with in our ministry.”

You can read more from Crowley about joining CHS, here. Vivianne Crowley will be teaching the class “Call of the Dark Mother” with Jennifer Bennett for the Fall semester. Congratulations to both Crowley and CHS!

The Rise of Óðrœrir: A new journal of interest to Pagans, particularly Heathen reconstructionists, has just launched. Óðrœrir” is “a fully downloadable journal dedicated to developing, fostering, and distributing scholastic literature solely regarding the reconstruction of the various pre-Christian religious traditions and cultures of Northern Europe.”

“It is our firm belief that while much of these traditions are completely viable in a modern setting, understanding and implementing them must be achieved through a thorough understanding of their original context.  We also believe that there is too much literature available that falls very short of this mark.  Thus,Óðrœrir is intended to serve as a bastion of literature that is evidence based and consistent with modern standards of academic accuracy and quality.  Articles are peer reviewed by a board ranging of individuals with over forty years of experience in reconstructing “heathen” traditions, to scholars who are currently leaders in the fields of Old Nordic Religion, and Old Nordic Culture.  It is our hope that with these high standards, and with the range of experience that exists on our board, that Óðrœrir will be able to bridge the gap between scholastic wisdom of ancient heathen traditions and the implementation and practice of ongoing ones today.”

The first issue is available for download now, featuring articles on the state of modern Heathenry, reconstructionism in modern Heathenry, Frankish Heathenry and more. You can also network with the creators at the journal’s Facebook page.

PNC-Minnesota Rolls Out Sacred Harvest Festival Coverage: The week-long Sacred Harvest Festival in Minnesota has just wrapped up, and PNC-Minnesota has begun posting personal reflections and reactions from attendees. However, my favorite thing so far from them is this picture of the founding coordinators of PNC-Minnesota: Heather Biedermann, Nels Linde, and Cara Schulz.

As a co-founder of the Pagan Newswire Collective, just knowing that there are a mixture of citizen and professional Pagan journalists starting to take an active interest in covering what happens in our community gives me hope for our collective future. Good job folks, this is only the beginning! Keep an eye on PNC-Minnesota for more Sacred Harvest Festival coverage rolling out this week.

Spirit of Albion Update: The upcoming independent film The Spirit of Albion, a story inspired by the music of Damh the Bard, has just posted its latest production diary.

You can follow Damh’s Bardic blog for updates, as well as the movie’s Facebook page.

Brendan Myers on Pagan Existentialism: Here at Patheos, Star Foster interviews author Brendan Myers about his most recent book “Loneliness and Revelation: A Study of the Sacred,” existentialism, and the value of suffering within modern Paganism.

“I think that any worldview that might deny, or ignore, the suffering and oppression in the world is profoundly immature and unrealistic. Thus if the pagan movement is a mature one, its question is not whether the acknowledgement of human suffering has value, but rather the question concerns what that value is. In the Christian worldview, the notion of Original Sin, and the crucifixion of Christ, put suffering at the very center of the Christian story. Christians, I am sure, would add that the resurrection is equally important. To this I would only comment that Pagans have a fine collection of dying and resurrecting gods who can act as our role models in our own struggles with the “negative.” Mithras, Osiris, Adonis, come to mind as examples, as well as any number of heroes who made an underworld journey, such as Inanna, Persephone, and Orpheus.”

For more on Myers’ work, check out the guest-post he did for this blog last year that touches on some of the same themes.

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

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

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

Top Story: The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, who recently scored a major judicial win in their ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, is seeing the fight extended further as Catskill appeals the decision to let the case go forward.

As we reported in February, Judge Pulver’s decision was a big victory for the self-described witches of the Maetreum, who argue that the town treated them differently from other religious groups when it placed their Palenville property on the tax rolls […] Despite the appeal, Judge Pulver, who held a preliminary conference in the case yesterday, has set a date for a bench trial. Pulver will hear evidence in the case and rule on it himself on July 20.”

Here’s a statement from the Maetreum of Cybele on the town’s appeal.

“We learned this past weekend that the Town of Catskill appealed the Judge’s decision to the New York Appellate Court. We believe this is their last ditch effort to avoid having to legally grant our exemption for 2011 as the deadline for them to decide on that is fast approaching and the decision left no grounds for denial since the Board of Assessment Review refused the invitation to tour our property last year meaning they have no direct knowledge of how we use our property, literally the only wiggle room they had.”

This is an issue that Catskill is going to fight to the bitter end, and is breaking their budget in the process. While they continue to fight for pennies from the Maetreum, mega-retailer Wal-Mart seems to have no trouble getting a big tax break. I guess it’s about priorities.

Heathens Gather Near Paganistan: PNC-Minnesota interviews Brody Derks of  Volkshof  Kindred about Heathenry and the upcoming Northern Folk Gathering near the Twin Cities in June.

“June 10-12, we have this event, the Northern Folk Gathering, it used to be called the Midwest Thing, but we have changed the name. Registration includes three days and two nights of cabin camping. We have open activities, and a Saturday night feast. It is at St Croix State Park at the boot camp. This is just outside the Twin Cities. We having folk coming in from Kansas, Michigan, and other parts of the country.

It has a few different aspects. It is a gathering of tribes. The Chieftains do gather and and have meetings. We are part of an alliance of people, tribes, of the Midwest. We come together and make decisions that influence the road that Heathenry takes in the Midwest. There is also a lot of workshops, information about Anglo-Saxon cultureKari Tauring will be presenting song and Stav. There will also be events for the children. We have plenty of children centered events, and we very much welcome children.”

Derks also talks about why they don’t use the term “Pagan,” and his time as president of the University of Minnesota Pagan Society.

Analyzing Satanism’s (Alleged) Rise: TheoFantastique interviews Jesper Aagaard Peterson, a Research Fellow at the Dept. of Archaeology and Religious Studies, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who studies modern Satanism, about the recent rise in exorcisms and claims of explosive growth among Satanic groups.

“Regarding the rise of Satanism, that depends on how you define it. The article you mention calls it a “surge” and a “revival”. It is true that the 1990s and early 2000s saw an increase of interest in Satanism alongside Witchcraft, Neopaganism, and other religious currents with roots in esotericism and occultism. This has to do with the general re-enchantment of the West in the past 50 years (an enchantment that never really went away, actually, but that is another story), which has developed in dialogue with popular media. It is also true that Satanism is more visible and more accessible because of the Internet, and that it flourishes on the de-regulated arenas the Internet provides. On the other hand, membership figures are hard to come by, and should be seen in relation to degrees of affiliation – a majority of witches or Satanists are tourists or dabblers, and only a small minority affiliate with a group and/or develop a long-term engagement. It is likely that more people are attracted to Satanism than before, and they are more visible today, but actual members still amount to thousands and not millions. In any case, where I differ from the article’s conclusion is in the effect of mediated religion on susceptible youth. Watching a movie, accessing a website or participating in a discussion forum does not automatically make you a Satanist, and it certainly does not make you possessed.”

The conversation here was sparked by a Daily Telegraph article about a six-day conference being held at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome. According to organizers and exorcists there’s been a “revival” of Satanism and that “the rise of Satanism has been dangerously underestimated in recent years.” For all my exorcism-revival coverage, click here.

The Shrine That Survived: CNN reports on Buddhist/Shinto shrine at Otsuchi that survived the tsunami and a fire.

Stories about indigenous faith traditions from Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami have been somewhat rare, so I’m glad to see this story emerge. Strangely, this story was posted to CNN’s Belief Blog for a short time, but was then removed. I’m not saying there were any nefarious motives, but I do wonder why that happened. Internal turf battle? Editorial decision? As for whether this was divine intervention, I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

Reconstructed and Engaged: Over at Patheos.com, the PNC’s own Cara Schulz writes about Hellenismos and why a reconstructed ancient religion makes the most sense to her.

“But this is how we see it – why reinvent the wheel when you can put some air in the one you’re given and get back on the spiritual path? There were reasons why our ancestors interacted with deities in the way that they did. Because it worked. It’s spiritually fulfilling. It makes sense. It allows for a deeper connection with deities and the world around you. It has meaning and depth and beauty. It is timeless. It vibrates in our very souls. But the key is to regularly engage in rituals, observances and practices. To adhere as close to what the ancients did, in order to learn from their wisdom and experience, and then to translate that into a slightly more modern form that is still ‘true’ to its origins.”

Cara also links to a video of a wedding ceremony conducted by Hellenic Pagans in Greece. Showing how ancient traditions give a depth of meaning to these important milestones of life.

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

As an academic discipline, Pagan Studies is certainly a “new kid on the block,” just as Paganism as a term for a living religious tradition is still relatively new in the current era of world history. (I have had to clarify for some people I’ve met in recent history that identifying as Pagan doesn’t mean “no religion at all” on several occasions…!) Some of the writers who have produced seminal works within Pagan Studies come from a journalistic background, like Chas Clifton and Margot Adler. The focus of a great deal of Pagan studies up until this point has tended to be anthropological, with exemplary writers like Sabina Magliocco coming from this discipline and forging paths in this new area. Many of these have done so while being practitioners themselves. But, the field of Pagan Studies is (like many such “____ Studies” subjects) an interdisciplinary one, taking in elements from history (the field of Ronald Hutton, amongst others), literary studies across many fields, sociology, psychology, and religion, as well as a variety of other possibilities, in addition to anthropology. This interdisciplinarity can only be an advantage in terms of offering many people across a broad range of subjects the opportunity to lend their own special skills and knowledge to questions within the field.

And yet, the anthropological methodology of “participant-observer” is not shared with most of these other fields, making it difficult in some cases to engage with these subjects in an academic setting at all, much less to do so when one is a practitioner of the religion oneself. Religious studies has based its own methodology on a phenomenological approach, rather than a theological approach, so that an individual student or scholar can examine a particular religious idea, practice, text, or development while not necessarily endorsing that idea from a personal or sectarian viewpoint. While a robust Pagan theology would indeed be useful, both within and across various modern traditions and movements (and moves in this direction have been made with John Michael Greer’s A World Full of Gods and T. Thorn Coyle’s Kissing the Limitless), this ability to have Paganism studied as a religion and a religious phenomenon—both by non-Pagans and Pagans alike—within an academic setting is a positive thing, but also one that does not have a very lengthy historical precedent.

Two scholars who have written on the difficulties of researching Paganism and the perceived difficulty of “going native” within academia include Graham Harvey in his piece “Pagan Studies or the Study of Paganisms? A Case Study in the Study of Religions” in Researching Paganisms, and Amy Hale’s “White Men Can’t Dance: Evaluating Race, Class and Rationality in Ethnographies of the Esoteric” in Ten Years of Triumph of the Moon. The fact is, some of us who are practicing Pagans do exist in academic fields, and happen to also study things that would potentially be of interest or use to modern practicing Pagans. So, what about us?

The simple fact of the matter is that in many disciplines, this is not in any way an advantage, and is often something that must be concealed for fear of one’s work being labeled as “agenda-driven scholarship.” (Let’s ignore for a moment all the findings of post-modern theory, and the fact that there is no such thing as completely disinterested, objective, or scientific scholarship when it comes to anything in the humanities and social sciences…!) One must tread carefully; and yet, the question of authenticity remains. Is crypto-Paganism in the humanities—particularly in the direct study of Paganism, the occult, magic, and other such subjects—a good thing, or would “coming out of the broom closet” be as useful and liberating as it is for those who are diverse in their sexual orientations have found it to be in their own workplaces?

While that is an issue that should be up to the individuals involved, what is more worrisome is how often aspects of Paganism, witchcraft, occultism, and magic are misunderstood amongst the academic “experts” in these fields. I was a guest professor at a major Midwestern U.S. university from January to April of this year, and I had the opportunity to speak about both historical and modern Pagan practices in several of the courses I was teaching; I also teach religious studies courses that touch on Paganism on an adjunct basis. In all of these, I generally do not reveal my own religious affiliations to my students (or at least not until the end of class when everything is finished and there is no possibility of bias in grading or in students’ completion of assignments). While at this Midwestern university during those months, I spoke with other people who teach or research these subjects (all of whom were non-practitioners) in diverse fields, at conferences, dinners, and special seminars. Some of the things I heard about modern Paganism from these “experts” utterly astounded me with the ignorance, negativity, and arrogance displayed. The names of the university and the events and individuals involved have been withheld here to protect the ignorant.

In early March, I had dinner the night before a seminar on witchcraft with a professor from another university, who had a large section on modern Paganism in several of his courses, and admitted to a great interest in and expertise with the subject. (After praising the work of Tanya Luhrmann as a useful and representative treatment of modern witchcraft, I became quite skeptical…) At one point, Asatru was mentioned, and another person at the dinner asked what that was. This professor from the other university said “Those are the Norse Pagans who are white supremacists.” (!?!) I quickly added “It’s a very small minority amongst the Germanic Pagan population which actively thinks that,” to which he replied, “From what I’ve studied, it seems to be an essential element in Asatru.” I pointed him to the work of Diana Paxson and suggested that he take a close look at her, as—no matter what some may opine about her practices—she is representative of the larger trend in Asatru to not have racial considerations at the forefront of her theology, or even her wider concerns, spiritually or otherwise. Gods hope he followed up on that suggestion!

There was a small weekend conference on religion and magic in the ancient world, with various classicists as presenters, and it amazed me how naïve most of the people speaking as experts in ancient magic were about how magic “actually” works. One gave a paper outlining a new methodology for outlining what might be magical material in the archaeological record, without addressing anything specific from the texts involved, like the fact that crossroads might be a good place to excavate for remnants of magical activity, if in no other way than to see if the soil samples were frequently disturbed during the period of late antiquity. I made this suggestion afterwards, and the presenter seemed rather dumbfounded that he had not thought of it. Another gave a paper on a cognitive studies approach to magic, because it is impossible (from her viewpoint, and no doubt that of many in the room) that someone could think of a by-definition “inanimate object” as having power, much less volition or even agency. In polytheistic and animistic cultures, it would be much stranger to assume an object would even be able to exist as “inanimate,” but of course the context of theology in the original cultures was not in any way relevant to the inquiry. (Much less trying to argue that certain ritual tools of many modern pagans not only have had a life of their own quite literally, but in fact might choose the owner as equally as the owner might choose them!) The results of this “cognitive theory in magic” research might reveal much about how a modern person understands from a cognitive theoretical perspective how this would work, but I seriously doubt it would have any relevance at all to magic practitioners in late antiquity.

Even worse, to support her research, she cited a recent study of how U.S. military servicemembers in Iraq and Afghanistan who work with robotic drones have often risked life and limb to save injured robots, have held robot funerals and medal ceremonies, and have become very emotionally attached to the robots they work with, even giving them names. The gathered audience of academics laughed at this. I was not amused at all. The arrogance to laugh at people under an immense amount of stress, doing some of the most difficult and dangerous work in the military, was bad enough; but the idea that as “rational” academics, all those in the room were somehow superior to these “uneducated” and even “primitive” and “superstitious” individuals was truly sickening.

However, these various incidents paled in comparison to a seminar on African witchcraft that I attended, hosted by the departments of African Studies and anthropology. After an outside scholar presented a good paper on witchcraft accusations in parts of modern Africa, including the idea that nowadays all witches have airplanes (apparently, that’s how they fly…?!?), a faculty member present asked why there aren’t anthropological studies of modern witches in the U.S., and then went on to tell us all how witches killed her cat when she lived in L.A. The outside presenter somewhat dodged that issue, but then said “Well, there is this modern thing called ‘Wicca,’ but, of course, it’s false and artificial.” Oh, really? Deciding that it was useless to engage that presenter in conversation, I instead went to the faculty member who had asked the question.

I began to suggest some of the studies I’ve mentioned above, and she cut me off and said “It’s not as if I’d actually read any of that; I just wondered why no one is doing this work.” (They are!) As I was trying to talk a bit more sensibly about some of the issues she raised, and I mentioned that there are a larger number of Pagans in the U.S. than some might think, she rolled her eyes and said “I can’t think that’s in any way a good thing.” As I began to respond to that comment as rationally as possible, she again cut me off and said angrily, “THEY KILLED MY CAT!” Due to some knowledge and research on that issue (including a great deal written on this very blog about animal sacrifice!), I then tried to explain that no modern Pagan group, including those that advocate animal sacrifice, would kill a cat, nor any non-food animal, nor would they dispose of it by strewing it out across a neighborhood, as was the case with her own dead cat’s story. Apparently, some “occult expert” in the police department said that “they probably killed it because they wanted its blood for their rituals.” I again tried to explain the likelihood of that was extremely remote, but by this time, she had completely dismissed me.

Modern Pagans, witches, occultists, and magic practitioners are a potential audience for a great deal of academic work on these topics—indeed, I imagine more modern Pagans and occultists own titles from Penn State University Press’ Magic in History series than do actual academics! And, why wouldn’t modern Pagans, particularly those of a reconstructionist bent, not want to go to university to study Classical Greek and Roman cultures and languages, Egyptology, Scandinavian Studies, Celtic Studies, and any number of other historical and literary subjects which might have direct relevance to our own spiritual practices? Generations of Christians and Jews have done the same, whether under the aegis of religious studies, theology, archaeology, or any number of other disciplines. And yet, many academics in these fields have a vested interest in keeping their “dead languages and dead religions” as dead as possible. Indeed, the term “academic” does not just mean learned discourses on a variety of subjects, but instead can mean “neither practical nor useful.” Gods forbid someone translate a ritual text or spell, lest someone attempt to use it!

The academic engagement with Paganism, as well as Pagan involvement in academia, could be very useful indeed. But, until academia takes modern Pagans as subjects of useful study on a wider basis, as well as considers practicing Pagans as equally viable to study such subjects (whether modern Paganism or ancient and medieval literature, culture, history, and magic), then full religious equality within the Ivory Tower will not be a reality.

In my opinion, it is no coincidence that questions of hermeneutics are at the forefront of academic discussions of methodology in many fields; but it is the god Hermes who is at the root of the very practice of interpretive sciences, if you like, both etymologically and functionally. The question of the biases of an academic in studying their field is a question of hermeneutics, and one which has been inserted into the discourse on feminist theory, LGBTQ studies and histories, race, postcolonialism, and a variety of other discourses within particular humanities and social science subjects. And, I think it is time that many of us brought Hermes with us in our hermeneutics, as Pagans in academia, and as Pagans studying Paganism. Gods willing, it will happen more and more as the public face of Paganisms in the U.S. and worldwide increases.

Many thanks and blessings to Jason for his continued hard work on this blog and for the invitation to write here today; to all of you who took the time to read this entry; and to all of the Pagans working, both behind-the-scenes and openly, in academia!

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus is a founder of the Ekklesía Antínoou (a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist group dedicated to Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and related divine figures) a member of Neos Alexandria, and a Celtic Reconstructionist pagan. He has published a collection of poetry called The Phillupic Hymns (Bibliotheca Alexandrina, 2008), as well as a number of essays and poems in the various Bibliotheca Alexandrina devotional volumes to Artemis, Hekate, and Isis and Serapis, with several more due out in the near future, as well as two poems in the Scarlet Imprint anthology Datura. He can also be found blogging for International Pagan Values Month 2010 on the Ekklesía Antínoou LiveJournal group. Lupus’ day-job (as a professional academic and adjunct instructor) and general daily life is nowhere near as interesting as any of the above, and is therefore best glossed over!

For those of you enjoying the wide-ranging discussions about Pagan identity that have emerged in the wake of the Parliament of the World’s Religions (specifically the categories of “Traditional/Indigenous”, “Reconstructionist”, and “Neopagan”), I’d like to quickly point you to some explorations of this topic going on elsewhere. First, Pagan scholar Chas Clifton explores the politics that underly terms like “indigenous”, and whether they can apply to contemporary Pagans.

“So are today’s revived and re-created Pagan traditions “indigenous.” I think not—not because they lack ancient roots, but because they are not generally connected to land claims and other current political issues.”

Meanwhile, at the Pagans at the Parliament group-blog, T. Thorn Coyle has posted a three-part reflection (part 1, part 2, part 3) on Nature Religion, and Paganism as an indigenous religion, while on the road in Tasmania. Thorn wonders if applying “indigenous” labels to certain contemporary Pagan groups might become problematic in the longer run.

“In these conversations about which Pagans are “indigenous” and which are “neo-Pagans” how long is it before indigenous comes to equal authentic and authentic comes to equal pure and pure comes to equal superior?”

I urge my readers invested in this current discussion/debate to read and comment on all of the linked entries, because I think they have some important insights and wisdom to convey. Also stay tuned to the EarthSpirit Voices blog, where Andras Corban Arthen promises a report on the “The Revival of the European Pagan Traditions” Parliament panel that seems to have sparked much of this discussion.