Friday, February 05, 2010

Magical Dolls and Missionary Board Games

From Publishers Weekly, a short review of a new book co-authored by Nikki Bado-Fralick, my co-editor in the Pagan Studies book series (This book is not a part of that series, however!)

Toying with God: The World of Religious Games and Dolls by Nikki Bado-Fralick and Rebecca Sachs Norris, Baylor Univ.

For Bado-Fralick and Sachs Norris (religious studies professors at Iowa State University and Merrimack College, respectively), religious games and dolls are charged with “the magic of childhood combined with the mystery of religion.”

The authors brilliantly use their subject to reveal a complex interplay between worship and the workings of popular culture. A detour into ancient divination practices using dice, magical dolls, and sports as ritual shows these items to be anything but superficial, and raises a central question: why do religious playthings often evoke feelings of unease?

Like the religious toys it analyses, this book is at once fun and serious business. Dolls like Buddy Christ and Nunzilla or unwinnable Buddhist board games may produce a few perplexed laughs, but a game like Missionary Conquest, won by setting up the most global missions, has an undeniably colonialist edge.

The authors also use toys and dolls to explore consumerism, feminism, politics, and the nature of ritual and play. In this readable and fresh look at religious culture, the authors are critical and respectful. They’d rather cast dice than throw stones.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

The World of Esotericism

The University of Amsterdam has one of just a few graduate programs in the study of Western Esotericism, which is often contrasted with Christianity as follows (from a lecture handout based on work of Antoine Faivre).


Personal deity                              
                         Impersonal deity
Creation of the world by fiat        
                       Emanation of world in stages
Material and evil are real             
                      Material and evil ultimately unreal
Humans as creatures                  
                      Humans as divine sparks
                       Entrapped souls
                       Ignorance, forgetfulness
                      spiritual disciplines/exercises
Afterlife in heaven or hell             
                      Afterlife in new learning situation

(Note, I do not consider Paganism and esotericism to be identical, although many esoteric elements show up in contemporary Paganisms.)

All of this is a lead up to a fascinating web page put by the esotericism program at the University of Amsterdam, showing relationships between esoteric thought, music, art, and philosophy.

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Are Epiphany Dreams Found only in the Past?

The Bryn Mawr Classical Review's book-review feed recently served up a review of William V. Harris's Dreams and Experience in Classical Antiquity
The reviewer writes,

Some combination of [cultural expectations, generic demands, and the imperatives of performance and publication.], Harris argues ...  accounts for the relative frequency in antiquity of the epiphany dream, in which an authoritative figure visits the dreamer and makes a significant statement, and for its rarity in the post-Enlightenment West.
He goes on to argue that if readers say that they too have epiphany dreams, it don't prove nuthin':

No doubt some reader of this review is now saying, "But I had an epiphany dream just the other night!"  That is the problem with studying dreams:  one must work hard to free oneself from dependence on anecdote and from the powerful attraction that dreams have for those who dream them.  Appealing to concepts of "selfhood" or "personality" will only reinforce these tendencies by compelling the question, "What does this dream tell us about you?"  Harris chooses instead to concentrate on ancient descriptions of dreams and reports of actions based on them.  This is a book about dreaming, not about dreams; that is, about behavior and experience in antiquity, not about the ancient self.

If I tell it, it's only an "anecdote," but if someone back then wrote it, it's a "description" and thus useful? But if you act upon the advice of the dream, does that count?

"Epiphany dreams" are not common, but when you have one, you know it.

My example (oops, an ancedote!) was a dream that--at a time when I was not consciously thinking about it--told me to quit my job and go to graduate school in religious studies.

When I awoke with the dream-voice echoing in my ears, I knew that "some god or daemon" had spoken. I immediately started researching university programs, thinking without irony that now I knew what was meant in those biblical accounts of "the Lord spake unto Abraham" or whomever.

Someone or something sure enough spake unto me, and I knew I had to follow the instructions. Or else.

Anyone else had a real epiphany dream? Show of hands? Yes, I thought so.

As to the academic study, there is, I have learned, an almost-complete disconnect between the academic study of ancient Paganism and the study of contemporary polytheism, Paganism, etc.

The former people are mostly in Classics and history, they have an academic heritage a couple of centuries old, and they publish in their own journals, attend their own conferences, and so on.

The latter field only began to take shape in the 1990s.

Some study of ancient Pagan religion does sneak into the Society of Biblical Literature, and when the SBL goes back to having its annual meeting together with the American Academy of Religion's meeting in 2011, maybe, just maybe, there might some crossover.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Pagan Studies Call for Papers, AAR 2010

This post is for anyone who has not already seen the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group's call for papers for next year's AAR meeting in Atlanta posted on some e-list or other.

For details on paper submission, see the AAR's page for that meeting. Note that some information will not be posted until later in December.

The Contemporary Pagan Studies Group invites papers that address one of the following topics:

1.  For session with Men's Studies in Religion Group, Pagan Masculinities: Male Identity, Gender Injustice and Power Relations. Who are the Pagan men, how is their understanding of masculinity constituted, and how are they affected by the   emphasis on the feminine in Pagan spirituality?

2. Paganism, Ethnicity and Ultra-Nationalism. The Right has increased representation in the European Parliament and some of those elected are Pagans with concerns about boundaries, immigration and ethnicities. We welcome papers that investigate this growing phenomenon and the contentious issues that arise from it.

3. Idolatry and Tangible Sacrality: The Conversation Continues. This panel generated such excellent discussion at the 2009 meeting that we felt it important to explore it further.

4. For session with the New Religious Movements Group,  papers on African-inspired religious traditions, such as Santeria, Vodun, Yoruba, and Candomble,
especially as those in the southeastern United States.


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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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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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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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Online Reviews in Alternative Spirituality

The e-journal Online Reviews in Alternative Spirituality is now available. Quite a bit of it is devoted to occult and esoteric topics, downloadable as PDF files.

It is my understanding that this free model is only temporary, so look while you can.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Political Pagan blog

Michael Strmiska has a started a new blog, The Political Pagan. Stop by and visit. He does not mention it, but he is also on The Pomegranate's editorial board.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Hutton Named English Heritage Commissioner

Ronald Hutton, the history professor at Bristol University who is best known among Pagans for writing The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft and subsequent books on Druidism, has been named a commissioner of English Heritage.

From the news release:

English Heritage was established by the National Heritage Act 1983 as the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England. It is the Government’s statutory adviser on the historic environment. English Heritage (EH) receives around three quarters of its income from the Exchequer in the form of Grant in Aid (£129.4 million in 2007/2008). The remainder (£49.2 million) is self generated from commercial activities and fund raising. English Heritage’s role is to champion and care for the historic environment.

EH Commissioners receive an allowance which directly reflects the level of responsibilities undertaken, such as chairing an Advisory Committee and/or duties as a regional Commissioner. The remuneration range is currently £4,030 to £9,200 per annum.

Given all the controversies over ancient megalithic monuments in particular (although Hutton is equally an expert on the 17th century, the English Civil War, etc.), I am waiting to hear if he will be concerning himself primarily with the management of Avebury, Stonehenge, etc.

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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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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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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Priestess Honored by Cherry Hill Seminary

Judy Harrow, Wiccan priestess and teacher, has been honored by having Cherry Hill Seminary's online library named for her.

Don't go looking for the libary yet--it is under construction. And it will be entirely digital, since Cherry Hill offers primarily online classes.

CHS blurbs thusly:

A Wiccan priestess since 1977, Harrow founded Proteus Coven in 1981, and held several leadership offices for Covenant of the Goddess, on both national and regional levels, including National First Officer in 1984. She founded the Pagan Pastoral Counseling Network in 1982, and served as the first editor of the Network's publication. Harrow co-created a successful workshop series, "Basic Counseling Skills for Coven Leaders," which grew into a series of intensive workshops for Pagan elders on a range of topics. She also founded the New York Area Coven Leaders' Peer Support Group, and served as Program Coordinator for the first Mid-Atlantic Pan-Pagan Conference and Festival, as well as several other Pagan gatherings.

I would add that Judy has been preaching about the need for professional counseling education for coven leaders as long as I have known her, and she followed her own advice.

She is also the author or editrix of Spiritual Mentoring: A Pagan Guide, Devoted To You: Honoring Deity in Wiccan Practice, and Wicca Covens: How to Start and Organize Your Own.

One bit of bibilographic essay writing missing from that list is her contributions to the 50th anniversary edition of Gerald Gardner's Witchcraft Today. Since we are still waiting for a scholarly biography of Gardner, her two essays included in that edition, "Looking Backward: Gardner's Sources" and "Looking Forward: Gardner's Hunches," should be read by everyone studying Wiccan history.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Blogging CESNUR, 2

Yesterday's CESNUR plenary session focused on Western esotericism, which is getting more respect as a "player" in history.

Gordon Melton passed out a fancy diagram of the Western esoteric tradition, including everyone from Swedenborgians to flying saucer religions to Wiccans.

Wicca was placed under ritual magic, although at some distance. Fair enough: ritual magic is an important root. But I think there needs to be a long dashed line connecting to classical Paganism (which was not on the chart), indicating a connection that was literary rather than person-to-person.

For those of you familiar with new religious movements sessions, yes, "Ragged Brian" is here.

Trying to decide whether to take the tour of the (warning, Flash) Cathedral of the Madeline tomorrow to renew my acquaintance with ecclesiastical architecture. ("I think the woods are more impressive," says M., the dedicated animist.)

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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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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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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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Monday, July 28, 2008

Seeing the World with Greek Eyes

"I am a Greek born 2,381 years after my ancestors built and dedicated the Parthenon . . . . I am telling Greek history outside the conventional Christian worldview," writes Eaggelos G. Vallianatos, author of The Passion of the Greeks: Christianity and the Rape of the Hellenes

Born in a Greek village, Vallianatos came to the United States as a young man and earned a doctorate in history at Wisconsin. He has written three other books on globalization and agriculture.

A little bit like Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick's A History Of Pagan Europe, his book moves from a general discussion of Greek religion through the conquest of a disunited Greece by imperial Rome to the fall of the empire as seen by Greek historians, lingering on the late Christian emperors' persecution of the Pagan "Hellenes," those who saw Greek literature, culture, and religion as intertwined.

One appendix discusses and rates works by many noted classicists. Vallianatos likes Robin Lane Fox and Ramsay MacMullen, who "[makes] some difference to our understanding of the dreadful record of Christianity in the Mediterranean," but has no use for Polymnia Athanassiadi: "Her Christian bias shines through in everything she says about Julian." And so on.

As its title suggests, the book is passionate. I have read only as far as Chapter 4, "The Treason of Christianity," because I can take it only in small doses. But I will continue all the way to the end, believe me.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Blogging on a Snowy Day

A traditional Colorado St. Patrick's Day: dank and snowy. If I were not bogged down with grading, I could contemplate which one of seventeen Irish recipes sounded most appealing. Guiness-and-cheddar fondue?

M. and I will be hearing some music tonight, though.

I finished reviewing the proposals for the American Academy of Religion's Contemporary Pagan Studies Group.

Our theme for this November's meeting in Chicago is "The Polytheistic Challenge," and it looks like we will have enough good papers for our two sessions -- about ten papers total. Add to that a session shared with the Popular Culture group, and we will have more.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

The Scholar and the Festival

The registration brochure for the big Pagan Spirit Gathering in June came in the mail. I won't be going, but I read it for general information and found this:

Pagan Scholars who want to conduct Pagan Studies research at the Gathering as part of their participation must submit a research proposal by March 30, 2008 in order to be considered.

An old joke from the Navajo Reservation came to mind. You have to know that traditionally the Navajos were matrifocal--a man lived with his wife's people.

Q: What is a typical Navajo family?

A: A grandmother, her daughter(s), their husbands, the kids, and an anthropologist.

Are Pagan festivals these days that overrun with people handing out questionnaires? And what about the non-Pagan scholar studying Paganism?

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Busman's Holiday

Some weekends I have no student papers to grade. So what do I do? Grade papers.

In other words, this weekend is all about reviewing a group of papers for an academic folklore journal. Don't expect much blogging unless something really interesting happens.

"Busman's holiday" defined.

Update: I forgot to mention the twenty-some proposals that I need to read and rank for next November's Pagan studies sessions at the American Academy of Religion meeting. That is part of the job of a steering-committee member.


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, January 14, 2008

"Sheer Terror"

Retired University of Colorado professor John Carnes (Philosophy) tells all in an interview:

1. Being a teacher is like being a farmer; your life follows certain cycles. How did you feel whenever a new semester came around?

Sheer terror! Every class constitutes a performance -- a 16-week performance -- and you have stage fright. I was never sure if I had chosen a text that wouldn't work, that I'd make a fool of myself in front of the class.

Via University Diaries, who would probably agree that most academics are basically shy people required to give public performances.

Yep, it starts tomorrow.


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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Friday, January 04, 2008

Not Getting the Whole Blogging Concept

Some people just do not get the concept -- in this case, the concept of blogging.

When you write a blog, you either link to a web site you have visited (blog = web log, remember) and you comment on it. Even a Glenn Reynolds-ish "Heh" counts as a comment.

Or you write what amounts to an online diary entry. Those are the two main types of blogging.

But lately, thanks to Google Alerts, I noticed that some Pagan bloggers think that cutting and pasting Wikipedia entries counts as blogging. Examples: 1, 2, 3, 4. There are probably more.

If you cannot link-and-comment, or write about your day (or night), then there is always the Japanese option: Tell what you ate for lunch.


Meanwhile, read Doug Cowan's Cyberhenge: Modern Pagans on the Internet for a broader perspective than I can offer in a blog.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"Why I became a Pagan"

The advent of the Web has made survey-taking much easier, and so when some graduate students want to interview Pagans, they just post a survey on SurveyMonkey.

This link came to me from a trusted source, so I plan to take it myself once I have the free time.

It is interesting how methodology has changed. No one has to go to festivals and try to cajole people into answering a questionnaire anymore.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Where's the Wall? I Need to Hit It

Forgive the melodramatic headline, but I have been grading tests and research papers for about six hours. At least "the big class" is done, and what lies ahead will be more pleasant reading--essays by better student writers.

So to make up for the lack of blogging, some odds and ends:

• A web site devoted to iconography of deities and demons of the ancient Near East. (Thanks to Caroline Tully.)

• I am please to announce that the Consultation on Contemporary Pagan Studies in the American Academy of Religion has been upgraded to "group" status, i.e., it is now the Contemporary Pagan Studies group, although their site does not reflect the change. The change gives us more program slots and a longer period before the next oversight review.

• Via Circle Sanctuary, a program for sending "Care Packages" to Pagan military personnel overseas.

• Mainly because it has a lot about Gleb Botkin, founder of the Church of Aphrodite and hence one of America's Pagan pioneers, I just read Frances Welch's A Romanov Fantasy: Life at the Court of Anna Anderson. (Reviewed in the Los Angeles Times and The Guardian.)

I really didn't learn anything new about the C of A., but there is this tidbit, as close as Welch comes to suggesting how Franziska Schandzkowska [Anna Anderson] (1896-1984) fooled so many people into thinking that she was Anastasia, the youngest daughter of the Russian royal family--including Botkin, who knew the real Anastasia when they were both teenagers. Anastasia's uncle by marriage, Grand Duke Alexander, suggested that Anna was what New Agers call a "walk-in."

A confirmed spiritualist and table-rapper, Alexander claimed that Grand Duchess Anastasia's spirit had returned and incorporated itself into another body. His proclamation revealed the extent to which he was impressed by Anna's memories. 'She knows so much about the intimate life of the Tsar and his family that there is simply no other explanation for it; and of course it wouldn't be the first time that a spirit has returned to earth in a new physical form.'


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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Right Architecture for Reading

M. and I played hooky and went to Taos last weekend. I spent part of two mornings reading In Search of Zarathrustra (interview with author Paul Kriwaczek here).

The book is both an exploration of how Zorastrian ideas influenced Western monotheisms and an travel book about Iran, Afghanistan, and other regions of Central Asia.

It seemed right to read it on the patio of El Pueblo Lodge, surrounded by adobe walls, because as Kriwaczek reminds his readers, the word paradise comes from the Persian for walled garden, and many of those walls must have been mud brick.

The old parts of Taos follow the Middle Eastern/Mediterranean model: walled off from the street and easily fortified. I am acutely aware of the difference when I come home to my own house, built in the Celto-Germanic model: rectangular and decorated with antlers.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

"Chutch" - now on DVD?

When I mentioned Ward Churchill, I forgot the TV series that he inspired. But I have forgotten a lot about the Seventies.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Fall of an Intellectual Thug

The University of Colorado has fired Ward Churchill, plagiarist, pseudo-American Indian, and intellectual thug.

In case you have not guessed, I am happy about that.

If a student had committed as much plagiarism as Churchill did, he would flunk the course. (My course, at any rate.)

Some people will try to argue that Churchill was fired for political speech, but he was not. Yes, as some of Ann Althouse's commenters note, the political speech may have caused his other behavior to be investigated.

It is sort of like being stopped for speeding after you robbed a bank.

I learned about Churchill's methods when I was a graduate student at CU-Boulder in the 1980s. He led the lynch mob against a religious-studies professor whose work on Native American religion displeased him, and he played the race card every chance that he had. What an irony that he was faking it.

Churchill wanted to be the dictator who could declare whose scholarship was politically acceptable and whose was not. I suppose that is why Russell Means and some other Indian activists are supporting him--they would like to have that power too.

More recently, the American Indian Movement has given Means the shove. And they have an interesting Web page on Ward Churchill, too.

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Clifton's Three (So Far) Laws of Religion

Since my blog-pal Gretchin asked about the "laws of religion," here they are.

1. Nothing Ever Goes Away Completely. Every religious doctrine or practice ever invented is still being carried on by someone, somewhere.

2. The Disciple Is More Obnoxious Than The Teacher, which is the spiritual corollary of the old maxim, "The servant is more snobbish than the master."

3. All Genuine Religions Have Torchlight Processions. See, for example, the one at the beginning of this documentary.

Now before all the Buddhists come after me (unless they do have torchlight processions in Sri Lanka or somewhere), let me say that this law is more aesthetic than philosophical. With all the advances in techne over the past millennium, still nothing speaks to the soul like flickering flames moving through the darkness.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Student is Psycho--What Then?

Dr. Helen Smith continues blogging on the problems of dealing with "time bomb" students.

I had one such experience, and it illustrates how difficult it is for universities to deal with them.

She was a "non-traditional" (30-something) student in one of my upper-division nonfiction writing classes. One day she brought in for workshopping an article about Satanists in our city. It was all very 1980s "satanic panic" stuff, only a decade later.

But the stunning part was that she accused an education professor at our university of being the local Satanic leader. He not only knew where the bodies were buried, she claimed, he had put some of them in the ground himself.

And not one of the mass comm. majors in the room suggested that this might, possibly, be libelous. I suppose they were waiting for me. And I let her go ("Very interesting . . um. . . who's next.") I faced bad writing before, but not 24-caret craziness.

After class I went straight to the office of one of the senior people in my department who mentored me. "What do I do?" I asked her. "Tell [Dept. Chairman]," she said.

I went to his office with a copy of the satanism article. He already knew about the student, knew that she did not have both oars in the water, and that she had been kicked out of the teacher-training program by Education Professor. She had been allowed to change her major to English. He suggested talking to the counseling office, and that was all he could offer.

I ended up in a surreal conversation with the director of student counseling, who was also well-acquainted with Nutcase Student. Her response went something like this:

"Because of privacy rules, I cannot discuss a particular case. However, if I knew that a student was behaving that way, and if I knew that she had a psychiatrist in the city, I might possibly suggest to that psychiatrist that her medications be adjusted."

I called Education Professor at home and got his wife instead. She was seriously concerned that Nutcase Student was stalking her husband and also that he did not recognize the danger. When I spoke to him, he did try to downplay the situation.

Time passed. Nutcase stopped coming to my class, for which I was thankful.

Then I had a call from the provost's secretary. (The provost is the university official in charge of academic affairs.)

It turned out that Nutcase Student had shown up at Education Professor's door about 2 a.m. with a knife. She was arrested and spent some time in jail. All faculty members who had had contact with her were being notified that she was now back on the street. And did I want a university security guard to sit in on my class?

I said no. And Nutcase never returned. But when the call came, it was late afternoon, and I felt very alone in my office on the long, echoing corridor.

She was no Cho Seung-Hui. But the pattern was there:

The violence-prone individual is more likely to have enduring personality pathology, such as a paranoid, schizoid, narcissistic, or antisocial personality, and a long history of difficult interpersonal relationships. He may ruminate about perceived slights or injustices for months or even years.

The counseling office cannot help someone who does not want help. Faculty members get no more advice beyond, "Be careful." And, ironically, the advent of new psychotropic medications mean that more mentally disturbed people can sign up for higher education. They can get government-guaranteed loans too, just like the rest of the students.

Dr. Helen ends up regarding this as a civil rights issue--for university staff and other students.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Vulnerability in the classroom

As a college professor with an office across campus from the sheriff's substation that is supposed to protect us, I have been thinking about the Virginia Tech shootings. (Not the worst in US history, by the way.)

Mostly I have been thinking of Professor Librescu, who acted like a grown-up. Maybe it's the Israeli connection: many Israelis whom I have met are take-charge people who know that you don't wait for help to arrive--you do it yourself. Perhaps after what he had lived through, he knew evil coming when he saw it.

This Virginia Tech student, meanwhile, speaks for anyone who who has outgrown their nanny:

First, I never want to have my safety fully in the hands of anyone else, including the police.

Forensic psychologist Helen Smith (correction: Reynolds is her married name) has some thoughts on why "the experts" always want you to give up:

Have you noticed that most of the tips you get in recent years for how to survive a violent crime involve an accompanying psychological maneuver of first trying to make you feel impotent?

Professor Librescu obviously did not lean that way.

I never had to protect my students from a mad gunman. (But today I put a Band-aid on a student's finger.) But I run the scenarios in my head, and I have been doing that since 1999.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Magic Spells for Professors

I want these!

Just a sample:


* CANCEL MEETINGS. Professors at Level One may cancel department meetings only. (See Appendix 253 for a full list of levels and corresponding meetings.) This spell may be countered by another Professor's Spell of Urgency, and will always be blocked by a Department Chair's Reminder of Contractual Obligations.
* ACCEPT GRADES. -2 to Students' Argument rolls. However, Students with 3 hit dice or more may retaliate with a Spell of Grievance (-3 to Professors' Endurance rolls).
* MAGIC PEN. Increases grading speeds by a factor of at least two.
* SUMMON SENIOR COLLEAGUE. Professors attacked by Red Tape (q.v.) or under a Spell of Bewilderment may conjure up a tenured colleague for assistance. For correct information, perform a DC 12 Bureaucracy check.

(Hat tip: The Little Professor)


Friday, February 02, 2007

Problem copies of Her Hidden Children

I learned a couple of weeks ago that some copies of my book Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America from the second print run were defective.

They are missing thirty-some pages, including the last chapter and the index. If your copy ends around page 160, you have a bad copy.

Other copies may appear to be missing chapter 6.

Call Rowman & Littlefield Customer Service, 800-462-6420, to get a replacement from the newest print run.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

New Pomegranate Contents

In the rush of travel and then preparing for the spring semester, I forgot to post the contents of the latest issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies (Volume 8, no. 2, Nov. 2006).

So here is what's happening in Pagan Studies:

"Santeria Sacrificial Rituals: A Reconsideration of Religious Violence (book excerpt)," by Mary Ann Clark.

"'Be Pagan Once Again': Folk Music, Heritage, and Socio-sacred Networks in Contemporary American Paganism" by Christopher Chase

"Wandering Dreams and Social Marches: Varieties of Paganism in Late Victorian and Edwardian England" by Jennifer Hallett.

"Russian Paganism and the Issue of Nationalism: A Case Study of the Circle of Pagan Tradition" by Kaarina Aitamurto.

"Challenging the Morals of Western Society: The Use of Ritualized Sex in Contemporary Occultism" by Henrik Bogdan.

("Sex" plus "occultism." The search engines should have fun with that.)

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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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Wednesday, May 12, 2004

More Wiccan History

"The Founding Fathers of Wicca," a graduate-school paper by Susan Young, currently at the University of Alberta, explores Aleister Crowley's liturgical and other influence on Gardnerian Wicca. It was published in Axis Mundi: A Student Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, whose article index is here. The paper is in downloadable PDF format, about 180 KB.

Paganism on National Public Radio

This week, National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" program has been running a series on new religious movements, including Paganism. The initial segment, which includes an interview with J. Gordon Melton of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, can be heard online here.

If I am able to hear Thursday's segment on Wicca live, it will be picked up from KRCC's repeater somewhere on the highway around Wagon Mound, New Mexico.

That's right, the notorious M.C. and I are going on the road for a few days. Blogging will resume around the 19th.

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Thursday, October 30, 2003

Comprehending the Great Vowel Shift

I love reading about the history of the English language. If I have 20 minutes to fill in my rhetoric class, I can give an impromptu lecture on that history, which I title (to myself) as "Why the English Language Is Like a Club Sandwich." But never having formally worked with the International Phonetic Alphabet in a linguistics class, I never felt that I truly comprehended the "Great Vowel Shift" that marks part of the transition from Middle to Early Modern English.

Thanks to the Web, this site, by Melinda Mezner of Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, makes it all comprehensible. Read the IPA text, listen to the sounds. After that, the diagrams might make more sense. Warning: lots of small sound files to download.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Smokey and the Sacred

My paper "Smokey and the Sacred: Nature Religion, Civil Religion, and American Paganism" has been accepted for a special issue of the journal Ecotheology, edited by Graham Harvey.

The publishing agreement, however, forbids me from publishing more than the abstract online. (But maybe if you ask nicely.) I will supply a complete bibliographic citation to the printed copy as soon as it is available.

Maybe it's the first Pagan Studies paper to invoke Smokey Bear as a godform, following the footsteps of Gary Snyder's "Smokey the Bear Sutra."

OK, so he is somewhat discredited as a forester in these "prescribed burn" days. Sometimes demigods have a come-down.

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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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Thursday, July 10, 2003

The Paganism Reader

A telephone call from Graham Harvey on the 9th confirms that our anthology of important Pagan texts is going into production at Routledge. Here is the latest version of the cover--really, Graham's name should come first, as it was his idea to collect important texts from the Pagan revival, reaching back to the Homeric Hymns, the Eddas, the Mabinogion and others, and also collecting such things as Rudyard Kipling's song that begins "Do not tell the priest of our art," from Puck of Pook's Hill, which when I first encountered it was presented to me as a genuine relic of underground Pagan religion! (I had not read that particular book of Kipling's, and I did not know better.)

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Monday, July 07, 2003


I've been working on a section about American Pagan Druids today. First, let me say that I am so glad that I do not have to do anything on British Druids, since in the UK there are two hundred years' worth of self-proclaimed various Druidic groups of all sorts, from the merely fraternal to the seriously Pagan to the almost self-parodying sort. Fortunately, Ronald Hutton has a new book out, Witches, Druids, and King Arthur, which I now have on order.

The best resource that I know of remains Isaac Bonewits' web site. Although he did not become involved until six years after the "We're not really a religion" Reformed Druids began at Carleton College, he remains the central figure of the revival in this country, having devoted more nearly forty years to it--editing journals, writing songs, creating organizations, creating ritual, networking and more networking, creating Web sites. . .

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Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Paganism: A Reader

What I hope was the last paper work for Graham Harvey's and my new anthology, Paganism: A Reader went into the campus mailbag today on its way to Routledge, the publisher. The book is a collection of mostly primary sources, so in that way it's somewhat different from Graham's earlier anthology, Shamanism: A Reader. The selections in it begin with Classical materials, including "The Hymn to the Moon" (attributed to Homer) and the famous address to Isis from Apuleius' The Golden Ass, in Robert Graves' translation. What I regret not being able to include (for reasons of space) was Sappho's poem to Aphrodite, which I always find to be heart-wrenchingly good. But the Emperor Julian's "Letter to a Pagan Priest" was included, as well as some translations from Celtic and Norse sources that have been important to the Pagan revival.

We have tried to show just a few of the literary influences on the Pagan revival as well, such as Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill, Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, and Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon, as well as many well-known contemporary Pagan authors (Gardner, Valiente, Adler) and some new writers: Judy Harrow, Michael McNierney, and myself.

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Friday, May 02, 2003

Daniel C. Noel

I was shocked two days ago to learn of the death in late 2002 of Dan Noel, a friend and sometime mentor. I had the privilege of reviewing his book The Soul of Shamanism: Western Fantasies, Imaginal Realities (Continuum, 1997) for Gnosis. He taught me the difference between "imaginary" and "imaginal."

Here is an interview with Dan about the ideas in that book, including the "lure of the archaic" and the "democritization of the sacred."

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Friday, March 07, 2003

Who and where are the Pagans

Sociologist Helen A. Berger, author of A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States, has a new book coming out in July, written together with Evan Leach and Leigh Shaffer.

The title is Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States. Like her first, it was published by the University of South Carolina Press.

I plan to post a fuller review after I have read it. The "census" referred to was distributed by Berger and by Andras Corbon of Earthspirit Community. The authors claim that (this time) they reached more than just the festival-going Pagan crowd.

According to the catalog, "The scholars . . . identify variations within the Neo-Pagan population, including those related to geography and to the movement's multiple spiritual

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