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.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

2nd (or 3rd) Generation Pagan on a Backhoe

High Country News reports on a woman with interesting roots doing environmental restoration in the Pacific Northwest.

Erion grew up in a dying timber town outside Portland, where her father logged Mount Hood's forests and taught her to run the heavy rigs she now uses to decommission his old logging roads. He was the type of guy who would flick cigarettes into the forest, Erion says, then toss the pack after them. She was the type of 6-year-old who yelled at him for it. Her mom eventually divorced Erion's dad, moved to Portland and opened The Goddess Gallery, where she sold Roman, Egyptian and pagan idols, crystals and Mother Earth icons.

(Probably one of the same dying timber towns where I was repairing slot machines in the 1970s.)


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What Happened to Ecopsychology?

Lupa posts on bioregionalism, animism, and ecopsychology.

When M. was in grad school in psychology in the 1990s, she hoped that ecopsychology would be the Next Big Thing. Articles on the psychological affects of interacting (or not) with the non-human world were popping up in places like McCall's magazine. Addressing "nature-deficit syndrome" would be a component of it--even the Girl Scouts are onto that.

But as an overarching concept--even without acknowledging "spirits of place"--ecopsychology does not seem to have caught fire except in a low-level therapeutic way: "Gardening makes you feel better."

Possibly related is the way in which a certain kind of self-righteous environmentalism may be ripe for mocking. Are we still too leery of assigning spiritual value to non-human nature? Doing so has been a component of American spirituality since around 1800, as Catherine Albanese wrote in Nature Religion in America: From the Algonkian Indians to the New Age. But it has always been a minority position, although a well-established one.

I used to start my nature-writing students with the "Where You At?" quiz. It offers a quick immersion in bioregional thinking and blends both non-human and human cultural material.

Labels: ,

Monday, November 03, 2008

Midway through AAR

If I come away from this year's AAR annual meeting with any one Big Idea, it is that I am glad to see Pagan Studies moving away from "Wiccans and Odinists," as Jone Salomonsen put it, and towards a broader sense of a "a way to think about religion" (or religious behavior). Our joint session with the Religion and Popular Culture Group started the weekend off well, and presenting a co-written work-in-progress paper and slide show there got me thinking about how I want to return to the whole nexus of nature religion, civil religion, and small-p paganism as well as thinking about capital-P Paganism.

Meanwhile, the election that has lasted forever is almost over!

Last night, from the 23rd floor of the Chicago Hilton Towers, I looked down a floodlit, fenced-off portion of Grant Park, where Sen. Obama's victory rally will be held. The mayor has "suggested" that businesses in this part of town close at 3 p.m. on Election Day. No doubt they expect a riot if Obama loses -- and probably if he wins as well, by the same mob-logic that caused violence and destruction in Philadelphia when the Phillies won the World Series.

Labels: ,

Friday, August 15, 2008

Passing of Feraferia's Fred Adams

I learned today of the passing on August 9 of Frederick McLaren Adams, co-founder of the Southern California Pagan group Feraferia in the 1960s.

(Right: Fred and Svetlana Adams at a Feraferia ritual during the late 1960s.)

Although later cross-fertilized by Gleb Botkin's Church of Aphrodite, Feraferia ("wilderness festival") was a unique creation, with its roots in ancient Greek religion, in Adams' own visionary experiences of the gods, in the writings of Robert Graves, and also in the California "Nature Boys" tradition, of which I plan to write more later.

(Right, Fred Adams in about 2005.)

I have a framed front page of the Autumn 1968 issue of the Feraferia journal hanging over my computer desk. Its subtitle reads "The Charisma of Wilderness, Seasonal Celebration, Visionary Ecology." Forty years ago -- before most Pagans were even using the term "nature religion."

(Photos courtesy of Harold Moss.)

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

"Hearing Voices"

My series co-editor Wendy Griffin and my editing collaborator Graham Harvey (The Paganism Reader) appear on the BBC Radio 4 to discuss hearing voices and Paganism. (Real Player download -- you will hear some BBC news first.)

Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Pomegranate 9.2

I've been remiss in not noting the contents of the latest issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies. Videlicet:

• "The Quandary of Contemporary Pagan Archives,"
Garth Reese,

• "The Status of Witchcraft in the Modern World," Ronald Hutton,

• "Kabbalah Recreata: Reception and Adaptation of Kabbalah in Modern Occultism," Egil Asprem

• "Putting the Blood Back into Blót: The Revival of Animal Sacrifice in Modern Nordic Paganism," Michael Strmiska.

And the book reviews.

Abstracts are online, and the book reviews may be downloaded in their entirety.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Wilhelm Reich, nature religionist

When I wrote Her Hidden Children, I gave three pages to Wilhelm Reich, because I felt that his unconventional ideas on the body, sexuality, and life energy had as much to do with the intellectual underpinnings of American Paganism as did, for example, the anthropological theories of Sir James Frazer ("sacred kings" and all that).

Reich was all but burned as a heretic, but now his ideas are getting a second look as his papers are unsealed.

Physician-scientist Wilhelm Reich, best known for his claims of a cosmic life force associated with sexual orgasm, died in federal prison, and the government burned tons of his books and other publications and destroyed his equipment.

But half a century later, a small number of scientists and other believers are working to advance the European-born psychiatrist's work on what he called "orgone energy" - a theory largely forgotten in the scientific mainstream.

"Personally, I think it's going to be a long time before all of his work is understood and recognized," said Reich's granddaughter, Renata Reich Moise, a nurse-midwife and artist in the coastal town of Hancock.

If you live in New England, visit the Wilhelm Reich Museum. Rent a cottage and try some orgone experiments.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Pomegranate 9.1 (June 2007)

Contents of the newest issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies:

Marisol Charbonneau, "The Melting Cauldron: Ethnicity, Diversity, and Identity in a Contemporary Pagan Subculture."

Carole Cusack, "The Goddess Eostre: Bede's Text and Contemporary Pagan Tradition(s)."

• Victor Schnirelman, "Ancestral Wisdom and Ethnic Nationalism: A View from Eastern Europe."

Boria Sax, "Medievalism, Paganism, and the Tower Ravens."

• Mikirou Zitukawa and Michael York, "Expanding Religious Studies: The Obsolescence of the Sacred/Secular Framework for Pagan, Earthen, and Indigenous Religion."

• Book reviews.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Baca County Beltane

In the photo, the Beltane Sun (astronomical Beltane--May 5) has recently risen. When it appeared on the horizon, it fit right into the little notch in the rock just below its current position--an alignment that happens only on Beltane and Lammas.

The site, on private land, is known to the students of archaeological sites as "the Sun Temple." I went there last weekend with filmmaker Scott Monahan, researcher Phil Leonard, and Martin Brennan, author of several books on Irish megalithic alignments, including The Boyne Valley Vision and The Stones of Time.

Some people prepare for ritual with baths and meditation, but maybe a 150-mile drive into the gradually darkening prairie works as well. A little synchronicity: on the way to La Junta, I heard the NPR report on the Neolithic temple unearthed in Ireland.

We camped at the site. A wall of lightning flickered silently to the north. Some 200 miles to the east, Greensburg, Kan., was being obliterated, but we did not know it. Our part of Colorado, which had been smashed by blizzards last winter, was warm and quiet. A great horned owl and a screech owl called from the cliffs.

Left: Martin Brennan viewing the sunrise.

On of the cliffs, someone centuries ago scraped the rock smooth and pecked a circle a little bigger than a human head. If you sit precariously so that your head is in the circle, then you see the alignment. A couple of alleged ogham inscriptions are nearby.

I am not qualified to judge the ogham, but I know that more and more (although still few) people visit such sites at the appropriate days. They watch as the old drama of sky, Sun, and rock plays out for a few seconds on a quarter or cross-quarter days. Afterwards, I suspect, they feel a little different about their place on this planet and on the southern High Plains.

Labels: , ,

Friday, March 30, 2007

Cremation, public lands, and commerce

Ladies in White, from the left, Catherine Goodman, Pat Cross-Chamberlin and Fran Coover, in the Rattlesnake Wilderness in Montana.Ladies in White, three women in Missoula, Montana, tried to start a business scattering human ashes--what the funeral industry calls "cremains"--on national forest land.

The U.S. Forest Service doesn't like the idea, because they see a "slippery slope" towards permanent monuments:

But the Forest Service has long had a firm policy against commercial scattering, said Gordon Schofield, the group leader for land use here in Region I. If ashes are scattered “the land takes on a sacredness, and people want to put up a marker or a plaque.”

The Ladies in White say their practice is environmentally benign, although they do accept that like other public-lands commercial users (guide services, for instance), they need a permit.

Currently, the official position on private scattering is "don't ask, don't tell." (Some of us writers do tell, however.)

What a wonderful tangle of American religious issues: "nature religion" in the broadest sense, the change in funerary practices, representatives of some Indian tribe sticking their oar in, the organized environmentalists, and the bureaucrats in the middle of it all.

Take a look at Catherine Goodman, the woman on the left. What is that on her head--antlers? a crescent crown?

Via Ann Althouse's blog, where there are lots of comments.

Labels: ,

Monday, January 29, 2007

Dolores LaChapelle

Dolores LaChapelle of Silverton, Colorado, died January 22 at an advanced age. (She was still skiing deep powder in her seventies.)

She begins the preface to her 1992 deep ecology book Sacred Land, Sacred Sex: Rapture of the Deep: Concerning Deep Ecology and Celebrating Life by stating that it does not fit into any categories:

it's neither psychology nor philosophy, neither history nor anthropology--not even social anthropology. It's most certainly not "eco-feminist," "new age," or "futurist." Yet it takes in all this and much more.

So did she.

The University of Utah has an online collection of her skiing photographs. She was a pioneer of ski mountaineering, among other things.

The Durango Herald ran this feature article about her in 2002.

LaChapelle became renowned in skiing circles for her powder skiing prowess. [While at Alta] she even earned the nickname “Witch of the Wasatch” for her uncanny ability to predict storms.

Look at her article "Ritual is Essential" for an understanding of how she connected human ritual with living "in place"

Ritual is essential because it is truly the pattern that connects. It provides communication at all levels - communication among all the systems within the individual human organism; between people within groups; between one group and another in a city and throughout all these levels between the human and the non-human in the natural environment. Ritual provides us with a tool for learning to think logically, analogically and ecologically as we move toward a sustainable culture. Most important of all, perhaps, during rituals we have the experience, unique in our culture, of neither opposing nature or trying to be in communion with nature; but of finding ourselves within nature, and that is the key to sustainable culture.

More: M. says that Dolores LaChapelle always reminded her a little of Felicitas Goodman. Part of that was physical: both when we met them were no-nonsense elderly women who wore their hair in a single long braid. I wonder if they would have respected each other as rival shamans, or hated each other.

Cross-posted to Nature Blog.

Labels: ,