Review: “The Final Pagan Generation”

A review from the most recent (20.1) issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies. While the publisher does charge for articles, book reviews are free downloads.

Edward J. Watts, The Final Pagan Generation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015) 344 pp., 29 B&W photographs, map. $34.95 (hardcover, ebook).

At the beginning of the fourth century CE, the Mediterranean world—the Roman empire—“was full of gods. Their temples, statues, and images filled its cities, downs, farms, and wildernesses… Traditional divinities also dominated the spiritual space of the empire as figures whose presences could not be sensed but whose actions many felt they might discern.” So writes Edward J. Watts at the beginning of The Final Pagan Generation. By the century’s end, he notes, “The cities of the empire remained nearly as full of the sights, sounds, and smells of the traditional gods in the 390s as they had been in the 310s.”

Yet much had changed. After Julian’s attempt in the 360s to sustain Pagan temples and education with imperial favor and financing—as those had sustained them in the past—the pendulum swung back, and it swung hard. Emperors such as Gratian (r. 367–83) in the West and Theodosius I (r. 379–95) in the East sought to cut the financial aqueducts that sustained large temples and celebrations. In those times, subsidy was not merely a matter of line items in the imperial budget, but a cut could mean handing over agricultural estates whose profits had sustained a temple to new owners. With sacrifice already banned, Theodosius by the 390s was punishing judges who set foot in Pagan temples and also forbidding private household rites. That these edicts were not always enforced is not the issue; the point is that Nicene Christianity enjoyed imperial favor while traditional religion no longer did.

From the days of Edward Gibbon (1737–1794), who essentially blamed the “fall of Rome” (the Western Empire, at least) on its embrace of Christianity, the question has been asked: “What changed?” The question also obsesses some contemporary Pagans (and not just members of the Julian Society), who ask, “Why did our ancestors abandon the old gods? Were they bribed, coerced, or tricked?” In the case of the four upper-class men on whose lives Watt concentrates, we can only use Gibbon’s favorite adverb, insensibly. Gibbon writes, for instance, that “the active and successful zeal of the Christians had insensibly diffused them through every province and almost every city of the empire” (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 1, chapter 16). Likewise, these men are presented as insensible to the structural changes that occurred while they rose to the pinnacle of their careers.

Three of four were rhetors and philosophers who left extensive writings behind: Libanius (314–c.393), a high-profile teacher of rhetoric, something like a tenured professor today; Themistius (317–390), another rhetorician, statesman, philosopher, and counselor to sev- eral emperors; and Ausonius (310–395), poet, teacher of rhetoric in the imperial household of Valentinian I, later a consul and praetorian prefect variously of Gaul, Italy, and Africa, also the only Christian of the four, converting late in life. The fourth was Vettius Agorius Praetextatus (315–384), a wealthy aristocrat, holder of various Roman priesthoods, and praetorian prefect of Rome, a post that might be compared to a cabinet ministry. As prefect of Rome, he oversaw the reconstruction of major temples, sponsored public rituals, and reinforced the city’s Pagan identity as against that of Milan, seat of the now-Christian Western emperors of the late fourth century.

Watts describes these men’s careers against the changing political landscape of the century, including Julian’s short reign. The last Pagan emperor, he writes, had a different, more Christian upbringing than Watts’ four exemplars: “Unlike those older men, Julian understood that Constantius’ [who preceded him] initiatives pointed toward a world in which traditional religious practices were suppressed and temples replaced by churches”

Lacking Julian’s imperial authority, Libanius, for one, fought a long rear-guard action against the erasure of traditional religion, denouncing how “the black-robed tribe [of monks], who eat more than elephants … hasten to attack the temples with sticks and stones and bars of iron, and in some cases, disdaining these, with hands and feet.” His methods were speeches, letters (perhaps the equivalent of an op-ed in the New York Times today), and appeals to the current emperor’s vanity, arguing that letting extralegal Christian power structures develop would harm the emperor’s authority and prestige. These stratagems worked for a time, but as each of the “final Pagan generation” passed away from their worlds of senates, classrooms, and dinners with important people— becoming truly insensible —the imperial world, which might still have looked, sounded, and smelled much as it did in their childhoods, was irrevocably altered.

Chas S. Clifton Colorado State University-Pueblo
© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2018

Coming Soon — Being Viking: Heathenism in Contemporary America

What do I like about Being Viking beyond Mark Lee’s arresting cover design? It is that author Jefferson Calico can move beyond rehashing the folkish-universalist issue and look at some things not normally talked about, such as social class.

Americans will talk you to death about race and ethnicity, but then turn around and pretend that the high-level university bureaucrat with a summer home on Martha’s Vineyard and the guy making a lot of overtime pay in a Texas oilfield are both earning “middle-class salaries.” While the English divide social-class issues with a microtome, we pretend that we all aspire to the same thing.

That is just one way that Being Viking moves beyond the radical politics-obsessed approach taken by authors such as Jennifer Snook in American Heathens or Mattias Gardell  Gods of the Blood. (If you look at Gardell’s publishing history, he jumps from one sensational topic to another.) Calico is strong on history, ritual, polytheism, and the social side of American Heathenry.

So I am delighted this book is now being published in Equinox’s Contemporary and Historical Paganism series, for which we are always seeking new titles.

You can pre-order the book now or recommend it to your university library by clicking the buttons on its Equinox web page.

Feeding My Little Archive to Bigger Ones

Brilliant idea of the day: clean my desk. No, I don’t mean just shove things to the edges and sweep up the crumbs, I mean uncover some mahogany!

I spent the last two weeks of August crashing to meet a deadline for a special issue of the Journal of Religion and Violence devoted to violence and new religious movements. Wicca is, of course, a new religious movement, but it is an outlier in many ways, as I discuss (no charismatic leader, no millennarian prophecy, etc.)

Two years ago, in a post titled “Kicked Back in Time,” I wrote about receiving cartons of material relating to the murder trial of a Texas Wiccan leader: witnesses’ depositions, correspondence, legal paperwork, psychic impressions of what really happened and where, dozens of yellowed newspaper clippings, not to mention a tape cassette of one witness’s statements after he had been hypnotized by the sheriff of Deaf Smith County.1)The incident occurred in a neighboring county. The sheriff had a reputation as a hypnotist, apparently, and the 17-year-old witness’s parents requested the session.

Then Massimo Introvigne2)Founder of CESNUR [Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni] announced that he was guest-editing this issue of the journal, and I submitted a proposal, which was accepted — and then I procrastinated until, oh no, it’s due at the end of the month. And I wrote it. Chores went un-done, the dog got minimal walks, but I generated my 8,000 words. And damn, that felt good.

The journal is published three times a year, online only, and apparently costs $45/year with access to the archives. I do not know when this special issue will appear.

So let’s not lose the momentum. Let’s get back to Project X.

Problem: There is a low, two-drawer file cabinet next to my desk whose top is stacked with books I need. And there was a substantial pile of files, printouts, partial rough drafts of book sections, and who-knows-what on the desk itself. Plus more in a desk drawer.

In the filing cabinet were . . . files, organized by subject (“New Wiccan Church,” “polytheism,” “sacred prostitution,” “Victor Anderson”) that had built up over the last thirty years. Some was material used when writing Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America or various articles; some I never got around to using — and I probably never will.

Solution: it goes into one or more cartons and goes to the New Age Movements, Occultism, and Spiritualism Research Library at Valdosta State University in Georgia. (The source materials for the murder-trial article belong in Texas, however.)

Many of the Pagan magazines I used for book research already went to the American Religions Collection at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It even has its own name! (Scroll down at the link.) Got to spread the wealth.

Now if I can get all the material from the desk top and drawer sorted into a fresh set of file folders, I might actually be ready to make use of it. (Never fear, there is plenty of digital material too!)

For today, the writing life is the filing life.

Notes   [ + ]

1. The incident occurred in a neighboring county. The sheriff had a reputation as a hypnotist, apparently, and the 17-year-old witness’s parents requested the session.
2. Founder of CESNUR [Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni]

Rodnoverie: A Quick History of Russian Pagan Revival

Kaarina Aitamurto, a Finnish scholar who has studied the Russian Pagan revival extensively, has written a short history of the Rodnoverie movement(s) and their founders and exponents for the World Religions and Spirituality website. (Think of it as an online scholarly encyclopedia.)

In the 2000s, the Rodnoverie movement grew rapidly due to the Internet. In Russia, the Rodnoverie was among the first religions to seize the opportunities of the online space. Small communities created sites and displayed photographs of their festivals online. The availability of footage of rituals also created some uniformity in the ideas of what Rodnoverie festivals should be like. Individuals in remote parts of the country could participate in online discussions and seek likeminded people in their areas. In these discussions, many revealed that they had thought that they were the only ones adhering to the pre-Christian faith and expressed their enthusiasm to find these online and offline communities.

Rodnoverie was the subject of her PhD research, and she lists her publications on her University of Helsinki website.

Pagans on the Fringe of the AAR

 

 

 

Once again, I will be seeking an alternate activity to attending the American Academy of Religion’s presidential address in Denver next November. Such activities will probably involve bars, restaurants, and friends whom I see far too infrequently.

I might be tempted if Dr. Gushee’s “performing religion” actually included donning sackcloth and ashes. That’s biblical. But I have always wondered, do you put on a loincloth or tunic made of burlap and then pour ashes over yourself? Or do you rub ashes into your skin like some Hindu saddhus and then wrap a strip of burlap around your loins for minimal modesty? These are important ethnographic details!

But this is the AAR’s heritage: mainline Protestant Christians talking about themselves, even though the tent appears to have enlarged considerably since the early 1960s.

There is a fault line in the AAR. It is not between monotheists and polytheists—the former hardly realize yet that the latter exist. Nor is even so much between global East and global West.

Instead, the fault line remains between people who do god-talk in some form or other — who accept a supernatural dimension — and those who view religion purely as a human construction, like politics. The latter may call themselves Marxists, postmodernists, or to use the language of one scholarly group, they pursue “historical, comparative, structural, theoretical, and cognitive approaches to the study of religion.”1)North American Association for the Study of Religion

They are the ones who criticize other (Christian) AAR members for treating the annual meeting “like church.”

Where does Pagan studies fit into all this? Our program unit operated on an ad hoc basis from 1998–2004 and has been a full-fledged “unit” (formerly “group”) among all the other AAR units from 2005 to the present. Here is the list: scroll down to Contemporary Pagan Studies.

We scholars of Paganism have been accused of being too “curatorial,” taking care of “our people,” It’s a fair criticism of a what is still a new field, and I would not mind seeing more “historical, comparative, structural, theoretical, and cognitive approaches” as we go along.

And I expect the polytheist studies/monotheist studies divide to remain for quite some time, insofar as it is still mostly invisible.

Notes   [ + ]

Call for Papers: A Special Issue of The Pomegranate on Pagan Art and Fashion

From Caroline Tully (University of Melbourne, Australia), guest editor of an upcoming issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies devoted to Pagan art and fashion.

A beautiful young woman drapes her long auburn hair over a human skull, pressing it close to her face like a lover. Another, clad in black and holding a wooden staff, poses like a model in a photo shoot on location in an incongruous forest. Long, elaborately decorated fake fingernails like talons grasp shiny crystals, evoking the “just so” beauty of a staged magazine spread. In the world of the Witches of Instagram, the art of photography meets business witchery and feminist activism.

Is it (still) the season of the witch? Luxury fashion house, Dior, has a tarot-themed collection; witchcraft featured in recent issues of Vogue magazine; young witch-identifying women perform “fashion magic”; and an alchemist-fashion designer has invented colour-changing hair dye, inspired by a scene in the 1996 movie, The Craft. An angry yet luxurious sex-positive feminism is in the air; goddesses, witches and sluts are rising up again, a decade and a half after Rockbitch stopped touring and almost thirty years after Annie Sprinkle’s first workshops celebrating the sacred whore.

Exhibitions showcasing the work of living and dead occult artists have been on the increase for several years now, most recently Black Light: Secret Traditions in Art Since the 1950s at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, and Barry William Hale + NOKO’s Enochian performance at Dark Mofo in Tasmania. Multidisciplinary artist Bill Crisafi and dancer Alkistis Dimech exemplify the Sabbatic witchcraft aesthetic; Russ Marshalek and Vanessa Irena mix fitness and music with witchcraft in the age of the apocalypse; DJ Juliana Huxtable and queer arts collective House of Ladosha are a coven; rappers Azealia Banks and Princess Nokia are out and proud brujas; and singer Lana del Rey admits hexing Donald Trump.

The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies invites submissions of articles (5000–8000 words) for a special issue on Pagan Art and Fashion, edited by Caroline Tully (caroline.tully@unimelb.edu.au). How are Paganism, modern Goddess worship, witchcraft and magick utilised in the service of creative self-expression today? Potential topics might fall under the general headings of, but are not limited to, Aesthetics, Dance, Fashion, Film and Television, Internet Culture, Literature, Music, and Visual Art.

Submissions due June 15, 2019.

For information on the submission process see: https://journals.equinoxpub.com/index.php/POM/about/submissions

Please note that The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies uses the University of Chicago Press notes-and-bibliography citation style: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide/citation-guide-1.html

For more information about this special issue read Caroline Tully’s interview on The Wild Hunt.

 

My Relationship to Odysseus? It’s Complicated.

Later this month, a new translation of the Odyssey, the first into English by a female scholar, will be published. (Click the cover image for a link.)

This New York Times article about Emily Wilson and her approach to the poem tells how she “places her flag” with her translation of one word at the beginning, polytropos, which she, unlike dozens of previous translators, chooses to translate as “complicated.” So her version opens like this:

Tell me about a complicated man.
Muse, tell me how he wandered and was lost
when he had wrecked the holy town of Troy,
and where he went, and who he met, the pain
he suffered in the storms at sea, and how
he worked to save his life and bring his men
back home. He failed to keep them safe; poor fools,
they ate the Sun God’s cattle, and the god
kept them from home. Now goddess, child of Zeus,
tell the old story for our modern times.
Find the beginning.

 

CFP: Religion, Myth and Migration (Ireland)

Sixth Annual Conference of the Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions (ISASR)

Hosted by Waterford Institute of Technology

Religion, Myth and Migration

Friday 16th June 2017

We are pleased to invite scholars to take part in the sixth annual conference of the Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions (ISASR), themed ‘Religion, Myth and Migration’. Religious traditions often draw on powerful myths which make sense of their cosmological, as well as their historical, social and geo-political position. These myths frequently involve migration, from the biblical Exodus to the Islamic Hegira, to various migratory foundation narratives in new religious movements. As religions travel, so do myths, with new forms being created over time. The physical migration of peoples means that their religions travel with them to new geographical and cultural milieus and now, in a globalised world, knowledge is transmitted and ‘migrates’ in ways that are tied in with rapid advancements in technology and information exchanges. With President Donald Trump’s recent ban on Muslim migration, the challenges of Brexit, and movement of refugees and economic migrants around the world, the religious landscapes are swiftly changing. Conceptualising ‘myth’ and ‘migration’ in the broadest sense, conference participants will discuss, reflect upon and explore these themes in relation to changing religious landscapes and the Society invites papers and contributions on areas such as:

• Migration of religions and associated myths
• Myths of religious migration and foundation myths
• Folk religion, folklore and migrant legends
• Migration of peoples, cultures and religious change
• Imaginaries/imaginaires of religious migration (cultural fears, racist agendas and religions)
• Myths within religions
• Migration of religious ideas

Scholars working in Ireland are free to submit a paper proposal on any aspect of religion in any context and, as always, we welcome presentations on research on religions in Ireland from scholars worldwide.

Call for papers: Please submit your proposal in the form of a title and an abstract (max. 250 words).

Call for slam contributions: We invite ‘slam’ contributions for a maximum duration of 6 minutes on in-progress research, new projects and publications, research networks and new programmes. Please submit a title and brief description of your slam (max. 150 words).

Both paper and slam proposals are to be submitted via email to isasrconference2017@gmail.com by the deadline of 10th March 2017. Notification of abstract/slam acceptance will be given by 27th March 2017.

Please bear in mind that papers should contribute to the aims of the ISASR as set out in the Society’s constitution, specifically that ‘The main object [is] to advance education through the academic study of religions by providing a forum for scholarly activity (…). The Society is a forum for the critical, analytical and cross-cultural study of religions, past and present. It is not a forum for confessional, apologetical, interfaith or other similar concerns’.

The final programme will be posted on the ISASR website

Survey: Pagan Spirituality in Resilience

I am passing this survey information on from a colleague:

My name is David Christy, I am currently a Ph.D. student in the Pastoral Counseling department at Loyola University Maryland. Several years ago I participated in a series of conversations at Pantheacon focused on the needs of the Pagan community. One of the most pressing needs identified was for increased understanding of our community among mental health professionals. As most of you probably know studies of religion and spirituality have been picking up steam the field of psychology. However, few researchers are looking at non-Abrahamic traditions and issues. I’m trying to change that, and I hope you will help me.

I am currently conducting a study that examines the role of spirituality in resilience. I am especially interested in reaching out to the Pagan community since we are so underrepresented in the research literature (despite the fact that we’re the second fasted growing religious group in the US). Please consider taking this survey and boosting the signal by sharing it with others in your communities.

Participation involves responding to a number of forms, checklists, and questionnaires relating to your experience, knowledge, attitudes, and behavior, as well as providing non-identifying demographic information. These instruments include attitudinal surveys, activity checklists, and self-report measures. It should take approximately 30 minutes to complete all the measures. If you are interested in participating either click on the link below or copy and paste it into a web browser. Please also feel free to share the link to this study.

https://loyola.co1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_bQrcCnJIHm1ScF7

If you have any questions or concerns about this study, please contact me at the address listed below. This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board at Loyola University Maryland. You may contact the IRB at 410-617-2004.

David Christy, M.Div.
Primary Investigator
Department of Pastoral Counseling
Loyola University Maryland
8890 McGaw Road, Suite 280
Columbia, MD 20145
dchristy@loyola.edu