Thursday, January 12, 2006

The shock of it all

I have started reading Christine Wicker's Not in Kansas Anymore: A Curious Tale of How Magic is Transforming America. (Jason Pitzl-Waters has also mentioned it.)

Alas, I'm too jaded to be shocked! shocked! by her revelation that magic--or at least magical thinking--is everywhere. When I see a chapter heading like "The Waitress Wears a Pentacle," I think instead about the need for a good sociological study of class issues in the Pagan movement.

But that isn't Wicker's purpose. She's in four-wheel drive, barreling down the overgrown road cut in the late 1960s and early 1970s by authors such as Susan Roberts (Witches U.S.A.) and Hans Holzer (The New Pagans).

The revival of interest in the occult and the supernatural is a current example of religious events that some have seen as being of great cultural signifiance and as reflecting serious social conflicts and strains of macroscopic importance.

That's not Wicker writing, but rather sociologist Marcello Truzzi in 1971. He wrote a lot about the "occult revival" back then, although he predicted that it would fizzle out. He is not in Wicker's bibliography.

Can you say "cycles," boys and girls?

Here is Wicker:

People with, shall we say, expanded kinds of awareness are quietly blending among us, cobbling together spiritual lives that more freewheeling than anything else ever seen before.

[Not a trace of irony there.]

The waitress wears a pentacle under her blouse. The computer geek next door is a conjure doc. The mom down the street tells fortunes. Soldiers chant toward gods of war. Nurses send healing power through their hands. You have to know what to look for. You have to search them out, ask the right questions, notice the right signs, but they are there, here, everywhere around us.

[Trust me, your guide. I have walked among the Witches of Omaha, the headhunters of Houston . . . ]

And she is off to the Vampire and Victims Ball in Salem, Mass., just the place that any researcher would start.

If it gets better after Chapter 1, I will let you know.

(Blogging from Rico's Cafe & Wine Bar. In downtown Colorado Springs. Where the demons are. Only I think that they are across the street at Tony's Bar.)

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Blogger Zyphre said...

I think her Not in Kansas gets better as it goes long. It is written for non-magical people certainly and not terribly well structured. Still, I enjoyed reading about her experiences as she did the research and her own spiritual journey.

Here is a link to an interview of the author done by some of the root workers that she had interviewed for the book.

12:32 PM  
Blogger Sterling said...

Why is it that all descriptions of Neo-Paganism in America start with the migration of Wicca over here? And why do writers always treat occult studies as if they were some sort of fad that just started a year or two ago. (That would be like saying that Charismatic Christianity is a recent fad...)

I've been reading Nature Relgion in America by Catherine Albanese. She sort of draws a line from the view of Nature held by the Puritans through to the present development of "New Age" Nature Religion in America. As I read it I keep thinking, 'Why aren't more people who write about the history of, or the current trends in, Neo-Paganism thinking about how our culture is so completely permeated with the ideas and values of this spiritual path?'

There is a reason that Paganism has been called the "religion without converts". It's because the eclectic paganism of America today is tied deeply to the culture and history of our country, its leaders and its media. You might even say that the ultra-Right Christians are in some respects correct when they howl about how TV and mainstream culture is turning their children into a bunch of heathen!

But Albanese points out how many of these "pagan" ideas have been fed into our culture through Christian philosophies. And now I'm about to babble about how its all a cycle since Christianity got so many of its philosophies from Pagan religions... But I'll spare you.

1:12 AM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...

As to the "all started with Wicca" issue, certainly Margot Adler reached back as far as 1939 in Drawing Down the Moon, and my upcoming book, Her Hidden Children will make a similar point, arguing in effect that Paganism and American "nature religion," in Albanese's term, have a deep relationship.

Paganism also fits well with American civil religion.

8:26 AM  

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