Gardnerians, Sacred Lands, Climate Marches, and Other News of Note

Friends, rather than an essay, today’s post rounds up a number of different news items related to Pagans and Pagan studies. Books, marches, and websites, oh my!


The People’s March Against Climate Change is occurring in cities around the world this weekend. The march planned in New York City is particularly massive — so much so that marchers are being divided into sections. These sections will create a narrative for the march’s complex message around climate change awareness and action.

pcm-route-lineup-v6

It breaks my heart that due to family commitments and physical limitations, I will not be marching with my friends in NYC this weekend. Climate change is a reality that will affect us all, and it is already having an impact on vulnerable people. If you cannot attend a march near you this weekend, consider donating to the NYC or another march or to an organization such as the Pagan Environmental Coalition of NYC (there are only 10 hours left on their Indiegogo campaign! Act now!).


sacredlandsADF Publishing recently released a book based on the 2012 Cherry Hill Seminary conference on Sacred Lands and Spiritual Landscapes. The collection brings together academics and practitioners on topics including the Glastonbury Goddess conference, Southern Witchery, the lesbian land movement, and an industrial band from Britain — quite a fascinating lineup! The collection is bookended with an introduction by Ronald Hutton and commentary by Chas Clifton, then tied together with the editorial talents of Wendy Griffin — all major names within Pagan studies. What a wonderful achievement for CHS!


Pentacle_background_white. Image via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.This month also marks the launch of a new website on Gardnerian Wicca, British-Wicca.com. It is always a pleasure to find a Pagan website that is intelligent and well-written without being intimidatingly scholarly; British-Wicca.com fits the bill perfectly with essays on ethics, initiation, differences in Wiccan practice between the UK and US, and more. Our own Yvonne Aburrow has contributed a number of essays, along with Irish Wiccan Sophia Boann and a number of others. The site is sure to be useful to those seeking a credible, ethical Internet source for the best-known thread of initiatory Wicca.


Finally, I am salivating over two recent scholarly releases relating to sexuality and gender in contemporary Paganism.

First, check out the latest issue of The Pomegranate: The Journal of Pagan Studies (vol. 15, no. 1-2). Here’s a sneak peek of the Table of Contents:

Introduction: Gender in Contemporary Paganism and Esotericism
Manon Hedenborg-White, Inga Bårdsen Tollefsen

Gender in Russian Rodnoverie
Kaarina Aitamurto

‘God Giving Birth’ – Connecting British Wicca with Radical Feminism and Goddess Spirituality during the 1970s-1980s: The Case Study of Monica Sjöö
Shai Feraro

Gender and Paganism in Census and Survey Data
James R. Lewis, Inga Bårdsen Tollefsen

A Lokian Family: Queer and Pagan Agency in Montreal
Martin Lepage

To Him the Winged Secret Flame, To Her the Stooping Starlight: The Social Construction of Gender in Contemporary Ordo Templi Orientis
Manon Hedenborg-White

Dancing in a Universe of Lights and Shadows
Nikki Bado

An Intersubjective Critique of A Critique of Pagan Scholarship
Michael York

Navigating Praxis: Pagan Studies vs. Esoteric Studies
Amy Hale

Response to the Panel, “What Is Wrong with Pagan Studies? Critiquing Methodologies”: Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Baltimore, Maryland, November 24, 2013
Shawn Arthur

Pagan Prayer and Worship: A Qualitative Study of Perceptions
Janet Goodall, Emyr Williams, Catherine Goodall

Orientalism in Iamblichus’ The Mysteries
Sarah Lynn Veale

Environmental Attitudes and Behaviors among Pagans
Deirdre Sommerlad-Rogers

The Transvaluation of “Soul” and “Spirit”: Platonism and Paulism in H.P. Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled
Christopher A Plaisance

Beyond Hogwarts: Higher Education and Contemporary Pagans
James R. Lewis, Sverre Andreas Fekjan

Second, here’s the summary of Douglas Ezzy’s new book, Sex, Death, and Witchcraft: A Contemporary Pagan Festival.

Faunalia is a controversial Pagan festival with a reputation for being wild and emotionally intense. It lasts five days, eighty people attend, and the two main rituals run most of the night. In the tantalisingly erotic Baphomet rite, participants encounter a hermaphroditic deity, enter a state of trance and dance naked around a bonfire. In the Underworld rite participants role play their own death, confronting grief and suffering. These rituals are understood as “shadow work” – a Jungian term that refers to practices that creatively engage repressed or hidden aspects of the self. 

Sex, Death and Witchcraft is a powerful application of relational theory to the study of religion and contemporary culture. It analyses Faunalia’s rituals in terms of recent innovations in the sociology of religion and religious studies that focus on relational etiquette, lived religion, embodiment and performance. The sensuous and emotionally intense ritual performances at Faunalia transform both moral orientations and self-understandings. Participants develop an ethical practice that is individualistic, but also relational, and aesthetically mediated. Extensive extracts from interviews describe the rituals in participants’ own words. The book combines rich and evocative description of the rituals with careful analysis of the social processes that shape people’s experiences at this controversial Pagan festival.


So much to read, so little time. And if you’re reading what I’m reading, I’ll be interested to hear what you think — let me know in the comments.

Happy Equinox!

Call for Papers: Pagan Consent Culture – Building Communities of Empathy and Autonomy

Yvonne Aburrow and I are pleased to announce that we will be co-editing an anthology entitled Pagan Consent Culture: Building Communities of Empathy and Autonomy. 

The collection will define Pagan consent culture; articulate widely-held Pagan theologies of the body; examine theological resources in various Pagan traditions for building consent culture; explore strategies for making seeking consent to touch a normal community practice; give recommendations for safeguarding policies at events for children and adults; provide procedures for communities to use when responding to accusations of sexual abuse; consider the role of unequal power dynamics in relationships in Pagan communities; and examine the ethics of sexual initiation, erotic healing, and other Pagan religious practices involving the ritual use of touch.

For more information or to submit a proposal, click here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/pagan-consent-culture-an-anthology/

Surviving Climate Change Requires Collective Action

Editors’ Note: This article is part of the Public Square 2014 Summer Series: Conversations on Religious Trends. Read other perspectives from the Pagan community here.


Did Pagan environmentalism fail? I proposed this as a frame for the Patheos Pagan summer series on climate change because the question haunts me. Surely it was too much to expect that the tiny, idealistic Pagan movement of the 1960s and 1970s would utterly change the course of global culture. But I’m not sure we’ve even significantly managed to change ourselves. John Beckett cites a recent study by anthropologist Kimberley Kirner suggesting that though Pagans are somewhat more politically active than average on behalf of the environment, but our sustainability practices are no better.

Why is this?

The most straightforward answer is that, like our neighbors of many faiths, we are subject to economic and social demands and pressures over which we have little control. For-profit corporations have a tremendous influence on United States’ national policy, and few of us feel that our elected representatives are responsive or have their constituents’ best interest at heart. Even those of us who believe in our representatives are disappointed time and time again by the difficulty of making change through legislative means. Feeling disenfranchised by government, Pagans and other environmentalists have often turned to emphasizing individual choices, like recycling, composting, or taking public transportation.

These activities are not entirely useless – especially when public desire for them leads local governments to create structures for doing them more easily and more universally. And yet I can’t help but see the intense focus on individual action as wrongheaded. Ultimately, it makes little difference if one person decides to take the bus rather than driving to the store. We remain part of a society that operates as if our economy will never stop growing, as if our consumption of resources need never cease. Within that framework, we make choices not out of our deeply held values, but out of a need to survive.

Many of us went to college, or trained for a trade, and came out with debt. We sought jobs in a flagging economy and took what we could get, knowing that many of those around us were unemployed. Jobs are concentrated in cities, and many of those jobs require commuting by car, because housing near our jobs is not affordable; and so we increase our debt with car payments. Going forward, we hang on to stressful or meaningless jobs so that we have resources to care for children or elderly or ill family members, because we do not have community resources to help us with these tasks. In our state of isolation and overwork, we buy gadgets and trinkets to give ourselves a little pleasure, pleasure that might once have been provided by social time spent with family and friends. Once trapped within this web of debt and consumption, it is very difficult to get out; removing oneself may mean risking bankruptcy, the loss of access to health care, or threats to the safety and well-being of dependents. These are not conditions we can change through individual action alone.

I do not say that Pagan environmentalism is failing because we are not all already living in self-sufficient co-operatives, traveling by bike, and growing our own food. Nor do I say it because there are no Pagan leaders – Starhawk and John Michael Greer probably being the most visible – who have been working to draw attention to climate change and other environmental issues. Nor is it because there are not Pagans who are modeling sustainable practices like permaculture, or reclaiming practical skills like gardening and weaving to prepare for a resource-scarce future.

Somehow, however, this has resulted in relatively little effective, sustained collective action – by which I mean, the kind of action that creates concrete community support for freeing oneself from the web of debt and consumption. Some of you reading this may (for example) already be growing your own food in self-sufficient co-operatives, to which I say: more power to you; and, do you live in California? Because I’ve been in the Pagan movement for fifteen years, mostly in Texas and New England, and though I’ve seen Pagan families attempting to radically change their lifestyles, it seems like most of them have been forced, over and over, to do so on their own. Perhaps it’s our rabid individualism that’s pulling us down. And yet I find it misguided to condemn Pagans who, by themselves, can’t see their way out of their economic trap. We can free ourselves much more successfully if we work together.

Barn raising. Image by Alexander W. Galbraith via Wikipedia. Public domain.My efforts have begun to focus on collaborative projects that are too small and flexible to be called “institutions,” but still potentially involve more people than my immediate family. If you looked in my recent browser history, you’d find articles about biodiesel cars, raising livestock, real estate prices, yurts, water reclamation systems, and solar energy. I am engaged in collective real estate ownership and am involved with group starting a cooperative living arrangement. I also serve on the board of a self-directed learning center for students aged 10-19. The center provides scholarships for low-income families seeking a creative alternative to traditional schools, and it also offers a robust outdoor program that includes wilderness survival skills – good preparation for kids entering an unstable future. And finally, I try, every day, to talk to someone about climate change in the most low-key way possible… just so they can hear those words from a person they consider reasonable and sane.

This is what I’d like to see from Pagan environmentalism now, a collective action that doesn’t require us to immediately jump out of the web of debt and consumption without a safety net: let’s say the words “climate change” every day. Let’s make climate change the context for all our conversations – about theology, social justice, ritual, cooking and crafts. Planning for the future can no longer be about retirement funds and cute condos in Florida; that era is over. We need to look back to historical crises of the past, like the Depression or World War II, for models of how to survive these changes – with no promise of success. And, knowing we cannot free ourselves from our economic bondage alone, we need to join forces with relatively like-minded people and – horror of horrors – learn to compromise, forgive, and be patient with each other. Our –isms and our desire that our groups or traditions be ideologically perfect will not serve us now. Our efforts must be both intrafaith and interfaith, and we must focus on what we can concretely achieve, not on how we theoretically differ.

Whether we are ready to face it or not, we are in a life or death situation. It is time to embrace our imperfect allies, because that is all we have, and all we are.

Why I Dislike “-Ist”s but Love Raven Kaldera

Over the past few years of teaching theology to Pagans, I’ve slowly stopped applying theological “-ist” labels to myself. My theology has evolved throughout my life and isn’t likely to stop. Moreover, at least in the Pagan movement (which tends to attract spiritual experimenters and explorers), having an evolving theology is the norm. When I teach theology, one of my students’ assignments is to go out into their communities and interview others about their beliefs and practices. Over the years, this assignment has produced a fairly clear portrait of contemporary Pagans as people whose beliefs are actively and self-consciously in process, not pinned down in a set of rigid doctrines that cannot be questioned. Even more exciting have been the opportunities to watch my students’ beliefs change as they encounter ideas and approaches that are new to them. When I put together some of my class materials into an introductory book on Pagan theologies, I called it Seeking the Mystery because no one system of thought can ever encompass the totality of our spiritual experiences or our evolving knowledge of divinity, however we understand She/He/It/Them. That necessary incompleteness is the mystery that keeps us engaged and ever open to revising our perspectives.

Accordingly, I tend to say things like “I have ***-istic beliefs and practices” rather than to say “I am a(n) ***-ist.” It feels more honest, and it also helps me avoid situations where potential co-religionists want me to produce my theological ID card, to make sure I’m a “real” -ist before they’ll listen to me speak or read my work. I’m also fairly private about my personal practice and my relationships with other-than-human persons; if I make no claim to embodying any particular theological viewpoint, I find, people tend to be a bit less inquisitive about the details. (That being said, I was interviewed under a different name in a recently published ethnography of modern polytheism. Any regular reader of this blog who is sufficiently curious will probably have no trouble identifying me there.)

When I teach, I do my best to downplay my personal beliefs, since my aim is to help students think critically and encounter texts and ideas with minimal bias from me. Here’s the secret truth, though: of the maybe two dozen books and essays we look at in my introductory theology class, my favorite is Raven Kaldera’s Dealing with Deities.

It’s not the most academic of the books–in fact, it may be one of the least. It doesn’t have footnotes, and it doesn’t make any claim to scholarly authority, nor does it attempt to lay out a doctrine for all Pagans or all polytheists. It’s based on experience and written conversationally, accessibly, engagingly, compassionately. And, frustratingly, when students come to my class, it’s rare that any of them have ever heard of it.

Although I’ve recommended Kaldera’s work in my books, here on this blog, over at the Harvard Pluralism Project site, on the Seeker channel here at Patheos, and elsewhere, Dealing with Deities is still much less well known than I think it deserves. Rather than writing a traditional review, however, I’d like to simply post a few excerpts, in the hopes that readers will be intrigued enough to pick up a copy and read more.

The conflict-avoidant pick-your-own-truth [approach] is great for personal spiritual practice if one intends to be an eternal solitary practitioner―and, to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with that path and many people are called to it―but truths (and I deliberately use the plural for this word) have always created conflicts. Fear of proposing any absolute doctrines―or even doctrines predicated on accepting specific beliefs for the moment because they seem to work―means that one does not dare to explore serious questions about how the Gods and the Universe functions. In the other direction, there are gaps in the meager surviving written records of the ancients that leave large holes in how those serious questions were seen in their faith[.…] Without comparing the divine inspiration of a great number of believers, we cannot begin to fill in those gaping holes. The assumption that the Gods no longer speak to human beings, and that they cannot understand the modern human situation, discounts the living faith experience of thousands of people.

So how do we begin to construct a theology that is authentic to our experiences, as polytheists, of how the Universe works? We can start by finding a middle ground, where we keep an open mind and are able to entertain the idea of change … and at the same time, we are on the lookout for corroborating information, whether from ancient or modern sources. We can also start by talking about our beliefs and experiences, and listening to each other even when we are disagreeing. (5)

 

At one point in the past, a group of archetypists rented my back field to do their ritual. They were polite and didn’t leave trash around, so I was fine with letting them have it. Out of courtesy, they invited me to attend, and gave me a copy of the ritual to peruse. As I read their very archetypist view of the Gods, complete with ordering them down to give various favors and conflating large groups of deities from different cultures who barely resembled each other, I wondered if I should attend. The voice from my patron deity came immediately: No. Surprised, I asked if this was offensive to Her and to other Gods. No, she said. They don’t know any better, so we don’t care. But you know better. From your mouth, those words would be an offense. (14)

 

Deities have aspects that are more human and less human. We sometimes refer to these as “higher” or “lower” aspects, but the value judgment inherent in those terms makes me reluctant to use them. These aspects are not better or worse than each other; they are solely about how personal and close to human, or how impersonal and close to the undifferentiated divine, an aspect of Deity may be.

Personal aspects―which always get pictured in my head as the little end of a stalactite―are the places where the Gods are closest to human. They argue, they fight, they make mistakes, they are short-sighted and do not access the full truth of their divine abilities. (Although when they err, they do that also on a grand scale.) They also love, with personal fervor as opposed to impersonal distance; they love each other in this way, and sometimes mortals as well.

This is not the kind of love that we think of as in “God loves me,” it is a deeply personal and passionate interest in someone, not a transpersonal “Yes, I love your divine spark gently from afar.” This is the kind of love offered when a God or Goddess comes to a worshiper and becomes an intimate companion who is always there for you when you need them, offering a shoulder to cry on without judgment for the justice of your pain. The shape of the relationship can still take many forms, which we will discuss in a further chapter, but the key is that you can feel their subjective attention, close up, and you give them yours as well.

As we move up the symbolic stalactite, the aspects become less personal―and less interested in you personally. The higher aspect of a given deity is more emotionally distant, more archetypal, still recognizably them, but less human and more godlike. One could imagine it as that deity’s “higher self”. From the perspective of this aspect, they may still love you, but it is your own higher self that they love, and that love is more impersonal, transpersonal, loving your divine spark rather than your human frailties. From this point, their main interactions with you will have the end-goal of your own self-improvement―bringing you closer to that higher self by any means necessary―and your use in the improvement of the world. From this point, they see high and far and do not make the mistakes that their more human aspects make.

It is hard to describe the qualitative feeling between a humanlike or more godlike aspect of the Divine; it may be one of those many situations common to these interactions where we can only give a frustrating “I know it when I feel it.” The quality of the interaction is very different, and the humanlike eye-to-eye intensity is replaced with a sense of overwhelming awe. The gulf between us and them seems much more uncrossable with a higher-self aspect, whereas we are often amazed at how close they seem when they come to us in a humanlike aspect. (37-38)

 

After all the discussing I’ve done so far about polytheism and the separateness of deities, now I have to talk about when the situation isn’t so clear. What happens when we follow the nature of deity upward past their less humanlike aspect?

What happens is that the Gods do, on that level, begin to blend together. They seem to blend by affinity―love goddesses together, death gods together―and yet they are more complex than that, so their blendings do not resemble our simplistic two-dimensional ideas about them. However, please keep in mind that at this level their interactions with human beings are extremely transpersonal, which means, also, impersonal. They are less likely to love you in a focused, individual way, and more likely to extend love toward your higher self, drawing it out instead of your emotions. They are also less likely to make contact with you in general.

Above this is what could be called the Architect of the Universe, although even to say that would imply more of a human consciousness than is actually there. We, with our meat-brains and mortal lives, have a terrible time conceiving of anything we can’t anthropomorphize in some way, and that includes the “highest”―or most transpersonal, anyway―level of Existence. This is not about some divine Father or Mother who is set over the other Gods. This is about their higher selves blending together, and the point just beyond that. It both is and is not separate from them and from us. Is that confusing? Of course it is. The further we get from humanness, the further we get from anything we can conceive of in human terms.

So let’s leave human terms, and stick to observations. The observed fact, in my experience, is that to the Architect of the Universe, we are motes of dust, and we get the attention given to motes of dust. The problem is that human beings often love the idea of getting personal attention from the Highest Form Of Existence, because our ego thinks that would be the best sort of attention―ironically, given that all the oldest transcendent religions have observed that the only way to get any closer to the Architect of the Universe is to give up ego entirely, as well as the need to get personal attention and all the rest of our human foibles. It’s the paradox of transcendence―the only way to get to the top of the mountain is to eventually lose all your reasons for getting there. (43)

 

Without a value judgment, [“going higher”] simply means moving into the realm where the Gods begin to blur and become less distinct, less human, less involved in our world, and less interested in us personally. While some people are called to work largely with these aspects―and perhaps with the point where they blur altogether―it is not the calling for everyone, or even most people. It doesn’t make one more evolved, either. It may just be about balance. Perhaps those who are legitimately called to a pantheistic, panentheistic, or even higher henotheistic relationship with the Gods are the people who tend to cut things up into little pieces too often, to refuse to see the forest for the trees, to concentrate on petty details instead of looking at the big picture. Perhaps those who are called to work with more specific aspects are the people who think big and vague, and forget their own humanness. Perhaps there are a multitude of reasons more subtle and personal than this, but each aimed at making someone more evolved through their relationship to the Gods. (48)

 

[T]he further you get down the path you’re supposed to walk, the more synchronicity and less randomness there will be in your life. Patterns begin to emerge that had not resolved before. It’s not mysterious―it’s a natural phenomenon, and our Gods are both cause and guides to the process. However, it also means that stepping onto the path―consciously or otherwise―and then stepping back off due to fear, poor judgment, or just being an imperfect human creature can bring a greater amount of chaos into our lives than we would have had otherwise. Once the synchronicity is turned up, even just a little bit, we can’t turn back. Is it worth it? In my experience, yes. It is worth every limit placed on our choices, because it brings us closer to the heart of reality.

In addition, some of us need to walk difficult patterns, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s because our souls have specific lessons that must be learned, and our particular personalities guarantee that we won’t learn them the easy way. Sometimes it’s bigger than our own personal path―someone has to walk that road, because it is necessary to the Universe, and we unconsciously volunteer because of our choices, or we are actively chosen by the Holy Powers because we happen to be some combination of karmically available and best suited to survive the task. When this happens―when we are taken by the Holy Powers to walk a path that might not otherwise have been our own personal path―our thread, as it were, is tied to that of a larger and more impersonal one, and our own destiny is subsumed into that wider path. This can come at great cost to us, but we still have at least one choice left. We can do our best to figure out how that larger path is best walked, or we can give up and fail out. In a case like this, the hard parts aren’t necessarily because someone is doing it wrong. They may be endemic to the larger, more difficult road, and no one gets to the end of it without experiencing them.

That goes for the Gods, too. After all, don’t they have their myths with trials and pitfalls that they must endure? (121)

 

Combative Comments Interfere with Readers’ Critical Thinking

Angry, insulting, bullying commenters: all bloggers get them. They are at minimum annoying, and at worst they can put a pall over your day and leaving you feeling like you need a good shower (or perhaps a restraining order). Nevertheless, many bloggers are reluctant to moderate comments. Wanting to be open-minded and inclusive, writers may resist engaging in “censorship,” or they may want to ensure that discussions on their blogs include a range of views, even if some of those commenters express their views with a barrage of verbal abuse.

I respect the principles behind the resistance to moderating comments. But a recent study suggests that allowing readers to be exposed to combative comments interferes with their ability to process new information and think critically about it. In fact, readers exposed to such comments tend to double down on their existing beliefs, i.e. their beliefs about the topic become more polarized than before, while their perceptions of the negative aspects of the topic being discussed increase.

Professors Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele (University of Wisconsin, Madison) summarize the results of their research, which they’ve dubbed “the nasty effect,” for the New York Times:

Half of our sample was exposed to civil reader comments and the other half to rude ones — though the actual content, length and intensity of the comments, which varied from being supportive of the new technology to being wary of the risks, were consistent across both groups. The only difference was that the rude ones contained epithets or curse words, as in: “If you don’t see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these kinds of products, you’re an idiot” and “You’re stupid if you’re not thinking of the risks for the fish and other plants and animals in water tainted with silver.”

The results were both surprising and disturbing. Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.

In the civil group, those who initially did or did not support the technology — whom we identified with preliminary survey questions — continued to feel the same way after reading the comments. Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with the technology.

Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought.

On the strength of this research, Popular Science magazine has completely shut down its comments section:

A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again. Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to “debate” on television. And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.

Although “the nasty effect” is particularly destructive to scientists’ efforts to educate the public about crucial research–especially research related to climate change–we in the humanities who are concerned with educating readers about religion and social justice issues should take these findings just as seriously. Many of us write because we want our readers to think critically, not simply re-commit to their existing beliefs. Allowing abusive comments to stand makes this kind of reflection far less likely.

An additional study by Brendan Nyhan (Dartmouth) presents frustrating evidence that readers rarely shift their existing opinions in response to new information. There is some hope for critical thinking in the study, however: Nyhan’s research suggests that readers become much more open-minded to new information immediately after experiencing positive emotions relating to the self. Presenting topics in a way that seems unrelated to readers’ ideological commitments–for example, avoiding framing a viewpoint as liberal or conservative–also seems to help, apparently because the new information seems less threatening to readers’ sense of who they are.

So what do we, as religion bloggers, do with this information?

While I’m not ready to start shutting down comments sections entirely, I urge bloggers to post comment policies advocating nonviolent communication; to practice nonviolent communication themselves; to use filtering technology to help prevent abusive, malicious comments; and to strictly eliminate such comments when they slip through–regardless of whether those comments come from friends or opponents. Toxic comment sections are not just an annoyance; they interfere with readers’ ability to think.

We owe ourselves and our readers something better than a no-holds-barred textual free-for-all. Let’s make it more possible for us to actually listen to each other.

 

5 Top Posts for #Patheos5Yrs

Patheos.com is celebrating its fifth anniversary! In honor of the occasion, we’re looking back at five years of great Pagan content. (Check out the Pagan landing page today for highlights!)

I’ve only been blogging here since 2012, but that’s been plenty of time to have some great conversations, especially with my fabulous co-writer Yvonne Aburrow. So, with no further ado, here are the top five most-read posts written by each of us for Sermons from the Mound. Happy Anniversary, Patheos!

 

Christine

5. Erotic Ethics and Pagan Consent Culture – In times of crisis, we often focus on what we DON’T want. But if we are to create a healthy consent culture, our vision of our erotic ethics must be framed in positive terms. What does a Pagan consent culture look like?

4. The Future of Paganism: What Pagans Can Learn from Pioneer Mormons – For Pagans who are interested in growing community and wielding political power in the service of minority religious rights, Mormons could be our teachers—particularly if we focus on nineteenth-century Mormons and the practice of gathering.

3. Pagan Theology: Recommended Resources – Looking for resources that explore the theoretical and theological bases for contemporary Pagan practice? Look no further: here’s an annotated list.

2. Three Legs on the Pagan Cauldron, or Must Pagans Be Polytheists? – In 2013, I think the three legs of the contemporary Pagan cauldron are these: polytheism, Goddess worship, and earth-based spirituality. These three focuses for belief and practice have all made a huge impact on what we think of as Paganism.

1. Theology Is Not Religious Studies – Theology can and should involve logic. Ultimately, however, logic is only a means: theology is religious conviction supported and shaped by reason. Religious studies, on the other hand, must always let reason win.

 

Yvonne

5. Pagan Sacred Texts – A fluid and interactive relationship with sacred texts is an important feature of contemporary Pagan traditions. We have all seen the dangers of people taking texts literally—let’s hope Pagans don’t slide down the same slippery slope.

4. Wiccanate Privilege and Polytheist Wiccans – We should dismantle Wiccanate privilege as soon as possible. Let’s have devotional polytheism, liturgical Paganism, Wiccan (rather than Wiccan-flavoured) ritual, revived Eleusinian mysteries, Heathen blots, Druid rituals… And let’s not have assumptions about what Pagans believe.

3. What Is Cultural Appropriation? – What is cultural appropriation? It’s about power, and context, and histories of persecution. The Native Americans had their land and livelihoods taken away, their cultural identity erased and derided, and now people are taking their spiritual practices.

2. What Is Magic and How Does It Work? – A friend on Facebook asked, how does magic work? My immediate response was, it depends what you mean by magic.

1. Silence Equals Complicity: Making Pagan Groups Safe for Everyone – We are supposed to be a community that values women, that believes women are the embodiment of the Divine just as much as men, if not more so. We are a community that celebrates all acts of love and pleasure. Well, let me tell you right now, anything less than enthusiastic consent is not an act of love and pleasure. Love and pleasure are sacred. Rape and abuse are the most horrible violations of the sacred integrity of the human body.

 

Consent Culture 101: Basic Practices and Teaching Games

This month, many of us in Pagan communities have been wrestling with the issue of sexual abuse. Much as we’d like to think that we have healthier attitudes toward sexuality than the wider culture in which we live, the reality is that sexual abuse is endemic in our society, and our communities are no exception.

I urge you to read Cat Chapin-Bishop’s recommendations as to how communities can constructively respond to abuse. Cat specialized in the treatment of sexual abuse survivors for twenty years, and hers is the most comprehensive, cogent, and compassionate framing of the issue that I’ve seen. I hope leaders will return to her article again and again as they revise or draft policies around sexual abuse response for their groups and events.

My own contribution to these discussions is about creating a Pagan culture that not only helps to prevent inappropriate and abusive touch, but encourages loving, consensual touch. I want Pagan events to embody consent culture. In my last post on this topic, I outlined ethical principles that ground my understanding of consent culture. Here, though, I want to deal with simple ways to put these principles into practice.

What is consent culture?

Urban Dictionary has a great off-the-cuff definition:

A consent culture is one in which the prevailing narrative of sex is centered around mutual consent. It is a culture with an abhorrence of forcing anyone into anything, a respect for the absolute necessity of bodily autonomy, a culture that believes that a person is always the best judge of their own wants and needs.

A consent culture is also one in which mutual consent is part of social life as well. Don’t want to talk to someone? You don’t have to. Don’t want a hug? That’s okay, no hug then. Don’t want to try the fish? That’s fine. Don’t want to be tickled or noogied? Then it’s not funny to chase you down and do it anyway.

How do we create consent culture?

I’m going to start with some simple, concrete recommendations. These are meant to be starting places to explore how you might build consent culture in your group or community, however, not stopping places. Building consent culture involves confronting issues of power and vulnerability. It requires that both the initiators and receivers of touch improve their communication and listening skills. It calls us to deepen our empathy and bring mindfulness to all our interactions. A blog post can only scratch the surface of these issues – but it gives us a place to begin (and I hope you’ll follow some of the links at the bottom in order to go deeper).

The basic practice of consent culture is to ask and get consent before you touch. Among people we don’t know well, asking verbally is a good idea, i.e. “May I hug you?” In many cases, however, a nonverbal ask works just as well: you can open your arms for a hug and wait for the other person to mirror the gesture before hugging them. Note that asking is only half of the procedure; waiting for the enthusiastic “YES!” is the other half! A non-enthusiastic “yes” is usually a “no” in disguise.

To build consent culture in communities, train your leaders to model consensual behavior for others. Consider a leadership training where participants practice asking and getting consent; politely but firmly saying no to touch; and gracefully taking no for an answer. Leaders might also practice recognizing body language that signals less-than-enthusiastic consent, as with guests who accept touch they don’t want out of a sense of peer pressure. Create strategies for giving guests who don’t know the expectations of the group socially appropriate outs: for instance, asking, “Do you hug, or do you prefer the handshake?” or explicitly telling a newcomer, “People here like to give hugs, but if you’d rather not do that, just offer your hand instead.” (People who have chronic pain or similar conditions may need more complex negotiations to engage in affectionate touch; see this article by Staśa Morgan-Appel for strategies.)

Traffic lights. Clip art by algotruneman. Public domain.Consent culture should make it easy (or at least easier!) to say yes or no. Many people struggle to be explicit about their desire for touch or their discomfort with it. At events, basic consent to touch can be made easy with wearable, colored “hug codes.” Provide green, yellow, and red stickers that can be applied to nametags, along with a flyer or other materials explaining their meaning: Green means “Hug me,” yellow means “Ask me if I want a hug,” and red means “No hugs please.” The accompanying materials should note, however, that permission to hug doesn’t mean automatic consent to other kinds of touch, and that permission can be withdrawn verbally at any time. The “Hug Code” information sheet can also be used to educate attendees about appropriate behavior around touch in general at the event and advertise workshops or orientation sessions that cover consent culture, safer sex, etc.

Consent culture starts with kids. Kids who grow up believing that they and others have the right to control their own bodies are better-equipped to initiate respectful touch, to clearly say yes or no when touch is offered, and to interfere when they see someone else being violated.

Here’s a simple game that you can play with elementary-aged and older children. Not only does it teach consent and empathy, but it’s a lot of fun and great for making friends! Adults should be present to model the game, make sure the rules are being followed, and insure safety, as children playing this game can easily become rambunctious.

    1. Break into pairs.
    2. In each pair, one child asks his or her partner if s/he can touch them in a specific way. “Can I give you a hug?” “Can I tickle your ribs?” “Can I grab you and spin you around?”
    3. If the partner wants to be touched that way, s/he says, “YES, YES, YES!” and participates in the touch.
    4. If the partner does not want to be touched that way, s/he says, “No thanks!” or “Not today!”
    5. If the partner refuses the touch, the child initiating the touch must do his/her best to perform the action on him/herself. This can result in some hilarious attempts at self-tickling, self-noogie-ing, etc.
    6. The children switch roles. Now the second child offers a touch, and the first child can accept or decline.
    7. Remind the participants that they can switch their answer from yes or no, or from no to yes, even after the touch has begun. Children may enjoy having the adults model this lesson in a silly way (“Hug! Stop! Hug! Stop!”) while still driving home the importance of permission to touch.
    8. Children who fail to wait for a “yes” must wait out a round before rejoining the game. (It’s useful to have an extra adult to step in as a partner when a child goes out for a round.)
    9. Children should switch partners every round or two. The game facilitators can also experiment with phrasing the offers of touch differently (“Can I have a hug?” “Will you tickle me?” “Will you grab me and spin me around?”) or including affectionate gestures that don’t include touching (“Can I blow you a kiss?”). For an additional variation, give each child a sticker or other small reward every time they complete a round while following the rules.
Robert Phillips expresses his love for his big Brother Brad. Image by Podengo via Wikimedia Commons, CC license 3.0

Image by Podengo via Wikimedia Commons

This game provides wonderful opportunities for discussion. How does it feel to say “No thanks,” or to be told “No thanks”? How does it feel to say “YES”? What kinds of touch were really fun? Did anyone say yes to a touch that turned out not to be fun? What did they do, and what did their partner do? Did anyone say “no” and then change their mind? What was that like? What was it like for their partner?

Adults will find that, especially if played with older children or adolescents, the game provides many opportunities for children to experience both positive and difficult emotions. It may be worthwhile to stop to talk in the middle of the game: Does your partner’s “no” feel like being rejected? How does it feel to say “no” back? How does it feel to say “yes” if your partner keeps saying “no”? How does it feel to say “no” if your partner keeps saying yes? Did anyone say “yes” because they were afraid of hurting a partner’s feelings? Participants can use these discussions as opportunities to talk about how to respect a “no” by not taking it personally and how to find kinds of touch that both participants will find fun.

Unless the participants are already part of a group where physical, group-bonding games are played regularly, the game facilitators should inform the children’s parents before playing this game. Note that some younger children may struggle with the rules of the game. Children who have difficulty keeping their hands to themselves, however, may be the ones who benefit the most from learning how to explicitly ask for touch; their tendency to harass or tease others may be the only way they know how to get the contact they want.


Want to learn more about creating Pagan consent culture? Here’s some additional reading:

Consent Culture

Some Experiences with a Culture of Consent and Radical Inclusion

Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World without Rape

The Power of Touch

Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective (introduction) (full book)

The Future of Paganism (Part Two): What Pagans Can Learn from Pioneer Mormons

To cap off our March series, “As Pagans, what do we hope to build?”, I offer this essay, slightly updated from its original 2012 version. I’ve long been impressed by the early Mormon practice of “gathering,” through which pioneer Mormons became a potent economic force and were even (temporarily) able to establish some political independence. As energy prices rise and our supply of fossil fuels runs out, Pagans could gain enormous practical benefits from adopting this practice for their own reasons—especially if we begin to understand “Pagan” primarily as a cultural outlook or spiritual orientation, thus minimizing our theological disagreements. Read on…


Because of the Church of Latter-Day Saints’ opposition to LGBT rights, Pagans often find themselves opposing Mormons in the culture wars. We tend to be just as ignorant about Mormon beliefs and practices, however, as the average American is about contemporary Paganism. All many of us know about Mormons is what we learned from South Park.

Mormons and Pagans, however, have some surprising things in common. And although we also have many differences, some of those differences are instructive. For Pagans who are interested in growing community and wielding political power in the service of minority religious rights, Mormons could be our teachers—particularly if we focus on nineteenth-century Mormons and the practice of gathering.

First, some similarities (and please note that these are generalizations; Mormons, like Pagans, are diverse).

1.      Sexuality is divine. Mormons have many more rules restricting the who, what, and where of sexuality than Pagans do, but they reject the idea that sexuality is the result of an “original sin.” Sexual relationships are believed to continue into the afterlife, and God is thought to have a physical and sexual body.

2.      The divine is male and female. Mormons acknowledge a Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father, although praying to the Mother is officially unacceptable in the LDS church (some members do so anyway).

3.      Divine revelation is ongoing and open to all. Although Mormons don’t use the term gnosis, they believe that God speaks to them in prayers, and revelations can be conferred to believers regardless of their social position (though in modern Mormonism, the church provides much more restrictive guidance than at the birth of the movement).

4.      Mormon believers who have proper priesthood authority heal through the laying on of hands in a manner not unlike Pagans’ use of energy work and Reiki. Although officially only men can become part of the Mormon priesthood, Mormon feminists also engage in this healing practice among groups of women (Terry Tempest Williams, for example, describes it in her memoir Refuge).

5.      Mormon worship occurs in two layers: church attendance that largely resembles Protestant worship, and inner Temple worship into which one must be properly initiated. The “outer court” and “inner court” models used by many Wiccan and some eclectic Pagan groups makes a clear parallel.

6.      Mormons are a religious minority who attract suspicion and sometimes outright discrimination on the part of other Americans. Although the assault and murder of Mormons for their religious beliefs has not occurred since the nineteenth century, Mormon beliefs are often held up for ridicule in popular culture, and some allegations suggest that Rick Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign team spread anti-Mormon rhetoric to discredit Romney. The public’s willingness to eat up lurid portrayals of Mormons probably also drove sales of Jon Krakauer’s bestseller Under the Banner of Heaven, which focused on murder and polygamy in a Mormon sect. Pagans are not the only religious minority to have to battle the public’s perception that we are a dangerous, sexually deviant “cult.”

Wagon train. Image via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.It can be hard to remember, considering the substantial political clout of LDS, that the Mormons began as a ragtag group of believers who fled to Utah in fear of their lives. In the early 1800s, converts to Mormon prophet Joseph Smith’s new revelation responded to their prophet’s call to gather into communities of religious and economic solidarity. Other local residents were intimidated by the rapidly growing religious movement and angry at the way Mormons did all their business with other Mormons. Eventually, tensions became violent, and the Mormons were driven out of their settlements and sometimes murdered. The most famous incident was the 1838 Mormon War, which occurred in Jackson County, Missouri. Although the Mormons fought back, twenty-two were killed, and ultimately 10,000 Mormons were forced out of the state of Missouri, with some dying due to hunger and exposure. Eventually, Mormons from several states established a new settlement in Utah, but the United States government continued to interfere in the self-governance of the Mormons while denying petitions for statehood. When the LDS church renounced the practice of polygamy, Utah was granted statehood and representation in the United States government.

American Paganism as a defined movement doesn’t date back to much before the 1960s, so our relative lack of stable community and political power is partially just a result of our not having had 150 years to work on it. Nevertheless, as Pagan community centers continue to struggle financially and high-profile court cases are decided against Pagan plaintiffs, I find myself asking: what did the Mormons have that we don’t?

Firstly: nineteenth-century Mormons had amazing community solidarity—which is perhaps no surprise, since the practice of gathering was a religious commandment. As a result, since the beginning of their movement, Mormon believers have supported each other economically and socially in a way that has become embedded in their religious culture. My readers are probably all familiar with ongoing struggles to satisfactorily define the term “Pagan,” and the ambiguity seems to have led many in the movement to hesitate to commit to any group larger than a dozen people. For those of us who actively want small group or solitary practice and nothing more, this individualism isn’t a problem. But for those who want a community that can support living out Pagan or earth-centered values throughout daily life—schools, temples, farmer’s markets, health care clinics, libraries, and more—the lack of explicitly Pagan or even Pagan-friendly institutions is a problem.

Perhaps our struggling community centers are a sign that we’re coming at community from the wrong angle. We want permanent spaces to have events and worship, but in most cities and towns, there’s not yet a critical mass of Pagans in any one place to support such services. While it’s true that Pagans are, as a group, resistant to giving money to institutions, my observations of efforts to build Pagan community centers suggests to me that our fundraising strategies are ineffective. In an interview, the founders of the Sacred Paths Center in Minneapolis describe how they opened a joint metaphysical store and community center essentially without a financial plan. This strategy is in some ways superior to doing fundraising first and then renting a building when the money has come in: as the Sacred Paths founders knew, most community centers using this model never get off the ground. But in its two years of existence, Sacred Paths Center had two financial crises, leading to emergency fundraising efforts in the local community and on the internet. Much as I hate to malign the hard work of those who have kept the center running, the “if you build it, they will come” mentality did not result in financial sustainability.

Commanded to gather, nineteenth-century Mormons grouped together in communities of mutual support, and these communities provided opportunities for mutual protection, economic benefits, and community religious practice. Perhaps Pagans are less willing to compromise, or just not afraid for their lives, but it is a rare Pagan who will change jobs or move in order to be physically closer to other Pagans. Despite there being an estimated 1.2 million of us in the United States, Pagans often remain scattered and isolated, and we turn to the internet to find like-minded others. Online community is certainly better than nothing, but it will not help us raise our children or bring us potluck dishes when we bury our dead; the bonding that occurs when neighbors can casually run into each other at the grocery store cannot happen. As a movement, we do not prioritize Pagan community highly enough to make the sacrifice of moving—at least, not yet.

I would like to see Pagan community centers that grow organically out of clusters of Pagan settlements—groups of Pagans who choose to buy or rent in a single apartment complex or neighborhood and then, when the needs arises for space bigger than anyone’s living room, buy or rent space where they already live. Congregational churches use a slow, effective model to build a new church: first, a small group begins meeting at the home of a member. Donations are solicited from the group (and admittedly, a culture of charitable giving is a big advantage here). When the group is bursting out of its space and the monthly income is enough to sustain rent, the group moves to a storefront or other inexpensive rental property. Only when the congregation is established in its space and growing does it undertake an extensive capital campaign. The core group that will support the building financially is already there, attending regularly, gathered in a room together. There is no wishful thinking that if a space exists, the community will take notice and support it. Internet fundraising is a supplement, not the group’s bread and butter.

Pagan community centers should not be scrambling to grow their membership in order to cover a lease or begging for donations from far-away donors. When a community center is formed, it should already be clear exactly whom that center will serve and what their needs are—and the center’s core income should be based on real needs, not on wants. (In my town, for instance, an earth-centered daycare center run by Pagan educators could be very, very profitable.) Although the internet does much to make the gathering of like-minded people possible, it alone cannot substitute for participation in the daily rhythms of other Pagans’ lives. That is something Mormons know that we Pagans have not fully grasped: sustainable community is better nourished by physical proximity and stable business and personal relationships than by shared beliefs.

If the idea of modeling ourselves after the Mormons still leaves a bad taste in your mouth, consider that pioneer Mormons are hardly the first or last to have benefited from concentrating their numbers: LGBT culture as we know it today would not exist if not for the mass exodus of LGBT folk from all over the US to the California Bay area. It is my hope that in the coming years, Pagans will find themselves catalyzed to accept each others’ differences in the name of stronger and deeper community—and that it won’t take something like a massacre to bring them together.

Erotic Ethics and Pagan Consent Culture

In the wake of Kenny Klein’s recent arrest for possession of child pornography, many Pagan groups are discussing what policies and ethics statements might help to safeguard our communities. My co-writer Yvonne Aburrow has some excellent concrete suggestions here, and various people are again looking at the collective statement of sexual ethics spearheaded by Brendan Myers to consider whether it might be formally adopted in their groups. I hope these resources will be of use to our readers.

As these discussions continue, I’d like to offer some recommendations on how new sexual ethics statements and policies might be framed. In times of crisis, we often focus on what we DON’T want. But if we are to create a healthy consent culture, our vision of our erotic ethics must be framed in positive terms. What does a Pagan consent culture look like?

1. Rather than focusing purely on sexual touch, let’s focus on touch in general. If we create a culture of consent around touch, and learn to treat touch as an opportunity for a sacramental moment between two people, we will have clear standards for what constitutes appropriate touch in all cases. Not only will it be easier to identify boundary-violating warning signs from potential predators, but well-meaning people will find it easier to offer and accept touch only when it’s wanted, not out of a sense of social obligation.

2. We must acknowledge that our culture is rife with power imbalances, and that all relationships occur within these power imbalances, because no two people are perfect peers. With this in mind, we need language to talk about power in those relationships so as to maximize the autonomy of both parties. Further, we need to be able to speak openly about the fact that with a large power differential, there is a greater chance for exploitation or abuse–and yet retain the conviction that adults do have the ability to consent to touch. No adult’s experience of pleasurable, consensual touch should be dismissed as “patriarchal brainwashing,” as some sexual ethicists of the past have done in order to attack the validity of unequal relationships (such as heterosexual partnerships).

3. We must acknowledge that adolescent sexuality is a a blessing and make sure that our efforts to protect adolescents from abuse do not result in their desires being denied or punished.

As a Pagan, I believe deeply in the potential sacredness of touch and of sexuality. Accordingly, my sexual ethics are different from those espoused in mainstream religious institutions. I seek to create a culture in which enthusiastic, ongoing consent is an expected part of any relationship involving touch, and I believe deeply that adults have the right to consent to any form of loving touch that they desire, regardless of whether or not that touch is considered “deviant” by our society.

In our fear and grief over recent events, let us not mirror mainstream culture with destructive assumptions about the danger of desire, the asexuality of adolescents, or the responsibility of potential victims to protect themselves. We need to change our culture. We need to change the conditions that create people who abuse others, and that allow others to overlook the signs of abuse. Further, we need to avoid utterly demonizing those who commit sexual violations and acknowledge that problematic behaviors are rife in our communities — some persisting as a result of ignorance and lack of understanding, some as a result of genuinely dangerous mental illness. We need to be able to confront those who violate others with compassion, with the understanding that compassion can involve calling the police and sending predators to prison, for the good of all.

So I repeat: let’s take the long view here. Let’s not focus the coming discussions purely on seeking out predators. Instead, let’s concentrate on creating a healthy culture of enthusiastic consent. Not only will that approach better help to reveal those who seek to hurt others, but all our relationships will benefit.

 

Resources:

Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspectiveby Christine Hoff Kraemer (Particularly the discussion of consent at the end of the introduction) [Full book available here, or contact me at ckraemer at patheos dot com]

Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape, eds. Friedman and Valenti

Erotic Attunement: Parenthood and the Ethics of Sensuality between Unequals by Cristina Traina

 

Vampires and Addicts

Vampires are a national obsession right now, especially among young people. TV shows, movies, comics, novels—blood-suckers are everywhere, and they’re big business. For four years, NPR journalist and Pagan Margot Adler shared that obsession. Vampires Are Us: Understanding Our Love Affair with the Immortal Dark Side is her attempt to tell us, quite simply, why vampires are more than the latest adolescent fad.

As Adler relates, she read 260 vampire novels before writing the book, which is a long essay on vampires and culture followed by an annotated bibliography of the novels. For Adler, what triggered the obsession was her husband’s cancer diagnosis, and her avid vampire novel consumption continued through her own struggle with cancer. This narrative of her own journey with mortality—the fantasies of becoming immortal, the pain of remaining alive while loved ones die—was one of my favorite aspects of the book, a personal glimpse of a massively influential Pagan writer. (Adler published Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America in 1979; the book is now in its fourth edition, and it is used in college classrooms as well as in Pagan groups seeking to learn more about the Pagan movement.) Adler argues for the ability of non-realistic fiction to effectively capture elements of the human experience that realism struggles to encompass. To have an active fantasy life, she argues, is not necessarily a sign of detachment from reality, but rather a mode of experience that allows the exploration of difficult emotions and situations in another guise.

What, then, can vampires teach us about ourselves? Adler argues that in the twenty-first century, vampires are no longer symbols of the feared other, the way they were in the past. (Dracula, for example, mirrors nineteenth-century Anglo anxieties about the perceived destructive effects of immigration.) Today, vampires in fiction are not monsters to be feared, but protagonists and love interests we are meant to identify with—in other words, they are us, as the title of Adler’s book claims. Moreover, most of the vampires in contemporary novels are deeply conflicted beings who are struggling desperately to be moral—to behave rightly in the face of their predatory natures and their raging addiction to blood. Isn’t this, Adler asks, rather like our present moment in the West? We are complicit in economic systems that are predatory: exploiting the earth’s resources, the underpaid workers who turn those resources into consumer products, and the young people whose sexuality is used to sell those products (whether we really need them or not). We’re addicted to gasoline, Nike sneakers, cheap cornfed beef, and convenient housewares from Ikea and Walmart. To try to wean ourselves away from the products of an exploitative economy often involves partially withdrawing from wider community life (to avoid using a car or airplane; to cut expenses enough to afford the extra costs of locally grown food; to send our kids to schools that don’t push or even require the purchase of corporate products).

Are vampires a metaphor for the way we are drinking other species, the land, and each other dry? Maybe this developing allegory is a stretch, but it’s clear that there’s something about the morally conflicted, damned-but-trying-to-be-saved vampire that audiences are entranced by. Maybe, at the moment, we are no longer confident that we are right or good; in fact, perhaps there’s a suspicion that we are terribly, terribly wrong, even as the power and pleasure of it all continues to be intoxicating, exhilarating. We’re addicts; we can’t stop.

If these issues weigh on your mind as they do on mine—and especially if you enjoy a good vampire novel the way I do—this book will help you track down the very best in genres ranging from historical to romance to sci-fi. And, perhaps, you’ll do as Adler did, and find yourself confronting some of the biggest questions of the human condition, lightly veiled by a layer of compelling fantasy. Happy reading!


Vampires Are Us is a feature in the Patheos Book Club! Click through for more roundtable responses from our Pagan bloggers, vampire video footage, praise from horror novelist Whitley Strieber, and more.