The Pagan Census Keeps Counting

Helen Berger, co-author of Voices from the Pagan Census (2003) is currently working on a new version of the survey. A multi-year survey like hers offers more information than a one-time “snapshot.”

Working with another quantitative scholar of Paganism, Jim Lewis, she has put together a new survey with new questions: the “Pagan Census Revisited II.” It runs on Survey Monkey, and you can take it at that link. This version has basic demographic questions plus some on spiritual experiences.

With the Australian scholar Doug Ezzy she has written “Witchcraft: Changing Patterns of Participation in the Early Twenty-first Century,” published in The Pomegranate in 2009. (Abstract and link here.)

There, That’s Done, Almost. Also John Cowper Powys

Ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, destroyed at the orders of Henry VIII (Wikimedia Commons).

Where did the week go?

It seems like setting up the AAR sessions — two solo for Contemporary Pagan Studies, two co-sponsored, and one “quad” (four sponsors) — that plus a little snow, some fire department maintenance work, and some chainsaw issues that don’t belong here totally exhausted all my psychic energy. Just need to line up one more panel respondent.

When it is completed, I will publish the line-up of papers.

For refuge, I have fled to Glastonbury, not the real town but a close relative, John Cowper Powys’ massive novel A Glastonbury Romance.

As the explorer/writer Lawrence Millman said in a 2000 Atlantic piece, “One doesn’t read Powys so much as enlist in him.” (Of course, if you read all of A Song of Fire and Ice, you have “enlisted” in George R. R. Martin. Most people watch the TV series.)

This is all the fault of Carole Cusack, who in a recent blog interview on Albion Calling pronounced that “the entire oeuvre of John Cowper Powys should be of crucial interest to contemporary Pagans, but I suspect that he is almost unread these days, to everyone’s detriment, not just the Pagans.”

I took that as a challenge, and the helpful inter-library loan librarian quickly produced not just A Glastonbury Romance (1933) but Powys’ Autobiography (1934), which I read first. I could write more about the Autobiography. It’s frank enough, but repetitious — a good editor could have cut it by 40 percent without cutting meat. To quote Millman,

It is a record not of Powys’s achievements but of his various inadequacies. In it he described his manias and phobias, his “idiotic” mouth and “Neanderthal pate,” and particularly his sexual failures. He discussed “the sickening moments of dead sea desolation that came to me from my ulcerated stomach” and his chronic constipation. He called himself a “scarecrow Don Quixote with the faint heart of Sancho.” And yet the mood of the Autobiography is not gloomy or self-pitying. After all, this book was written by a man who treasured being “ill-constituted.”

I was surprised, therefore, how good A Glastonbury Romance is, if you are willing to give it time. Robert Altman would have struggled to direct a hypothetical movie version, there are so many interlaced stories going on.

Some of them are pure soap opera: Will Sam admit that he is the father of Nell’s baby? Will John and Mary be happily married even though they are first cousins? Will Mad Bet’s magical working against Mary destroy her marriage? Will the Communists destroy Philip’s factory? What is the nature of the esoteric books that Sam is getting from Owen the Welsh antiquary? And what is the Holy Grail?

Add the (feeble) influence of the dead, the palpable influence of The Past, the wind that blow through people’s dreams, and the all-out astral-plane battles between different factions trying to determine the future of Glastonbury. It’s really quite complex.

You might say that I have enlisted and will see it through to the end.

This is how the [blank] see me

I copied this from a friend's Facebook feed. I don't know where it started. This is the Internetz.

I copied this from a friend’s Facebook feed. I don’t know where it started. This is the Internetz.

In the middle of working out Contemporary Pagan Studies Group sessions and co-sponsored sessions for next November’s American Academy of Religion annual meeting.

So far this has taken hundred of emails—so it goes—and a phone call this morning from Norway. Landlines still have their place.

It feels so good to accept a proposal; and it is hard writing the rejection notices. Some people just feel that they have to dazzle you with theory and a document that sounds more like a book proposal. Dude, you have twenty minutes!

Others—and this is more insidious—seem to mistake the AAR for Pantheacon or some other Pagan gathering. We are not there for theological discourse. (Nevertheless, some people evident are there for that, and here is a take-down of them.) No crypto-theology/thealogy, please.

And I hate to read proposals where the writer already has a conclusion but has not done any research yet. Please leave some space for serendipity and the thrill of discovery, or why are you doing this?

Back to the Neolithic: Building a British Long Barrow

Interior with shelves for cremations (BBC).

Some “experiential archaeology” — yes, it will hold the cremated remains of modern people.

“It’s strange really. We haven’t built a long barrow for 5,000 years, but then about six weeks ago we had another enquiry for one.

“They want a burial chamber built in central London to hold some art.

“They’re like London buses. You don’t get one for 5,000 years and then all of a sudden two come at once.”

‘Cosmos’ Misrepresents Giordano Bruno

Neil Degrasse Tyson’s remake of Cosmos tries to remake Giordano Bruno as a martyr of modern science, but he was nothing of the kind.

He was a lot more of an occultist. Even The Daily Beast gets it.

As Discover magazine’s Corey Powell pointed out, the philosophers of the 16th century weren’t anything like scientists in the modern sense. Bruno, for instance, was a “pandeist,” which is the belief that God had transformed himself into all matter and ceased to exist as a distinct entity in himself. He believed in all sort of magic and spirits, and extrapolated those views far beyond his ideas about the infinity of the universe. In contrast to contemporaries who drew more modest conclusions from their similar ideas, Bruno agitated for an elaborate counter-theology, and was (unlike the poor, humble outcast portrayed in Cosmos) supported by powerful royal benefactors. The church didn’t even have a position on whether the Earth orbited the sun, and didn’t bring it up at Bruno’s trial. While the early-modern religious persecution certainly can’t be denied, Bruno was killed because he flamboyantly denied basic tenets of the Catholic faith, not because religious authorities were out to suppress all “freedom of thought.”

The ‘Pentecostal Drift’ and Modern Paganism

Religion blogger Peter Berger, melding articles from  The Tablet (Roman Catholic) and The Christian Century (mainline Protestant) notes “the major demographic shift in world Christianity—the fact that more Christians now live in the Global South: Asia, Africa, Latin America—than in the old Christian homelands of Europe and North America.”

With this shift goes huge growth in Pentecostal Christianity—Protestant churches emphasizing ecstatic worship and the “gifts of the Holy Spirit,” such as speaking in tongues and faith-healing. (The modern Pentecostal movement began in Los Angeles in 1906—the same month as the great San Francisco earthquake and fire. Some of them see a connection.)

In 1970 Pentecostals were 5% of world Christians; today the figure is 25%! 80% of Christian converts in Asia are Pentecostal! I’m not quite clear how this arithmetic is worked out, but the Christian Century story asserts that one of twelve people alive today is Pentecostal! Not surprisingly, the [recent Pentecostal World Conference] in Kuala Lumpur was “young, vibrant and confident”. No stepping around quietly so as not to offend Muslim sensitivities!

There is, for example, major competition between (often Pentecostal) Christians and Muslims for conversions in sub-Saharan Africa. Sometimes it is bloody—see the recent news from Nigeria and the Central African Republic, for example. Some conflicts that are not religious on the surface become divided on religious lines.

So what is the Pagan angle? For one, Pentecostal Christians (and many Muslims) see the world as a scene of spiritual warfare. (See, for instance, “Saudi Arabia’s War on Witchcraft.”) Both groups battle demons and “demonic” practitioners.  Consequently, followers of traditional animist/polythestic religions as well as new Pagans are going to continue to be targeted.

If you are reading this, chances are that you live in a culture where the notions of religious freedom and individual religious choice have at least some weight. But from a global perspective, isn’t that a minority view — no matter how many interfaith congresses and parliaments there are?

I am all for religious freedom, but much of the world has a very limited idea as to what that means.

LAP Lambert and the “Book-Mill Iceberg”

Slate contributor Joseph Stromberg chronicles his trip through “the shadowy, surreal world of an academic book mill.”

The bloggers and academics who’d written these posts had gotten emails virtually identical to mine and wrote about how the company obtained the rights to tens of thousands of theses, dissertations, and other unpublished works for essentially nothing; sold copies of them as books to unsuspecting online buyers (who assumed they were purchasing proofed, edited work); and kept essentially 100 percent of the proceeds. LAP Lambert, I learned, is the print equivalent of a content farm: a clearinghouse for texts that generate tiny amounts of revenue simply by turning up in search and appearing to be legitimate, published works.

So, naturally, I replied to Holmes, telling her I was interested in hearing more.

It’s a marriage of content-scraping and tax-evasion, by the sound of it. Certainly there is evasion of paying royalties. And this:

Some naive academics think publishing will add cachet to their C.V., but they find that having the Lambert name on it is an embarrassment.

Authors in the developing world may be the most easily exploited, thinking that they are being published by a prestigious German house. And like all vanity presses, this one makes some of its money by selling copies to the books’ authors.

Judy Harrow

Judy Harrow, one of the most influential East Coast American Wiccan priestesses and a damn fine writer too, is no longer with us.

You can read tributes at The Witching Hour blog, on a Facebook page, and elsewhere, I am sure.

From The Witching Hour:

As an author she contributed to a number of notable anthologies, including Rites of Passage and  the excellent Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft. Her first book, Wicca Covens was published in 1999, and her second, Spiritual Mentoring, in 2002. Judy’s leadership skills were apparent in all of her writings, as they were in any conversation about modern pagan witchcraft.

‘Weird Tales,’ Hex Signs, and Folklore

Joe Laycock examined the mythologies behind True Detective. (I have not seen it, being much the same situation as Jason Pitzl-Waters.)

Religion scholar Philip Jenkins has suggested these two sources—contemporary Satanic Panic and the “weird tales” of pulp horror—are connected. He suggests that it was the weird tales authors of the 1920s, notably Lovecraft and Herbert Gorman, who first introduced the idea of secret, murderous cults into the American consciousness.

¶ Those so-called “hex signs” on Pennsylvania Dutch barns? They have little to do with witches and magic, notes librarian of esotericsm Dan Harms in a book review.

From time to time, I’m asked if The Long-Lost Friend has anything to do with hex signs, those beautiful star and flower figures that decorate the barns across much of eastern Pennsylvania and adjacent areas where German settlers made their homes.  The answer is, “Not really,” with a follow-up about the possibility of a mystical link that might or might not be present.  Hex Signs provides us with answers to these questions, and much more.

¶ Speaking of folklore, Ethan Doyle White notes a free online special issue of the journal Folklore, focusing on folklore and Paganism. Lots of good material there.

Animist Blog Carnival — Dreams

The March Animist Blog Carnival, on the theme of dreams, is hosted at Pray to the Moon.

We have a more modest collection of writings for this month. But, being an avid dreamer, I am not at all surprised. I find more often than not, when I begin to prattle about dreams, the response is invariably, “I don’t dream,” or “I never/rarely remember my dreams.” However, I also find that those people who are in tune with the dreamworld never disappoint in their storytelling.