Thursday, February 25, 2010

Gallimaufry with Chariots

• Icelandic Pagans curse the nation's economic rivals. See what happens when you mix polytheism and international banking? (Via Pagan Newswire Collective.)

• I do like what Iceland may do for freedom of the (online) press.

• We are the Empire, and we have the chariot-racing to prove it. Video no. 2 is the better one. Go Greens. (Via LawDog.)

• American pop culture is not keen on reincarnation as a plot device?

• Once again, Wicca as "the Other" gets tangled up with current political debate

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Christian Minister Says the Right Things (Mostly)

The US Air Force Academy's official site for Pagan ritual has received a lot of attention. I first mentioned it on January 27 when I saw the Air Force news release.

In faraway Virginia*, Eugence C. Buie, a retired Disciples of Christ minister, wrote an op-ed piece criticizing his local newspaper's own editorial about the USAFA stone circle:

It is unseemly to make fun of things we may not understand, particularly religions chosen and valued by others. That is not a strange thing to say in America where it used to be customary to honor and respect everyone’s “freedom of choice,” especially where religious beliefs and practices are concerned.
Some people I know jumped on one phrase in the piece, "Granted, some kinds of Wiccan worship could be considered evil." Frankly, I have no idea what he meant, since he just tosses that line out there without any further explanation. Sex in the circle? Drumming all night? Wearing too much crushed velvet?

(And, yes, he is conflating Wicca and to some extent Druidism with all Paganism.)

It's a tribute to all the Pagans who do interfaith work that people like Buie are, however grudgingly, started to respect our right to be here.

Getting one Pagan blog—Jason Pitzl-Waters' Wild Hunt— ncluded in a survey of the religious blogosphere is progress too. (I remember when BeliefNet wanted my own blog on their Blog Heaven page but some months later purged it along with other non-monotheist blogs, no explanation given.)

* Virginians are not required to comment.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

What a Difference the Suffix '-ess' Makes

Following a link from another religion blog, I dropped into today on Beauty Tips for Ministers (subtitled "Because you're in the public eye, and God knows you need to look good.")

I read this:

SO many of you have written to let me know that TLC will be airing an episode of “What Not To Wear” this Friday during which they make over a young, beautiful Episcopal priest.

And I was thinking, "Well, this is going in a homoerotic direction" when the truth hit me.

But I suppose if you want to be chased out of an Episcopal church by a bishop swinging his crozier, start talking about the "young, beautiful priestess."

What difference that "-ess" makes. You know why, don't you?


It does not matter if you are speaking of the Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome or someone more contemporary. To the monotheistic mind, the word "priestess" seems to conjure up "fertility rites," flowing hair, and orgiastic drumming. Ishtar! Jezebel!

Traditional Episcopalians and other Christians opposed to the ordination of women have used "priestess" as a slur before--and maybe they still do.

No, having women in sacramental, priestly roles is pretty scary, and so the only thing to do is to pretend that they are men under those robes.

Never before has a chasuble looked so much like a burqa.

(And one Episcopal priestess-in-training fears that vestments designed for men make her butt look too big--but that is a separate issue.)

The issue is that religion can be very sexy. Religio-magical power can be felt as erotic power, which why clergy often get into scandalous situations.

Female beauty plus sacramental (i.e., magical) power? There is nothing in the Book of Common Prayer about handling that!

So must they just pretend it's not there?

And what do we Pagans do?

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Nature Religion at the Air Force Academy

The Air Force Academy chapel will add a worship area for followers of Earth-centered religions during a dedication ceremony scheduled to be held at the circle March 10.

Gus diZerega notes it too.

Considering some of the previous church-and-state issues at the academy, this is major news.

Hmm. I might be able to work that into a talk that I might possibly be giving later that month in Colorado Springs.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Around the Pagan Blogosphere

• "Hard versus Soft Polytheism is a False Dichotomy."

• A recently discovered statue described as the god Odin and welcomed by some reconstructionist Norse Pagans, is--by Viking Period artistic conventions--either a woman or the goddess Freya, says a Swedish archaeologist. 

• The Necronomicon: "It's like the Bible but different" (YouTube video). Via

• At The Soccer Moms' Guide to Wicca: Unintentionally outed by the school district.

• Something that I wish more people would think about about: When is a wild animal an omen, and when is it just a wild animal?

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Canadian Pagan Conference Set for Guelph

News release:

The Canadian National Pagan Conference brings together Canadian activists, clergy and scholars interested in the neo-Pagan and revived pagan religions in Canada. These include, but are not lmited to Goddess spirituality, Wicca, Asatru and the Heathen paths, Romuva, Druidry and the Afro-diasporic religions.

A large part of the conference is peer-to-peer workshops on a number of issues important to the members of these religions: parenting, aging, family and sexuality, legal status and recognition, temple organization, and others.

However, integral to the conference from the beginning has been the academic stream of presentations of original research on Pagan paths in Canada (or elsewhere when presented by Canadian Pagan scholars). Research in the demographics of the neo-Pagans, the cultural and political influence of occultism, sexuality and Wicca, and other issues has been presented. The Conference presentations are peer-reviewed and cross-disciplinary (Religious Studies, Sociology and History have been well-represented).

Papers on any aspect of the history or current state of Paganism and neo-Paganism in Canada are welcome. Please send an abstract (250 words) and a brief CV of yourself to Sam Wagar, the academic co-ordinator. Both academics and non-academics are welcome to present research.

More information on the conference, which is happening at the University of Guelph over the Victoria Day long weekend, can be had from the website.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

A Pagan Festival Just up the Road

Earlier this month, I was reading the Cañon City Daily Record—a humdrum piece about a city council meeting in the nearby town of Florence—when this jumped out at me:

"We are welcoming to a great variety of spiritual seekers who would classify themselves in many ways, including alternative spirituality, metaphysical, holistic wellness, new age, neo-pagan Earth religion, ecospirituality, native American tradition, Buddhist, Sufi, meditation and yoga practitioners, tribal drumming musicians, feminist Goddesses spirituality, and Kabbalah mysticism.”

Whoa! I thought. Pagans in Florence? (Actually, there are a handful.)

It turned out that the Beltania festival, which had been in northern Colorado, is moving south. We are, after all, a less-fashionable and hence cheaper part of the state.

The Florence Mountain Park hosts a couple of mountain-man rendezvous each summer, and if the city is OK with those guys firing full-size blackpowder cannon, then they should be OK with all-night drumming too.

I mentioned last October how the closing of the private Wellington Lake campground southwest of Denver was forcing at least three Pagan events to seek new venues.

If this trend continues, M. and I won't have to drive so far to attend some of them.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Too Much Pagan Writing is Too Bland

I wish Pagan writers would stop giving advice and writing bland how-to articles.

A lot of what makes Pagan magazine publishing is its bias towards advice-giving. That and poor graphic design, in some cases.

Look at Circle magazine, for example. Circle reminds me too much of the bland publications of cookie-cutter financial advice that mutual-fund companies, credit unions, etc. send out.

I feel as though I have read almost everything in it before. "How to use your cauldron." "The Celtic legend of Whatever."

I tend to skim the "Passages" section and the "Lady Liberty League Report," and then it goes on the shelf.

Its graphic design, unfortunately, reflects its early 1980s incarnation as a tabloid newspaper.  Boring. When they shrank the size to 8 x 10, it did not get the makeover it desperately needed.

Of course, there is a rule in commercial magazine publishing that after two years every topic is new again.

But what is missing is personality. The Cauldron, which is still more in the "zine" class (originally it was typed and reproduced by mimeograph on the cheapest paper) shows the personality of its editor, Mike Howard.

American Pagan writers seem too afraid of being "personal." Instead, they churn out bland how-to stuff.

When I edited some books for Llewellyn in the 1990s, "too personal" was the kiss of death—the term they used when they wanted to reject a piece of writing. They probably would have called the The Confessions of Aleister Crowley "too personal."

The new Witches & Pagans at least has columnists. I turn to Kenaz Finan or Judy Harrow or R.J. Stewart before tackling the main features. I want stories and the "too personal" more than I want the how-to stuff. Sometimes I even get it.

But their Web site needs updating. Thanks to the Web, publishing a magazine is now twice as much work as before.

I thought Thorn was cool, so I subscribed and promoted it, only to see it go "online only," which most likely is the kiss of (slow) death.

The nascent Pagan Newswire Collective that Jason Pitzl-Waters is organizing has a worthwhile purpose: to make it easier for Pagans to define Paganism in the media marketplace. (Jason's own blogging is newsy, which makes it a daily read.)

Where the PNC will find outlets I am not yet sure. All journalism is in turmoil right now, and journalism about religion even more so—even though so many news stories have unexplored or unexplained religious dimensions.

Meanwhile, I go on looking for good writing that happens to be Pagan, rather than "Pagan writing."

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Some Newish Online Pagan-Related Magazines

• The new Pagan Edge offers "lifestyles and passions of the modern Pagan." The special subscription price is good until January 10th.

Penton has been published in South Africa for a while. They are up to issue 45 and have a nice, straightforward navigation system.

Sannion links to a possibly forthcoming online magazine about ancient Egypt.

• Through January 19th, Patheos' "Public Square" is devoted to "Religion and the Body."

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Saturday, January 02, 2010

Suicide Squirrel & Other Musings

Today got off on a weird note: I got up, fed the dogs, and walked the dogs, only to come home from the dog walk (M. still asleep) and find the electricity off.

I called our electric co-op, and was promised that the linemen would be informed.

After M. awoke, I wheeled out the generator, which is pretty noisy, and  restored power. Having a well with an electric pressure pump means that a lack of electricity cuts into morning washing and cooking.

An hour later, a lineman from the San Isabel Electric Association was knocking at the door. His one-word diagnosis: "Squirrel."

This afternoon one of the dogs found and brought me the unfortunate electrocuted squirrel. All winter it had been eating out of our bird feeders, and this was how it repaid us (he thought anthropocentrically).

Eventually I was able to get to work on this new journal layout job, which is progressing by fits and starts—I have a whole string of "What do you want me to do about X, Y, and Z?" questions for the publisher.

For break time, I sometimes wonder around the Web--and sometimes haul firewood.

Today I learned to my surprise that BeliefNet has snark, in the form of the blog Stuff Christian Culture Likes (obviously a take-off on SWPL).

Funny enough, but will the day come when Pagan clergy--thinking of here of all those people who can't wait to be salaried Pagan clergy--worry about "being relevant" in their clothes and marketing?

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Our 'Open-Source' Religion

Paganism as an open-source religion. (That approach works for some Jews too.)

Douglas Cowen, in his book Cyberhenge, goes even further, making an explicit analogy to computer coding: “Pagans are ‘hacking’ their own religious traditions out of the ‘source codes’ provided by pantheons, faith practices, liturgies, rituals, and divinatory practices drawn from a variety of cultures worldwide.” Given all that “hacking,” it’s no wonder that, as Webster says, “There are a huge number of pagan people in the high-tech space.”

Hat tip: Gus diZerega.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Contemporary Pagans: Indigenous or Not?

A kerfuffle over who said what about which flavors of Paganism at the just-concluded Parliament of the World's Religions is summarized over at The Wild Hunt.

This year's parliament in Melbourne listed "Reconciling with the Indigenous Peoples" as one of its key topics.

Some contemporary Pagans have been playing the "indigenous card" since the 1970s, when Oberon Zell and other Green Egg writers argued that Wicca was a form of "indigenous European shamanism."

The same claim has been made by some British Pagans in controversies over the management of megalithic sites in the UK and the treatment of prehistoric remains.

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

In academia, in the world of [Fill in the Blank] Studies, "indigenous" has a more limited—and more political—meaning.  Hang around the people teaching, for example, Native American religion, and you may be told that the descriptor "indigenous" can only be applied to people who are or have been oppressed or colonized.

This claim might seem illogical. After all, were the ancient British not oppressed, and thus not "indigenous," until the Romans came and created the province of Britannia—at which point they were colonized. And then when the Roman legions left, they were not "oppressed" anymore, so not "indigenous."

Forget it. This is all about political issues now.

If you cut through the rhetoric, what is really at stake in discussions of who is "indigenous" is land—and sometimes related issues of political power, reparations, and trying to avoid sharing the guilt for how screwed-up the modern world is.

Most Anglosphere contemporary Pagans do not directly connect following an "earth-based religion" with political control of acreage itself, but in other places that connection is the underlying concern.

Particularly in eastern Europe, today's revived Pagans have made "blood and soil" arguments, saying that their approach is truer to the land than is Orthodox Christianity.

Anglosphere Pagans may invoke a sort of metaphorical or historical "indigeneity," talking about people who followed polytheistic religions a millennium or two in the past. In the West, our connections with our Pagan ancestors are intellectual (based on books) and theological.

We can talk about prejudice and Christian hegemony—but being blocked from giving a prayer at the county commissioners' meeting is not "oppression" in the sense that the Australian Aboriginals suffered, for example.

Islam, too, has its "death to the polytheists!" passages in the Qu'ran. Indeed,  I think anyone who opened a Pagan bookstore, etc., in Cairo or Islamabad would be oppressed in a hurry. Is anyone brave enough to revive the worship of Ishtar in Iraq?

In our religious views and practices, we have much in common with the tribal religions of the world.  In the academic study of religion, common ground is being found between "indigenous" and "Pagan."

In that limited sense, it is useful to show contemporary Paganisms' (that is a plural possessive) roots in pre-modern, polytheistic,  or "indigenous" cultures.

But before playing that card, we have to understand that it is usually connected to issues of land rights, grievances over such issues as removal of children into government boarding schools, and other current political struggles.

In those instances, the typical Wiccan, Heathen, etc., is probably going to be on the sidelines.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Pagan Thoughts at the Parade of Lights

Last fall I looked for Pagan virtues in a small-town "Pioneer Day" parade.

Similar thoughts ran through my mind last night watching an even smaller town's "Parade of Lights."

The procession was about one block long: two pieces of fire apparatus, the local mountain search-and-rescue group (yellow jackets, hard hats, head lamps), another flatbed truck or two, various kids and dogs.

On the sidewalk, Father Christmas greeted spectators and drinkers.

Even though the American Thanksgiving holiday was established during the Great Depression to signal the start of the holiday shopping season, many towns now re-celebrate that spending spree with a "Parade of Lights," a secular solsticial event.

Most seem to be sponsored by downtown merchants' associations. (You can't have a traditional parade at a shopping mall.) Stores stay open late hoping to sell things to the spectators.

Some years ago, a Pagan group had a float in Colorado Springs' Parade of Lights, a first in that city, often jokingly called "Fort God" for its combination of military bases and big-name Protestant "ministries," like Focus on the Family.

Maybe the frankly secular and capitalist nature of the event was a plus. Pay your entry fee, get a place in the parade.

Other parades, such as those on St. Patrick's Day or Columbus Day, have their definite sense of "ownership." Sponsoring organizations are pickier about who they permit to march.

I wrote "frankly secular," but we Pagans see a brave display of light against the incoming darkness--not to mention the cold wind sweeping down from the mountains ahead of today's snowstorm.

We are used to the dichotomy of light and dark, of order and chaos, Apollo and Dionysus--or their equivalents. Perhaps commerce and gift-giving are another pair.

These pairs will contend with each other forever.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Pagan Social Media and the Parliament of the World's Religions

Jason Pitzl-Waters posts a round-up of blogs, video, and other social media from the Parliament of the World's Religions.

I clicked the links, and so far what I have seen is pretty bland. Talking-heads video is bland even when they are our talking heads. But maybe we will see some more engaged and personal writing as the event progresses and as people reflect on it.

Although it's not my scene, I applaud those Pagans who want to do this kind of work. I could see myself note-taking at some of the sessions, for my own writing purposes.

And wow, what what a great place to play Flowing Robes Bingo. I wonder if anyone brought the bingo cards.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Pagans among Suspects in Priest's Murder

(Welcome, vistors from The Wild Hunt. Stick around, click a few links.)

A Russian Orthodox priest is murdered in his Moscow church, and suspicion falls both on Muslims and on Russian Pagans.

But note the titles of his books.

We know too much about people who shout "Allah Akbar" and then pull the trigger, but why the Pagans? Why bring them into the discussion?

Paganism in Russia is somewhat like what my Anglosphere readers are used to, but there are significant differences. Russian Pagans are more likely to have their own line of "blood and soil" rhetoric and to claim that they represent the true spirituality of their people, which puts them in direct conflict with the Orthodox Church, which itself has made that same claim since the 10th century.

The Russian anthropologist Victor Shnirelman is one scholar who has written a lot of on the topic. Being Jewish (as I understand), he is particularly sensitive to whiffs of antisemitism, as in this article, "Russian Neopagan Myths and Antisemitism."

The Pomegranate has published several articles on Russian and other Eastern European Paganisms. Abstracts are available online.

Kaarina Aitamurto, "Russian Paganism and the Issue of Nationalism: A Case Study of the Circle of Pagan Tradition," 8:2 (2006) 184-210.

Adrian Ivakhiv, "Nature and Ethnicity in East European Paganism: An Environmental Ethic of the Religious Right?" 17:2 (2005) 194-225.

Victor Shnirelman, "Ancestral Wisdom and Ethnic Nationalism: A View from Eastern Europe," 9:1 (2007) 41-61.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

In Which We Use 'the I-Word' at the AAR

Attendance at this year's American Academy of Religion annual meeting was down somewhat, an AAR staff member told me: about 5,000 instead of 7,000-8,000. He attributed the drop to the economy, not to the fact that the meeting was held in Montreal. I certainly heard no complaints about the venue.

Although I spent the Saturday being a tourist of magic, I was still able to make the main Paganism-related sessions.

The Contemporary Pagan Studies Group had three sessions, and they were well-attended by AAR standards, with more than fifty people at each one.

Our shared session with the Indigenous Religious Traditions Group went well. Suzanne Owen took on the whole question of how "indigenous" is employed in a paper called "Indigenous Religious Expressions? Mi'kmaq Tradition and British Druidry," that I would like to read more of.

Amy Whitehead offered an illustrated version of her paper published recently in The Pomegranate, but in retrospect, it really belonged in our standalone session with the theme of "Idolatry."

Yes, the I-word, sometimes subsumed in the broader term "materiality," as in Graham Harvey's presentation, "Materiality and Spirituality Aren't Opposites (Necessarily): Paganism and Objects."

The presentations were good, but of necessity just nibbled at the edges of topic, so I think that we will be having a session on "Idolatry Revisited" next year in Atlanta.

Our other session, "The Book and the Practice: The Relationship between Literature and Contemporary Paganism," reflected one of my ongoing concerns--let's move beyond citing the relationship between Stranger in a Strange Land and the Church of All Worlds and look at a broader range of "artistic representations ... and their influence on and the mutually interdependent relations with a variety of Paganisms as they are practiced today," to quote the language of the call for papers.

There is a lot more to do there too. At least we are not running out of ideas for conference sessions.

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Montréal Magical Mercantile Tour

A group of Pagan Studies scholars started Friday at the big John Waterhouse exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. It offered the largest selection of his paintings ever, plus sketches, drawings, and letters. When the docent suggested that "The Magic Circle" was not really about religion, she was quickly corrected. Poor, well-meaning, volunteer docent!

Then off to the first magical establishment, where we also got a presentation on the work of the Montréal Pagan Resource Centre.

And what's this? Another Waterhouse painting on a book cover! Extra points if you know which of his paintings has served as cover art for which book.

The shop cat stood guard while someone behind the curtain received a Tarot card reading.

Elsewhere, the price of gri-gri was $9.95 per sachet.

The door to the basement temple promised mysteries underground.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Contemporary Pagan Studies in the New York Times

The upcoming sessions of the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group at the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting are mentioned in the New York Times.

Some of us have been joking about "the I-word" (idolatry). I wondered if that would catch some journalist's interest.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Colorado Pagans and News Media Coverage

I noticed a couple of instances in the past month where Colorado Pagans seem to be getting fairer coverage in the news. One was the item about the Pagan Student Alliance at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

(But as a former university professor, I have seen clubs come and go. Only clubs with strong support from a department or a particular professor last more than a year or two, typically.)

A Denver Post story today describes the work of a hospice chaplain and contains this paragraph:

Her patients come from all spiritual traditions and have included a Buddhist priest, a Druid high priest and a Sufi spiritual leader. But end-of-life spiritual care, she emphasizes, isn't necessarily about religion.

So the Druid is one of the exotic Others, but at least the Post did not put "high priest" in quotation marks.

And Tina Dowd sounds like a true priestess herself.

UPDATE: Here is one description of running a university Pagan students' club.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gallimaufry with Snow

Snow has been falling all day, and I am working on a lengthy book review, so here are some links:

• Sannion has the best idea for a New Testament zombie novel, and everyone wants him to write it. Already, I would not look at the book of Acts the same again ever.

• Hrafnkell Haraldsson has produced a string of thought-provoking posts, so go read A Heathen's Day.

• Witchdoctor Joe writes on "Samhainophobia Vs Samhainsensationalism."

• The photo is part of our outdoor shrine.

• I have visited England twice but never been to Glastonbury. Still, I keep an eye on its thriving retail scene through this blog.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It's That Time of Year!

Are you ready for the cameras and notepads? It's the time of year when journalists notice the Pagans!

ReligionLink is on the job with story ideas. At least they admit that they are recycling their resource list from 2004. (No, that's not my telephone number anymore, sorry.)

"Oh, my" indeed.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Colorado Pagans To Lose Festival Site

A television news report says that the private Wellington Lake campground, site of Dragonfest and several other Colorado Pagan festivals, is closing for the winter and possibly permanently.

The campground was operated by a concessionaire, Castle Mountain Recreation. The lake itself is part of the Denver suburb of Thornton's water system.

The closure would affect the nearby town of Bailey, the last stop before the lake for those coming from the Denver area.

Rumor has it that the closure is indeed permanent and that some other use is planned for the site—luxury mountain homes?

More when I hear about it.

UPDATE, October 19th: A massive yard sale of all equipment, boats, trucks, etc. from Wellington Trading Post will be held at Wellington Lake from 9-6 each day, Oct. 23-25. That sounds pretty final.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

That Theodish Political Candidate

Sarah Pike of California State University, Chico evaluates Dan Halloran's run for a New York City Council seat as an "out" Pagan and concludes, "Since for many Americans, the Republican Party is inseparable from conservative Christianity, Neopagans were surprised that the party stood by Halloran, and took it as a sign that not only is the makeup of the religious left and the religious right shifting, but that the country as a whole is becoming more receptive toward their religion."

I'll be seeing Sarah next month at the American Academy of Religion annual meeting, and I shall have to ask her about this "Neopagan" usage. Following Graham Harvey, who argues that "Neo-" is outmoded now, the favored term (in academia, at least) is "contemporary Pagan."

But she has written a good opinion piece—read the whole thing. The comments display the usual Pagan hair-splitting and in-fighting.

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Gallimaufry with Bison

• I have been traveling--and writing about it at the other blog. So for now, some links.

• Raw food and Linux: Interview with two Pagans. Raw food is fine, but it's easy to look good if you are in your twenties and have the bone structure ... As for Linux, that's fine too, but I have no real reason to switch from Mac OS X. Just not geeky enough—or you could say that I prefer to be geeky about other things.

• Jordan Stratford claims the steampunk aesthetic for Gnosticism. Next, raw food and Linux.

• Boing Boing is hosting guest-blogger Mitch Horowitz, author of Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation.

Is it the pop version of Catherine Albanese's A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion? I need to read it and find out. (via The Wild Hunt).

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

Paganism is Fa-abulous

So says the News of the World, so consider the source.

Both Emma and Amie are in the throes of planning their weddings for next year - or hand-fastings, as they're called in pagan circles, because the couple's hands are tied together during the ceremony.

Both are planning outdoor ceremonies officiated by a high priest and priestess, using pagan vows they'll compose themselves. Emma's gown will be green "to symbolise new beginnings", while Amie has plumped for a purple medieval-style dress, followed by a hog roast on the beach. Conventional it isn't - but if paganism continues to grow, hand-fastings could be the next big thing.

Emma has Pagan tattoos!

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Pagan Census, revisited

Three researchers are working to update Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States, originally published in 2003.

Helen Berger, one of the researchers, writes, "This survey builds on an earlier one completed over twenty years ago, primarily in the United States, which was conducted by Helen A. Berger and Andras Arthen (of the EarthSpirit Community) entitled the Pagan Census.

"A number of scholars have noted that it would be helpful to have a follow-up of that survey to see if and how the community has changed or remained the same. The survey that follows uses many, although not all of the same questions that were in the original survey to provide that comparison. There are also new questions, for instance about the Internet, something that was of little interest 20 years ago but is now, and some from other studies, that again permit a comparison. This has resulted in the survey being somewhat long--we appreciate your taking the time to complete it."

Please feel free to spread this URL around the Pagan Web to get as wide a variety of respondents as possible.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Shamanic Images of the Altai

I found this video on PaganSpace -- evidently it is supposed to evoke the shamanic spirit of Kazahkstan (since the poster lives in Almaty). The Altai are a range of mountains in Central Asia.

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Pagan Content on Patheos: John Muir was Pagan??

USA Today's religion blogger, Cathy Lynn Gross, visits the Patheos religion web site and discovers (shock!) that it has a Pagan portal with actual Pagan content.

The article that catches her attention is "John Muir was a Pagan."

I admire John Muir, but I do not see him as a capital-P Pagan, follower of a non-monotheistic religion. He might well have been a small-P "pagan"-- a non-Christian, a pantheist.

Get over to Patheos and stir things up before they shut it down. I wonder if starting a religion portal in the midst of a recession was a good business plan -- were the Brunnicks counting on people to turn to religion when their money ran out? They laid off the Pagan gateway manager, a graduate student in religion, a couple of months ago.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mainstreaming British Paganism

Another "Pagans in our midst" article, this one from The Guardian, a generally left-of-center British newspaper.

Writer Cole Morton advances the "fastest-growing religion" meme, promoted also by the Pagan Federation:

The Pagan Federation, which aims to represent all "followers of a polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religion", claims the number of adherents has trebled at least. That would mean there were 360,000 committed, practising pagans, putting them ahead of the Sikhs (329,000) and fourth behind Hindus (552,000), Muslims (1.5 million) and Christians (42 million, according to the census).

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Greek Orthodox Cover-up of Parthenon Defacing

Via Richard Bartholomew: Orthodox clergy in Greece demanded -- and got -- removal of a film segment in the Parthenon visitor center that showed their predecessors smashing Pagan statuary, etc., centuries ago.

UPDATE: (Via Jason) The museum backed down and is restoring the original film.

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Gallimaufry with Ancestors

• From Svartesól, five ways of communicating with the gods.

• Paula Jean West has a round-up of posts on Pagan festival etiquette. But needing a wi-fi hotspot? I thought some people went to festivals to get away from all that. Write some columns in advance--that's the traditional way of dealing with that issue.

• Caroline Kenner's guest post at the Wild Hunt on ancestors (i.e., the Mighty Dead) is worth reading. It's a bit long for a blog post--but as a guest, she did not have the luxury of breaking it into three parts.

• Graduating from college, Annyikha offers her long hair to Artemis and Athene.

A personal protection spell for handguns. The "witch who lives in the woods alone" probably would approve.

• This week's best search words that brought a visitor to this blog: "you tube videos secret witchcraft threats." If they were truly secret, would they be on YouTube? Some people have such trust in the InterWebz. It's sort of touching.

• Actually, maybe this post is too long. I would look more productive if I made a separate post out of each bullet point, wouldn't I.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Druidry and Made-up History

Here is the YouTube trailer for a new documentary on British Druidry. Yes, that is Ronald Hutton at the beginning (long hair, glasses). (If the YouTube link does not work, try this one.)

And here is the video clip dissected with a sharp knife by a different British Pagan academic.

It's true: there is nothing in the historical record on ancient Druids (which would fill about two typed pages) about land ownership or the rights of women. The one speaker is simply making it up.

It is the "crisis of history" again. Can your religion get respect when it is based on non-existent "history"? It works for the Mormons, true, but not without some pain.

Hutton's Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain offers the whole history of making up Druidic "history."

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Britain's Pagan Cops Request Religious Holidays

Pagan police officers in the UK are requesting--and sometimes getting--religious holidays that are "set in stone" (unintentional pun there, I think, on the reporter's part, given the illustration). Here is a confusing/confused comment on an unofficial police web site. "Worship witchcraft"?

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My First-Draft Paper on the 'Crisis of History'

My CESNUR paper, "In the Mists of Avalon: How Contemporary Paganism Dodges the 'Crisis of History,'" has been published on line at the organization's web site.

It is sort of quick and lightweight, but I want to work more on those ideas in the future.

In the immediate future, however, I need to come up with something for my guest-blogger spot at The Wild Hunt. Warning, it's more likely to be snarky than deep.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Review: The Other Side of Virtue

Followers of the major monotheistic religions occasionally trot out the idea that only their traditions offer true ethical systems, while presumably everyone else is devoted to thievery, murder, incest, cannibalism, and failure to pay parking tickets.

Such an attitude is unhistorical, of course. Socrates, Confucius, Epictetus . . any pre- or non-Abrahamic figure might as well have never lived, you would think.

Hence I have been reading and enjoying Brendan Myers' The Other Side of Virtue, which while admitting that "some values really are 'out there,' beyond the self and are not a matter of personal opinions and preferences," approaches the topic in a "poly" way, not relying on one man's claimed revelation but on a wide variety of ancestral teaching, poetry, philosophy, and tradition.

In an easy-going historical exposition, Myers lays out how for Heroic societies (which still live in our own) "the chief virtue was Honour, the quality for which you earn the respect of your peers." He continues, "To writers in the classical age, and the Renaissance, the chief virtue was Reason. For Romantic writers, it seems to be the sincerity of one's passion and the beauty of one's creative work."

Although it covers ideas and thinkers both ancient and modern, what places Myers' work firmly in the Western Pagan tradition comes at the end, when he reminds us of the importance of free choice in living the good or virtuous life:

The creation of eudaimonia, the good and beautiful destiny, begins when you declare that your life shall be meaningful and worthwhile. It begins in the pursuit of a life that could stand as a model for others, and perhaps ought to be remembered by future generations.

It is hard to do justice to The Other Side of Virtue in a blog post. Perhaps my one quibble is with Myers' creation of what I think is a false dichotomy between "cold duty" and "beauty." In that dichotomy his writing resembles Emma Restall Orr's, which is unfortunate. He rather slights the (later Roman) Stoic school of philosophy with its emphasis on civic life, although not as thoroughly as she does.

If I say, "Honor the gods and do your duty," I can interpret "duty" broadly and flexibly, not militaristically. There is the duty of a student (to study), the duty of a parent, the duty of a citizen, and so on.

But that is a minor quibble, for I see much to admire in The Other Side of Virtue and urge you to buy and read it. It is a pity that the book lacks an index, however.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Sikh at the Solstice

Via Jason, a funny account of a British Sikh at a Pagan solstice celebration:

There, surrounded by the verdant, wild beauty of the heath I felt connected with Nature herself. I lay on my back and stared at the sky that was preparing a slow welcome for twilight. I became acutely aware that I was sitting on a planet that spun on an axis and was orbited by a moon in a solar system that was part of a galaxy that itself was but a slither [sic. "sliver"?] of a wider universe. I felt small, I became insignificant. I knew my place in the cosmos and the cosmos knew its space around me. It was a deeply profound moment, broken only by a shrieking child running to his mother, frightened by the apparently dead, pink turbaned man in the Lincoln green dress.

It is actually one of the best meditations on the festival that I have ever read, perhaps because it looks at our world as it is.

Me, I'll be watching the dogs and kayaks at FIBArk. Happy Litha, everyone.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Patheos' Pagan Gateway

I have had the privilege of helping to create the "Pagan gateway" on, a new interfaith religious portal site designed to help people find " credible, comprehensive, easily accessible information on religion and spirituality."

Founders Leo and Cathie Brunnick are trying to create a site that is comprehensive, academically sound, but accessible to everyone, with all the usual bells and whistles -- discussion forums, blogs, etc.

Time's article on the overall Patheos site produced some picky responses on the GetReligion blog.

Of course Patheos will be compared to -- from the Pagan perspective, I think it is a lot better. I wrote earlier about my bad experience as a blogger with Beliefnet.

The "Arts & Entertainment" link is not yet working, but will have information on musicians, movies, and so on.

Go visit, see what you think, and stake out a spot on the discussion board. The Pagan Gateway team is supposed to seed them with provocative questions.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Gallimaufry with Confusion

• The latest weird search query to bring a visitor to this blog: "Is New Mexico a polytheistic, monotheistic, or animistic religion?" Hello? New Mexico is a state. No wonder that for years New Mexico Magazine has had a standing column on geographical confusion called "One of Our 50 is Missing."

• A
TheoFantastique [Morehead] : Cinema has also changed in its depiction of the witch. Are fairytale depictions as in Harry Potter, as well as those which depict the empowerment of the feminine perhaps the most common modes of expression in contemporary film?

Carrol Fry: Yes, the empowerment of the feminine is the most popular adaptation, whether the film is supportive of critical. I’m sure this has to do with attracting an audience for the film. But Pagans might well feel that Hollywood slights their spiritual paths by concentrating nearly exclusively on feminist Wicca, and then just on the most sensational elements. By the way, there’s a strong subtext of feminist Wicca in
that no one much notices, most obviously in Sophie’s (named for Sophia from the Gnostic tradition) blunders into a Wiccan ceremony in which her grandfather is “drawing down the moon” as a coven ceremony. There are a few other witch films that are not part of the culture wars, romantic films such as I Married a Witch
and Bell, Book and Candle that are neither the silly version of witches (that have nothing to do with Neo-Paganism[sic]) such as the Harry Potter novels and films nor adaptations of Wicca.

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Fame and Pagans

An essay by Cat Chapin-Bishop on seeking fame as a Pagan has gotten some attention. Her Quaker side is conflicted by the idea of being a "Big-Name Pagan," thanks to the Quaker ideal of not seeking worldly glory.

I do not see anything wrong with seeking fame if we define it as "excellence." After all, if you strive for years to do X and have some skill at it, you will eventually be recognized by the community of "People Who Do X."

Put Pagan authors, etc., in that group: we are not known that much outside of Pagandom.

There is of course an unhealthy form of fame-seeking. We all know the people who think that they deserve the front of the line based on their celebrity.

Here is one difference, perhaps: Teaching.

My favorite philosopher, Gary Snyder, once wrote that while artists and writers in a sense occupy the top of the cultural food chain, they are in turn eaten -- scavenged -- by their students.

So maybe teaching X after you are famous for it is one protection against fame's unhealthy self-delusion. Give it all away.

Paganism does not require us to creep around in grey clothing saying, "Oh, I am no one special."

On the other hand, all fame is fleeting -- unless you are offered a deal like Achilles: short life and fame or a long life.

He chose the former and now, something like 3,200 years later, Brad Pitt plays him in a movie.

But for most humans, fame is just the foam on the cappuccino. You may enjoy it, but you should not mistake it for the real drink.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Back from the Florida Pagan Gathering

I have not tried to sleep over all-night drumming since I was a little kid, when my district-ranger father would let the Indians from the Pine Ridge Reservation put up a temporary dance arbor each year on Forest Service land by our house, across from the Indian Health Service hospital in Rapid City.

That was Plains-style drumming--Boom Boom Boom--mixed with the jingle of ankle bells, and this was polyrhythmic drumming, but the principle was the same: treat it as white noise and go to sleep.

A few margaritas from the pirates' camp helped the process along. Pirates in Florida are iconic.

I am back from the Florida Pagan Gathering, whose organizers inexplicably decided that my research pre-occupations (What is "nature religion"? Why did people claim that witches used flying ointments?) were worth flying me halfway across the country at Beltane so that I could talk about them to the dozen or so people (out of 700) who wanted to hear about them. Thanks, everyone!

FPG is a big, well-organized event held at a 4H camp owned by the University of Florida. It has room to grow there, and the organizers want to grow it.

A comment that Margot Adler made in one of her talks has stuck with me. At one time (pre-1980) covens and other Pagan groups were mostly separate. Then came the era of national festivals--I remember one of our coveners coming back from one of the first Pan-Pagan festivals in 1980 or '81, walking two inches off the ground and full of new chants and songs to teach the rest of us.

That era established a sort of common ritual and musical culture, she noted, whereas now we are into the era of semi-professional and professional entertainment, and the brief common culture is diminishing. On the other hand, hearing Spiral Rhythm do the calypso version of "Eko Eko Azarak" was sort of a kick.

I have been working alone in my little house in the woods all winter, and FPG was "bright lights, big city" to this guy. It has been ages since I attended a big festival and got that "temporary autonomous zone" rush.

UPDATE: Coincidentally (there are no coincidences) Cat Chapin-Bishop is blogging on the phenomenon of Pagan celebrity. Two of us who were at FPG have already chimed in in the comments.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Pomegranate 10.2 published

The new issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies is now back from the printer. This issue, vol. 10, no. 2, is not yet on the Web site but will be soon.

Table of Contents
"The Love which Dare not Speak its Name: An Examination of Pagan Symbolism and Morality in Fin de siècle Decadent Fiction"
Kelly Anne Reid

"Landscape Archaeology, Paganism, and the Interpretation of Megaliths"
Jessica Beck and Stephen Chrisomalis

"The Goddess and the Virgin: Materiality in Western Europe"
Amy Whitehead

"The Prevailing Circumstances: The Pagan Philosophers of Athens in a Time of Stress"
Emilie F. Kutash

"Polycentric Polytheism and the Philosophy of Religion"
Edward P. Butler

"Re-crafting the Past: The Complex Relationship between Myth and Ritual in the Contemporary Pagan Reshaping of Eleusis"
Maria Beatrice Bittarello

"Expanding Religious Studies: The Obsolences of the Sacred/Secular Framework for Pagan, Earthen, and Indigenous Religion, Part 2: Re-thinking the Concept of ‘Religion’ and ‘Maturi’ as a New Scheme"
Mikirou Zitukawa and Michael York

Individual articles can be ordered from the Web site. Book reviews may be downloaded for free in PDF form.

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Yahoo Group for Pagan Veterans

Some American Pagan military veterans feel that established organizations such as the American Legion and VFW are too heavily Christianized, so they have started a Yahoo group as a first step towards forming a separate organization.

It is the old dilemma -- change from within, or go outside "the system"?

If you are a Pagan veteran and wish to participate, there is more information here.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Boy and his Dog

Jason Pitzl-Waters blogs on the PanGaia-newWitch merger, a sign of the times.

I knew the announcement was coming but decided to respect the publisher's embargo, something that I prided myself on not doing back when I was a reporter in a two-newspaper city (which now feels like saying "back when I rode for the Pony Express.")

For those of you who read the newest--and last--PanGaia and the article "The Brightest Lights in Our Sky: Today's Most Influential Pagans," let me say that I am humbled to be included.

And the "friend" in the photo is Jack. Chesador's Hardscrabble Jack, to use his full name, which no one ever does. He will, however, answer to "Jack--yes, you, damn it--do you see any other Chessie named Jack?"

Today was his thirteenth birthday, and M. and I toasted him with champagne at dinner.

In about two weeks, I will be at the Florida Pagan Gathering, where I am scheduled to give a couple of talks, which prospect is fairly terrifying. Must write, must write.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Paganism 101 -- A Complete Curriculum

We joke about "Wicca 101" or "Paganism 101," modeling teaching Pagan religion on a university course syllabus, but such a thing actually exists.

A group of Canadian Pagans affiliated with a Unitarian church in Vancouver have produced a detailed curriculum, which may be purchased on CD for $75 Canadian (about US $61).

The authors are Louise Bunn, Fritz Muntean, and Kara Cunningham, all of whom I know or at least have met. They write,

Paganism 101 is an experiential curriculum that will enable participants to conduct Pagan rituals on their own as aindependent practitioners. It introduces the practices, beliefs, and history of Modern Pagan spirituality, a nature-based worldview that is deeply rooted in Western Esoteric traditions.

Because of the Unitarian connection, they add, "We’re working to develop a religiosity that is entirely compatible with, and complimentary to, modern Unitarian rationality," which sounds like a sop to the humanists, but this is actually a detailed workbook in CD form and worth looking at if you are a teacher.


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Difference between Santa Fe and Taos

Looking back to the artists and writers of 1930s-40s Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico writer Paul Horgan observed,

Between Santa Fe and Taos there was a sense of rival constituencies, and sensitive persons tended to be loyal to the powers, virtues, and dangers of one place or the other. Santa Fe was more worldly, more sophisticated. Taos believed itself to be animated by an energy that was actually occult.

Blame D.H. Lawrence and Mabel Dodge Luhan for creating much of the "Taos energies" narrative.

Having lived briefly in Taos and having visited both places off and on since my teens, I think that Horgan's distinction still applies.

Put me in the Taos group: Santa Fe's Spanish-imperialist past still lingers.

I stop for coffee in Taos, and the guy at the next table is talking about how parallel universes influence ours. In Santa Fe, it's where they came from and what glamorous destination awaits them next.

In fact, I became a capital-P Pagan in Taos. Actually, it was in the nearby village of Talpa--but still Taos County. (I see I said that once already. Where are the adobes of yesterday?)

Horgan is quoted in Barbara Harrelson's Walks In Literary Sante Fe: A Guide to Landmarks, Legends and Lore which is itself an extended bibliographic essay-with-maps about the former provincial and current state capital.

The next time I visit, I want to follow some of her walks.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Awaiting a Movie about Hypatia

Hypatia of Alexandria, born c. 355 (?) and murdered by a Christian mob in 415, was a Neoplatonic philosopher and mathematician—math and philosophy were more intertwined then than they are today.

Her life and death are part of the plot of Agora, a forthcoming movie directed by Alejandro Amenábar. You can see a trailer here (thanks to Jason Pitzl-Waters for the tip).

Her killers were fired up by one Cyril, a bishop of Alexandria and now a saint of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. Hypatia, after all, was not a Christian, was upper-class, was an intellectual, and worst of all, was a female intellectual.

(Patriarch issues fatwa, followers riot and kill -- the usual pattern.)

In the movie, a slave falls in love with Hypatia. Not very likely: one of the old stories told about her is that when one of her students was attracted to her, she threw a used menstrual rag in his face. It was a philosophical lesson--that he should love eternal beauty, not the beauty of the flesh.

Hypatia of Alexandria is supposed to be a good reconstructed biography. For a shorter discussion of sources about her life, go here.

I want to see Agora but I am also a little afraid to see it. It might push too many buttons. Sometimes I think the fourth century CE is still with us in the cultural-religious conflicts we see around us.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Thorn and Pagan Magazine Publishing

I like magazines. I have worked for three, owned one (still going), and sold freelance articles to a bunch of others. I taught university classes in magazine-writing and production.

So when Vol. 1, No. 1 of Thorn, subtitled Paganism in the Silicon Age, hit my mailbox, I was eager to read it.

Having made various cynical comments in the past about "Wicca as fashion statement," I was a little amused to see two fashion layouts in the magazine. One, "Creation Myth: Intelligent Designs from the Descendants of the Sun Gods," showcased Peruvian textiles. The models looked like models, and I am not sure where the photos came from. (Ex-editor that I am, I always look closely at credits, trying to determine what was in-house content and what was not.)

More fashion. The magazine's centerspread, "Phos: Primal Wear in the Forest," shows two designer/models looking sullen and "alternative" in their own designs. No word on where to buy them--or if you can--whereas the Peruvian clothes were at Saks.

Don't get me wrong. I like Thorn. It's a generational thing—in the publishing sense.

Having worked much of last summer on Green Egg Omelette: An Anthology of Art and Articles from the Legendary Pagan Journal, I had plenty of time to reflect on its content. Green Egg was -- and is -- about visions of Pagan spirituality and culture, much of it speculative.

Thorn, however, takes Pagan culture for granted. As far as I can tell, that is a Good Thing. Not that such culture is a finished product, no way. And it is still minuscule in the overall picture. But it exists.

The magazine has good writers, a wide range of articles, and most of all, the opportunity to help define what Pagan culture is. Blogs like this one are fast but fragmented. Books can take a long-range thoughtful look at what has happened and what might happen. Magazines, meanwhile, have enough lead time to get thoughtful articles but come out frequently enough to be more or less current.

From a media point of view, I think there should be a place for Thorn—and for its competitors, such as PanGaia, newWitch, and, yes, Green Egg.

I like the fact that you can subscribe with PayPal, but being conservative about these things, I would include a blow-in or bind-in card for people who want to use other payment methods.

Since Thorn is published quarterly, it is alternating print issues with online issues--the February 2009 issue is now available, with a report from PantheaConm, an interview with paranormal-romance author Sherrilyn Kenyon, and a thoughtful piece on the threat from racial-supremacists to the Pagan movement.

I have mixed feelings about this approach. Magazine-guru Samir Husni, a journalism professor who studies the industry, pans the whole e-zine concept: "So it is beyond me to understand why people, very creative people, spend so much time to create what they call “e-zines” that do nothing but imitate ink on paper."

He wants the Web to do what it does well—short prose, sound, video—and print to do what it does well.

Green Egg has switched to sending subscribers a PDF file of the print magazine—you print it yourself. Switch email addresses, though, and you're in trouble.

I want there to be a place for print magazines with good artwork and articles that you can curl up with, so I subscribed to Thorn and wish it well.

A publisher friend of mine says that Sunset magazine helped define "Southern California" for a generation. We need the Pagan magazines to do the same for Pagan culture generally.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

A Cathedral Re-discovers Mystical Religion

My laugh-out-loud moment Sunday came when reading an article in the Denver Post titled "Finding Faith in the Wilderness." (The full name of the Episcopal cathedral in Denver is St. John's in the Wilderness.)

Below, dozens of candles flicker near icons in the dark nave. Incense hangs in the air. Congregants can choose to sit in a pew or on thick cushions at the foot of a simple altar. A stringed Moroccan oud gives even traditional songs of praise an exotic twist, but there is also world music, chant and jazz.

"We're using the cathedral in new ways, making it more inviting and even sensual," said the Rev. Peter Eaton. "It's meant to celebrate and bring alive all the human senses. We think that, in metro Denver, there is nothing else like us."

In other words, a "a more mystical and meditative feeling than what big-box churches or traditional Protestant services provide." In other words, liturgy, sacred theatre -- what they used to be good at before the Episcopalians developed a bad case of Vatican II-envy back in the 1960s and started trying to be "relevant."

I have quoted anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse's distinction between "episodic" and "doctrinal" religion before. Sacred theatre is episodic. Having processions with torches and banners is episodic. (Clifton's Third Law of Religion: All real religions have torchlight processions.)

The point of this post is not to make fun of Episcopalians, however. I merely want to emphasize the point that vivid experiences count for more than doctrine or theologizing. We Pagans should not forget that fact.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Handbook of Contemporary Paganism in Print

My contributor copy of the new Handbook of Contemporary Paganism from Brill arrived. (You can tell from the price that it is intended primarily for the institutional market.) Here is the table of contents:
"The Modern Magical Revival," Nevill Drury

"The Influence of Aleister Crowley on Gerald Gardner and the Early Witchcraft Movement," Henrik Bogdan

"Earth Day and Afterwards: American Paganism’s Appropriation of ‘Nature Religion'," Chas S. Clifton

"Re-enchanting the World: A Weberian Analysis of Wiccan Charisma," Robert Puckett

"Contemporary Paganism by the Numbers," Helen A. Berger

“'A Religion Without Converts' Revisited: Individuals, Identity and Community in Contemporary Paganism," Síân Reid

"The Wild Hunt: A Mythological Language of Magic," Susan Greenwood

"Reclamation, Appropriation and the Ecstatic Imagination in Modern Pagan Ritual," Sabina Magliocco

"Alchemical Rhythms: Fire Circle Culture and the Pagan Festival," J. Lawton Winslade

"Pagan Theology," Michael York

"Drawing Down the Goddess: The Ancient {Female} Deities of Modern Paganism," Marguerite Johnson

"The Return of the Goddess: Mythology, Witchcraft and Feminist Spirituality," Carole M. Cusack

"Witches’ Initiation—A Feminist Cultural Therapeutic?" Jone Salomonsen

"Animist Paganism," Graham Harvey

"Heathenry," Jenny Blain and Robert J. Wallis

"New/Old Spiritualities in the West: Neo-Shamans and Neo-Shamanism," Dawne Sanson

"Australian Paganisms," Douglas Ezzy

"Celts, Druids and the Invention of Tradition," James R. Lewis

"Magical Children and Meddling Elders: Paradoxical Patterns in Contemporary Pagan Cultural Transmission," Murphy Pizza

"Of Teens and Tomes: The Dynamics of TeenageWitchcraft and Teen Witch Literature," Hannah E. Johnston

"Rooted in the Occult Revival: Neo-Paganism’s Evolving Relationship with Popular Media," Peg Aloi

"Weaving a Tangled Web? Pagan Ethics and Issues of History, ‘Race’ and Ethnicity in Pagan Identity," Ann-Marie Gallagher

"‘Sacred’ Sites, Artefacts and Museum Collections: Pagan Engagements with Archaeology in Britain, "Robert J. Wallis and Jenny Blain

"Wolf Age Pagans," Mattias Gardell

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On Not Being a Textual Religion

People who think that a "real religion" has holy books often do not understand Paganism, whether old or now.

Gus diZerega, who is now blogging at BeliefNet, takes on that attitude in his latest post, "A Pagan View on Sacred Authority."

Fundamentally we are an oral and experiential tradition. We Wiccans have Books of Shadows, but they are more like ritual cookbooks that sacred texts along Biblical or even theological lines. Similar texts dominate in Brazil among the African Diasporic traditions. Dogma is not particularly important, compared to ritual and experience. This also appears to have been the case in [ancient] Rome.

Read the whole thing.

Incidentally, it is good to see that BeliefNet has a Pagan blogger again. It used to be me, but I was purged along with other non-monotheists. Now the site's owners seem to be trying to broaden its blogroll once again. You still have to scroll to the very very bottom to find the Pagan blogger.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Pagan Studies at AAR 2009

For lack of an original post today, here are the "calls" for the sessions at next November's American Academy of Religion meeting in Montreal that involve Pagan Studies.

At some time I want to discuss here where our little sub-discipline might be going, but it won't be today -- I just have too much on my desk.

Given disciplinary boundaries, getting the joint session with Indigenous Religious Traditions was a bit of a coup. It meant overcoming some people's resistance to the "P-word."

Contemporary Pagan Studies Group

This Group invites proposals that address the issue of idolatry, namely, examining the roles that material objects have played in religious life - in particular, the inventive strategies that people and/or cultures have used in their attempts to create images of and for worship. For a second session, we request papers that investigate the influence of literature, especially science fiction/fantasy, on contemporary paganisms. Papers that stress mutually interdependent relations are also welcome. In addition, a joint session of the Indigenous Religious Traditions Group and this Group will consider papers that explore common or shared perspectives in sacred practices. Each tradition has a heritage of employing tangible material in activities of reverence, ritual, worship, etc. We invite papers that help us understand where, how, and if the overlaps are truly shared perspectives.

Indigenous Religious Traditions Group

This Group continues to be interested in the utility or difficulties of Western conceptual categories - sacred, cosmology, possession, and others. We are also interested in the conceptualization of "indigenous;" including the invention/production of new indigenous religions. We invite paper submissions that engage the idea of "encounters" between indigenous cultural communities and groups of/from Western civilization, between indigenous communities and other non-Western cultures. In these broad perspectives, we will receive research-based papers focused on cultural and religious exchanges between encountering groups. Special preference will be given to papers that highlight exchanges that have occurred in Canada. In a joint session with the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group, we invite abstracts on tangible sacrality in the performance of ritual or worship. This proposed joint session seeks to explore perspectives on whether contemporary paganism and indigenous religious traditions could or should share a mutual discourse.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Pagans are not a Community nor a Tribe -- Not Yet

The lively discussion at The Wild Hunt over "moving on from Paganism" should put an end to the notion that Pagans constitute a "tribe" or a "community."

Not yet, anyway. We are still part of modern society with its cafeteria spirituality.

Many Pagans, such as Emma Restall Orr in her book that I recently reviewed, are fond of the idea of "tribe."

Jews, for example, are a tribe (or several). A Jew might never cross the threshold of shul, synagogue, or temple--may even be an avowed atheist--but he or she is still a Jew. Only conversion to one of the other Abrahamic faiths might change that fact -- after a time -- and even then, you still have "crypto-Jews" popping up. (Everyone wants to be special.)

A Navajo Indian might follow traditional religion, Mormonism, some kind of Christianity, or the Peyote Road, but is still a Navajo.

What we have is a network, not a community nor a tribe. Maybe in a few generations that will change, who knows? (For you anthro and sociology majors, it is the Gemeinschaft / Gesellschaft issue, no?)

Everytime I hear someone going on about "the Pagan community," I say to myself, "Not yet." Not when you can walk in and walk out so easily.


Sunday, January 04, 2009

Review: Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics

Emma Restall Orr is one of the leading figures of British Druidry, and her book Living With Honour: A Pagan Ethics may be seen as an attempt for formalize the vaguely expressed ethical precepts ("If it harm none," etc.) that characterize contemporary Paganism(s).

Orr herself admits that "Paganism can appear fragmented " but that its diversity of belief and approach "is not always helpful those trying to grasp comprehension from the outside" (11). (I think she means, "Comprehend it from the outside.)

As have a number of other Pagan writers, she feels moved to act partly by social pressures. In order for Pagans and their concerns (e.g., "appropriate care of ancient monuments and artefacts"), "it is useful to be able to stand with one voice before the benches of a nation's authority" (11).

She wants to locate her ethics in nature. This "nature" is primarily planetary as opposed to cosmic—and she makes an argument about hurricanes and tsunamis that I would agree with completely: "The *Pagan acceptance of nature's destructive power is not about resignation, but reverence." You can have a relationship with planetary nature, but it is not all about you.

Asterisk-Pagan is Orr's special spelling for a Paganism with "a devotional reverence for nature" (35), and it is essentially countercultural and antinominan, mixed with a heavy dose of romantic tribalism.

But the more I read Living with Honour, the more I became aware of two huge omissions. One is Pagan philosophy. Orr knows that she does not want to return to a bloody, heroic duel-fighting "death before dishonor" type of tribal culture, as appealing as it looks from a distance of 2,500 years. So the book is not really rooted in the Northern European Iron Age cultures, despite a couple of nods in that direction.

Yet she almost completely ignores centuries of Pagan thought on ethics and philosophy from the Greco-Roman tradition!

The Stoics get a paragraph or two, and Epicurus one sentence that demonstrates the common modern misunderstanding of his teaching. The rest of the time, the reader is fed bits of the usual grumpy, depressed, and misogynistic 18th-20th-century gang: Schopenhauer, Hegel, Nietszche. (I will make an exception for Emmanual Lévinas, whose work has informed some other contemporary Pagan thought as well.)

The ancient philosophers ranged from the hardest of "hard polytheists" to skeptical materialists like Epicurus to the "honor the gods and do your duty" attitude of the Roman Stoics. And they had a great deal to say about living ethically in friendship, in marriage, and in civic life--even when (as under the worst emperors) one was caught up in a corrupt governmental system.

Why leave them out in favor of Schopenhauer, Martin Buber, or A.J. Ayer?

By contrast, Orr's book says much about cosmos and "the Other" in an abstract sense, but neglects the polis—the world of civic and social relationships. That is the second omission.

It may be that Orr finds participatory politics distasteful--"American democracy is acknowledged as a farce," she proclaims (6)--and would rather limit her wants and watch badgers. (Doing so would be Epicurean in the truer sense.) She admits to a fondness for philosophical anarchism.

But by neglecting the "political" (in the broadest sense of life in community) part of life, she has nothing to say on issues of rights and responsibilities, on how to be an engaged and "political" citizen.

Indeed, she rejects "any idea of duty" (323). If I ever have to teach another 8 a.m. lecture class but would rather sleep, I will remember that I have no duty to the university or to my students. I can just send them a group email and tell them to read the book on their own.

When Pagans (and *Pagans) come before "the benches of nation's authority," we need to make a simple case. Although a tiny religious minority, we will pull our weight. We do not ask for to be excused for our specialness, with sharia courts and kicking everyone else out of the public swimming pool.

Unlike fundamentalists of various sorts, we do not fear academic learning--Pagans invented the academy. And democracy. And Western philosophy.

Many of us are willing to take up arms for our nation, and we support our warriors. In all social realms, we are here, and we participate.

Thus, while I find much to like in Living With Honour: A Pagan Ethics--I do enjoy seeing intelligent writers wrestle with the issue of just what "nature religion" is--I cannot help but see it as crippled by its rejection of still-relevent Pagan ethical traditions.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

A New 3-Volume Work in Pagan Studies

Barbara Jane Davy, author of Introduction to Pagan Studies (The Pagan Studies Series) has a new edited collection out of source documents for Pagan studies.

Paganism (Critical Concepts in Religious Studies) lists on Amazon at an "institutional" price, like the other edited collection that I recently mentioned.

From the publisher's site:

This new three-volume collection from Routledge’s Critical Concepts in Religious Studies series brings together the best foundational and cutting-edge scholarship in one ‘mini library’.

Volume I addresses the emergence of Paganism as a religion. It collects scholarly analyses of the historical evolution of Paganism, and is organized under topics including debates of historical accuracy, influences on the development of Paganism, and the process of routinization in the religion. The second volume addresses the importance of environmentalism in contemporary Paganism, including work on how Pagans think about the natural world, environmental ethics, and related political activism. The final volume addresses the importance of gender issues and feminism in contemporary Paganism, and collects the best research on topics including immanence, embodiment, self-image, and sexuality.

Paganism is fully indexed and has a comprehensive introduction, newly written by the editor, which places the collected material in its historical and intellectual context. It is an essential work of reference and is destined to be valued by scholars and students as a vital one-stop research and pedagogic resource.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Gallimaufry and an Omelette

¶ Twitter, It’s the CB radio of the 2000’s. That's funny if you remember the CB radio craze of the 1970s.

Green Egg Omelette: An Anthology of Art and Articles from the Legendary Pagan Journal is shipping now -- my contributor copy just arrived. Oberon Zell's layout suggests the original pages, blending different decades into a coherent whole -- with lots of Arnold Bocklin type, on the principle that everything old is new again. (Is it coincidence that Böcklin himself loved Pagan themes in his art?)

Anyway, go buy one and dive in.

¶ I share James French's skepticism about Pagan-Christian dialog but some people obviously think it is worthwhile.

¶ Caroline Tully reprints some cogent thoughts on the role of the priestess--from 108 years ago. "What do we find in the modern development of religion to replace the feminine idea, and consequently the Priestess?"

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