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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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fate Magazine Reanimated

When pre-writing the blog post on dining above the dead (something best done while walking the dogs), I was thinking about how it was perfect for Fate magazine.

Digression 1: Dog-walking is not all that meditative, because Something Always Happens, like this morning when they charged off through nine-inch-deep snow to try to catch some wild turkeys.

Digression 2: If the reporter were on the ball, she would re-write her story for Fate or another magazine. Get paid twice for the same work—that is the secret of freelancing.

So it occurred to me, crossing the gully between the county road and my house on Tuesday night pre-bed dog walk, that I had not seen a copy of Fate since last spring. Had it been sucked into the magazine death pool?

I checked the Web site, however, and it promised a new issue soon.

Editor-in-chief Phyllis Galde tells me, "The July/Aug is at the printer, and we will turn around immediately and get the Sept./Oct. one printed."

She promises an "awesome" new Web site but complained that the Web designer and the printing plant crew were all sick with the flu.

So Fate is reanimated, I hope. I miss it. Where else can you get a good ghost story?

The graphic has nothing to do with the magazine. Just some Halloween cheer. You can get it on a T-shirt.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Harry Potter Fans not all that into Magic, Witchcraft

Glancing back at Oberon Zell's sporadic blog, I see mention of the "Azkatraz" Harry Potter convention in San Francisco last July. (Scroll down to the "Escape from Azkatraz" subhead in Aug. 1, 2009 entry.)

The Zells took a vendor space for their Mythic Images business of New Age, Pagan, and Goddess-oriented images, etc.

But it was not a very successful show, as Oberon notes:

And that gets me to the second important lesson we learned: Harry Potter fans aren’t interested in Wizardry, Witchcraft, Magick, an online school, or anything that isn’t specifically and only about the Harry Potter stories and characters. The only successful vendor was the one selling licensed trademark Harry Potter merchandise—such as Hogwarts House patches and regalia, movie replica wands, Harry Potter games and toys—and pointy hats. I bought a really nice new one,as well as several books from the book vendors. And we sold two copies of the A Wizard's Bestiary: A Menagerie of Myth, Magic, and Mystery by managing to convince some folks that the magickal beasts featured in the Harry Potter stories could be found in this book. This is true, and I do hope they’ll go on to read about other beasties as well.

I don't doubt his observations. It's not that the Harry Potter books "drive children to witchcraft," it is more that some Pagan Witches hope that Potter-readers will wonder what real witchcraft is. Most, however, probably will not, having enjoyed the stories just as stories.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Just Another Saturday

Wake up, feed the dogs, make coffee. Take Fisher, the newly adopted (last May) Chessie, for a walk. (Shelby, the ninja-collie, goes to visit her Rottweiler friend Bruno on her own.)

Start working on laying out an article for Pomegranate 11.1 in Adobe InDesign.

M. gets up. We eat breakfast. I cut the grass at the rental cabin, which takes about 45 minutes. Drink water and cool down on the porch. (M. takes a a walk into the national forest, sans dogs.) Back to Pomegranate.

The article is about Paganism in Eastern Europe. At one point the writer uses letters that occur only in Polish, like the L-with-a-slash (sounds like "w"). They are not found in Book Antiqua, the journal's normal font, so can I sneak in a couple of letters from Times, which has everything?

The telephone rings. It's a fire department call. (I joined the local volunteers last January.) But it's not the usual telephone-tree person. Something about an accident up the canyon, but the caller is not clear about how we are responding.

I call the sheriff's office to check. Yes, they know about the accident. Someone is responding. The problem is, because of the location, it could be one of three departments.

"Thanks," I say. Do I go? What to do? The phone rings again.

It's T., our asst. chief. He has been asked to back up on a vehicle extrication--"jaws of life" and all that. He'll meet me at the little country store down on the state highway.

I'm running around, pulling on my turnout pants and boots, grabbing the coat, helmet, and supply pack, throwing them into the Jeep, yelling at Fisher that no, he can't come.

I drive the mile to the store, re-lace my boots. T. rolls up in the brush/rescue truck. (It's all we have, plus a tender.) He turns on the overhead lights, and we're rolling up the canyon, diesel engine laboring.

At the accident scene, the ambulance crew ready to load the victim. There was no extrication--he was riding a motorcycle! He went off a twisty curve and has a broken femur. Irony: he is a medical doctor, an anesthesiologist.

Everyone--rescue-truck crew from the other department, the Forest Service law-enforcement ranger who had been nearby, the sheriff and a couple of deputies--shoots the breeze for a few minutes and then disperses.

T. drops me back at the store. I can't wait to get home and get out of the heavy gear.

Half an hour after the first call, I decide that sneaking in the Times italic will work well enough. There is a smidgen of Hungarian in the article too, but Book Antiqua can handle it.

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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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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Call for Contributions: Women in Magic

This call for contributions to an edited collection comes from editor Brandy Williams' blog.

Megalithica Books, an imprint of Immanion Press (Stafford, U.K./Portland, OR, U.S.A) is seeking submissions for an anthology on women working in the magical communities, particularly in communities where women have not been extensively published or in which women face stereotyping and misunderstanding within and without the community. These communities include (but are not limited to) groups and individuals working in the Golden Dawn, Thelemic, Aurum Solis, Alchemy, Chaos, and Experimental Fields.

Women have been involved in traditional and ritual magic since the late Victorian era. However women are often viewed as tangential to these communities or as soror mysticae, assistants to the magician. Today women are actively involved in ceremonial magical groups and lodges, alchemy, chaos magic, and Experimental Magic, overcoming stereotypes and creating new visions of magic within the communities.

Go here for the whole thing.

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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 02, 2009

Review: Good Witches Fly Smoothly

There are a lot of books about religious Wicca out there. There are a lot of books about practical magic, spells, etc. There are very few books about what happens next, but Good Witches Fly Smoothly: Surviving Witchcraft is one of them.

Mistake 27: Using a mind key that can be misinterpreted. (Otherwise known as the Law of Unintended Consequences or "be careful what you ask for." Here's my version.)

Whether it is called witchcraft or sorcery, the material taught by Gavin and Yvonne Frost through their School of Wicca has always been highly practical. Gavin did start out as an engineer, after all.

Mistake 35: Helping nonentities with no credentials to inflate their egos.

Good Witches Fly Smoothly distills several decades' worth of magical tales from their own experience and those of their students.

"In each case," they write, "the outcome was unexpected. In each case, authors' analysis reveals what went wrong and why."

Mistake 78: The mistake Flo made was believing everything Chester, as a [spirit] guide, told her without keeping her mind in gear.

If you have ever suffered through some vague airy ritual for "healing the planet" or "world peace," you will appreciate this book. It is practical to its fingertips.

Mistake 88: The intent of the ritual became polluted because they felt they had to have the orgasm to achieve the goal. No orgasm, no car was the assumption.

I have sprinkled four of the authors' summaries through this brief review. There are 99 of them in the book. Get it and read them all.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

The Pentagram in 1964

I have more reviews coming, but for now, here is a PDF download of the first issue of The Pentagram, August 1964, price two shillings.

As far as I know, it was the first attempt to create a publication for the various branches of British Witchcraft, then only about fifteen years old, and it lasted but a short time.

Consider the paucity of the reading list on page 3.

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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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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Book Posts in the Works

I am spread a little thin these days, and the below-zero (F.) weather the last few days threw some complications my way too.

Two book reviews are in the works. Here are the previews:

Stewart Farrar: Writer On A Broomstick, The Biography of Stewart Farrar by Elizabeth Guerra. Workmanlike biography of one of the key Wiccan figures of the late 20th century.

Living With Honour: A Pagan Ethics by Emma Restall Orr, noted British Druid. I am part-way through it and thus far under-whelmed, but I will complete it and write a proper review.

• Meanwhile, if you are a university library (or rich), consider the Handbook of Contemporary Paganism, edited by Jim Lewis and Murph Pizza. Yes, that's the price. If you thought that American reference books were expensive, consider the Dutch!

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Playing with Databases

A search of the WorldCat library database using the subject category "Witches -- Fiction" turns up 1,286 hits, once children's books have been filtered out, and specifying English-language titles. (Adding films, archival materials, sound recordings, etc., boosts the total to more than 1,500.)

The Widows of Eastwick is at the top of the list, as ranked by number of libraries holding the book. Anne Rice is heavily represented in the first listings as well.

If you have read all 1,286, let me know, and I will see that you get a prize.

This is what happens when I go looking to make an interlibrary loan request for one particular book.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Green Egg Omelette Available for Pre-order

Green Egg Omelette: An Anthology of Art and Articles from the Legendary Pagan Journal will be shipping soon and can be pre-ordered from Amazon with the link above or from the publisher.

Oberon Zell did the heavy lifting: tracking down long-lost contributors, making editorial decisions, and laying out the pages. I wrote a general introduction and shorter introductions for each chapter.

The chapters are organized thematically, with such themes as New Pagans; Old Pagans; Magick, Arts & Crafts; Gender and Sexuality; Power & Politics; and of course a Fiction chapter.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gallimaufry with Ink and Paper

Zines live on. That was me once, even down to the hand-cranked mimeo machine many years ago. A poet friend told me -- in all seriousness -- that "after the revolution" I would still be able to do mimeograph reproduction with used, dirty motor oil. Of course there would be no electricity.

¶ Some people should avoid sword-swinging magic? (Via Law and Magic Blog.)

¶ Jason has that one and more witches in the news for the wrong reasons.

¶ In India, the Virgin Mary is a goddess. (Via Non-Fluffy Pagans.)

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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.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Gallimaufry with Bar Graphs

• Learn all about American religious affiliation from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life -- until you get to us. We are in the "Other Faiths" category under (sigh) "New Age." Notice how the Jews and Hindus score highest in education, the evangelical Protestants and JW's lowest.

• Utra Press, the publishers of the journal Tyr now have their own web site.

• Isaac Bonewits is starting his own magick school. Jason Pitzl-Waters has the details.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

After the Witch Queen Steps Down: Maxine Sanders' Fire Child

In the 1960s, when Pagan Witchcraft started to gain widespread media attention, Maxine Sanders (b. 1948?) was one of its visible faces. A tall willowy young woman with bleached blonde hair, she was married in 1965 to Alex Sanders (1926-1988) for whom the Alexandrian tradition is named.

He was older, charming, verbal – she was photographed, his words were recorded. That’s her on the cover of my early hardback edition of Stewart Farrar’s 1971 book What Witches Do, long hair flowing, eyes downcast towards the chalice.

Now she talks -- in print as opposed to classes and lectures -- in a valuable autobiography, Fire Child: The Life & Magic of Maxine Sanders, 'Witch Queen'.

The book is not what it could have been. Material is not always straight-forwardly organized, punctuation is erratic and unclear, and words usedly mistakenly (“taught” for “taut,” “vice” for “vise,” that sort of thing). I fault the publisher.

Still, this is an important book. Sanders gave her life to the Craft in a way that few have, and she admits she paid a price: two failed marriages (Sanders, in the end, preferred men), financial hardship in the early years, breast cancer, and, most of all, the hardship of being always on-call in her role as priestess.

Marriage with Alex had been rather like a working relationship. Unconsciously, we sacrificed the more personal and sharing aspects of a normal marriage.

To read Fire Child is follow a trail of ups and initiations, rituals and happenings, magical politics, festivals and and visions.

Yet it is also a frank admission of the dangers of magickal religion. Coming from a background of intense, small-group work, she is prone to opinions such as these:

The modern Craft is a victim of its own success. Its tremendous growth since the heady days of the 1960s has outstripped the availability of experienced and reputable teachers, who in former days would themselves have served an arduous apprenticeship before being judged worthy to passon the tradition – and then only to a few.

(And she admits that even in her own group that rule was not always followed.)

Witchcraft is so often perceived as a young person's religion that it is good to read a mature priestess’s thoughts. Maxine Sander has gone through the fires – media celebrity, high-profile religious leadership, magic, suffering. Her book is valuable – “full and candid,” to quote Ronald Hutton’s cover blurb. I recommend it.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Gallimaufry: It's Traditional

¶ When an ill-informed blogger writes that "Wicca Attempts to Control Life" on a right-wing site, commenters weigh in. The gist: (a) religion has nothing to do with politics or (b) all religions are bogus. It's nice to see street-level libertarianism thriving.

¶ Maxine Sanders' new autobiography Fire Child: The life & Magic of Maxine Sanders, 'Witch Queen' is on my to-read list. She says the first mid-1990s draft was it badly written, self-indulgent and absolute rubbish. And then she adds something that is true of all memoir-writing:

When I did start work on Fire Child there were details that were not recorded in my magical diary and should have been. However, magical life is often repetitive and would have proved boring to the reader. On reflection, the differences between memory and diary entries made fascinating personal analysis.

Update: Another reviewer discusses some inconsistencies in the book but still recommends it.

¶ Volume 3 of TYR Myth-Culture-Tradition has been published, and I am just starting to read it.

This third issue is a big one, 530 pages, with articles such as Nigel Pennick on "Weaving the Web of Wyrd," Joscelyn Godwin on "Esotericism without religion: Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials," and Christopher McIntosh on "Iceland's Pagan Renaissance," plus many pages of book and music reviews. Impressive.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Feeling of Accomplishment, Sort Of

I feel all loose and floaty, for I have just completed . . . a book review.

It was all of 1,100 words. It took me three days. That's sad--I should be able to write 1,100 words just loosening up my fingers.

But it was of a book that I admire and for an academic journal in which I am trying to publish a longer article (not The Pomegranate but another journal.)

So it was almost like writing a response paper: "The authors make points X,Y, and Z. Which one was salient? Which sentences should I quote?" And so on.

Obviously, I cannot post the review here before it appears in the journal, but at some point maybe I can make a link from my book review page.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Gallimaufry is not a Irish Word.

¶ Dude, it's like this secret Irish slang, you dig? So don't be a twerp--glom onto this.

On the other hand, be careful of enthusiastic folk etymologists with a pocket dictionary and an agenda. It could just be a gimmick.

Time and Mind is a new journal of postprocessual archaeology: "The journal features scholarly work addressing cognitive aspects of cross-related disciplines such as archaeology, anthropology and psychology that can shape our understanding of archaeological sites, landscapes and pre-modern worldviews."

¶ Blogging will be light for the next few days. I have to ride the big silver snake to Southern California and the American Academy of Religion annual meeting. Berg should have a booth there--maybe I can find the journal.

So many bloggers go to events and post pictures of exhibitor booths and shots of happy people in hotel bars. I will try to avoid that -- unless I get something really good.

I will be checking out the possibility of freelance work too, which adds an extra urgency to the trip.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Manufactured Conspiracy in Wiccan Publishing

I have started reading Aidan Kelly's Inventing Witchcraft: A Case Study in the Creation of a New Religion, published by Thoth Publications but also available from Amazon.

In simplest terms, it's an enlargement and reworking of Crafting the Art of Magic, Book 1, which Llewellyn published in 1991--Kelly's study of the origins of modern Wicca, based primarily on textual criticism of various versions of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows.

Kelly published one earlier article on the BoS in my own zine, Iron Mountain: A Journal of Magical Religion, which had a run of four issues from about 1984-1986. It is sort of fun to see it referred to again.

Because there was only Book 1 and no Book 2 back 15 years ago, a whole conspiracy theory has arisen, for example, that American Gardnerians somehow had the book suppressed. Even Thoth's copywriters can't resist: the back-cover copy reads, in part, "When the first edition of thisbook was released, conservative Gardnerian Witches attempted to suppress it....Even though its first printing quickly [!] sold out, the original publisher, faced with death threats and boycotts, agreed to abandon the project..."

Horse shit. Elephant dung. Monkey poop. Here are some facts:

1. Llewellyn typically then (and now, I suppose) kept first runs short, usually under 5,000 copies. If sales were good, more copies would be ordered in similar increments. Even one of their top Wiccan authors, Scott Cunningham, was selling only in the mid-five figures at that time.

2. Shortly after Crafting was released, I flew to Minnesota to spend a couple of days with Carl and Sandra Weschcke, who own Llewellyn, and then-acquisitions editor Nancy Mostad, discussing the series that I was editing for them and possible other projects.

On our way to dinner the first night, Carl asked me if I knew when Kelly would send the ms. for Book 2. He wanted to publish it. After thirty years in the occult publishing business, he probably treated the displeasure of his reading public less seriously than he treated Minnesota mosquitoes. Death threats indeed. Controversy is good for publishers, as Thoth is obliquely admitting by trying to manufacture some.

3. But Kelly's own problems at the time prevented him from ever delivering the manuscript. With no Book 2 in the pipeline, Book 1 was allowed to go out of print -- as the majority of Llewellyn titles do after their first press runs. No conspiracy there, just business.

Since Amazon advertises used copies of Crafting at prices from $46 to more than $150, you get much more by buying the new book, despite the cover hype. I have some minor issues with it -- I wish that it more reflected research into Wiccan origins done since the first book was written -- but it is still worthwhile.

Thoth also has reprinted Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki's The Forgotten Mage. It is a key background book in the emergence of contemporary Paganism from the milieu of early 20th-century ceremonial magic and esotericism.

UPDATE 10/25: Greetings if you came here from Wildhunt. (Thanks, Jason.) As I hope I made clear in my response to one commenter, I don't want to turn a discussion of this dubious book marketing into a pro/con discussion about Dr. Kelly and his difficult relationship with other American Gardnerians. Don't want to go there, OK?

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Purging books

M. and I in the middle of some home remodeling, just painting and staining after the contractor has finished, and otherwise putting things back together.

In the past, when we moved into a new house or apartment, we claimed our territory by first doing a fire-bowl purification, followed by building brick-and-board bookcases.

Yep, here we are, still decorating in Early Grad Student Style, more timeless than Colonial or Mission or Louis XIV.

Now we have a new panoramic view of the Wet Mountains, spread across two walls -- and less room for bookcases. The purge is on, and it ripples from the livng room through the bookcases in the study and the bedroom too.

I stand in front of a bookcase with cardboard cartons at my feet. The books by the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet whom I quote in everything I write -- those stay. The books by the Pulitzer-winning poet whom I admire but never really "got" -- they go into the box for the student literary club's fall fund-raising book-sale.

A friend who shares the "small house, many books" situation says "No extra space, and no books I want to purge!" There is defiance for you. But he is a writer in a tiny town, thirty miles from a half-decent library. And he wants to keep his rectangular friends close. I understand.

Maybe getting rid of books makes room for new books: new friends, new ideas, new experiences.

But it is a sad process too. It is realizing that I will never make time to learn XYZ or that technological changes have made my books on EFG obsolete. It is saying farewell forever to the me who was interested in PQR.

So far I have filled two cartons for the university literary club's fund-raising book sale, one our little two-room public library, and one of the university library, if they want them.

And then I sit on the sofa and watch a distant thunderstorm flicker on the ridges through our new double-glazed casement windows.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Read a M*F* Book

You have wonder what Zora Neale Hurston would say at seeing her work promoted in this video:

Maybe she would be cool with it. (Definitely NSFW, by the way.)

(Via an LJ community for desperate librarians.)

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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.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Let's Hear It for BP605.W53!

When you visit a university library that uses Library of Congress call numbers, are you tired of finding books on Wicca in the BF's along with abnormal psychology?

(For example, my book Her Hidden Children is at BF1566 .C55 2006. At least The Paganism Reader made it into the BL's, the religion category.

But now, according to a professional librarian on one of the lists that I read, things are changing:

It took them long enough.... but not nearly as long as the change from Moving pictures to Motion pictures.

If anyone cares, here's what the official subject heading looks like, complete with cross reference and literary warrant:

053 0BP605.W53
150 Wicca
450 Wica
550 Neopaganism
550 Witchcraft

And there's now a specific LC classification number as well. Dewey number is 299.94.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007


¶ All genuine religions have torchlight processions (Clifton's 3rd Law of Religion), but how do you make a torch? This guy has answers. For more Neolithic fun, make your own rock-and-plant-fiber oil lamp. He has instructions for that job too. It's all a metaphor for living.

¶ I have been remiss in not thanking Anne Hill for her review of Her Hidden Children.

¶ Summer library program yanked after claims of witchcraft. That's Greenville, South Carolina. I will be in nearby Spartanburg all next week. Luckily, I do not own any tie-dyed T-shirts. (Via Wren's Nest.)

¶ Some Danish Pagans decided to make a religio-political statement--with a large stone. Take that, Harald Bluetooth!

¶ Some Greek Pagans are now able to use ancient temples, although bureaucratic delays persist.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Book-signing at Isis

Come Saturday, I will venture into the bustling hive of northern Colorado, where all the people drive shiny cars, to give a little talk and sign copies of Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America at Isis Books.

Time: 3 p.m.
Date: Saturday, June 9
Place: Isis Books, 5701 E. Colfax Ave., Denver
(Colfax at Ivanhoe)

Y'all come if you live in the metro Denver area.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

See, this is fame

In the postal mail and email:

1. Two fat envelopes bearing mss. of how-to Witchcraft books from publishers who want my name on a cover blurb. Neither came from Woodbury, Minnesota, however. How quickly they forget, eager to move on to the hot new titles in astral sex.

2. An email from someone who shares my surname. My name had come up both her genealogical research and her Pagan research, so "[I] believe that I am supposed to contact you." Her son is a "sorcer" with a "great destiny" too. Yowie.

They claim descent from the Cliftons of Cornwall. Maybe so. It's a geographical name (meaning, literally, farm under/by the cliff), so it can pop up anywhere the Angles and Saxons went, but my family lore always said that we came from some Cliftons in the north of England, possibly County Durham.

Of course, family lore and $2 will get you a cup of Starbucks coffee.

3. A Colorado author wrote me a letter, wanting permission to reprint photos from my first-ever book(let), Ghost Tales of Cripple Creek.

"You are hard to track down!" she writes.

If only. See item no. 2.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

No apostrophes, no vampire elves

When it comes to reading the titles and cover blurbs of SF/fantasy books, I am with Timothy Burke:

Other things that are likely to drive me off:

1) “Book One in the Dark Swords of Black Terror Trilogy”.
2) Mostly, if the word “vampire” appears anywhere in the cover, title or blurb. It stops being “mostly” if “vampire” appears in the same blurb with “elf”.
3) Titles or blurbs that contain the name of a fantasy kingdom that sounds more like a prescription medicine for depression or impotence.
4) Anything that contains three of the following four elements in the blurb: plucky but innocent young heroine, farmboy with a destiny, dark lord of evil, wise ancient wizard. “Handsome voodoo priest” is a bonus demerit.
5) The word, “Drizzt”.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Blog Valhalla, Polytheism, Books and More

¶ Yvonne Aburrow's Pagan theologies wiki has what might be the definitive list of active Pagan blogs. I am adding a link on my sidebar.

¶ Speaking of which, this blog now appears on BeliefNet's Blog Heaven page again. Thanks to everyone who made a fuss.

¶Bedside reading: I started, put aside, but will return to John Lamb Lash's Not in His Image: Gnostic Vision, Sacred Ecology, and the Future of Belief.

It is a difficult book for me to evaluate: I sympathize with Lash's point of view, but I think that he distorts some of his sources too much in order to support his views. He wants to use Gnosticism as a path that "can provide the spiritual dimension for deep ecology independently of the three mainstream religions derived from the Abrahamic traditions."

Gnosticism is still concerned with "salvation," a concept largely at odds with polytheism, as John Michael Greer points out (see below). Much Gnostic thinking disparages physical existences as a "mistake," so I am waiting to see how Lash reconciles that with deep ecology and its focus on our relationship with and as a part of nature.

Lash writes his introduction around the life of Hypatia of Alexandria, a Platonic philosopher murdered by a Christian mob in 415 CE. He wants to view her as an "urban shaman," but I see her more as today's tenured professor of mathematics. An intellectual through and through. Note how she elevates philosophy over erotic attraction this story of her teaching, true or not.

Reviewing Not in His Image in the Los Angeles Times, Jonathan Kirch writes:

Lash is capable of explaining the mind-bending concepts of Gnosticism and pagan mystery cults with bracing clarity and startling insight. At moments, however, he slips into a kind of New Age rant as baffling as any mystical text. "What we seek in 'Gaia theory' is a live imaginal dimension," he writes in one such passage, "not a scaffolding of cybernetic general systems cogitation." . . . .

And when he considers what he calls the "sci-fi theology" of the ancient Gnostics, he comes uncomfortably close to affirming that the otherworldly "Archons" of Gnostic myth were authentic extraterrestrials.

An interesting book, but full of special pleading.

¶I am happier with John Michael Greer's A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism, published by the Druidic group Ár nDraíocht Féin.

Greer's arguments for polytheism as offering a better model of the universe (including the evil and suffering in it) than monotheism and his lucid explanation of polytheistic spirituality deserve a wide hearing.

He works hard to show that monotheistic thinkers simply do not comprehend the polytheistic experience, and their arguments against it (unless enforced by violence as in Hypatia's case) simply fail.

Indeed, ancient and modern Pagans alike have the described mystical states in which they have become aware of multitudes of divine beings filling every corner of the cosmos; in the words of the Greek philosopher Thales, they have seen that "all things are full of gods." This is the polar opposite of henotheism; it is also among the most powerful and transforming of Pagan religious experiences.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Invisible College online magazine

Bridging the gap between the print Pagan magazines of a few years back (Green Egg, anyone?) and Websites that you lose interest in, what with the flaming pentagrams and white-on-black type, The Invisible College is a downloadable magazine in PDF format. Entheogens, trances, shamanism, art . . .

In fact, one contributor is Diane Darling, formerly of Green Egg.

"Invisible College" has a couple of antecedents. Sometimes it is a nickname for The Royal Society. But that nickname itself comes from a time -- typically the 16th century -- when science and esoteric thought were not so far apart, with the same men studying astronomy as science and casting horoscopes.

Fifty-two pages. Worth (dare I say) printing out.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

The Nigerian (419) Book Scam

In the early 1980s, M. and were dues-paying members of the Fellowship of Isis--sort of a souvenir of our honeymoon in Ireland, when we made a couple of visits to Clonegal Castle, its headquarters.

Our contact details were published in the FOI newsletter, which brought several letters to us from Nigeria.

They always took the same form: "Dear Glorious Wonderful Adepts . . . I so much want to learn blah blah blah . . . Please send me all of the books that you have . . . for free."

Having received a bunch of these letters, I was pretty well inoculated against the "419 scam." You get those emails too, I am sure: the widow of the minister of something-or-other who has millions of dollars stashed in a bank account, and only you (or some other sucker) can help her retrieve them, with the help of God, of course.

(Lots of sample letters here, and if you want to have a little fun scamming the scammers, here are some helpful hints.)

So it was a blast from the past when Llewellyn forwarded to me this week a letter from one "Mr. Inemesit Sanctum" (if I read correctly) of Abia State, Nigeria.

It begins "Dear Spiritual Don," I wonder if he means "Don" in the Spanish/Italian sense, as in "Don Giovanni," or an Oxbridge academic "don." Perhaps the latter?

My edited book Living Between Two Worlds "opened his eyes" blah blah blah.

"I never knew that witchcraft could be so exciting and unassociated with the typical diabolism which I used to be told, which caused me a great dread of it."

Etc. etc. etc. And then the pitch:

"Finally, to cool my thirst, send me such books as [lists four titles from the Llewellyn catalog]. Doing this will give me and my yearning friends hope to climb the strange but exciting spiritual ladder."

No mention of payment, of course. That's the Nigerian touch. They never even offer to cover postage.

And the closing: "Yours spiritually."

Ah, nostalgia. A handwritten begging letter in this day of email 419 scams.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Shaman's Drum's new fundraising

Timothy White started Shaman's Drum: A Journal of Experiential Shamanism & Spiritual Healing in the mid-1980s, at the same time that Jay Kinney started Gnosis: Journal of the Western Inner Traditions.

In fact, I met both publishers on the same evening in San Francisco, at a publishing gathering where they introduced their new journals. As a graduate student in religious studies, I ended up writing frequently for Gnosis, but I always subscribed to Shaman's Drum as well.

Both suffered a big hit in the late 1990s when a major distributor went under, owing them both significant sums of money. Jay Kinney closed Gnosis in about 2000 and went on to other projects; Timothy White and his wife, Judy, struggle on in Oregon.

Their latest plan is to organize a series of benefit auctions on eBay, offering such items as "traditional shamanistic craft items (drums, medicine bags and other items), original shamanistic paintings, collector's prints and photos . . . . back issues and/or discount certificatesfor workshops and tours advertised in the magazine."

They are also soliciting donated items to sell.

News of upcoming auctions is supposed to be posted on the Web site. It's not there yet, but check back later.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

We have a Pagan Studies series!

Introduction to Pagan Studies by Barbara Jane Davy
With Barb Davy's Introduction to Pagan Studies, we now have three books in Rowman & Littlefield's Pagan Studies series.

And three of something truly is a "series," right?


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Saturday, November 04, 2006

A fall from a height

I am in Colorado Springs today, where famous evangelical pastor Ted Haggard's fall dominates the news.

Frankly, to borrow the name of a better-known blog, I just don't "get" his kind of religion. A 14,000-member megachurch? Why? So you can sit on your butt and be preached at and sung at among a huge crowd of strangers?

My dislike for Haggard's approach is more than theological. It is partly aesthetic--the whole megamall megachurch entertainment thing. And it's partly because of the way that New Lifers regarded the most interesting parts of Colorado Springs (such as the Old North End and Tejon Street) as controlled by Satan or something. I wrote elsewhere that they do not understand the gods of the city, only the gods of the suburban shopping mall.

One excerpt: "[Jeff] Sharlet makes a good case for New Lifers as exurban parasites, taking the services that the city provides but being unwilling to pay for them, either financially or psychically."

Anyway, he is toast now, although there will probably be some sort of public-repentence-as-career move. From a Christian perspective, LaShawn Barber's coverage is about the best.

And that's the news from "Fort God."

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Leaving the meat uncovered

Sheik Taj Din al-Hilaly, Australia's senior Islamic cleric, explains rape and how women serve Satan:

“If you take uncovered meat and put it on the street, on the pavement, in a garden, in a park, or in the backyard, without a cover and the cats eat it, then whose fault will it be, the cats, or the uncovered meat’s? The uncovered meat is the disaster.

I just felt that I needed to share that. Pagan cat-owners, please don't be offended.

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Sunday, November 02, 2003

The Johm William Waterhouse Revival

The Neoclassical (or some would say Pre-Raphaelite) painter John William Waterhouse, 1849-1917, is enjoying a posthumous career illustrating books on Paganism.

His painting "The Sorceress" appears on the cover of Witchcraft Medicine -- see entry for October 29 -- while "Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses" is on the dust jacket of Ronald Hutton's latest, Witches, Druids and King Arthur, of which I will have more to say soon.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2003

The Pagan cover-design dilemma (again)

Graham Harvey, my co-editor on the Paganism Reader, tells me that Routledge editors are still agonizing over a cover design. Admittedly, the one shown in the online catalog is pretty pedestrian.

It seems that there are only three choices for Pagan books.

1. A tree
2. A standing stone, as on Michael York's Pagan Theology.
3. A Pre-Raphaelite female figure in earth tones, as favored by Kensington/Citadel and other publishers of how-to books.

We will see which one we get.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Middle Initials, part II

All a misunderstanding between Graham and the copy editor. I had signed my introductions, for example, to the Emperor Julian's "Letter to a Pagan Priest," with my initials. I had thought that Graham was doing the same with his; that's a common practice with some encyclopedias, for example. But apparently he had not, so the editor was asking if it was important for me to have my initials on my entries.

Of course not, if that's not the book style. What a commotion.


Sunday, August 31, 2003

The Middle-Initial Problem

Now that The Paganism Reader (see July 10th entry) is in production with Routledge (pub. date early 2004?), the odd little queries from the copy editor are starting to come in. The latest involved my middle initial. It is all right to have it on the cover, but must I be referred to as "Chas S. Clifton" inside?

That's an American preference, said my co-editor, the inestimable Graham Harvey.

It makes no difference to me, I responded, although I do want the "S." on the cover because all my other writing has it. Is it really an American preference? I have no idea. But, come to think of it, I cannot think of too many British authors using middle initials.

Actually, I've always thought that "Chas Clifton" was not a good combination for pronouncing out loud. But I'm stuck with it since I picked "Chas" as a nickname when I was 10 or 11, because I did not like being "Charlie."

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Saturday, August 23, 2003

We're Covered

This looks to be the almost-final cover design for The Pomegranate, courtesy of Mark Lee of Hardcore Design.

Somewhere along the way the word 'international' was added to the subtitle. Perhaps that's Janet Joyce's doing. We're international, multicultural, transtemporal, and biodiversified.

And now a word from the competition: the Association for Esoteric Studies and the Society for the Academic Study of Magic.

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Sunday, August 03, 2003

The Pomegranate is reborn!

After a hiatus of nearly two years while we sought a new publisher (a process that began at the American Academy of Religion annual meeting in Denver in 2001), The Pomegranate: The Journal of Pagan Studies has a new publisher and will resume print publication in May 2004.

As the new editor, replacing Fritz Muntean, I have signed a contract with Equinox Publishing, a new firm started by Janet Joyce, formerly academic editorial director at Continuum's London office. The Equinox Web site is not fully put together yet; check it at the end of August.

--The Pagan Studies book series

--The daylong Pagan Studies conference at AAR-SBL in Atlanta

--And now the return of The Pomegranate, heir, in a roundabout way to Iron Mountain: A Journal of Magical Religion and to Gnosis: A Journal of the Western Esoteric Tradition.

This will be the year that Pagan Studies happens at AAR-SBL, a slow process that has been building since 1995, when Dennis Carpenter and Selena Fox organized (and then dropped out of) the first Pagan scholars' meeting there.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Wiccan books need "earth tones"?

A couple of months ago, Judy Harrow, author of several worthwhile books on Wicca, mentioned to me that publishers--or at least one of her publishers--have decided that such books' covers require (1) a pre-Raphaelite female and (2) earth tones. Check out the cover of Devoted to You, an anthology on the Pagan deities that she recently edited for Kensington Books. See what I mean?

In my darker moments, I wonder if Wicca has gone from being a mystery religion to a fashion statement in fifty years. If you're young, unconventional, angry at the world, you announce, "I'm Wiccan." You don't, however, want to say "I'm a witch," because then people expect you to "do things."

As for larger Paganism, check out this page of so-called Pagan blogs. Exactly what's Pagan about it?

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Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Reprinting "Crafting the Art of Magic"

A round of discussion on the Nature Religions Scholars Network e-mail list about the desirability of reprinting Aidan Kelly's book on the origins of Gardnerian witchcraft, Crafting the Art of Magick Book 1 (there was no Book 2), which came out a decade ago from Llewellyn Publications. Although primarily based on textual criticism applied to the Book of Shadows, the book did make some strong points about the 1940s-1950s Wiccan revival, particularly the point that Gerald Gardner and friends were creating a new religion and that that was something that humans do. On the other hand, apparently valuable parts were edited out of the Llewellyn edition, there were editing errors, etc.

I may check with the editorial director at Llewellyn to see if she would entertain the idea, but I suspect I will hit a stone wall, based at least partly on how personally miffed Carl Weschcke seemed to be back in 1992 that Kelly had not delivered the ms. for the sequel. And despite the publication of Gus DiZerega's Pagans and Christians, there is still that Llewellyn prejudice against "scholarly" books.

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