Archives For Sabina Magliocco

The American Academy of Religions held its annual meeting in sunny San Diego, California from Nov. 22-25. The event attracted thousands of professors, students, writers, religious leaders and others from across the globe to participate in workshops, lectures and events related to religious studies and theology. In attendance and presenting were a growing number of Pagans.

{0b895c50-c9a2-db11-a735-000c2903e717}“The AAR annual meeting is a huge intellectual energy infusion, not to mention a social occasion with Pagan Studies scholars from around the world,” said Chas Clifton, co-chair of AAR’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Group. “There are literally dozens of sessions happening at any one time-slot, so people are always having to compromise.” He added that the Pagan-focused programming, which began in 2005, attracts an average of 40-50 attendees per session, which he called “respectable for a small sub-field.”

The sessions, which were run in part or in whole by the Pagan Studies Group, included such topics as, “The New Animism: Ritual and Response to the Nonhuman World” (Michael Houseman, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes); “Evolving or Born this Way: Conversion and Identity” (Hannah Hofheinz, Harvard University); “New Paganism(s) around the Globe” (Chas Clifton, Colorado State University); “Animism and Paganism: The Dialog Continues” (Jone Salomonsen, University of Oslo) and “From the Charmed Circle to Sacred Kink: Theorizing Boundaries in Religion and Sexuality.” And those are just a few highlights.

Dr. Wendy Griffin, Professor Emerita and Chair of the Department of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality at California State University and Academic Dean of Cherry Hill Seminary said, “As the founding co-chair of the Pagan Studies group at the AAR years ago, I have seen the attendance grow with real pleasure. The reception has always been positive.”

Chas Clifton

Co-Chair of AAR’s Pagan Studies Group [Courtesy Photo]

Clifton agreed, saying, “The question of “reception” never was cast in religious terms, in other words, some kind of discrimination against Pagans — despite the AAR’s roots in Protestant Christian theology.” He explained that the founders had to prove that their programming didn’t fall under another already established category, such as “New Religious Movements.” AAR rejected the application in 1997, but than accepted the Pagan Studies group in 2005. Its been going strong ever since.

Clifton added, “The academic study of Paganism is not about either explaining Paganism to others or teaching Pagans how to be better Pagans. For the latter, I suppose you go to PantheaCon.” The discussions at AAR fall more into the academic realms of mapping emerging practices, presenting trends or vital discourse.

M. Macha Nightmare has been attending AAR off and on since 1998. She said, “I [went] mainly to support the group that was then formulating the implementation of a Pagan Studies section … Since that time, I’ve joined the Academy and have attended as many meetings as possible. During that time, I’ve seen the proposals and acceptance of the Pagan Studies section flourish. ”

Part of her connection to AAR is through her work with Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS). Nightmare said, “In fact, on my way to the 2009 annual meeting in Atlanta, I encountered Wendy Griffin in the women’s room of the Dallas Airport where we both had a layover on our trips … She asked what I had been up to and I replied that CHS was seeking an Academic Dean.” After several discussions with Director Holli Emore, Griffin was hired. Now, Griffin admits that one of her motivations for going to AAR is to “promote Cherry Hill.” She added, “This year, I believe, we found 2 new international students.”

People attend AAR for a variety of reasons. Amy Hale, Ph.D., Undergraduate Director of Instructional Technology and Teacher Excellence at Golden Gate University, has been “delivering workshops for AAR’s Employment Services on the theme of career transition away from academia.” Hale also sits on the Pagan Studies Steering Group. Of this year’s event, Hale said:

AAR can be huge and overwhelming but the conversation is lively and stimulating. I particularly loved the Esotericism in African American Religion session which included some excellent scholarship that rightfully expands the boundaries of Western Esoteric Studies.

Jeffrey Albaugh attends, in part, to help his own work for the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. He said that attending AAR “helps in how [he] thinks about how the conference is run.” He added, “My work occupies the confluence of psychology and religion, so attending AAR offers me new perspectives to consider.”

Dr. Sabina Magliocco, Professor of Anthropology at California State University, only attends on occasion since her “primary professional association is the American Folklore Society (AFS).” Fortunately, this year’s meeting was close to her home and, therefore, she was able to easily attend. Additionally, Magliocco was invited to be a respondent on a panel about folkloristic approaches to the study of religion. She said:

I also had recent research results from my project “Animals and the Spiritual Imagination” that I wanted to present and get feedback on.  AAR fits with my work as a folklorist and anthropologist because of my focus on vernacular religion and expressive culture.  I can network with others who share those specific interests, as well as ones in ritual studies, Pagan studies, and new religious movements.

Australian Professor Douglas Ezzy presenting [Courtesy J. Albaugh]

Australian Professor Douglas Ezzy presenting [Courtesy J. Albaugh]

As Clifton noted, this year’s Pagan Studies presentations included an international element. Clifton presided over a Global Paganisms panel that included scholars from the United Kingdom, Brazil, Israel, Norway and the Netherlands. In addition, Clifton presented a paper by Dmitry Galtsin, a researcher in the Rare Books Department of the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Unfortunately, Galtsin was not able to raise enough funds to make the trip himself.

Israeli Ph.D candidate Shai Feraro said, “It was first time at AAR, after attending several conferences in Europe. I decided to attend the annual meeting due to its status as the largest and most important conference dedicated to the study of religion and spirituality.”

Douglas Ezzy, Ph.D, associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Tasmania in Australia, was attending the annual meeting for the 4th time. He said, “The AAR is a very important forum for me as a Pagan Studies scholar. It is one of the few places where I can meeting a large group of other academics who share my interests and have a detailed familiarity with the Pagan Studies literature.” Ezzy’s paper and recent work focus on “Relational Ethics, Ritual and the New Animism.”

Of this year’s AAR meeting, Ezzy said, “I heard some wonderful papers on ritual studies, mysticism, gender and religion and Paganisms. I also renewed some friendships and developed new ones.” That sentiment was echoed by several of the attendees. Feraro noted that a Pagan Studies group dinner was held at a local restaurant, where he was able to finally meet some American Pagan scholars whose books influenced his own research.

Douglas Ezzy, Chas Clifton and Shai Feraro at Pagan Studies group dinner

Douglas Ezzy, Chas Clifton and Shai Feraro at Pagan Studies group dinner

Hale agreed, saying “Another highlight is spending time with my colleagues, who are cherished friends. AAR just creates community.”

Next year’s American Academy of Religions annual meeting will be held in Atlanta Nov. 21-24. Clifton says that, over the next few weeks, the organization will be setting the 2015 themes. The call for papers will be issued in January.

Cultural appropriation is not a new issue and definitely not new within Paganism. The story of American capitalism has created a strong foundation for what has continued to be one of the most important, and yet challenging, discussions underlying the modern Pagan experience. Conversations of cultural appropriation reach outside of the boundaries of this spiritual world and intersect with various other aspects of our everyday society, leaving a complex web to untangle.

For example, the New Age sector’s use of various aspects of Native American* cultures, as well as the selling or misappropriating of that culture, has continued to drum up controversy. Indian Country Today Media Network recently published an article called Selling the Sacred, exploring the objectifying of Native religious and cultural “secrets” in New Age arenas. The article highlights several places that claim to certify people as Shamans or even award a Masters Degree in Native American Shamanism.

[Photo Credit: Media123 CC lic. via Wikimedia Commons]

[Photo Credit: Media123 CC lic. via Wikimedia Commons]

Native Americans are not the only marginalized culture to be openly appropriated in the United States by New Age practitioners and even Pagan communities. Hindu deities and traditions have become more popular among some people, along with aspects of African heritage as well. It is just as common to find djembe drums in a Pagan fire circle as it is to find candles in a ritual. The line between appropriation and cultural exchange can be a very fine one. It is not only about the intersection of capitalism, but also colonialism enters into the equation.

There are many things to consider. When does exchange become more about honoring another culture rather than just adopting it while leaving its roots behind?

The growing eclecticism of Pagan practitioners make these distinctions more challenging to unravel. How do we determine the boundaries of respectful cultural exchange within modern Paganism when individual understandings of this concept are so vast and varied?

The complexity of exploring the nuances of cultural appropriation versus exchange are not easily defined by one set of criteria. Sabina Magliocco, Professor of Anthropology at California State University – Northridge, answered questions about the layered intricacies of the often controversial concepts of appropriation and exchange.

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo Credit Tony Mierzwicki)

… while on paper one can try to distinguish appropriation from exchange, in practice, it’s much more complicated. Cultures come into contact with one another in many different ways, and some of those involve violence. Nonetheless, cultural exchanges do emerge from those contacts — all the time. Think of cultural exchange as a crossroads. In folklore, the crossroads is a liminal place of magic, but it’s also a dangerous place, a place where death and destruction can happen. Crossroads deities are tricky (Eshu, Loki, Odin) and fierce (Hekate). Yet from that destruction and trickery, new life arises. It’s kind of the same with cultural contact and exchange.

Usually, when defining cultural exchange, the premise is that the two cultures entering into the exchange are on equal terms: neither is more powerful than the other. Cultural material — narratives, verbal lore, music, material culture, foodways, magical techniques — are shared as part of the process of intercultural contact. Thus, for example, when the Irish settled in New York City after fleeing the potato famine in 1848, they found that all the storekeepers in the neighborhoods where they could afford to live were Jewish. They didn’t have any lamb or pork, but they did carry Kosher corned beef. Thus, corned beef substituted the kinds of meats they had eaten in their homeland. That’s the reason we think of corned beef and cabbage as “Irish” food today — it’s really Irish American food, born of that cultural exchange.

Appropriation happens when one culture conquers another, destroys or damages their culture and substitutes its own as the dominant culture, then borrows elements of the subjugated culture, re-contextualizing them for their symbolic value.

So, for example, the destruction of Native American cultures by European Americans, followed by the use of decontextualized elements from those cultures (feather headdresses, sweat lodges, jewelry, fringed clothing, architecture styles, concepts such as “spirit animal”) as icons of authenticity or spirituality is an example of appropriation.

All this is easy on paper, but more challenging on the ground, because in reality, cultures are seldom on equal footing in terms of power. Moreover, cultural borrowing and exchange happens constantly. We are moved to adopt elements we find attractive or advantageous through a process called “mimesis” (imitation).

Attempting to keep your own culture “pure” and free of any appropriated or borrowed elements is just as noxious as free-wheeling appropriation: it leads to a kind of cultural fascism, like what we see now developing among certain kinds of right-wing, nationalist Paganisms in Eastern Europe and Russia.

Basically, avoiding blatant cultural appropriation is about respecting the feelings and rights of other cultures with which you co-exist. It’s about recognizing when there’s a history of power-over, exploitation, and cultural destruction, and being mindful of that … It’s about power dynamics — and those are frequently subtle.

In light of the complicated, interwoven and challenging prospect of analyzing what might be culturally appropriative and what might be considered respectful exchange, several other people have shared their thoughts to this complex topic. The personal insights of these practitioners show a myriad different angles and ideals that mirror such diversity in thought and practice.

Lupa Greenwolf is an author and artist that has worked with shamanic aspects in her personal practice. She is the editor of the 2012 anthology Talking About the Elephant: An Anthology of Neopagan Perspectives on Cultural Appropriation published by Immanion/Megalithica Press. Lou Florez is a Rootdoctor and Orisha Priest in the San Francisco Bay Area. His spiritual work focuses on the liberation of the body, and he works as a southern-style Tarot and Dillogun reader at a metaphysical shop in Oakland, California. Kenn Day is the author of several books on post-tribal shamanism, including Post-Tribal Shamanism: A New Look at the Old Ways published in 2014 by Moon Books. Janet Callahan is an author of several published works and is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux (Lakota) Tribe.

Lupa

Lupa

The problem in a more practical sense is that, in the U.S. at least, there is no established shamanic path in the dominant culture, and so people who come from that culture (like me) have to choose either to try to shoehorn ourselves into an indigenous culture that we may not be welcome in let alone be trained in, or research cultures of our genetic ancestors and find that we are no more *culturally* German, or Slavic, or Russian than we are Cherokee or Dine’. Or we take a third road, which is to try to piece together from scratch some tradition that carries the same basic function as a shamanic practice in another culture, but which is informed by our own experiences growing up in the culture we happened to be born into.

As to how to realistically avoid appropriation to the best of your ability, while also honoring your own need for spirituality and the spirits/community you serve? A lot of it is a matter of educating yourself on where you’re coming from versus the origins of the traditions you may be inspired by, and how your own cultural experiences inform your own practice of similar-but-not-the-same traditions. One of the problems I have with core shamanism is that it claims to be “culturally neutral”, or at least a lot of the practitioners thereof claim it is. And that’s basically impossible. Your culture ALWAYS affects how you approach everything, from spirituality to communication to food. So try to be a shaman of your own culture, not of someone else’s (unless specifically invited).

I think the biggest problem is when non-indigenous people wholesale take indigenous practices, and then claim to be indigenous themselves. That’s part of what makes it tougher for people who are genuinely trying to create a practice for themselves while remaining as culturally sensitive as possible, because we get lumped in with those who outright lie about who they are. So you need to be honest and clear about where your practices come from and what inspired them, what’s your own creation and what came from others.

I’ve had people tell me everything from “You shouldn’t use the word ‘shaman'” to “You shouldn’t use a drum with a real hide head” to “You shouldn’t work with hides and bones at all”, all because I’m a European mutt. For a while I kept backing up and backing up and acquiescing to whoever criticized me–and then I realized that if I gave in to every criticism, I’d have no practice left at all. So I very carefully reviewed what my practice entailed, did my best to claim that which I created myself while also being honest about how other cultures’ practices inspired me, and that’s where I drew my line, where I would back up no farther. I don’t consider myself a neoshaman any more, mostly because I don’t use specifically “shamanic” practices like journeying, and use the term “naturalist pagan” for what I currently practice, but I still work with hides and bones, I still have my totemic practice, all in ways that I have developed for myself over the years. – Lupa Greenwolf, Author

Lou Florez

Lou Florez [Courtesy Photo]

Experiences of appropriation have left me alienated and displaced in community. At its core appropriation is a form of violence and aggression against brown bodies and brown communities. It is a minstreling, a racist caricature that tells more about the frame of mind of the performer [appropriation is a performative act] then it does about the original practice or cultural significance. Not only does it cause harm through this mimicking of symbols and actions, but it further creates difficulties for seeing real images of brown people and our gods on community altars due to the fear of appropriation.I think that honesty is of utmost importance in these matters because there is a difference between a ritual inspired by a different culture versus one that claims a lineage in that specific tradition. My litmus test is this question, have you been given license to do ceremony and teach from these communities? Just as I would never read a book and pretend to be an authority in Gardenarian Wicca, you can’t read one book and think that you are a rootworker, conjure doctor, or a First Nation “shaman.” – Lou Florez, Rootdoctor and Orisha priest

Kenn Day

Kenn Day [Courtesy Photo]

Cultural appropriation is damaging both to the culture that is being taken from as well as the one who is taking pieces without context. The loss to the culture appropriated is obvious. The damage to the one doing the taking is more subtle.Back in the late 80’s I coined the term “post-tribal shamanism” to differentiate between the teachings I received and those of tribal cultures. However, many people make the assumption that, if you are practicing ceremony with ancestor spirits, then you have taken your practice from a native tradition. This is no more true than it is to assume that only tribal people have ancestors. The call to practice shamanism is found in every culture. Just like everything else, it appears differently in each culture, yet it is still recognizable.The most important difference I see between the shamanism practiced in tribal cultures and what I teach and practice is that the tribal practices are focused on supporting, healing and maintaining the most import unit of that culture: the tribe itself. Our situation is dramatically different, in that the most important unit of our culture is the individual. This is where our practices need to be directed. Too many traditional practices are simply not appropriate for use with individuals, just as what I do would not be appropriate for tribal people. – Kenn Day, Author and Professional Shaman

Janet Callahan

Janet Callahan

The history of cultural appropriation makes me more cautious when I encounter a new group or teacher or situation. I ask more questions about what is planned, look more at the history of who they’ve learned from, and so on. I want to make sure I’m not walking into a situation I can’t ethically support.

I think people really need to do their homework. They need to understand not just the physical aspects of a practice, but the bigger picture in terms of culture and language and what is really going on (and to do that, frequently you realize it’s not actually possible to take it out of context).

My immediate family is not “Traditional” (which is generally used to mean those who follow tribal ways rather than being Christian and otherwise following white ways), but portions of my extended family are. And what I understand now, that I think is lost outside of the culture, is that religion/spirituality and culture are woven together. They are not separate entities. And that means that taking something out of context loses much of the value of it. – Janet Callahan, Author

As the framework of culture continue to evolve and change, so does the black and white definition of what constitutes appropriation. The context of how something is regarded, shared, explored or used may vary within different cultures and different time frames. This means there is not a clear definition of what is and is not an acceptable with regards to the use of elements from another culture. Context is everything.

Instead we are left with a list of considerations that should be given to cultures, people and histories that are not our own, and a level of awareness that reminds us that everything is not open property just because we wish it to be so. Releasing the conditioning of post-colonialism in America reminds us that everything is not ours to take, everything is not ours to sell and everything is not free. What prices are paid when cultural treasures are taken from a people?

Kenn Day spoke to the complexity of learning to navigate our relationships with living cultures. He said, “These living cultures can be dealt with respectfully in much the same way as many modern seekers have approached native traditions of shamanism, by approaching them with humility and asking to learn from the lore keepers of that people. This means recognizing that their traditions are not yours to take. They can be gifted, but even then they remain within the territory of that people. It is demeaning to have elements of your culture taken out of context and displayed for the entertainment of those outside your community.”

How do we as modern Pagans respectfully exchange with other spiritual cultures? What are we giving in exchange for the knowledge that we gain and using for our own spiritual experiences? How can we respect the context, culture, history and people of the cultures we are exchanging with? All of these are questions that should be evaluated on an ongoing basis within any spiritual community that is growing and evolving.

 *   *   *

*Author’s note: I am very aware that many of the different names and labels, which are commonly used to refer to the indigenous of this land, come with traces of colonialism. Since there is no universally-respected term that can possibly fit all native indigenous/Native American/American Indians/First Peoples, I want to acknowledge this fact and communicate my sincere desire to be respectful.

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 let’s get started!

150318_285637801541688_2098495770_nJust as we were going to press, the passing of Jeff Rosenbaum was announced. The cause of death was a brain tumor. Rosenbaum is perhaps best known as the conceiver and a founder of the Association for Consciousness Exploration (ACE), the Chameleon Club, the Starwood Festival, and the WinterStar Symposium. Through the 1990s and early 2000s the Starwood Festival was arguably one of the most popular (and populous) outdoor festivals of its type, thanks to organizers cross-pollinating Pagan communities with other religious and visionary movements, featuring guests like Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson. Rosenbaum talked a bit about this organizing vision when he was interviewed in the book “Modern Pagans.”

“Starwood is a big college of alternative thinking and alternative spirituality that suddenly appears like a carnival or circus. The tents go up, it stays there for a week, and then BOOM it’s gone, til next year. We have 140 or more classes from 9:30 in the morning till 6:15 in the evening–sometimes as many as 12 at a time. You can learn about Druidism, Ceremonial Magic, Wicca, Tibetan Buddhism, and Native American Practices. We have classes on psychedelia and psychology, and different “movement systems” like tai chi, yoga and aikido. Past speakers have included Timothy Leary, quantum physicist Fred Allen Wolf, Paul Krassner, and Steven Gaskin, who created the Farm, the biggest hippie commune in America. It’s all included in the cost of admission.”

As Rosenbaum puts it, he was “a student of an eclectic array of spiritual paths, philosophies, and illuminating pursuits,” and it was that wide-ranging desire to experience and know that drove his life. In addition to his work with ACE and Starwood, he was Robert Anton Wilson’s lecture agent for six years during the 1980s, played guitar & percussion with Ian Corrigan and Victoria Ganger in the bands Chameleon and Starwood Sizzlers, and was published (and interviewed) in a number of Pagan-themed publications. Tributes to Rosenbaum are already flooding his Facebook profile, but I think the most apt was a posthumous status update from Jeff Rosenbaum himself, which I think does a good job of capturing his spirit. Quote: “At 6:23 pm EST tonight I crossed over and left my body behind. My friends were by my side, the Firesign Clones were playing on the TV. It was calm and peaceful. Thank you all for your good wishes and support. Don’t worry about me, I’m fine.” What is remembered, lives. ADDENDUM: Here’s an obituary written by close friend Ian Corrigan.

dwsLWG1w_400x400The Pagan Environmental Coalition of NYC has sent out a call for help. The People’s Climate March is less than a month away and the number of Pagans pledging to march as part of the Interfaith contingent is “exploding,” according to organizers. PEC-NYC has started an Indigogo campaign with the goal of $3,000 by Sept. 18th. The monies will cover supplies for the weekend and hopefully, fund the transportation for Pagans from far-away to get to NYC for the weekend.  “$10 is breakfast for ten people. $100 is a bus ticket for a marcher from the midwest, $250 is a train ticket for a west coast based Marcher.” said Courtney Weber, an organizer with PEC-NYC. “We are at a pivotal point in history, and history has shown that boots in the streets truly can change the world. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show world leaders that the people want serious action to address climate change, now. Marching alongside other faiths is the perfect opportunity to increase our knowledge and understanding of one another, and cross belief-barriers to fight for a common cause.” The link to the campaign can be found, here. If you are interested in attending the march with a Pagan contingent, please see their blog

pic01Pagan organizations and individuals have endorsed a campaign to urge California Governor Jerry Brown to sign California Senate Bill (SB) 1057 into law. The measure, which overwhelmingly passed in both the Assembly and the Senate, would mandate the reform of history and social science materials used in California schools. Supporters of 1057 claim it will “prevent bullying and promote a positive self-image for children” of different religions, backgrounds, and ethnicities. This will be done by requiring “an expert advisory group to create new History-Social Science Content Standards in a fair, open, and transparent manner. The advisory groups will be composed of scholars and educators, and must make a good faith effort to seek the input of representatives from diverse communities.” Pagan organizations that have signed on to this effort include the American Vinland Association/Freya’s Folk, Our Lady of the Wells Church, and The Patrick McCollum Foundation. In addition, Sabina Magliocco, author of “Witching Culture,” has signed on as a supporting academic. SB 1057 has also garnered the support of several religious minorities in California, including Hindu, Jain, and Jewish organizations.

10513320_1519749801581160_4666587913269014328_nThe new resource/website Polytheist.com will be launching this week! In an update to the forthcoming site’s Facebook page, posted last night, the official launch’s imminent arrival was heralded. Quote: “Coming this week, the official launch of Polytheist.com! Please stay tuned for this exciting set of columns, from a talented team of writers, voices, and visionaries from our Polytheist communities!” Polytheist.com, once launched, will be a “an online hub of columnists, contributors and content creators who are dedicated to many gods across many traditions.” The site is spearheaded by Anomalous Thracian (aka Theanos Thrax), who recently explained why this site is important. Quote: “For some time, many Polytheists have been seeking a place for discussing their religions, their divine relations, and their living lineages in such a way that effectively maximizes the vastness of the all-connecting technologies of the internet age to reach out to and commune with other like-minded and like-religioned groups and individuals, without inviting the targeting and resistance often experienced in spaces not dedicated to this specific aim.” Stay tuned, as we will be talking more about this project very soon. In the meantime, be sure to bookmark that link!

Margot Adler

Margot Adler

Earlier last month I reported on an initiative to raise money for a memorial bench in Central Park honoring Margot Adler, author of the landmark book “Drawing Down the Moon,” who passed away recently after a long battle with cancer. Quote: “Many of you have asked about ways to honor Margot’s memory. After discussions with a few of her closest friends, it’s been decided that collecting donations toward buying a memorial bench in her name in Central Park is the best plan. It’s something she spoke of in her final days. As you know, she lived on the edge of the park nearly her entire life and walked through it daily.” I’m happy to report that the month-long fundraiser has managed to raise over $11,000 dollars, enough to pay for the memorial bench, and to also endow a tree in the park. A large number of Pagans and Pagan organizations donated money towards this initiative, including The Sisterhood of Avalon, the Michigan Council of Covens and Solitaries, and The Witches’ Voice. This is a fitting tribute, one that will no doubt become a place of pilgrimage for all who honored her and her work.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

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

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 let’s get started!

Seekers TempleThis past week we reported extensively on the case of the Seekers Temple in Beebe, Arkansas, where allegations of a religiously biased local government exercising its power against a Pagan family have reverberated through our interconnected community. Now, it seems that a City Council meeting scheduled today in Beebe might mark the next flashpoint in this increasingly tense situation. Quote: We have been notified by a brave young Pagan girl that her mom is involved with a group of Christians who feel they must save Beebe, AR. from the Devil.  This group is planning to be at City Hall on Monday, June 23 at 6:30pm to combat us with our attempt to be recognized by the City Counsel. We would like to invite everyone to attend this meeting in the hopes that such a presents will keep things from getting out of hand.  We pray that the Christians AND Pagans will be Civil and polite and that our numbers alone will encourage the Mayor to rethink his position against Pagans.” We will keep you updated on this story as it continues to develop. 

Covenant of the Goddess

Covenant of the Goddess

Wiccan/Witchcraft credentialing and advocacy organization Covenant of the Goddess (COG) has launched a national survey to get feedback for a revisitation of their mission. Quote: “We are including a link to our national survey addressing our current Covenant of the Goddess Mission.  The Covenant of the Goddess(CoG) was founded in 1975.  Almost 40 years later, we would like to revisit our mission. To that end, we are surveying our membership and the Pagan/Wiccan community at large to determine whether these goals have been achieved, or should remain and/or whether others should be added. The survey is completely anonymous and should only take a few moments of your time.  Your input is really needed!  We will provide a report of the outcome (summary) data at the next CoG annual meeting in August 2014. Deadline for submission of this survey is July 20thPlease feel free to share the link to this survey to others in the Pagan/Wiccan community at large. We need feedback from all of you!!” The link for the survey is right here.

[Photo Credit: Damh the Bard]

[Photo: Damh the Bard]

On June 14th we reported on the installation of a commemorative Blue Plaque for “father of modern Witchcraft” Gerald Gardner. That article ended with a questions, which English figure would next receive that honor? Well Asheley Mortimer, trustee of the Doreen Valiente Foundation, does have some ideas on that front. Quote: “A Blue Plaque is a marker for an historic moment, at the Centre For Pagan Studies we see it as a duty to ensure that as individuals like Doreen Valiente and Gerald Gardner pass, inevitably, from persons of living memory to figures of history the place they take in history is their rightful one, the blue plaques add to the positive wider public perception of Pagans and demonstrate that their achievements are every bit as life-changing and important to the world as historic figures from the mainstream […] As for who is next . . . it doesn’t have to be a witch at all, we are thinking about other figures from the Pagan community such as the druid Ross Nichols, and the like . . . , Alex Sanders and Aliester Crowley have also been mentioned as has Stewart Farrar . . . . basically we’re very open to suggestions . . . “ Do you have a suggestion? You can contact the Centre For Pagan Studies here.

In Other Pagan Community News:

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

  • I hope everyone had a good Summer Solstice (or Winter Solstice if you live ’round Australia), here’s how the Patheos Pagan Channel marked the holiday.
  • Hungarian Pagan band The Moon and The Nightspirit have a new album coming out! Quote: “We are happy to announce that our new album, “Holdrejtek” will be released on August 15th on Auerbach Tontraeger/Prophecy Productions. In tandem with “Holdrejtek”, our early albums, “Of Dreams Forgotten and Fables Untold” (2005), “Regő Rejtem” (2007), and “Mohalepte” (2011) will be re-issued in digipack format with revised layouts.” Here’s the label website.
  • The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions have announced the open bidding process for the next parliament. Quote: “We are pleased to announce the opening of the bid process for a city to host the 2017 Parliament of the World’s Religions. A Parliament event showcases ways in which religions shape positive action to address the challenges of our times, and seeks to develop new tools for implementing those actions in the years to come.” As The Wild Hunt has noted on several occasions, modern Pagans are deeply involved with the council and the parliament, and we will be keeping an eye on this process as it moves forward.
  • So, after your crowdfunding project gets everything it has asked for, what do you do next (aside from fulfill the funded project itself)? Morpheus Ravenna ponders the question. Quote: “I’m contemplating other ways to give back to the community out of the funds that are continuing to come in. I would love to hear from you. What else would you like to see as a next stretch project?”
  • Struggles between the Town of Catskill in New York and the Maetreum of Cybele continue. Quote: “This time the Town of Catskill is bringing suit against us for refusing a fire and safety inspection. (To clarify: this is actually a separate – though related – issue from the ongoing property tax case). Cathryn represented us and she did an excellent job. There was a different attorney representing the town this time (NOT Daniel Vincelette), this one was just as much of an obnoxious bully, though. He was accusing us of running an illegal Inn, pointing his finger at Cathryn and making aggressive gestures.” You can read our full coverage of the Maetreum’s tax battles with the town, here.

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

Before beginning I’d like to express my enthusiasm for the future of The Wild Hunt. Writing for and about this extended community has been both challenging and invigorating. One of the perks of the job is in the education. Every time I write an article or retell someone’s story, I learn something new. That’s the gift that I receive in return for my time and effort. In addition, I am ever thankful to Jason for instilling his trust in me to help usher in a new decade for this amazing resource.

That brings me to the subject for the day: resources or, more specifically, archival resources. Over the past 10 years Jason has been cataloging Pagan news. The Wild Hunt has become an historical archive containing data on many past events. Each post is a point in time providing a snapshot of what’s going on – the good and the bad; the progressive and the not so progressive and the downright ugly. It catalogs our successes and our failings as well as capturing the whimsy in celebration and expansion.

Photo Credit: Flickr's timetrax23

Photo Credit: Flickr’s timetrax23

Archival research has always been essential to much of my work and that remains true to this day. As I child I was told to never make a statement without 3 supporting facts. My teacher would often say, “Prove it.” I took her advice to heart and will do an excruciating amount of digging before making any type of claim. Now I find something very exhilarating in the finding of the “tiny needle in a haystack” after hours digging through archival material.

However the preservation of historical data serves more than just research junkies like me. There is a higher purpose. The founders of The Adocentyn Research Library explain, “We are living in a period of growth, diversity and change akin to the first few hundred years of Christianity. Future scholars shouldn’t have to rely on the discovery of a future Nag Hammadi library in order to understand our diversity and our history.” This is a project whose time has come.

Here’s an example from my favorite subject: film history. At the turn of the 20th century, movies were considered lowbrow entertainment or sideshow novelties. Nobody thought much more about the filmed product. Technical innovators focused on production while producers focused on the building of a commercial venture. Nobody stopped to catalog or archive the footage being shown. Nobody considered or knew how highly flammable the early celluloid material would be. The American film Industry focused on the doing and not the archiving. Consequently most early films are lost in whole or in part. The historical data contained in those early film reels and in the production processes are completely gone. That’s nearly 40 years of lost material.

Photo Credit: Flickr's Sonear

Photo Credit: Flickr’s Sonear

The Pagan Movement, as it’s been called, is now well beyond the stories of Gerald Gardener, Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune and the like.  Up to this point the focus has been more on the doing and not the archiving. No doubt much has already been lost. Regardless we still have many long trails of breadcrumbs through our cultural forest that can be captured. Sabina Magliocco, one of the founders of the Pagan History Project says:

It’s clear that we’re now one of the fastest-growing new religious movements in the world. The documentation of our early history is thus doubly important, especially as the movement is changing in important ways. The elders who were involved in the movement’s early days are now in the twilight of their lives; we have already lost a number just in the last year. Recording their histories and archiving documents from the beginning of the diffusion of modern Paganisms in the US will help preserve that history for future historians.

Just in the past two weeks, Judy Harrow’s crossing came as a surprise to many. Director Holli S. Emore says, “At Cherry Hill Seminary we are all too painfully aware of how the loss of someone like Judy Harrow inserts a sort of glottal stop in the narration of how we came to be where we are today. Anything we did not learn from Judy before last Friday is now gone forever.”

There are lessons to be learned from past experience at all levels of practice. What worked and what didn’t? Why did this group fold and this one last for 30 years?  Shauna Aura Knight is an author and presenter whose focus is on Pagan leadership skills. She says:

When I travel and teach Pagan leadership, what I see over and over is reinventing the wheel … I’ve seen local Pagan unity-type organizations–with actual not-for-profit status–folding because the leaders couldn’t sustain the organizations any longer. Thus those resources become lost, and any future group has to start again. 

Fortunately a number of projects have formed or are forming to fill this very need. Located in California’s Bay Area, The Adocentyn Research Library aims to preserve an expansive amount of material from a variety of religious communities “including indigenous, tribal, polytheistic, nature-based, and/or Earth-centered religions, spiritualities and cultures around the world and throughout human history.” They currently have cataloged more than 6,000 books and are working with the “Lost and Endangered Religions Project on conservation and storage of Pagan materials from India, Turkey and Guatemala.”

Similarly, in southern Delaware, the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel is raising money to finish the construction of the New Alexandrian Research Library (NAL). The “Library will be collecting materials from all religious traditions focusing on their mystical and the spiritual writings.” Founders hope that NAL will serve as both a functional community and research center as well as become a “cornerstone for the new magical Renaissance.”

Photo Credit:  Circle Sanctuary, Circle Magazine

Photo Credit: Circle Sanctuary, Circle Magazine

All archiving doesn’t need to be done by librarians and institutions. Several groups have digitized their own newsletters such as the Georgian Wicca Tradition and the Covenant of the Goddess. Back Issues of old print periodicals are available for purchase such as Circle Magazine whose offers issues dating back to 1980 when it was still called “Circle Network News.” The Founders of Adocentyn say “Archiving our history ourselves is important because we take our movement seriously, know how parts relate to one another, and understand it.”

Another recent development is the effort to capture individual stories. Shauna Aura Knight is co-editing a new anthology for Immanion Press has that very aim. She says, “I hope to start collecting the stories of what works and how leaders can use that, but also, what hasn’t worked. What are the mistakes we want to avoid in the future?”

The Pagan History Project has a similar objective. Sabina Magliocco explains:

The Pagan History Project is modeled after other oral history projects such as the American Folklife Center’s Veterans’ History Project. We rely on community members to record oral histories from other community members. These digital documents will be posted on a website and made available to other community members and scholars. … At this point, we are focusing on interviewing elders in our community who were involved with the inception of Paganisms in the US.

The Project seeks to create a “mythic history” that captures our humanity through the recording of voices. Currently organizers are looking for volunteers to go out into their communities and interview anyone willing. In this way future generations can benefit from the experiences of even those who have chosen to lead a quiet, non-public life. Holli S. Emore says,”For the many mystics among us, and most certainly for reconstructionists, an understanding of our historical roots has proven to be a vital part of our spiritual journey …  We are deeply enriched by learning the many layers and traces of Pagan history.”

The preservation of the past serves to not only enrich our present experience but to help build a stronger future. Together all these records will tell the greater story of a Movement or Movements with all the nuance and color one might expect. And, if nothing else, these archives will help future historians, research junkies and Wild Hunt journalists look back and say, “So that’s how it all came to be…”      

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 let’s get started!

with_love_from_salemA documentary focusing on the Temple of Nine Wells, and the lives of Richard and Gypsy Ravish, entitled “With Love From Salem,” has announced that they’ve nearly completed the project. Quote: “I had the privilege of seeing some footage of this documentary, currently nearing completion, and to say it is phenomenal is an understatement. A beautiful, evocative and magical film – not to mention visually and emotionally stunning. Get ready to see something amazing.” Richard Ravish was one of the original “Witches of Salem,” and passed away in 2012 at the age of 59. Amy “Gypsy” Ravish is a popular Pagan singer-songwriter known for her albums “Enchantress” and “Spirit Nation.” I’m very much looking forward to a new Pagan-centered documentary, and will update you here once there’s screening/release information.

Erynn Rowan Laurie

Erynn Rowan Laurie

As mentioned previously here, Erynn Rowan Laurie, author of “A Circle of Stones,” recently won for best poetry collection at the Bisexual Book Awards (photos of the ceremony here). On her return, she announced at her official Facebook page that she’s considering a move to Italy, motivated in part by recent health issues. Quote: “As with so many other things in my life, I realized I could either let circumstance defeat me, or I could try to work it so that I could turn it into something interesting. If I’m going to be robbed of my ability to drive, why not have an adventure in a place where walking is normal? It won’t mean that nobody will ever see me again. The internet still exists, after all. I’m very likely to try to fly back to the US for PantheaCon every year, and try to visit Seattle once a year as well.” We here at The Wild Hunt wish Erynn all the best no matter where she goes, and any nation she moves to will be all the richer for her presence. Good luck! Oh, and speaking of the Bisexual Book Awards, they can apparently get you stopped at the Canadian border and held for several hours.

Christina Oakley Harrington

Christina Oakley Harrington

Acclaimed London esoteric book store Treadwells has announced the launch of a brand-new, more robust, website. Included is an extensive resources section headed by Treadwells founder, Christina Oakley Harrington. For example, individuals new to Paganism can find several introductory essays about Paganism in general, and about Paganism in the UK in particular. Quote: “The pages below are designed to be clear, direct and authoritative. The pages on  groups and events direct you to the more established resources, though there are many more that can be found in local communities.” Harrington notes that “if you feel like lookng round the site, it’s got lots of other sections, too. We’ve been working hard on it for ages and hope you all find it useful.” Treadwell’s recently held a number of talks and events in conjunction with the I:MAGE esoteric arts exhibition reported on recently at The Wild Hunt.

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Sabina Magliocco

Chas Clifton reports that Dr. Sabina Magliocco, Professor of Anthropology at California State University, Northridge, and author of “Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America” is launching a new research project on individual’s spiritual relationship with animals. Quote: “The purpose of this study is to understand how we imagine our relationship to animals, how we incorporate animals into our spiritual or religious beliefs, and how this may motivate our actions in the everyday world.” You can take the survey, here. At the survey page Magliocco elaborates on benefits of the study: “This research could shed light on how people come to imagine themselves as part of an interconnected community that includes domestic and wild animals, and develop feelings that lead them to want to protect, defend and care for both domestic and wild animals. It may also reveal areas in which individuals diverge from the theological teachings of their religion as a result of their personal experiences with animals. Findings could be useful in developing educational programs for children and young people that foster sustainability.” Again, the survey link.

pagan_history_projectThe Pagan History Project (PHP) initiated with a soft launch this week on Facebook, with a full website to follow soon. An oral history project created to “collect, store, share and preserve the history of the American Pagan Movement,” co-founder Murtagh AnDoile said the scope of the project would be broad. Quote: “We are using “Pagan” in its broadest sense, encompassing: Witchcraft , Traditional and other, Wicca, Heathenry, Druidry, various Reconstructionisms, Magical Lodges, etc. All the groups and traditions and paths that make up the American Occult/Magical/Pagan movement from the early days ( the 1930s, 40’s 50’s…) to present. We are focusing on everything and everyone pre-1995 at this time, due to our aging population.” Initial interviews have already been conducted, and an informational packet instructing those interested on how to participate in their local communities and festivals will be released soon. Wild Hunt staffer Rynn Fox has been following the development of this project, and will be filing a report soon.

In Other Community News: 

Temple of Witchcraft at Boston Pride.

Temple of Witchcraft at Boston Pride.

  • I love seeing pictures of Pagan organizations marching in LGBTQ Pride parades, so be sure to check out the Temple of Witchcraft’s Facebook page, where they’ve posted several photos of their involvement with the Boston Pride Parade. Quote from ToW co-founder Steve Kenson: “Thank you to all who came out to march and represent for the pagans in Saturday’s Boston GLBT Pride parade and to those who cheered us on! The gods rewarded us with a clear and warm day after a grey and wet morning. Many thanks and blessings!”
  • As was indirectly mentioned in my installment of Pagan Voices earlier this week, the Patheos Pagan Channel has launched a new group interfaith blog entitled “Wild Garden: Pagans in the Growing Interfaith Landscape.” Quote: “Interfaith involvement looks much like a wild garden. A tangle of contradictions, surprises, delights and sometimes disappointments, one must walk carefully. But the risk is rewarded richly, often in ways one could never have seen coming.” Good luck on the new blog! 
  • Also at Patheos, the Pagan Families blog interviews Tara “Masery” Miller about the process of “adopting while Pagan.” Quote: “The Missouri Family and Children’s Services, a government agency, intention to adopt form illegally asked what our religion was. Just as I suspected. I was aware it was illegal because my atheist friend had sent me plenty of references on religion and adoption. Well, instead of blatantly saying I’m Pagan and my husband’s a mage, I said we are spiritual and I belong to the Unitarian Universalist Church! And sometimes we attend a Methodist Church. Which is true. My mother is a lay minister!” That quote is from part two of the interview, here.
  • The Summer Solstice is coming up, and Llewellyn is holding a Twitter party to celebrate! Quote: “The beginning of June marks shorts days, grill days, and summer hours for our luckly Llewellyn employees–but it’s not very fair that you don’t get to participate, is it? So we want you to join us in a summer celebration! We are hosting our second annual Solstice Twitter party! […] Use the hashtag #moonchat in your party tweets. We’ll tweet the questions, you’ll tweet the answers, and we’ll chat!” There are going to be prize giveaways for participants, so if you’re stuck in an office that day, why not? 
  • In a final note for all our Trad-Wiccan friends out there (and you know who you are), June 13th is Geraldmas! The celebration of Gerald Gardner, the father of modern religious Witchcraft (born June 13th, 1884). I think it’s a great idea to have a day where BTW groups do a day of outreach and socializing. Are you having a Geraldmas celebration in your area this year? 

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

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 let’s get started!

Pagan Spirit Gathering Announces Location for 2013: Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG), a Midwest Pagan festival that’s been running for more than 30 years, and broke attendance records last year, has announced that their festival will be held on the same lands in Illinois as the previous year, albeit under new ownership.

Solstice Fire at Pagan Spirit Gathering

Solstice Fire at Pagan Spirit Gathering

“We are absolutely thrilled to be holding PSG at Stonehouse Farm,” said Sharon, PSG Manager.  “This will be our third PSG at this location, and we are excited to work with the new owners of the property to make this event a success and to grow PSG.” […]  “Our goal for PSG has always been to create a community where like-minded people can meet one another, learn, and develop tools and ideas that they can take home with them to deepen their spirituality in the year to come,” said Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary’s founder and Executive Director.  “This year our theme is ‘Connections’ and we hope to incorporate many ways for participants to connect with Community, connect with the Land and connect with the Divine!”

Stonehouse Farm was previously Stone House Park, whose owners had come under fire from locals over noise and complaints about illegal activity. This was the second PSG site to suffer from such complaints, though they never originated from Pagan Spirit Gathering. PNC Minnesota has the full story about the sale at their site.  With the site secured for another year, registration is now open!

Cherry Hill Seminary Joins Youtube:  Wendy Griffin, Ph.D., Academic Dean of Cherry Hill Seminary, has alerted me to the official launch of their Youtube account for the Pagan seminary. It will, in the words of Dr. Griffin, be used “to show people the caliber of teaching our students receive.” The first video in this new series is a talk by Sabina Magliocco, Ph.D. (who has gotten quite a bit of attention here lately) entitled “Folklore, Culture & Authenticity.”

2012 saw two major accomplishments for the Pagan learning institution: the awarding of its first Master of Divinity in Pagan Pastoral Counseling, and graduate, Sandra Lee Harris having her credentials examined and accepted by the Board of Chaplaincy Certification, Inc., the credentials-examining body for the Association of Professional Chaplains. No doubt 2013 hold even more in store for them as they journey towards accreditation and partner with The University of South Carolina for the “Sacred Lands and and Spiritual Landscapes” symposium.

The Pagan Voice Holds Fundraiser: Pagan Living TV, a non-profit media organization that seeks to create a world “where Pagan spirituality and philosophy is an influential voice in mainstream culture,” has launched a new IndieGoGo campaign for their weekly video news program “The Pagan Voice.” Dr. Todd Berntson, Executive Director of The Pagan Voice, said in a press release that the money raised will be used “to fund the purchase of equipment and build-out of our new studio space.”

“Up to this point, we have relied on borrowed equipment that is not well-suited for television production, such as digital cameras, cheap floodlights, and a mix of whatever microphones we have available to us at the time. This has made the production process very challenging and stressful. In order for The Pagan Voice to continue to grow, it is necessary to have the proper equipment.”

They are trying to raise $33,500 in 40 days, an ambitious sum for a newly launched organization and media outlet. Still, you never know, they have certainly raised the bar in production values for Pagan-oriented video programs, so perhaps The Pagan Voice will find the supporters it needs now. Check out the perks, and how they plan to spend the money raised, here.

In Other Community News: 

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

[The following is a guest post from Sabina Magliocco. Sabina Magliocco Ph.D. is professor of Anthropology and Folklore at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). She is an author of non-fiction books and journal articles about folklore, religion, religious festivals, foodways, Witchcraft and Paganism in Europe and the United States. A recipient of fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, Fulbright Program and Hewlett Foundation, Magliocco is an honorary fellow of the American Folklore Society.]

I am very grateful to Jason Pitzl-Waters for making this blog available to me to expand upon Prof. Patrick Wolff’s summary of my keynote presentation, entitled “The Rise of Pagan Fundamentalism,” at the Conference for Contemporary Pagan Studies at the Claremont Graduate Institute in Claremont, California on January 26, 2013.  It’s exciting that people have been discussing some of the ideas I presented, because that was exactly my goal: open discussion and critical self-reflection are healthy in any religious movement, and can help prevent the kind of rigidity and dogmatism that I critiqued in my talk.  At the same time, certain questions have been raised about my work, and I hope that I can address some of them here.

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Let’s start with the first one: what did I mean by “Pagan fundamentalism,” and how can a concept that developed to describe a Protestant movement based on literal biblical interpretations and tenets of faith even apply to modern Paganisms?  The application of the term “fundamentalism” to modern Paganisms is problematic, and I adopt it with some caution, because I’m well aware that it has often been used by those in power to stigmatize worldviews that differ from the mainstream.  I defined it as a form of ideology, religious or secular, characterized by a black-and-white, either-or, us-vs.-them morality that precludes questioning.  It generally involves insistence on belief in the literal truth of some canon, as well as a concern with identity politics and boundary-setting.  Fundamentalisms are inflexible and have difficulty adapting; they have a strong need for certainty and a clear sense of belonging, and anyone who disagrees is labeled an enemy or heretic.  My adoption of the term was both descriptive and provocative: I wanted to foster awareness and discussion about strains of ideology that could be deleterious to modern Paganisms.

So, are modern Paganisms fundamentalist according to this definition?  On the whole, no.  Dogmatism and rigidity are rare among most modern Pagans.  Nevertheless, there have been some discussions, mainly on Pagan Internet blogs and responses to them, which show some of the characteristics of fundamentalism, particularly an insistence on a single correct form of belief, and the demonization of those who hold different beliefs and opinions.  These have centered around two hot-button topics: the historicity of Wiccan foundational narratives, and the nature of the gods.

Is any form of belief fundamentalist?  Of course not.  Belief only courts fundamentalism when it becomes dogmatic, when we say “it’s my way or the highway,” when we attribute malice and ill intent to those whose beliefs differ from ours.   Ironically, those very sentiments were expressed towards me by a few respondents to Patrick’s post last week, confirming my hypothesis that there is a trend towards fundamentalism among a small number of Pagans.

Are Paganisms becoming more focused on belief? What’s interesting to me as an anthropologist of religion, an observer and participant in the Pagan movement for the last 20 years, is the shift I’ve seen towards an emphasis on belief, whether in the historicity of our foundational narratives, or the reality of the gods.  Twenty years ago, Pagans were insisting that Paganism was not about belief at all; it was about practice.  This appears to be part of an evolution, a dynamic change in the nature of modern Pagan religions, and perhaps part of the trajectory of religious development in general.  And no doubt the fact that we’re surrounded by a Christo-centric mainstream culture in which faith is considered the touchstone of membership influences the way some individuals and groups in our movement think about belief.

But there are a few reasons why we might want to be cautious about using belief as a criterion for defining ourselves.  The first is that belief is emergent, shifting and contextual.  It can change over the lifetime of an individual, and it is quite diverse within any community; even traditional indigenous communities have believers, skeptics and those who are in between.

Secondly, in many cases, belief is dependent on experience.  Many Pagans come to this group of religions as a result of having experiences that lead them to question the nature of reality and the teachings of mainstream science and religion.  Among the individuals I have interviewed, they run the gamut from feelings of unity with the world around them – a blurring of boundaries or feeling that everything was interconnected and part of a larger whole – to personal visions of goddesses and gods who had specific messages to convey.  I spoke with people who felt connected to animal and plant spirits, who connected with places in the natural world, as well as those who struggled to feel any sort of “woo,” but shared the values and aesthetics of modern Pagans.  Each of these individuals developed their own style of practice and belief as a result of their experiences.

What this shows us is that belief cannot be compelled.  If we accept a universe in which the gods and spirits are real, we can say that they choose to reveal themselves differently to different people.  If we prefer a more materialist interpretation, we can say that humans are uniquely adapted to have the kind of spiritual experience that is most helpful and meaningful to them, and that partakes of both their larger religious/cultural milieu and their personal experiences and memories.  Some people have a greater capacity to perceive spirits – or to have these experiences – than others.  It is therefore not helpful, useful or even fair to make belief a touchstone of religious or community membership.

Some Pagans feel that pointing out the difference between our foundational narratives and historical facts de-legitimizes the movement.  But the factuality of foundational narratives has no relationship to the legitimacy of a religion, nor does it make the spiritual experiences of its practitioners less real or authentic.  What seems to matter much more than the veracity of foundational narratives is their ability to capture the imagination of practitioners; that spark can lead to spiritual enlightenment.  There are better ways of constructing legitimacy than relying on foundational narratives: we can make reference to our now respectable age, our prominent public presence, the important contributions of our members to intellectual and theological exchanges, the depth of our religious experiences, the beauty of our expressive culture, and the influence of our core values of social justice, gender equality, and environmental sustainability on the future of our society and the world in which we live.

So is there no relationship between ancient and modern Paganisms?  No, and no reputable scholar has ever said that.  There are very clear links between ancient and modern Paganisms, but they are not the ones laid out in the foundational narratives.  The links can be found in folk customs, in the Western tradition of magic and esotericism, and in art, literature and philosophy.  Even if the people executed during the witchcraft persecutions were not the practitioners of a fertility religion going back to the age of the Venus of Willendorf, the threads of our modern practices can be traced back at least as far as Classical antiquity.  However, that transmission was not always direct or unchanging; all traditions are constantly adapting to their surrounding historical and social contexts.

I hope this clarifies some of the ideas I expressed in my paper; a fuller version will, I hope, be published in the near future in a way that makes it accessible online to the public.  I invite thoughtful discussion and debate on these issues that deeply affect our community.

Finally, I want to counter some of the malicious and untrue rumors about me that are being spread on the Internet by a few detractors: for example, that I am an infiltrator sent by an outside organization to destroy Paganism from within. These falsehoods impugn my integrity as a scholar and could threaten my ability to continue to work with the Pagan community.

As an anthropologist, I am bound by a code of ethics which demands that I put the good of the communities I work with before anything else, including my research program and professional advancement.  Research I do with human subjects must be approved by university Internal Review Boards, and peer review committees must approve any grants I get. My published work is likewise reviewed anonymously by my colleagues. Of course, no scholar can ever be completely objective, but at least I state my biases up front and publish material under my own name, instead of hiding behind an alias.  If anything, some professional peers have criticized me for portraying modern Paganisms in too favorable a light.

I have been studying modern Paganisms for twenty years now, and have been an active member of the community since 1996.  I lead an eclectic coven in the Los Angeles area, and am a member-at-large of a Gardnerian one in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I am a member of Covenant of the Goddess and hold ministerial credentials through them. While I may be critical of certain aspects of the movement, my criticisms are based on data, and I make them because I want to see the Pagan community live up to its promise and be taken seriously as a group of religions – not out of a desire to de-legitimize or destroy them.

I have worked with news media, law enforcement and other mainstream institutions to explain modern Paganisms, always emphasizing their positive qualities as creative, life-affirming religions. My books, articles and films have introduced countless academics, college students, and interested lay readers to Paganism, both in the US and beyond.  I donate 100% of my royalties from those books to Pagan causes.  I have dedicated my life and academic career to creating bridges between scholarship and modern Paganisms, bringing the results of my research back to the community for comment and critique, including at conferences and events such as the one that led me to make this blog posting. If I really wanted to destroy the movement from within, you’d think I’d find better ways of doing it that involved less of my time, energy and money – and surely it would have taken me less than twenty years to inflict the damage.  From my perspective, Paganism is emerging as a significant player on the global religious stage – larger, stronger and healthier than it was two decades ago.  I hope it continues in that direction, because it has a great deal to offer in terms of values and ideals that support a humane and sustainable future.

Just a few quick notes to start off your Monday.

A History of Pagan Councils in the United States: In my recent examination of the Pagan label, I pointed to Chas Clifton’s “Her Hidden Children” while examining how “Pagan” became the default term for our interconnected movement. In that process I also mentioned the early Pagan councils of the 1960s and 1970s, which were largely failures, but did lay ground for future cooperation and the creation of a “Pagan community.” For more depth on the topic of early Pagan councils and similar initiatives, I would point you to Aidan Kelly’s blog at Patheos which has been running a series on those early councils, and how they eventually led to the creation of the Covenant of the Goddess (COG).

Oberon (Tim) Zell, an important figure in the early Pagan councils.

Oberon (Tim) Zell, an important figure in the early Pagan councils.

“The attempt to create an umbrella, church-like organization for Pagans was begun by Michael Kinghorn in Los Angeles in 1967. His work led to the creation of the Council of Themis, which, after being founded in 1969, acquired an international membership steadily until 1972. […] Given the profound theological differences between these groups, it should not be surprising that their coalition was inherently unstable.”

I recommend tracking down all the posts in that series, and his other posts on the history of Wicca and Witchcraft in North America. I recognize that Kelly can be a controversial figure for some, but his work here is much-needed. If we are going to be having debates and discussions about the future of the Pagan label, we should understand the history that formed the current understandings and institutions that many of us now participate in.

Sabina Magliocco Clarifies What Her Pagan Studies Conference Keynote Says: There has been a lot of discussion stemming from The Wild Hunt’s coverage of the ninth annual Conference on Current Pagan Studies, specifically the lecture by Dr. Sabina Magliocco, Professor of Anthropology at California State University, Northridge, and author of “Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America” entitled “The Rise of Pagan Fundamentalism.” In a comment on the original story on the orignal story by contributor Patrick Wolff, Magliocco clarifies an “unintentional misrepresentation” in Wolff’s reporting.

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

“I think there may have been an unintentional misrepresentation of what I actually said. My argument was that constructing a shared identity around belief is problematic, because belief is based on experience. If the gods choose to reveal themselves differently to different people, and if belief is changeable and emergent, as belief scholarship shows it to be, then shared identity needs to be based on something other than belief.

Let me also clarify that belief in and of itself is not “fundamentalist” ( a word I adopted polemically and with some reservations). It is the insistence that only one sort of belief is correct, and the demonization of those who disagree or whose experience is different, that can lead to a dogmatic rigidity that we might want to avoid.”

I have been in contact with Dr. Magliocco, and I’m hoping to showcase a longer essay from her regarding some of these issues very soon. As the editor of The Wild Hunt, I’d like to personally apologize for any misrepresentations, unintentional or not, that may have been spread regarding her work. We always strive to accurately report the positions of figures within our community that we report on, and are committed to correcting our account when mistakes happen.

The Green Man is a Green Terrorist: In a final, unrelated, note, English poet, actor, and playwright Heathcote Williams has released a new poem entitled “The Green Man is a Green Terrorist.” According to culture critic Jan Herman, it is “a rhymed marvel of CAT-scan clarity” that  “will be seen one day as a YouTube classic.”

Thanks to subversive stone masons in the Middle Ages
This green remnant of man’s pagan past
Finds its way onto church ceilings, corbels, and bosses
Along with Sheela na gigs mad with lust.

Williams is best known for his environmentally themed poems, most notably “Whale Nation.” What do you think? Classic? Or stuff that’s been done before, just not to a non-Pagan audience?

That’s all I have for the moment. Have a great day!

[The following is a guest post from Patrick Wolff. Wolff is a professor of religious studies and holds a PhD in the history of religious thought. His interests include studying religion and Romanticism, playing Classical and Celtic music, and reading science fiction/fantasy literature. Spiritually he’s either openly eclectic or hopelessly muddled, depending on who you ask.]

The ninth annual Conference on Current Pagan Studies met at Claremont Graduate University in the city of Claremont, California on January 26-27. This is a unique academic conference, not only for its topical focus on Pagan Studies, but for its inclusion of both academic and non-academic Pagans as presenters. Both the conference theme and the selection of keynote speakers exemplified the desire to, as the tagline of the conference website puts it, bring “Academia and Community Together.” The conference theme, “Pagan Sensibilities in Action,” covered not only ritual and spiritual practice but history, art, social justice, environmental concerns, psychology, politics, and other topics. The theme reflected a concern that is current in many religions, a desire to explore the implications of one’s theology (or thealogy, or theoilogy, as the case may be) in all aspects of life.

The two keynote speakers embodied this theme, one a recognized scholar in the fields of folklore and anthropology and the other an activist with experience fighting for social justice as well as service through disaster relief and emergency care. Dr. Sabina Magliocco, Professor of Anthropology at California State University, Northridge, and author of numerous books including Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America and Neo-Pagan Sacred Art and Altars: Making Things Whole, presented a lecture titled “The Rise of Pagan Fundamentalism.” Joking that she hoped to avoid being tarred and feathered, Magliocco identified two tendencies of Pagan Fundamentalism, both of which centered on the concept of belief. As a broad religious phenomenon, fundamentalists in all religions insist on a literalist interpretation of foundational texts, and demand conformity of belief as the primary marker of a genuine religious identity. Those who do not share these essential beliefs are viewed with suspicion, or rejected as imposters.

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

The first belief is in the literal historicity of the foundational narrative of paganism as an unbroken stream flowing from the ancient past to the present. This “received” view of Pagan (particularly Wiccan) history, shaped by Margaret Murray and Gerald Gardner, holds that the Old Religion persisted throughout the centuries amidst persecution, passed down as a closely guarded secret to initiates into the present day. However, when subjected to the scrutiny of critical historical scholarship, the foundational myth of pure Paganism transmitted through the ages was revealed to be lacking in solid historical evidence. Revisionists, most notably English historian Ronald Hutton, author of Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, contended that Wicca was better understood as a new religious movement than as a preserved ancient one. Counter-revisionists, such as Ben Whitmore, author of Trials of the Moon: Reopening the Case for Historical Witchcraft, have objected that Hutton overstated his case, ignoring or minimizing evidence for continuity in the transmission of Wicca (to which Hutton has replied in his article “Revisionism and Counter-Revisionism in Pagan History” in the most recent issue of Pomegranate). The claims of revisionist historians can come as quite a shock to Pagans who never had reason to question the received myth of Pagan origins, and while many were open to the new perspective, others experienced a crisis of cognitive dissonance which was countered by an uncritical insistence on the literal truth of the myth of pagan origins and a dismissal of, or attack on, revisionist arguments. Since the revisionist perspective presented Wicca as an eclectic, creative religious movement influenced by other forms of occultism and Romanticism, those most opposed to it were often those whose Paganism was heavily invested in the claim of possessing secret knowledge passed through carefully guarded secret initiations. This debate over Pagan origins is not merely an ivory tower discussion, since how Pagans view their past will shape their future.

The second tendency that has emerged in Pagan Fundamentalism is a belief in gods and goddesses as literal spiritual persons, formulated as a reaction against the emergence of humanistic paganism and panentheistic or archetypal interpretations of the divine. However, Magliocco argued, historically Wiccans have varied greatly in their theology, and found unity not in right belief, but in common practice. Against this non-dogmatic tradition of finding shared identity through ritual, Pagan Fundamentalists seek to exclude those who do not hold to their “orthodox” pagan belief in the nature of the gods. This is problematic, Magliocco argued, because it imported a criteria from the dominant Abrahamic faiths that was ill-suited to the ritual-focused nature of Paganism.

Why has belief emerged as a critical identity marker now, when it did not function this way in the past? Magliocco pointed to several reasons, such as a desire legitimate Paganism as a “real religion” in the eyes of adherents of other religions (which comes as a result of the growth in size and influence of Paganism), and a quest for certainty in a tumultuous marketplace of religious ideas (a motivating factor in the fundamentalist strand of all religions). But her third reason pointed to what would become a theme throughout much of the rest of the conference: the role of the Internet, and particularly comments on blogs, that dank and murky lair of trolls, where insults fly freely and rational reflection is beaten down by bombast. The Internet tends to encourage “enclaves of idiosyncratic views,” unchallenged by real-world interaction with those holding differing views, and provides a veil of anonymity that allows abusive behavior that would not be tolerated in face to face interactions. After her presentation, one questioner raised the intriguing possibility that the Internet actually encourages fundamentalism, since online (particularly in blogs and blog comments) individuals are easily reduced to text-based persons.

The second keynote address, “Stirring the Cauldron of Pagan Sensibilities,” was presented by  Peter Dybing, a national disaster team Section Chief with experience as a firefighter and EMT as well as serving on the board member 100% for Haiti and a former National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess. Stressing is non-academic identity, Dybing challenged attendees to “suspend your academic approach, and access your emotions,” issuing a call to action rather than offering intellectual reflection. His first two points called for a new look at the questions of Pagan leadership and the role of elders. While acknowledging the strengths found in Traditional (hierarchical, individual-focused) and Organic (communal and local) models of leadership, as well as the dangers of what he termed Fantasy Leadership (the self-appointed blogger harassing his or her enemies online, “liked” by clique of online admirers ), Dybing drew from his experience in disaster relief to formulate a Transformative model of leadership, one that is mission-based and organizationally-focused. Leadership should not be limited to the Priest or Priestess as representatives of the God or Goddess, but should be shared based on recognition of diverse skills and expertise. On the related topic of Pagan elders, Dybing stressed the importance of honoring the body of work left by an elder without venerating the person. Elders, even after death, must be remembered as human beings, not saints.

Peter Dybing (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Peter Dybing at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Though the first part of presentation took up the majority of his time, it was in the second part that Dybing most fully revealed his own heart through a call to service as an expression of Pagan spirituality. It was in offering direct aid for the good of others, whether in international aid or in community service, that Dybing said he most fully felt the presence of the Goddess. In a time of environmental degradation, Dybing warned, we must expect a future of natural disasters on an unprecedented scale, and Pagans are uniquely qualified to respond to these challenges. While Magliocco made the case that Paganism should continue to value ritual action over belief, Dybing called on Pagans to pursue active service as a practice of Pagan spirituality.

The other twenty-five presentations were too varied and rich to be adequately summarized here, with topics ranging from theology to psychology, good pedagogy in the classroom to creating masks (and even the pedagogy of making masks), environmentalism, politics, and mysticism. One particularly exciting project described was the Pagan History Project, which will record oral histories of Pagans, similar to the oral history project being conducted by many universities of World War II veterans. Several times a desire was expressed to continue discussion after the conference ended, either on the conference website or Facebook page. This does not seem to have happened yet, but it would be another way to bring Pagan scholarship into conversation with the broader Pagan community. In addition to the thoughtful nature of the presentations, two other aspects of the conference are worth noting. First, there was an ethos of dialogue and conversation among the approximately fifty attendees, so much so that interaction between the presenter and audience sometimes broke out in the middle of a presentation, a rare occurrence in a typical academic conference. Second, the atmosphere of the conference could be described as convivial, with a great deal of laughter and good spirits. In this way, the conference itself was a manifestation of Pagan sensibility.

Pagan Studies has come under recent criticism by some for a lack of necessary critical distance from its subject (see, for example,, Markus Altena Davidsen, “What is Wrong with Pagan Studies?” in Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, available online). This criticism is not without merit. The calling of a scholar of religion is not to support the religion being studied, but to understand it, and the conclusions that come from scholarly inquiry are not always welcome to those being studied (hence Magliocco’s “tar and feathering” comment). Further, too much of an “insider” atmosphere can create an us-and-them dichotomy which distances or even excludes outsiders. The “them” could be non-insider scholars or practitioners of other religions, viewed as outsiders who can never really “get” those on the inside (some of this could be seen by the dramatic eye-rolling and snarky asides from one presenter whenever he made mention of Christian beliefs, something that would not be tolerated in other academic conferences). One Pagan Reconstructionist presenter admitted she had felt nervous about attending a conference of Wiccans and Neopagans, and while she was warmly welcomed, her initial misgivings say something about how the conference could be perceived by outsiders.

The lines of insider and outsider in scholarship are not always clear cut, however, and if there is a danger in insider scholarship designed to offer the benefits of scholarly insight to contribute to the flourishing of one’s own religious community, the opposite danger is scholarship for the sake of no one, except perhaps the expansion of the scholar’s own reputation (and ego). Granted that much of what academics call risky seems rather dreary to most people, the conference organizer, Dorothea Kahena Viale, should be commended for taking the risk of envisioning a conference that seeks to connect scholars with practitioners and intellectuals with activists. There must be a place for scholarship for the good of the community, and for Pagans, one place this can be found is the Conference on Current Pagan Studies.

ADDENDUM: For another perspective of the 2013 Conference on Current Pagan Studies, see Donald Michael Kraig’s blog at Llewellyn.com.

ADDENDUM II: I’d just like to note that this piece is an effort on Patrick Wolff’s part to convey the messages of the two keynote speakers, and of the general tone of this conference. The views expressed are not necessarily those of Mr. Wolff or any other Wild Hunt contributor. Our goal, as always, is to inform our readership about events that could impact the broader Pagan community. I (Jason) hope to weigh in soon with an editorial touching on some of the issues raised here.