ENGLAND — Members of the U.K.’s Pagan community made the mainstream media in an effort to dispel myths and misconceptions with regard to a recent rash of witchcraft reports in the region. According to reports, some parts of Nottinghamshire have had “125 [complaints] of witchcraft in two years.” Local paranormal experts allegedly claim that “some of the reports could be ghostly activity which relates to, or has been caused, by witchcraft carried out in the past.” The press turned to Ashley Mortimer, who director of Nottingham Pagan Network and also a trustee of the Doreen Valiente Foundation. Mortimer is quoted as saying that 38 “reports out of 44 [paranormal incidents in Ashfield North] says more to me about the level of reporting than necessarily does about the level of witchcraft activity.” He went on to explain that Witchcraft has had bad press for years and none of this is new.
There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. Virginia’s Board of Social Services has approved a truly audacious list of new adoption rules that authorize agencies to discriminate on the basis of age, gender, political beliefs, family status, and religion. This is ostensibly to prevent same-sex couples from adopting, but could be used to discriminate against religious minorities, like Pagans, in the state. Lawsuits are already being geared up to challenge these new guidelines.
Thank you to Jason, and to my fellow Wild Hunt readers, for allowing me to share my thoughts with you today. Which came first, ritual or theatre? Most history of theatre curriculums taught at Universities across the Western world impress upon their students the theory that theatre came from ritual. In the Journal of Religion and Theatre, Dr Eli Rozik deconstructs this theory, and refutes the work of cultural anthropologist Victor Turner, and performance studies professor Richard Schechner. As contemporary Pagans, we too have recently reconsidered our history through the work of scholars such as Dr. Ronald Hutton, and are challenged to replace a mythological awareness of our origins with more factual considerations. Though I find the above arguments fascinating on many levels, as a clergyman and artistic director I am most interested in how ritual and theatre intersect in contemporary society, and within contemporary Paganism in particular. Pagans practice ritual in private and in public. We offer solitary devotions to our gods, and large scale community rituals at Sabbats and festivals. Our religious community is a treasure trove of inspiration, color, pageantry, and transformational power. What is it about ritual that captures our collective imagination? In Dr. Sabina Magliocco’s excellent article “Ritual is My Chosen Art Form: The Creation of Ritual as Folk Art Among Contemporary Pagans” (published in Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft, edited by James R. Lewis, pp. 93-119. Albany: State University of New York Press), Magliocco details the many reasons Pagans create and perform ritual. She also cites the various sources for ritual creation including academia, folklore, mass media, popular culture and popular psychology, as well as interaction with other Pagans and our own internal inspirations. She also mentions the tripartite ritual structure of the French ethnographer and folklorist Arnold van Gennep: 1) the separation from the current state of awareness, 2) the transition to a middle, distinctly different state of awareness, and 3) the incorporation and integration of the middle state with a return to the world at large.