I will be delivering a course on Pagan leadership with the Raven Academy of Mystical Arts.
The revelation of the restored version of the Mystic Lamb from the Ghent Altarpiece got me thinking about theriomorphic deities.
The scary goggly eyes of the restored version attracted quite a lot of comment and even a scary meme of the Lamb winking.
Before you go and have a look at the pictures, I have to warn you that what has been seen cannot be unseen.
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.
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!).
ADF 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!
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
‘God Giving Birth’ – Connecting British Wicca with Radical Feminism and Goddess Spirituality during the 1970s-1980s: The Case Study of Monica Sjöö
Gender and Paganism in Census and Survey Data
James R. Lewis, Inga Bårdsen Tollefsen
A Lokian Family: Queer and Pagan Agency in Montreal
To Him the Winged Secret Flame, To Her the Stooping Starlight: The Social Construction of Gender in Contemporary Ordo Templi Orientis
Dancing in a Universe of Lights and Shadows
An Intersubjective Critique of A Critique of Pagan Scholarship
Navigating Praxis: Pagan Studies vs. Esoteric Studies
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
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
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.
Petition to Capitalize “Pagan” – Chicago Manual / AP Stylebook Letter
If you are a scholar or author and would like to add your name to this petition, click here for an electronic version at Change.org (set up at the original organizer’s request).
Coalition of Scholars in Pagan Studies
PO Box 758, Cotati, CA 94931-0758 USA
Contact: Oberon Zell (Oberon@mcn.org)
Chicago Manual of Style
ATTN: Anita Samen, Managing Editor
The University of Chicago Press
1427 East 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
The Associated Press
P.O. Box 415458
Boston, MA 02241-5458
To the Editors of the Associated Press Stylebook
and the Chicago Manual of Style: A petition
November 30, 2013
We the undersigned are a coalition of academic scholars and authors in the field of religious studies, who have done research into contemporary Paganism, and written books on the subject. Pagan studies represents a growing field in academy and the American Academy of Religion has had “Contemporary Pagan Studies” as part of its programming for more than a decade. We are approaching you with a common concern.
The word “Pagan” derives from pagus, the local unit of government in the Latin-speaking Roman Empire, and thus pagan referred to the traditional “Old Religion” of the countryside, as opposed to Christianity, the new religion with universal aspirations. Paganism, therefore, was by definition pre-Christian religion. Over time, with the expansion of the Roman Church, “pagan” became a common pejorative by Christians toward any non-Judeo-Christian religion.
In the 19th century, the terms pagan and paganism were adopted by anthropologists to designate the indigenous folk religions of various cultures, and by Classical scholars and romantic poets to refer to the religions of the great ancient pre-Christian civilizations of the Mediterranean region (as in the phrase, “pagan splendor,” often used in reference to Classical Greece).
Today, the terms Pagan and Paganism (capitalized) refer to alternative nature-based religions, whose adherents claim their identity as Pagan. Pagans seek attunement with nature and view humanity as a functional organ within the greater organism of Mother Earth (Gaea). Contemporary Pagans hearken to traditional and ancient pagan cultures, myths, and customs for inspiration and wisdom.
Thus contemporary Paganism (sometimes referred to as “Neo-Paganism” to distinguish it from historical pre-Christian folk traditions) should be understood as a revival and reconstruction of ancient nature-based religions, or religious innovation inspired by them, which is adapted for the modern world. Paganism is also called “The Old Religion,” “Ancient Ways,” “Nature Worship,” “Earth-Centered Spirituality,” “Natural Religion,” and “Green Religion.”
The Pagan community is worldwide, with millions of adherents in many countries. Moreover, increasing numbers of contemporary Hindus, First Nations activists, European reconstructionists, indigenous peoples, and other polytheists are accepting the term “Pagan” as a wide umbrella under which they all can gather, distinct from the monotheists and secularists. They are using it positively, not to mean “godless” or “lacking (true) religion.”
Therefore it is understandably a matter of continuing frustration to modern self-identified Pagans that newspaper and magazine copy editors invariably print the proper terms for their religion (i.e., “Pagan” and “Paganism”) in lower case. Journalists who have been confronted about this practice have replied that this is what the AP and Chicago Stylebooks recommend.
But names of religions—both nouns and adjectives—are proper terms, and as such should always be capitalized:
Religion: Christianity Judaism Islam Buddhism Hinduism Paganism
Adherent: Christian Jew Moslem Buddhist Hindu Pagan
Adjective: Christian Jewish Islamic Buddhist Hindu Pagan
This list could be expanded indefinitely for every religion in the world. As you can see, Paganism, like all faith traditions, should be capitalized.
Pagan and Paganism are now the well-established chosen self-designations and internationally-recognised nominal identifiers of a defined religious community. The same terms are appropriately lower-case only when they refer to ancient “pagans” since, in that context, the term does not refer to a discrete movement or culture. In short, “Pagan” and “Paganism” now function much as “Jew,” “Judaism,” “Christian,” and “Christianity” do.
(—Graham Harvey, Contemporary Paganism, NYUP, 2nd edition 2011)
The current journalistic convention of printing lower case for these terms seems to have originated with the Associated Press Stylebook, first published in 1953. However, a new era of religious pluralism has emerged over the past sixty years. The terms “Pagan” and “Paganism” are now being capitalized in a variety of publications, texts, documents, and references, including religious diversity education resources such as On Common Ground: World Religions in America, The Pluralism Project, Harvard University, and Inmate Religious Beliefs and Practices, Technical Reference Manual, Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Department of Justice.
In order to assure greater accuracy in 21st century journalism, we hereby petition the AP and Chicago Stylebooks to capitalize “Pagan” and “Paganism” when speaking of the modern faiths and their adherents in future editions.
- Cairril Adaire (founder, Our Freedom Coalition: A Pagan Civil Rights Coalition; founder, Pagan Educational Network)
- Margot Adler, M.S. (National Public Radio; Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 1982; author: Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today, 1979, 1986, 1996, 2006)
- Eileen Barker, PhD, FBA, OBE (Professor Emeritus in Sociology with Special reference to the Study of Religion at the London School of Economics; Founder and Chair of INFORM [Information Network Focus on Religious Movements]; author of over 300 publications on the subject of minority religions)
- Carol Barner-Barry, Ph.D. (Professor Emerita, University of Maryland; author: Contemporary Paganism: Minority Religions in a Majoritarian American, 2005)
- David V. Barrett, Ph.D. (London School of Economics and Political Science; British sociologist of religion who has written widely on topics pertaining to new religious movements and western esotericism; author: The New Believers: A Survey of Sects, Cults & Alternative Religions, 2001; A Brief Guide to Secret Religions, 2011)
- Helen Berger, Ph.D. (resident scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center, Brandeis University; Professor Emerita of Sociology, West Chester University, PA; author: A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism & Witchcraft in the United States, 1999, 2013; with Evan A. Leach and Leigh S. Shaffer, Voices from the Pagan Census: Neo-Paganism in the United States, 2003; Witchcraft and Magic in the New World: North America in the Twentieth Century, 2005; with Douglas Ezzy, Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for the Self, 2007)
- Jenny Blain, Ph.D. (Recently retired from Sheffield Hallam University, previously taught at Dalhousie University, Canada, and now on faculty for Cherry Hill. Co-editor with Graham Harvey and Doug Ezzy of Researching Paganisms, 2004; author of Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic: Ecstasy and neo-Shamanism in North European Paganism, 2002; with Robert Wallis, Sacred Sites, Contested Rites/Rights, 2007; also numerous articles and chapters on Heathenry and Seidr, and on Pagan engagements with Sacred Sites.)
- Jon P. Bloch, Ph.D. (Professor, Sociology Department, Southern Connecticut State University; author of New Spirituality, Self, and Belonging: How New Agers and Neo-Pagans Talk About Themselves, 1998)
- Raymond Buckland, Ph.D., D.D. (founder of Seax-Wica; Originator Gardnerian Wica in America; author: The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-Paganism, 2002; Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft, and more than 50 other titles.)
- Dennis D. Carpenter, Ph.D. (Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Wisconsin; author: Spiritual Experiences, Life Changes, and Ecological Viewpoints of Contemporary Pagans; co-founder, Pagan Academic Network.)
- Chas Clifton, M.A. (Colorado State University-Pueblo (retired); Co-Chair of Contemporary Pagan Studies Group, American Academy of Religion; editor: The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies; author: Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca & Paganism in America, 2006; with Graham Harvey, The Paganism Reader, 2004)
- Vivianne Crowley, Ph.D. (Formerly professor at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, King’s College, University of London, specializing in psychology of religion. She is on the Council of the Pagan Federation where she focuses on interfaith issues. She is the author of many books on Wicca, Paganism and spiritual psychology, including Wicca: A comprehensive guide to the Old Religion in the modern world.)
- Carole Cusack, Ph.D. (Professor of Religious Studies, Chair Studies in Religion, Arts and Social Sciences Pro-Dean, University of Sydney, Australia; co-editor, Journal of Religious History; co-editor, International Journal for the Study of New Religions; author: Invented Religions, 2010)
- Marie W. Dallam, Ph.D. (Assistant Professor, Honors College, University of Oklahoma; Co-Chair, New Religious Movements Group, American Academy of Religion)
- Frances Di Lauro, Ph.D. (Lecturer, Undergraduate Coordinator, Writing Hub, School of Letters Art and Media, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, The University of Sydney, Australia)
- Maureen Aisling Duffy-Boose (President Emeritus, Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) 2005-2010; VP Emeritus, Pagan Pride International 2003-2013; Board Chair, Utah Pride Interfaith Coalition 2002-2005; Founding Priestess, Four Dragons Clann, 1734 Witchcraft, 2011)
- Robert S. Ellwood, Jr., Ph.D. (Emeritus Professor of Religion, University of Southern California; author of Religious & Spiritual Groups in Modern America, 1974, 1988; Many Peoples, Many Faiths, 1976; 10th edition with Barbara McGraw, 2014)
- Douglas Ezzy, Ph.D. (Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Tasmania; published extensively in academic journals and academic monographs on contemporary Paganism, Witchcraft and religion)
- Holly Folk (Associate Professor of Liberal Studies, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA)
- Rev. Selena Fox, M.S. (Senior Minister, Circle Sanctuary; founding editor, CIRCLE Magazine; co-founder, Pagan Academic Network; diversity educator, U.S. Department of Justice; author: When Goddess is God (1995); contributor to Religions of the World (2002), Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America (2006), U.S. Army Chaplains Manual (1984), other works)
- Elysia Gallo (Senior Acquisitions Editor for Witchcraft, Paganism, and Magic at Llewellyn Worldwide; Vice President of Twin Cities Pagan Pride)
- Wendy Griffin, Ph.D. (Professor Emerita and Chair of the Department of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies at California State University, Long Beach; Academic Dean, Cherry Hill Seminary; Founding Co-chair of the Pagan Studies Group for the American Academy of Religion; Co-editor of the Alta Mira’s Pagan Studies Series; editor: Daughters of the Goddess: Studies of Healing, identity and Empowerment, 2000)
- Raven Grimassi (Director of the Fellowship of the Pentacle, author: Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, 2000, and other award-winning books on Pagan-related themes)
- Charlotte Hardman, Ph.D. (Honorary Fellow, retired senior lecturer, Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University; co-author: Paganism Today 1995; Other Worlds 2000)
- Graham Harvey, Ph.D. (Head of Department of Religious Studies, The Open University, UK; President, British Association for the Study of Religion; co-author: Paganism Today, 1995; Contemporary Paganism, 1997; with Chas Clifton, The Paganism Reader, Routledge, 2004; Food, Sex and Strangers: Understanding religion as everyday life, 2013)
- Irving Hexham, Ph.D. (Professor of Religious Studies at University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada; author with Karla Poewe: New Religions as Global Cultures, 1997; Understanding World Religions, 2011; and many other works on new religious movements)
- Ellen Evert Hopman, M.Ed. (Druid Priestess; Co-founder and Vice President for nine years, of The Henge of Keltria Druid Order and co-founder and Co-Chief for five years of The Druid Order of White Oak; author with Lawrence Bond, People of the Earth: The New Pagans Speak Out, 1995; with Lawrence Bond, Being a Pagan: Druids, Wiccans, and Witches Today, 2001; and other volumes)
- Lynne Hume, Ph.D. (Associate Professor and Research Consultant, University of Queensland, Australia; Faculty, Cherry Hill Seminary, Bethel, VT; author of Witchcraft and Paganism in Australia, 1997; The Religious Life of Dress, 2013; co-author, with Nevill Drury of The Varieties of Magical Experience, 2013)
- Ronald Hutton, Ph.D. (Professor, Department of Historical Studies, Oxford University; author: Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, 2000)
- Christine Hoff Kraemer, Ph.D. (Instructor, Theology and Religious History, Cherry Hill Seminary; author of Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theology, 2012 and Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective: Divided for Love’s Sake, 2013)
- James R. Lewis, Ph.D. (co-founder of the International Society for the Study of New Religions and editor-in-chief of the Alternative Spirituality & Religion Review (ASSR). Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Tromsø in Norway; Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Wales, Lampeter; author: Magical Religion & Modern Witchcraft, 1996; The Encyclopedia of Cults, Sects, and New Religions, 1998; Peculiar Prophets: A Biographical Dictionary of New Religions, 1999; Witchcraft Today: An Encyclopedia of Wiccan and Neopagan Traditions, 1999; with Murph Pizza, Handbook of Contemporary Paganism; The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements; with Jesper Petersen, Controversial New Religions;The Encyclopedic Sourcebook of New Age Religions; Odd Gods: New Religions and the Cult Controversy;Legitimating New Religions)
- Scott Lowe, Ph.D. (Professor, Philosophy and Religious Studies at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire; Co-General Editor, Nova Religio)
- Sabina Magliocco, Ph.D. (Professor of Anthropology and Folklore at California State University, Northridge; author: Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America, 2004; Neopagan Sacred Art & Altars: Making Things Whole, 2001)
- Ven. Rev. Patrick McCollum (Director of Public Chaplaincy, Cherry Hill Seminary; Chaplaincy Liaison, American Academy of Religion; Minority Faith Chair, American Correctional Chaplains Association; Executive Director, National Correctional Chaplaincy Directors Association; President, Patrick McCollum Foundation; Religion Advisor, United States Commission on Civil Rights; Recipient, Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Pluralism; publications: California Department of Corrections Wiccan Chaplains Manual, 1998; Courting the Lady, 2000; Religious Accommodation in American Jails, 2013)
- J. Gordon Melton, Ph.D. (Institute for the Study of American Religion; The Encyclopedia of American Religions, 1991; with Isotta Poggi, author of Magic, Witchcraft, and Paganism in America: A Bibliography, 2nd ed., 1992; Religious Leaders of America, 1999)
- Brendan Myers, Ph.D. (Professor at CEGEP Heritage College, Gatineau, QC, Canada; faculty, Cherry Hill Seminary; author of The Earth, The Gods and The Soul – A History of Pagan Philosophy: From the Iron Age to the 21st Century, 2013)
- M. Macha NightMare/Aline O’Brien (American Academy of Religion; Nature Religions Scholars Network; Marin Interfaith Council; United Religions Initiative; Interfaith Center of the Presidio; Association for the Study of Women and Mythology; Biodiversity Project Spirituality Working Group. She also serves on the Board of Directors of Cherry Hill Seminary; the Advisory Council of the Sacred Dying Foundation; former Adjunct Faculty at Starr King School for the Ministry. Books: The Pagan Book of Living and Dying: Practical Rituals, Prayers, Blessings, and Meditations on Crossing Over (with Starhawk) 1997; Witchcraft and the Web: Weaving Pagan Tradition Online, 2001; Pagan Pride: Honoring the Craft and Culture of Earth and Goddess, 2004)
- Joanne Pearson, Ph.D. (co-author with Richard H. Roberts & Geoffrey Samuel of Nature Religion Today: Paganism in the Modern World, 1998; (ed), Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age, 2002; A Popular Dictionary of Paganism, 2002; Wicca and the Christian Heritage: Ritual Sex and Magic, 2007)
- Christopher Penczak (faculty member at North Eastern Institute of Whole Health; founder of the Temple of Witchcraft, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit church; co-owner of Copper Cauldron Publishing; author: The Living Temple of Witchcraft, 2008; 2009—and over two dozen other books)
- Sarah M. Pike, Ph.D. (Professor of Comparative Religion, California State University, Chico; author of Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and The Search for Community, 2001; New Age and Neopagan Religions in America, 2004)
- Richard H. Roberts, Ph.D. (Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies, Lancaster University; co-author with Geoffrey Samuel & Joanne Pearson of Nature Religion Today: Paganism in the Modern World, 1998)
- Kathryn Rountree, Ph.D. (Professor of Anthropology, Massey University, New Zealand; author of Embracing the Witch and the Goddess: Feminist Ritual-makers in New Zealand, 2004; Crafting Contemporary Pagan Identities in a Catholic Society, 2010; Archaeology of Spiritualities, 2012)
- Michael Ruse, Ph.D. (Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy, Director of the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL; author: The Gaia Hypothesis: Science on a Pagan Planet, 2013)
- Geoffrey Samuel, Ph.D. (Cardiff University, UK, as well as an honorary attachment at the University of Sydney; author: Civilized Shamans, 1993; co-author with Richard H. Roberts & Joanne Pearson of Nature Religion Today: Paganism in the Modern World, 1998; The Origins of Yoga and Tantra, 2008; Religion and the Subtle Body in Asia and the West, 2013)
- Bron Taylor, Ph.D. (Professor of Religion & Nature, University of Florida; Fellow, Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society; Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, München; Editor, Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture; author of Encyclopedia of Religion & Nature, 2005; Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future, 2010; Avatar and Nature Spirituality, 2013; Civil Society in the Age of Monitory Democracy, 2013)
- Robert J. Wallis, Ph.D., FRAI, FSA (Professor of Visual Culture; Associate Dean, MA Programmes, School of Communications, Arts and Social Sciences; Convenor of the MA in Art History and Visual Culture; Richmond University, the American International University in London; author of Shamans/neo-Shamans, 2003; and numerous articles on contemporary Paganisms, neo-Shamanisms and their engagements with prehistoric archaeology in Britain)
- Linda Woodhead, M.B.E., D.D. (Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University, UK. She studies religious change in modern societies, and is especially interested in how religion has changed worldwide since the late 1980s. Between 2007 and 2013 she was Director of the “Religion and Society” research programme in Britain, which involved 240 academics from 29 different disciplines working on 75 different projects. Her books include Everyday Lived Islam in Europe (2013), A Sociology of Religious Emotions (2011), Religions in the Modern World (2009), The Spiritual Revolution (2005) and A Very Short Introduction to Christianity (2004). She is a regular commentator and broadcaster on religion and society.)
- Michael York, Ph.D. (Faculty, Cherry Hill Seminary; retired Professor of Cultural Astronomy and Astrology with the Bath Spa University’s Sophia Centre; he directed the New Age and Pagan Studies Programme for the College’s Department for the Study of Religions and co-ordinated the Bath Archive for Contemporary Religious Affairs. He continues to direct the Amsterdam Center for Eurindic Studies and co-direct the London-based Academy for Cultural and Educational Studies. Author: The Roman Festival Calendar of Numa Pompilius, 1986; A Sociology of the New Age and Neo-pagan Movements, 1995; The Divine versus the Asurian: An Interpretation of Indo-European Cult and Myth, 1995; Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion, 2003; Historical Dictionary of New Age Movements, 2004)
- Oberon Zell, D.D. (co-founder and Primate, Church of All Worlds, 1962 [incorporated 1968; 501(c)(3) 1970]; co-founder, Council of Themis, 1968; Publisher Emeritus, Green Egg magazine, 1968-ff; co-founder, Council of Earth Religions, 1974; founder, Universal Federation of Pagans, 1990; founder, Grey Council, 2002; founder and Headmaster, Grey School of Wizardry, 2004; Secretary, Sonoma County Pagan Network, 2010-2013; author: Grimoire for the Apprentice Wizard, 2004; Companion for the Apprentice Wizard, 2006; with Morning Glory Zell, Creating Circles & Ceremonies, 2006)
Signatories Appended after Initial Submission
- Thomas Baurley, B.A. (Archaeologist, GIS Specialist 2006, and Curator/Data Manager Fort Carson Cultural Resource Program, U.S. Army–Ft. Carson, CO; Independent writer, blogger, and publisher. Published various articles in the Florida State University Anthropology Quarterly on Neo-Paganism,1991-1994; Ethnography of Wicca in the Southeastern United States, 1990; NEPA packets, memorandums of record, and reports for Fort Carson Cultural Resource Management Program 2007-2011 for protection and evaluation of various Archaeological sites on Fort Carson and Pinon Canyon, GIS/Curation Manual for Fort Carson Cultural Resource Program 2011; SAA Public Education Papers and online archive with Smith, KC and Miller, James. “The Neo-Pagan Explosion”–FSU Anthropological Quarterly Fall 1995; Tree Leaves’ Oracle Folk Journal (Editor and Author of numerous articles); Editor/Author of Ethno-Facts Issue 1, Fall 1993)
- Dana D. Eilers, J.D. (1981 cum laude graduate of New England School of Law; 1978 graduate of Smith College; licensed attorney MA, IL, and MO; author of The Practical Pagan, 2002; Pagans and the Law: Understand Your Rights, 2009)
- Stephanie Taylor-Grimassi (Co-Director of the Fellowship of the Pentacle, and author of divinatory oracle kits)
- Rev. Jerrie Hildebrand (Ordained Minister, Circle Sanctuary, Massachusetts)
- Timothy Miller, Ph.D. (Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas at Lawrence; author of America’s Alternative Religions, 1995)
- Rev. Luke MoonOak, Ph.D. (Professor, Religion & Humanities, College of Central Florida; Minister, Church of All Worlds, Florida; author of Radiant Circles: Progressive Ecospirituality and the Church of All Worlds, 2010 and Solantis, 2012)
- Jeff Rosenbaum, B.A. (Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Association for Consciousness Exploration LLC; B.A. in Sociology; Co-Director & creator of the Starwood Festival)
- Mike Williams. Ph.D. (email@example.com) (BSc (Hons), MA, PhD, MRICS. Tutor for the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. Author: Follow the Shaman’s Call, 2010; Prehistoric Belief, 2010; The Shaman’s Spirit, 2013)
- Laurie Kelly-Pye (Director of Sales & Co-Publisher at Career Press/New Page Books)
- Benjamin E. Zeller, Ph.D. (Assistant Professor, Dept. of Religion, Lake Forest College; Co-General Editor, Nova Religio; author of Prophets and Protons: New Religions and Science in Late-Twentieth Century America, 2010; co-editor of Bloomsbury Companion to New Religious Movements, 2014)
- Stuart A. Wright, Ph.D. (Professor of Sociology and Chair of the Department of Sociology, Social Work and Criminal Justice at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. He is known internationally for his research on religious and political movements, conflict and violence. He has published five books, including Armageddon in Waco, 1995; Patriots, Politics, and the Oklahoma City Bombing, 2007; Saints under Siege: The Texas State Raid on the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, with James T. Richardson, 2011)
- Starhawk (Graduate Theological Seminary; Reclaiming Collective; author of The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Goddess, 1979, 1988, 1997; Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex, and Politics,1982, 1988, 1997; Truth or Dare, 1988;The Fifth Sacred Thing, 1993)
[Change.org: Petition to Capitalize “Pagan” in Chicago Manual and AP Stylebook]
A rite of passage is a ritual designed to make sacred a particular life event or transition from one stage of life to another. We might also call these rituals ‘sacraments’.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a sacrament as “a thing of mysterious and sacred significance; a religious symbol”. The word is used in Catholicism to refer to the seven sacraments of baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, ordination, and matrimony – which are mostly rites of passage; and in Protestant traditions, to baptism and the Eucharist. The etymology of the word is from Latin sacramentum ‘solemn oath’ (from sacrare ‘to hallow’, from sacer ‘sacred’).
An important element of rites of passage and sacraments is that they have a physical component, often linked to one or more of the classical four elements (earth, air, fire, water). Immersion in water is used in both Judaism and Christianity to signify entering into a new phase, being consecrated (baptism) or re-consecrated (mikveh). Fire is used as a purifying medium in the Hindu ritual of aarti, which is both an offering and a purificatory ritual. Water is used for the Sikh baptism ceremony called Amrit Sanskar. The ancient druids are reported to have used sensory deprivation by requiring candidates for initiation to lie in darkness for several days and then thrusting them into the light, according to OBOD. All these rituals signify some sort of symbolic death and rebirth experience.
The sacraments in Pagan traditions
There is no standard list of sacraments for any contemporary Pagan tradition, but we can identify sacraments for most of them.
In Wicca, the sacraments could be said to be preparing the circle, cakes and wine, naming (sometimes called “Wiccaning”), initiation, handfasting, and croning.
In Druidry, the sacraments could be said to be preparing the circle, naming, initiation, and handfasting.
In Heathenry and Ásatrú, the sacraments could be said to be the blot, the sumble (or symbel), and the handfasting.
In Religio Romana, there are many rituals designed to connect the practitioner with the deities and sacralize life. These include libations, a prayer for ablutions (a ritual formula to purify oneself prior to the performance of other rituals), and various daily rituals at the lararium or home shrine.
Most Pagans presume that everything is already sacred, because deities are immanent in the world. Therefore, rituals of consecration are about creating extra sacredness, or reconnecting us with the deities, the community, or the natural world.
Birth and naming. Pagans do not perceive a need to purify either the mother or the child after birth, considering that people are born innocent. The child will typically be welcomed into the community and given a name, but will not be committed to any particular religious tradition, as most Pagans believe that children should be able to choose their religion when they are old enough. Although the naming ceremony in Wicca is sometimes called a Wiccaning, it does not mean that the child is considered to be a Wiccan as a result of the ceremony.
Coming of age. There is a distinct lack of coming of age rituals in Western culture generally, and this is echoed in Pagan traditions, although some groups do celebrate the onset of menstruation, as long as the young woman in question actually wants this.
Initiation. Wicca and Druidry both have initiation rituals, often based on the initiation rituals of occult orders such as Freemasonry. Isaac Bonewits identified three types of initiation ritual:
- Initiation as a recognition of a status already gained
- Initiation as an ordeal of transformation
- Initiation as a method for transferring spiritual knowledge and power
I have identified six aspects of initiation, which may be present in a single ritual, or may be a gradual process. There is the inner process of transformation; the initiation by the gods and goddesses (making contact with the numinous); experiencing the Mysteries (that which cannot be spoken, or Arrheton); being given the secrets of the initiating group (that which must not be spoken, or Aporrheton); joining the group mind of the initiating group; and the joining of the lineage or tradition of which the coven is part.
In Heathenry, initiation is replaced by profession, a ceremony where someone professes a desire to become part of the Asatruar (people who are true to the Aesir, the Heathen deities), and then takes an oath.
Handfasting. This is the term for a wedding, mainly in Wicca and eclectic Paganism. The term has been in use since the 1960s, according to Wikipedia. The ceremony generally involves the symbolic crossing of a threshold, such as leaping over a broomstick or a small fire. The use of ribbons to fasten the couple’s hands together has been practised since the 2000s, again according to Wikipedia. Rings and vows are usually exchanged.
In Heathenry, wedding ceremonies are usually hallowed by holding them beneath the hammer of Thor (Mjöllnir), and arm-rings are exchanged. The couple may also hold an oath-ring while exchanging vows.
Croning. A ceremony for a woman who has reached menopause, usually celebrated in Wicca. A croning ceremony usually takes place around the age of fifty, and celebrates the achievement of elder status in the community, and feminine wisdom.
Dying. There is no set ritual for preparing for death, but there are many excellent resources in The Pagan Book of Living and Dying, by M Macha Nightmare (formerly of the Reclaiming tradition) and Starhawk.
Preparing sacred space (the circle). Most Pagan traditions have a preparation for ritual, as rituals are often held in spaces which also have other uses, such as a living room, a garden, or a park. Therefore sacred spaces are temporary and have to be reconsecrated. It is also necessary for the participants in a ritual to be prepared for ritual, in order to help us enter into the right mind-set. Preparation typically includes some form of consecration of both the space and the participants with the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water). Incense, water, salt, and other symbols of the four elements may be used to create sacred space.
Blot (Heathenry). This ritual has three parts, the hallowing or consecrating of the offering, the sharing of the offering, and the libation. The offering, shared with the deities, is typically mead, beer, or juice.
Sumble / symbel / sumbel (Heathenry).
“The sumbel is actually quite simple. The guests are seated, (traditionally, in some formal fashion), and the host begins the sumbel with a short statement of greeting and intent, and by offering the first toast. The horn is then passed around the table and each person makes their toasts in turn. At the sumbel toasts are drunk to the Gods, as well as to a persons ancestors or personal heroes. Rather than a toast, a person might also offer a brag or some story, song, or poem that has significance. The importance is that at the end of the toast, story, or whatever, the person offering it drinks from the horn, and in doing so ‘drinks in’ what he spoke.” ~ The rituals of Asatru
Cakes and wine (Wicca). In Wicca, cakes and wine are consecrated and shared. This happens at every circle.
Libations. These are offerings of mead or wine poured for the deities and spirits of place. The libation is important in Religio Romana, Heathenry, and Wicca.
What do all these rituals have in common?
They all involve one or more of the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water). Earth may be represented by stone, salt, crystals, or soil. Air may be represented by blades, wands, feathers, or incense. Fire may be represented by a candle flame, a bonfire, incense, or wands. Water is represented by water, chalices, and cauldrons. Each element has a sacred direction, which can vary between different traditions.
Initiation ceremonies all include a section where the candidate is asked whether they wish to be there. In naming ceremonies, where the baby cannot be asked if it wishes to take part, a simple welcome to the wider community of humanity is all that takes place.
There is an assumption that things are already sacred, because deities are immanent in the world, but sometimes we forget our connection with the divine, and need reconnecting.
They generally involve marking the transition from one phase to another – sometimes by actually crossing a threshold: stepping into the sacred space, or leaping across a fire or a broomstick.
They generally involve deities or spirits being asked for their blessing and/or protection.
If you enjoyed this post, you might like my books.
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.
Abram, David. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. New York: Pantheon, 1996.
Reading level: Academic/Undergraduate
I can’t overstate how important this book is to the development of contemporary animism. Abram argues that without contact with the other-than-human world, human beings’ capacities for perception are badly stunted. He backs up his argument both with Western phenomenology and with his lived experiences studying shamanic practitioners in Bali — but the book is structured so less-academic readers can skip the hardcore philosophy if they prefer. Overall, however, the book is best read as poetry or theology, as Abram’s argument about the transition from oral to textual cultures rests on shaky research that takes him well outside his academic field of expertise.
Butler, Edward P. Essays on a Polytheistic Philosophy of Religion. New York: Phaidra Editions, 2012.
Reading level: Academic/Graduate
Make no mistake: this is a challenging read and probably requires some pre-existing university-level study of philosophy (especially ancient Greek philosophy) to appreciate. For the Pagan who wants a scholarly basis for a fundamentally polytheistic philosophy, however, this book is satisfyingly sophisticated. (Note: several of the essays were previously published in peer-reviewed academic journals.)
Christ, Carol P. She Who Changes: Re-imagining the Divine in the World. New York: Palgrave, 2004.
Reading level: Academic/Undergraduate
Christ has been at the center of the Goddess spirituality movement since the late 1970s. She Who Changes draws on Christ’s formal training in theology to combine Goddess spirituality with process theology. In process theology, divinity is immanent in the world and in a state of constant flux and change–one in which human beings and all things actively participate. Readers will find an accessible introduction to process theology that can be adapted to other Pagan theological contexts.
Greer, John Michael. A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism. Tucson, AZ: ADF Publishing, 2005.
Reading level: Semi-academic/Undergraduate
This self-published introduction to polytheistic theology by Archdruid John Michael Greer is very useful, but flawed. For readers who know little about theological terminology or want to explore what kinds of religious behaviors and ethics a polytheistic sensibility calls for, it is an excellent read. For those who have a theological background, however, the fact that Greer’s theological knowledge seems to stop around the mid-twentieth century may be frustrating; his portrayal of monotheisms is outdated, and his writing often falls prey to the same kinds of circular arguments and special pleading that he criticizes in others. Typos are common, and a number of references are missing from the bibliography, which makes it difficult to check Greer’s work. Because of these issues, A World Full of Gods is best read as a grounded introduction to Greer’s polytheistic theology rather than an authoritative, scholarly text.
Kaldera, Raven. Dealing with Deities: Practical Polytheistic Theology. Hubbardston, MA: Asphodel Press, 2012.
Reading level: General audience
The purpose of this book is to introduce its audience to a theological position often called “hard” polytheism — the belief that deities have individual and distinctive existences in the same way as human beings. Kaldera, however, is unusual in the movement for his accepting and compassionate attitude toward other theological positions. His writing is accessible and often personal, and although he uses and explains basic theological terminology, fundamentally his purpose in writing is to make recommendations for polytheistic practice. Kaldera makes no claims to scholarly authority, but his theological reflections on human-deity relationships are rich and come directly from his decades of experience as a practicing shaman.
Kraemer, Christine Hoff. Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theologies. Englewood, CO: Patheos Press, 2012.
Reading level: General audience
I wrote this book after noticing that Pagans were increasingly hungry for more coherent theories behind their practice — but that many simply didn’t have the background they needed to read theology. Seeking the Mystery systematically introduces basic theological terminology and concepts relevant to Pagans. At the same time, it also introduces and summarizes Pagan theological writing that already exists (including the books recommended in this post). Most importantly, however, Seeking the Mystery emphasizes not that Pagans need theology, but that they already have it: theologies are attitudes and beliefs that arise out of practice and then inform that practice in an ever-renewing cycle. The book contains discussion questions and activities for individual and group study.
Orr, Emma Restall. The Wakeful World: Animism, Mind, and the Self in Nature. Hants, UK: Moon Books, 2012.
Reading level: General audience/Undergraduate
This is one of several recent sophisticated books on “the new animism,” along with the work of David Abram and scholar Graham Harvey (Animism: Respecting the Living World). I’ve chosen to highlight Druid Emma Restall Orr’s book here since she is writing explicitly for Pagans as a Pagan philosopher and because she draws directly on both of these other writers: her book functions as an introduction to Abram and Harvey’s works, and it is also less textbook-like than Harvey’s Animism. Not just a presentation of the idea that all things have a spirit or soul, The Wakeful World is an argument for adopting an animistic worldview.
Paper, Jordan D. The Deities Are Many: A Polytheistic Theology. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2005.
Reading level: Semi-academic/Undergraduate
Jordan Paper is a religious studies scholar who spent his career traveling the world to study indigenous and shamanic religious traditions. After publishing several academic studies of these religions, Paper wrote this short book during a month-long sabbatical. It is the first book of his that could be considered “theology” as opposed to a more-or-less objective anthropological study. In it, Paper backs up his own polytheistic beliefs with his lived experiences of the traditions he spent his life learning from. The book is a tour of the many approaches to polytheism that can be found around the world. Pagans looking for a how-to on thinking like a Pagan polytheist will probably prefer Greer or Kaldera, since Paper does not identify as Pagan, but they are still likely to resonate with Paper’s eclectic personal spirituality and conviction about the reality of spirits, gods, and ancestors.
Wise, Constance. Hidden Circles in the Web: Feminist Wicca, Occult Knowledge, and Process Thought. Lanham, MD: Altamira Press, 2008.
Reading level: Academic/Graduate
Like Carol Christ, Constance Wise brings formal training in process theology to her work — but unlike Christ, she explicitly identifies herself as a Pagan and her work as Pagan theology. Hidden Circles is a challenging book, but it is chock-full of juicy and innovative ideas: for instance, Wise redefines “occult knowledge” in a feminist framework as inherently experiential knowledge that comes through the body, and she presents not just a process theology of the Goddess, but a process theology of human history and gender. The book’s dense theological passages are lightened by Wise’s personal anecdotes and reflections.
York, Michael. Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion. New York: New York University Press, 2003.
Reading level: Academic/Undergraduate
York’s Pagan Theology attempts to formulate a theology from a sociological point of view. Rather than using Western theological terms or concepts, York looks at indigenous, earth-centered, and place-based religious traditions around the world to identify their commonalities. He argues that these “pagan” religious impulses constitute humanity’s root religion, and that remnants of this first religion remain in all the world’s religions. York seeks to lend legitimacy both to indigenous religions and to contemporary Paganism by presenting this root religion as a coherent worldview — one of four that he identifies, along with the Abrahamic, dharmic, and secular worldviews. Pagan Theology has been heavily discussed in academic circles, and its definition of “paganism” continues to be influential. There is a summary of academic reviews and critiques of the book on Wikipedia.
Websites and Blogs
Arkadian Anvil — Sam Webster, MDiv, Pagan Priest, and PhD candidate, has posted a number of essays on theological topics here (recommended starting point: “Theology Is God-Talk“). He also writes At the Herm for the Patheos Pagan channel.
Theologies of Immanence — A wiki hosting resources on Paganism, pantheism, polytheism, polymorphism, animism, Heathenry, Druidry, Unitarianism, Wicca, and more. Many of the contributors are known writers or scholars. Edited by Yvonne Aburrow, who also writes here at Dowsing for Divinity. (Recommended starting point: “Pagan Theology.”)
Aedicula Antinoi — Essays by polytheist theologian P. Sufenas Virius Lupus (recommended starting point: “Theology vs. Philosophy: What’s the Difference?“). Lupus also writes for the Patheos Pagan channel (recommended starting point: “Polytheology: Syncretism, Process Theology, and ‘Polyamorotheism‘”).
Theology on Dowsing for Divinity — Recommended starting points include “What Is Theology?” (Yvonne Aburrow), “Theology Is Not Religious Studies” (Christine Kraemer), and “Opening a Pagan Theological Dialogue” (Christine Kraemer).
Patheos Pagan Channel — Posts and blogs relating to Pagan theology.
Proteus Coven Library — Essays on Wiccan theology, ethics, and more. (Recommended starting point: “Pagan Deism: Three Views.”)
Theology from Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) — Essays by former Archdruid Ian Corrigan on how ADF understands Pagan theology.
Animism: Respecting the Living World — A companion website to the book of the same name by Graham Harvey.
The Alliance for Wild Ethics — Resources on cultural ecology, philosophy, and animism from David Abram and associates.
PaganTheology.com — This page, which primarily hosts the writings of a UU-identified Pagan named Porphyry, unfortunately seems to be inactive. Nevertheless, there are some useful introductory essays here (recommended starting point: the misleadingly-titled “Theology Is for Christians“), and more recent work by the same author can be found at PaganPages.org.
Did I miss your favorite Pagan theology-related book or website? Let me know in the comments!
Pathways in Modern Western Magic (Review)
As I mentioned in a previous post, Pathways in Modern Western Magic is Concrescent Press’s answer to the conditions of contemporary academic publishing—an activity that, especially for scholars of area studies, is at best difficult and at worst, financially untenable. The book is the first release under the Concrescent Scholars imprint, “dedicated to peer-reviewed works of scholarship in the fields of Esotericism, Pagan religion and culture, Magic, and the Occult from within, and without, the Academy.” In other words, this collection contains contributions from scholars, some of whom are practitioners, and practitioners who though not involved in the academy, are serious about the scholarly study of magic. Each article has been “peer-reviewed,” meaning that it was reviewed and deemed fit for publication by scholars with PhDs in relevant fields.
Unlike traditional academic publishers, however, Concrescent is set up to be fast and nimble. Headed by Pagan priest and PhD candidate Sam Webster, the press prides itself on bringing manuscripts through the publication process in a timely fashion—much more quickly than the 2-3 year process that is typical for most academic publishers. I see this publishing model as being very promising for scholars of area studies, especially independent scholars who are more concerned with being read than with the dog-eat-dog realities of tenure reviews. The editor of the collection, Nevill Drury, may be a perfect example of this new kind of scholar: having completed a PhD at the University of Newcastle, Australia in 2008, Drury now brings together formal academic training in the humanities with decades of experience in editing and publishing. His recent publications include several books on occultism and art.
So why might you, dear reader, want to read Pathways in Modern Western Magic?
First of all, although the anthology is scholarly, it is far from dry. The articles are accessible and engagingly written. For a reader who wants an introduction to the academic study of magic or an overview of major areas of magical practice in the West, this book delivers. Pathways includes articles on Wicca and witchcraft, neo-shamanism in the United States and Europe, Heathen seiđr, Thelemic sex magick, the Golden Dawn system, Satanism, Tantra, and more. In addition to these established topics of study, the collection also offers essays on lesser-known traditions and figures: Dragon Rouge; the Temple of Set; chaos magic; artist/occultists Ithell Colquhoun, Austin Osman Spare, and Rosaleen Norton; and technoshamanism. Especially for readers new to the field of Western esotericism studies, the book provides an overview of modern Western magic while also opening up tantalizing new areas for exploration and research.
As a religious studies scholar, however, I’m always interested in what a book has to offer to the larger field. What would someone with an interest in religion and how it is (or can be) studied get out of this book? Some of the book’s articles don’t have much to offer the reader who isn’t already interested in magic: they are descriptive or historical pieces that provide essential context for the topic, but don’t necessarily make an argument for why a reader from outside the field should care. Some, however, do make broader arguments that I still find myself chewing over weeks after finishing the collection.
Nevill Drury’s introduction makes a case for the idea that emic (basically, insider) approaches to the study of religion are just as valuable as etic (outsider, “objective”) approaches. Although his article seems to have been prepared before the publication of Markus Altena Davidsen’s essay “What Is Wrong with Pagan Studies?”, Drury addresses a number of Davidsen’s criticisms. Davidsen is impatient with emic, insider, and “religionist” approaches, believing that they lead to a lack of skepticism—in other words, scholars with insider approaches risk uncritically agreeing with their subjects and taking their assumptions for granted. As support, Davidsen gives examples of Pagan scholars making arguments that seem to be contradicted by their data, perhaps out of loyalty to their subjects.
On the other hand, Davidsen praises etic “outsider” scholars who, as Drury points out, have made equally clumsy errors. Drury criticizes anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann, for example, for her lack of grounding in the historical study of magic. Rather than approaching British Wicca using a definition of magic derived from Western esotericism (from which Wicca is partially, but directly, derived), Luhrmann uses a theory of magic developed from the practices of pre-literate Oceanic cultures. In other words, her contextualizing theory is wildly inappropriate for the subject matter.
Davidsen makes an important point that insider perspectives can lack skepticism. But, as Drury argues, an insider can bring a far greater depth and integration of knowledge to a subject and so avoid such gross errors of context. (In her essay, Lynne Hume makes a similar argument, suggesting that too great a degree of skepticism or investment in outside theory prevents researchers from genuinely participating in the religious traditions they study and so threatens to distort their perceptions.)
Nikki Bado’s essay uses the Wiccan Triple Goddess as a jumping-off point for issues that are broadly relevant to religious studies: contemporary challenges to biological determinism that undergird sexism; literalism and the way it prevents access to other modes of truth (including the rational, allegorical, mythic, and faith stances); and most importantly, the nigh impossibility of operating outside of the paradigms of one’s own culture. Bado is an advocate of “reflexive” rather than “objective” scholarship; she believes that it is more helpful for scholars to identify and reflect on their biases within their work than it is to attempt to free themselves from them. As a low-level example, Bado focuses on the number three in both myth and scholarship. Tripartite models and triple aspects are pervasive in Western culture, conditioning us to look for and find triples even when there are other possibilities. She writes, “The problem with paradigms is that once they are created—some would say discovered—it is nearly impossible to escape their influence. Once identified, they appear everywhere, dominating and even determining how and what we see. If something doesn’t fit the model, we manipulate it until it does” (80). Bado ends with a call, not to abandon paradigms and categories, but for greater openness to their subjectivity—in other words, for a better understanding that our models are maps, not the territory.
I also particularly enjoyed James R. Lewis’ essay on the role of Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Bible in modern Satanism. Lewis brings his own original ethnographic research on Satanists into the essay to argue that, despite Satanists’ explicit rejection of traditional religious values, many use LaVey’s book in an extremely traditional fashion—as an authoritative textual source. This continues to be the case even as the level of education among Satanists has risen and more and more information about LaVey’s fabricated biography has come to light. Even more interestingly, contemporary Satanists’ strategy of textual legitimization is completely different from LaVey’s strategy in the Satanic Bible itself. Rather than appealing to a particular authority or text, LaVey’s philosophy was based in scientific thinking: secular humanism and a particular understanding of human nature based on Darwinian evolution. Lewis concludes, “It appears that being raised in a religious tradition that locates the source of authority in religious figures and sacred texts creates an unconscious predisposition that can be carried over to other kinds of persons and books—even in the unlikely context of contemporary Satanism” (278). The issue of how converts’ former religious affiliations influence their experiences of the religions they choose as adults has wide-ranging implications for religious studies, and Lewis’ article is a fascinating contribution to that conversation.
Overall, Pathways has the most to offer to a reader who is just beginning a formal academic study of Western magic. When it broaches less-treated topics of study and connects its subject matter to broader discussions in religious studies, however, it is also potentially valuable for established scholars of esotericism or contemporary Paganism. I am pleased to add it to my personal library.
[Drury, Nevill, editor. Pathways in Modern Western Magic. Richmond, CA: Concrescent Scholars, 2012. 484 pp. $39.95 (softcover).]
Pagans and Academic Publishing
Some of you may remember that I’m publishing a book of Pagan erotic theology entitled Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective: Divided for Love’s Sake with an academic publisher next year. Here’s a sneak peek at the cover image I commissioned from artist Valerie Herron. Gorgeous, no?
Deciding what kind of press to approach with this book was a difficult process because both the publishing industry and academia are in crisis right now. This makes it a particularly difficult time for those of us in Pagan Studies and other minor area studies to get our work out to our intended audiences. Let me tell you a little about why.
A big part of it is that many academic publishing houses are still using the publishing strategies that worked in the past, even as the internet and electronic publishing steadily deconstruct the industry. The old academic publishing strategy looked like this:
- Put out a sturdy, expensive hardback library edition specifically to sell to university libraries. In the past, some well-endowed university libraries bought nearly everything that certain academic publishers offered, so each publication was guaranteed to make the press a certain amount of money. These books would then be in circulation at those universities and for interlibrary loan at other institutions, making the book relatively easy to get as long as you were willing to wait.
- Send out review copies to journals and scholars in the field and market the book through conferences and catalogs sent to members of professional organizations. If the book was well-received and all the library copies sold out, it might be released in a cheaper paperback edition for a wider audience.
Under this old academic model of publishing, the advances and royalties given to authors for academic books were small. This wasn’t considered important, however, because most academics had full-time teaching or research jobs. They needed publications in order to get tenure or get promoted, but they didn’t need to get money directly for their writing.
Fast-forward to the present, where university tenure is disappearing and most universities make regular use of armies of underpaid, overworked adjuncts. Funding for many libraries has been cut, meaning that the automatic library purchases that sustained academic publishers in the past are no longer guaranteed. The old models of publishing are no longer working very well—but they haven’t quite completely collapsed, meaning that well-established presses continue to cling to them.
I’m an independent scholar teaching occasionally for Cherry Hill Seminary. Publishing won’t get me tenure or a promotion, but because of the way academic publishing is set up, it won’t get me much money either. Due to economic conditions, publishers also have a much reduced capacity to market books to libraries and scholars. So why publish with an academic press at all?
I seriously considered self-publishing the book. There are ample resources available for becoming your own print-on-demand publisher: format your own manuscript, do your own cover design, and put out a professional-quality book (or if you need help, hire contractors). In the Pagan world, I can particularly recommend Asphodel Press as a print-on-demand writers’ collective that puts out books at least as professional in quality as Llewellyn or Weiser.
In the end, however, I felt that if I wanted to be taken seriously as a theologian, I needed the credibility of an academic press, which comes with the guarantee of peer review (in other words, other scholars have reviewed the text, made suggestions, and told the publisher the book is worth publishing). I also engage a lot with existing queer theology in the book, and I knew I’d need an academic publisher if I wanted any of the theologians I admired to ever hear of it. Self-publishing would have required an enormous amount of marketing, and the reality is that without the imprint of an academic press, some scholars simply would never have looked at the book at all.
The end result, however, is that my book will initially appear as a library edition with a Very Large Price Tag (and, happily, also as an electronic edition, but academic electronic editions sometimes cost considerably more than the average trade paperback!). If the book sells enough copies in hardback, it will be released in paperback, but there’s no guarantee of that. I had to sacrifice accessibility for credibility, and it wasn’t an easy choice.
I want to emphasize that my editor and everyone else at my publisher has been very professional and helpful. The ground is shifting under the publishing industry’s feet, and everyone is fumbling around to try to find new publishing strategies that are sustainable. But even as I go through this publication process, I find myself thinking about the publishing alternatives that may arise in the future, especially for academic books.
One dream of mine is that academic publishing might reorganize itself in the form of profit-sharing scholarly writers’ collectives. The main strength of academic publishing now is peer review: scholars read and comment on others’ work, usually as volunteers. This process can be time-consuming, and since the reviewers do not derive any direct benefit from it, the reviews are not always thorough or of good quality. Since print-on-demand makes it easy to start one’s own small press now, though, I have been imagining peer review collectives in which scholars who wish to be published work collaboratively to peer review, edit, copyedit, and proofread each other’s work. Rather than being volunteers, they would be helping to create the opportunity for their own work to be published (hopefully on less than the two-year timeline that most academic publishing involves). Although a professional-level editor would still be needed to oversee production, still, more of the sales profits could be directed back to the writer. It would take time for such presses to grow large enough to send representatives to professional conferences, but in the short term, they could provide opportunities for quality academic publishing that do not currently exist.
Print-on-demand services have also made it much easier to start small, more or less traditionally-modeled presses for niche topics (and indeed, Pagan studies is a niche topic, and Pagan theology a niche within a niche). One such attempt is Concrescent Press, which recently put out an academic, peer-reviewed collection on esotericism entitled Pathways in Modern Western Magic. The volume features prominent scholars in esotericism as well as scholarly practitioners. I’m working through the book now, and hope to write up a more thorough review here in the future.
This book’s existence, however, gives me hope that academic publishing could reinvent itself to become more streamlined (fewer people involved with each project, shorter timeline), to create opportunities for scholars with unusual interests to be published, to direct more of the profits back to the writers, and to produce books at a price point that is accessible to non-academics. If we were to stop thinking of the typical scholar as a tenure-track professor and instead face the reality that many up-and-coming researchers are now adjunct instructors and entrepreneurs, the result could be a more accessible, egalitarian, and innovative academic publishing industry.
News and Notes – Pagan Theology and Scholarship
Cherry Hill Seminary sponsored a well-received conference this month at the University of South Carolina. Entitled “Sacred Lands and Spiritual Landscapes,” the conference featured historian Ronald Hutton as a keynote speaker and a range of papers on topics such as pilgrimage, the lesbian land movement, witchcraft in urban landscapes, ecotheology, and more. Our own blogger at A Sense of Place, Elinor Predota, presented a paper entitled “Into the Sacred Woods: The Inner and Outer Value of a Pagan Sense of Place” that focused on boys’ experiences in forests.
CHS Executive Director Holli Emore has a nice writeup of the event here, and Patheos Pagan writer John Beckett also attended the conference and has posted his own reflections here and here.
The conference is a great step forward for Cherry Hill Seminary and for Pagan theologians. The American Academy of Religion has been a welcoming home for a religious studies-based approach to Pagan studies, but it does not yet have much of a place for Pagan theology, in other words, scholarship written from a practitioner standpoint for other practitioners. Theology is an academic discipline of its own and is most at home in the culture of a seminary. I hope there will be more conferences from CHS with contributions from both religious studies scholars and theologians in the future.
Today, Teo Bishop posted a call to “crowdsource Pagan theology.” After providing a list of relevant theological “-isms” (polytheism, monism, pantheism, etc.), he writes:
I’m musing on these statements of “truth” on the eve of Beltane, and will continue to do so as I prepare for my joint-presentation on Pagan theology at the annual Beltania Festival in Florence, Colorado. […]
But the more I think about it, the more I believe that it isn’t enough to tell people, “These are the categories of belief. Here’s how it looks on paper.” You have to provide them examples. They need context in order for these -isms to be relevant.
That’s where you come in.
I would like to turn the Wild Hunt’s readership into a lecture-hall of teachers, each of you explaining to the average Pagan noobie what Pagan theology is.
More specifically, what your Pagan theology is.
We’re going to crowdsource theology. That way, when I join William at Beltania I will not just come with my perspective, but I will bring all of yours, as well.
Teo is inviting readers to leave comments on the post at The Wild Hunt explaining Pagan theology in general and one’s personal theology in particular, as well as to tweet theological statements with the hashtag #mypagantheology. It’s a creative use of new internet technologies, and I’ll be interested to see the results and the resulting presentation.
This summer, I’ll be co-teaching a Master’s class on Contemporary Global Paganisms with Sarah Whedon, Chair of the Theology and Religious History Department at Cherry Hill Seminary. We cover contemporary Pagan traditions around the world (using a strict definition of self-identified “Pagan” — cousin earth-based or polytheistic faiths are not included) — yet you may be surprised to find Pagan communities as widely spread as South Africa, Lithuania, and Brazil.
Those new to Paganism may instead be interested in the 4-week Paganism 101, a class that originally developed out of a final student project for Contemporary Global Paganisms. Instructor Selina Rifkin also provides an overview of global Pagan traditions, but at an accessible, community education level (with far fewer heavily-footnoted academic articles ;> ).
What is fundamentalism? Is it all bad? Can the term ‘fundamentalist’ be applied to Pagans?
What is fundamentalism?
The term fundamentalism originated in Christianity, when a series of books called The fundamentals was published, outlining five beliefs that the author considered it essential for Christians to hold. In that context, the term originally meant someone who adhered to these five beliefs. The movement was created in response to liberal theology and higher criticism; so in that sense it is essentially conservative.
Since then, the term has been applied to other religions (notably Islam), where it is characterised by a tendency towards literal belief in a particular interpretation of the scriptures or tenets of that religion.
There have been movements to take scriptures literally in the past, though whether we can back-project the term “fundamentalist” onto them is open to debate.
A commenter on this blog has argued that fundamentalists are not all bad, but are passionate in their beliefs. I am not sure that this is true — I think that fundamentalism is characterised by fear and insecurity.
Mystical and experiential religion is characterised by direct experience of the Divine or deities. The mystic recognises mystics from other traditions, and assumes that they have a similar experience with a different mythology (or with a different being or beings). Someone who experiences their religion in their heart usually has no need for rigid dogma and doctrine (unless the need to conform to a doctrine is imposed on them from outside).
Conversely, a person who does not have an inner experience of the Divine or deities may resort to fundamentalism to give them a structure or a sense of certainty. (I am not saying this is always the case, just that it is a frequent occurrence.)
Is fundamentalism all bad?
Well, not all fundamentalists are necessarily bad people, but if we define fundamentalism as a fearful response to critical engagement with doctrine and dogma, then the fundamentalist tendency can’t really be seen as a good thing.
If your faith is strong enough (because it’s rooted in an inner experience of your deities or deity), it ought to be able to withstand criticism, either from atheists, or from other traditions. It is possible to be a passionate adherent of your tradition, and still open to other views and to criticism.
Can Pagans be characterised as fundamentalist?
Where there is a tendency to be rigid and dogmatic about tradition or belief (e.g. “we’ve always done it this way, so it’s correct, even if it hurts you”, or “we believe this, so we act in a certain way, even if the belief is contrary to evidence and the action hurts people”), then yes, it is possible to be a Pagan fundamentalist.
Recently, Pagan Studies academic Sabina Magliocco wrote a guest post at The Wild Hunt, in which she discussed fundamentalist tendencies in Pagan traditions.
She defines fundamentalism as:
a form of ideology, religious or secular, characterized by a black-and-white, either-or, us-vs.-them morality that precludes questioning. It generally involves insistence on belief in the literal truth of some canon, as well as a concern with identity politics and boundary-setting. Fundamentalisms are inflexible and have difficulty adapting; they have a strong need for certainty and a clear sense of belonging, and anyone who disagrees is labeled an enemy or heretic.
She goes on to discuss whether this is applicable to contemporary Pagans, and finds that a certain rigidity has emerged around two particular topics: the historicity of Wiccan foundational narratives; and the reality of deities. She cautions against defining our community belonging by belief, because belief is provisional and changing. I recommend reading the whole article, and the paper when it becomes available.
I have also noticed a tendency towards rigidity when discussing gender roles in ritual. When I have questioned why a thing is done a particular way, and suggested changing it, people have responded with “but that’s the tradition”. Well, traditions evolve and change in an organic way; they are not fixed. They change in response to circumstance, and people’s needs.
A further indication of fundamentalist tendencies is the way in which some people have spread rumours about academics studying Pagan traditions that they are out to discredit Paganism and undermine it. This seems to me to be a fearful and insecure response, which is a characteristic of fundamentalism. In fact, as Sabina Magliocco points out, many Pagan academics have risked opprobrium from other academics by even writing about Pagan traditions and taking them seriously. They are also bound by a code of ethics; and in most cases, the academics who study Pagan traditions are also practitioners (either of a Pagan tradition, or of another tradition).
Whether or not we apply the label “fundamentalism” to these tendencies towards rigidity and dogma, we do need to guard against developing an us-versus-them mentality, and labelling people who disagree with us as enemies. We need to be flexible, open-minded, and inclusive.
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