After a long illness and sudden heart attack, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Iowa State University Nikki Bado died April 22. A noted scholar and Wiccan Priestess with over 40 years in the Craft, Ms. Bado was perhaps most well known for her book Coming to the Edge of the Circle: A Wiccan Initiation Ritual. The book was written as a “challenge to the commonly accepted model of ‘rites of passage.’ Rather than a single linear event, initiation is deeply embedded within a total process of becoming a Witch in practice and in community with others.”
Bado straddled the difficult line between being an academic and a practitioner. She faced criticism from colleagues for being a participant in the field she studied. An article she authored in the Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies addressed this criticism, which is often faced by Pagan academics. She wrote:
Witches say you never forget your own initiation into the Craft. Mine remains vividly alive to me, even though almost forty years have passed. I am no longer a newcomer to the Old Religion, but a high priestess who is well seasoned in performing rites of initiation for others. Yet according to a kind of thinking still common in religious studies—and painfully evident in Markus Davidsen’s 2012 article “What is Wrong with Pagan Studies?” —the above statement becomes an admission of guilt, one that marks me an “insider,” or in Davidsen’s curious phrasing someone who has “gone native in reverse,” and immediately makes my scholarship suspect.
As both a scholar and a religious practitioner, I felt compelled to confront the dilemma of the insider/outsider issue more than thirteen years ago when I started writing on Wiccan initiation, a manuscript that eventually resulted in the publication of my first book Coming to the Edge of the Circle: A Wiccan Initiation Ritual.
At that time, I reasoned this was an issue that needed to be confronted head on, and early in my academic career, well before my work on ritual and on material and popular culture in religion established my legitimacy as a scholar. By 2013, I had hoped our field would have moved beyond such facile distinctions as insider/outsider and developed a more finely honed sense of reflexivity, or at least a more sophisticated understanding of perspective, location, and place.
I am profoundly disappointed that we are here today, still talking about insiders and outsiders.
Chas Clifton, author of Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Contemporary Paganism in America and editor of the Pomegranate, posted a remembrance of Bado on his personal blog. He wrote, “I have forgotten just when we met, but it must have been at the American Academy of Religion meeting. She helped build the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group and worked with me as a co-editor on our book series for Equinox Publishing. She wrote on Paganism, religion in popular culture, Japanese religious festivals, the body in religion, and pilgrimage, among other topics. Her longest work on Pagan religion was the book Coming to the Edge of the Circle: A Wiccan Initiation Ritual. Good friend, priestess, hard-working scholar. She will be missed.”
In an email to The Wild Hunt, Clifton went on to say, “I would see her only once a year at [the American Academy of Religion], typically, but I got lots of late-night phone calls, which I will miss. Her medical problems gradually made it harder and harder to teach and write the last couple of years — she suffered a lot — and I am glad that she is free of that. But now that she is a professor emerita on the other side, she may still be of assistance.”
Macha NightMare, author and Priestess, said, “I will miss Nikki’s keen mind, her hearty humor, and her ardent commitment to her work. I knew her as a prominent presence in the fields of ritual studies and Pagan studies at AAR (American Academy of Religion). Her book, Coming to the Edge of the Circle: A Wiccan Initiation Ritual, is well worth being more widely known and read. May her merriment echo in the lives of those who knew and loved her.”
Wendy Griffin, Ph.D, Academic Dean of Cherry Hill Seminary, also knew Bado through the AAR, as well as through Bado’s time as President of the Board for the seminary. They became friends over many conversations, and, like the others, she most remembers Bado as an excellent scholar and having a “wicked sense of humor.”
Bado’s last Pagan conference was January’s Conference on Current Pagan Studies, where she was a presenter. Jeffrey Albaugh, organizer for the conference, remembers, “Although Dr. Nikki Bado taught philosophy and religious studies at Iowa State University and served as president of the board for Cherry Hill Seminary, I personally knew her from my work with the Conference on Current Pagan Studies, where we were blessed to have her as keynote speaker this past January. Nikki was a gracious sport, and was the first keynote we had participate remotely, from her hospital bed, via Skype. Despite some minor technical issues that had not occurred during our testing of the equipment and internet connection, she engaged the audience warmly and authentically regarding issues of social justice and our Pagan communities.”
Albaugh continued on to say, “This last CCPS was my first dealing with her, but I bonded with her immediately. Her goal in her recovery was to dance again, I think it was ballroom dancing. I promised to dance with her, but that will have to be in the Summerland. She is on my afterlife dance card.”
In addition to her book on Wiccan initiations, Bado also co-authored Toying With God: The World of Religious Games and Dolls, with Rebecca Sachs Norris along with many articles on Wicca, Goddess worship, and Japanese spirituality. Among her many editor credits includes Pop Pagans: Paganism and Popular Music, which includes a contribution by The Wild Hunt founder, Jason Pitzl-Waters.
What is remembered, lives.