A Small Victory in the Struggle for the Capital P

I was contacted some time ago to write an article on contemporary Paganism for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion, now in production. After the usual writerly procrastination, I cranked out my 8,000 words (or whatever it was) and sent it in.

Then, in April, the copyedited version arrived for my approval. No problems there — except every instance of the word “Pagan” had been lowercased, except where it began a sentence.

I was quietly furious. The campaign for the capital P is not going to be won in a day.

One thing caught my eye — the editor who had contacted me (not the copyeditor) had a Indian name, Krishnan P_______. So whether a devout Hindu or not, perhaps he would be receptive to an argument based on a sort of semantic parallel. Like this:

  • “Pagan,” like “Hindu,” was a term imposed by outsiders.
  • Like “Hindu,” it covers a variety of worship traditions and philosophies —  admittedly not quite so many. But every bit as old, if you apply it all the way back, which I do.
  • Finally, the people whom it describes have come to use it as a neutral or even positive descriptor of who they are.
  • And publishers and academic groups increasingly use the capital P in the interest of fairness as a parallel to capital-M Muslim and so on.

And to my delight, he replied, “Thanks for writing to me. As per your concern, we will retain the capitalization for the word ‘Pagan’ throughout the article.”

Some British academics have been slow to accept this eminently sensible approach. At least one scholar I know wants to treat “paganism” as a collection of practices that pre-date the Big Five religions but are also found within them.

For instance, in his system, a pilgrimage to a sacred site is “pagan” no matter who does it. So my cousin who is currently four days along the Camino de Santiago (I think he is in Pamplona tonight) is carrying out a “pagan practice.”1)I would love to walk it myself, and I am obviously not Christian, so I am not sure how I would categorize that! But I think that “Pagan” has more use as an umbrella for more than the new religious movements usually associated with it.  So onward to lexicological victory!

Notes   [ + ]

1. I would love to walk it myself, and I am obviously not Christian, so I am not sure how I would categorize that!

Pagan-Studies Scholars Tell Their Stories

Pom header

The new double issue of The Pomegranate is something different. It contains two long papers, but the rest is devoted to a special section on scholarly autobiography conceived and edited by Doug Ezzy (U. of Tasmania).

Doug visited Hardscrabble Creek in November 2014 and while holed up in the guest cabin, speed-reading my library, thought how interesting it might be to get some of the long-time Pagan-studies scholars to tell their stories. How did they get started? What obstacles did they face? Who helped them? And so on.

We drew up a list of people to ask for contributions—all from the English-speaking world for this volume, so I see a second special section ahead in the future. Most were happy to write something.

By arrangement with the publisher, my editorial, “A Double Issue of The Pomegranate: The First Decades of Contemporary Pagan Studies,” is a free download. Because workers deserve to be paid, the entire special section costs £17.50  (US $25.40), normally the fee for a single article.

Articles

The Divine Feminine in the Silver Age of Russian Culture and Beyond: Vladimir Soloviev, Vasily Rozanov and Dmitry Merezhkovsky,” Dmitry Galtsin

Elements of Magic, Esotericism, and Religion in Shaktism and Tantrism in Light of the Shakti Pitha Kamakhy?” Archana Barua

Special Section – Paths into Pagan Studies: Autobiographical Reflections

“The Pagan Studies Archipelago: Pagan Studies in a Cosmopolitan World,” Douglas Ezzy

“The Old Pomegranate and the New,” Fritz Muntean

“Walking Widdershins,” Wendy Griffin

“Playing Croquet with Hedgehogs: (Still) Becoming a Scholar of Paganism and Animism,” Graham Harvey

“Navigating Academia and Spirituality from a Pagan Perspective,” Michael York

“An Outsider Inside: Studying Contemporary Paganism,” Helen A Berger

“The Owl, the Dragon and the Magician: Reflections on Being an Anthropologist Studying Magic,” Susan Greenwood

“The Academy, the Otherworld and Between,” Kathryn Rountree

“Making the Strange Familiar,” Sarah Pike

“Reflecting on Studying Wicca from within the Academy and the Craft,” Melissa Jane Harrington

“Pagan(ish) Senses and Sensibilities,” Adrian Ivakhiv

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Daughter Speaks Out

The MZB/Walter Breen scandal was bigger in the science fiction/speculative fantasy world than in the Pagan world, but MZB has influenced Pagans through her Mists of Avalon books and her Pagan associates, as detailed by Sonja Sadvoksky in The Priestess and the Pen.

If you ask someone under 35 about Mists, they do not think it is relevant, or maybe they have heard of it but most likely have never read it. If you ask someone over 35 the same question, especially if they are female, they often come back with with an answer that Mists was a fundamental book in their development as a Pagan and Witch. I kind of straddle this divide, as I am turning 34 this month, and I have a thing for weird books.

The Bradley/Breen scandal was about sexual abuse, and their daughter Moira Greyland experienced it too.(I don’t know the blog where she guest-posts, but the post itself came well-recommended.)

My observation of my father and mother’s actual belief is this: since everyone is naturally gay, it is the straight establishment that makes everyone hung up and therefore limited.  Sex early will make people willing to have sex with everyone, which will bring about the utopia while eliminating homophobia and helping people become “who they really are.” It will also destroy the hated nuclear family with its paternalism, sexism, ageism (yes, for pedophiles, that is a thing) and all other “isms.”  If enough children are sexualized young enough, gayness will suddenly be “normal” and accepted by everyone, and the old fashioned notions about fidelity will vanish.  As sex is integrated as a natural part of every single relationship, the barriers between people will vanish, and the utopia will appear, as “straight culture” goes the way of the dinosaur.  As my mother used to say: “Children are brainwashed into believing they don’t want sex.”

Read the rest if you can handle it. Moira is not exactly waving the rainbow flag.

I would rather not get into the whole “Can you separate the artist from the work?” because, most of the time, I think that you can. That’s the reader’s response. On the other hand, it is also fair for the critic to examine how the writer’s attitude toward X affects how she or he writes about X.

New Publishing Opportunity in Euro-Paganism

Headline: “Genetic analysis reveals present-day Europeans descended from at least 3, not 2, groups of ancient humans.”

So how before someone writes a book on “Ancient North Eurasian” shamanic Paganism?  Campfire, drum, bears . . . take it away.

What Does the New AP Stylebook Say?

Last December I reported on an effort spearheaded by Oberon Zell to get Pagan (in the religious sense) capitalized in both the Associated Press Stylebook and the University of Chicago Press’s Manual of Style.

The first is used mainly by journalists (when they remember), the second by writers and editors for university presses and other publishers of serious nonfiction books. Both are periodically updated.

A new AP Stylebook is out and receiving comment. Apparently 200 new religious terms were added. Has anyone seen a copy yet? Even Terry Mattingly at Get Religion says he has not yet seen one, but Emma Green at The Atlantic has and makes some comments, such as this:

“Holy Spirit” and “Holy Ghost” are both capitalized, but the former is the preferred usage, spirits being the more acceptable metaphysical entity. “Satan” is capitalized, but not “the devil.” Also noteworthy: “Voodoo,” the religion, is capitalized, but “voodoo,” roughly meaning “shenanigans,” is not, “especially when ascribing magical solutions to problems, as in voodoo economics.”

Anyone can buy either one of these books, of course, and more writers should. My copy of the AP Stylebook dates from 2004. Time for an update? But I am more of a Chicago guy these days.

The Zells’ Biographer on “Living Your Myth”

John Sulak, who co-wrote Modern Pagans for RE/Search and worked for a decade on The Wizard and the Witch, the new biography of Oberon and Morning Glory Zell, gives interviewer Anne Hill his own take on the Zells, the writing process, the Church of All Worlds, and others in their circle. (Was Gwydion Pendderwen really the Kurt Cobain of Paganism?)

Sulak compares himself to Studs Terkel, but if he had “cut up” his interviews — and spoke in more of a monotone — he might remind me a little of someone else.

A New History of the Craft in America

When I wrote Her Hidden Children, I definitely was not trying to tell the history of different groups, except in broad strokes and as that history helped the discussion of the larger questions that interested me, chiefly, “What do we mean by the term ‘nature religion’?”

Thanks to his earlier experiences with reference books on new religious movements, Aidan Kelly, one of the founders of the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn (a spoofy name that stuck) in the 1960s Northern California, is better able to do it.

He has released the first book of what he hopes to be three, A Tapestry of Witches, Vol. 1, which is available on Amazon.

He writes on his blog,

I was an active participant in many of the events and developments I describe, but I have tried to tone down the autobiographical details by unobstrusive (I hope) use of passive constructions and third person. Still, one reason the book is accurate is that I have first-hand knowledge of the decade from 1967 to 1977. However, I also as much as possible worked in information from letter, emails, and interviews that my friends shared with me. I have not ignored the Big Name Pagans–I couldn’t; many of them did much of the work, many were and are good friends–but I have also tried to give due credit to the many who worked hard without ever receiving public acclaim.

Having drawn on his earlier history of NROOGD’s beginnings, Hippie Commie Beatnik Witches, I look forward to reading the new book very much.

Journalistic Cliches and Their Academic Cousins

My least-favorite journalistic cliche is “time will tell.”

Despite the president’s charm offensive, some pundits say that the world will end next Tuesday. Time will tell.

Read the whole list of 150 here.

As a journal editor, I could make my own list, particularly those stupid bits of wordiness that get between the reader and an actual thesis statement, in which the writer actually takes a position on the issue.

Some sample candidates:

I plan to explore the intersection between . . .

In this paper I will argue  . . .

This article compares . . .

Get out of the spotlight, academic writer, and say something about something.

Quick Review: The Wizard and the Witch

wizard and witchOne of my earliest entries on this blog, clear back in 2003, was a complaint about the lack of biographical and autobiographical writing in American Wicca — and I would extend that to all types of new Paganism generally.

That entry did mention Margot Adler’s Heretic’s Heart (1997), but I did not care for Whispers of the Moon (1996), a biography of Scott Cunningham, because it seemed too obviously tidied-up and sanitized. (Sam Webster says that it is still valuable despite that — I won’t dispute the point.)

Michael Lloyd’s The Bull of Heaven (2012) broke the drought. His thoroughly researched book placed Eddie Buczynski in a cultural context — the New York Pagan and Gay Liberation scenes of the 1970s — and explored a wealth of connections and possibilities without blinking.

Now John C.. Sulak, who co-wrote Modern Pagans (2001) for RE/Search Press, has brought us  The Wizard and the Witch: An Oral History of Oberon Zell & Morning Glory.

It is not just the history of a significant slice of  American Paganism from the 1960s until now, but also the love story of a couple married for forty years.

Yet Morning Glory, priestess of Aphrodite, invented the term “polyamory” (but not the concept)  and they embraced it. Paradoxes abound.

Sulak tells the story of Otter and MG through multiple voices, more like a radio documentary — there is even a voice labeled “Narrator.” I thought that was a little weird at first, but I got used to it.

Sometimes the Zells may seem like Pagan rock stars, but then you see them in screaming fights, or admitting that they made mistakes in who they trusted or dealt with their families of birth or how they raised their kids  (Those children, now grown, are also heard from.) Highs and lows, gains and losses, feasts and famines — it’s all here.

Reading it, you can see how the Church of All Worlds, founded by Tim Zell and his close friend Lance Christie, started out as what we now would call “spiritual but not religious,” and changed as it encountered other overly Pagan groups (such as Feraferia) as well as various Witchcraft groups.

There is much about the publishing chronicle of Green Egg magazine and the founding of the Grey School of Wizardry as well, not to mention the growth of the Pagan festival circuit.

When people wonder, “What was the American Pagan scene like in the 1970s, 1980s, 0r 1990s?” they will do well to read The Wizard and the Witch for one answer. It is a sign of Llewellyn’s editorial maturation that they published it, and I applaud that.