Kicked Back in Time

I was contacted a couple of months ago by family members of  the two defendants in a Wicca-related murder case. It was big news in the American Craft network1)I prefer that word to “community”—especially for that era. circa 1977–80. If you remember it, fine. If not, I am not going to summarize it now because I am thinking in other directions. Maybe later.

A few days ago, two medium-size cartons arrived in the mail, full of newspaper clippings, notes, correspondence, annotated copies of jury lists, itemized bills from lawyers and investigators, sworn statements and affidavits, investigators’ reports  — pretty much the entire paper trail except for the actual trial transcripts and some of the law-enforcement paperwork.

The old Court TV channel (now TruTV) would have loved this case, but it came a decade too soon.

And too early for the Internet, thank the gods. The hypothetical comments on a hypothetical post on The Wild Hunt would have blown up the server, I am sure.

One thing you don’t find in every criminal case is a thick file of psychics’ impressions of what “really happened,” complete with maps and diagrams, not to mention psychic readings of a couple dozen potential witnesses. (The investigator checked out some of this info as best he could.)

Yes, it was just the opposite of the Salem witch trials of 1692–93. In this case, it was the defense using “spectral evidence.” And while there was no bill from Dr. Buzzard for “chewing the root” in court, you can bet some magic-workers were involved.2)For more on the doctor, read High Sheriff of the Low Country.

I don’t feel like writing a “true crime” book, but I want to write something.  I had drafted a chapter on the trial for Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca And Paganism in America, but I deleted it because it did not mesh with the other themes of the book. (Now where is the file, on the old iMac in the basement?)

Maybe we need a Contemporary Pagan Studies Group session on “Paganism and Violence,” and since I won’t be co-chair after this year, I can submit something.  It’s a story that needs to be told, from the perspective of folklore studies or perthaps the study of new religious movements. To me, now, almost forty years after the events, it’s not so much the “who done it” that interests me as it is the context in which these events were imbedded.

Meanwhile, I have rough-sorted all the papers and condensed two cartons down to one, having set aside lots of old Pagan zines and unrelated materials of various sorts that were tossed in with the trial documents. Among these was the “Pagan Occult New Age Directory Supplement, Autumn 1978,” from the Pagan Grove Press of Atlanta. I looked up “Colorado” and there I was, with my old Manitou Springs telephone number. Kicked back in time.

Notes   [ + ]

1. I prefer that word to “community”—especially for that era.
2. For more on the doctor, read High Sheriff of the Low Country.

“Witches of America”: Sitting at the Cool Kids’ Table

I finally read Alex Mar’s Witches of America, and it is better than I thought, based on some of the reviews that I had seen, like this piece of negativity, for example: “[a] sordidly pornographic and self-aggrandising narrative” or this one: “extremely judgmental,” or the Complete Hurt Feelings Wrap-up here.

First, this is not a grand survey of the Pagan scene by a sympathetic journalist, similar to Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America (1979, rev. 1986) or the even earlier Witches U.S.A. by Susan Roberts (1974).

Rather, as one Pagan reviewer sarcastically noted, the better comparison was Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia(I cannot imagine Julia Roberts playing Margot Adler in the movie version of Drawing Down the Moon.) It’s a memoir about “finding yourself.”

But I still enjoyed the read, once I realized that it was not any kind of a survey but more like Alex Mar trying to find the cool kids’ table in the magic-school cafeteria. Just when you think she has settled on a corner seat at the O.T.O., she started looking across the room at the necromancers. Maybe they are the real kool kidz.

At least you, the reader, get to ride along with actual necromancers after midnight. That’s worth the price of admission right there.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Gilbert’s marriage to Jose “Felipe” Nunes, the “Love” part of her title, has broken up after twelve years. I wonder if Alex Mar will be active with the O.T.O. that long.

Being an “Oxbridge Scholar”

Yesterday’s mail brought my contributor’s copy of The Cambridge Handbook of Western Mysticism and Esotericism, to which I contributed an article on contemporary Paganism.

There ought to be a long German compound word for “fear of looking at something you wrote several years ago.”

The back cover of this hefty (2.5 lbs.; 958 g.) volume has the usual blurbs, such as this one from Jeffrey Kripal, whose work I admire: “[Editor] Glenn Magee has brought together a dream team of scholars . . . ”

Then, of course, the voice of doubt: “He didn’t mean you.” But I will take the reflected glory of some of the big names and rising stars in the field, people like Antoine Favre, Joscelyn Godwin, Olav Hammer, Wouter Hanegraaff, Egil Asprem, Hereward Tilton, Hugh Urban, Kocku von Stuckrad, Cathy Gutierrez, Lee Irwin, and many others.

Online, you can read the table of contents, front matter, and index.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, I mentioned earlier my struggle to have Paganism capitalized in my entry on same for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion.

Some of its entries on are online at that link (not mine as yet). It is a religion nerd’s paradise. Right now the featured online article is “Festivals in Ancient Greece and Rome” by Fritz Graf. (In the entries I have looked at, no one else fought for the capital P.)

So it hit me that although I have yet to set foot at either of the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge, I have — in a small way — been published by both of their university presses. Sitting here in my little house in the pines, that is an odd and interesting thought.

“It’s Only a Tree. It Can’t Hurt You!”

Plus “You’ve been watching too much television” and other undying lines from a “teens in peril” screenplay.

So who is  the writer? That well-known Wiccan author Stewart Farrar (1916–2000), slipping a little bit of a Craft-y message into this 1975 episode of a British show called Shadows. (A tip of the pointy hat to Veles at Adventures in Witchery for leading me to it.)

From the 1950s to the late 1970s, when he turned more toward writing purely Wiccan books in collaboration with his wife Janet, Stewart Farrar put his hand to everything: occult thrillers, magazine journalism, television screenplays — even a pseudononymous bodice-ripper romance, just to see if he could do it. His novel The Sword of Orley remains one of my favorite examples of how reincarnational memories ought to be, if only life were more like books.

I got to know Stewart around 1977, and at some point suggested to him that Dion Fortune’s book of short stores about an English magus, The Secrets of Doctor Taverner, ought to transfer well to “the box,” as he called it.

He went so far as to investigate who held the copyright — which was her esoteric order, The Fraternity of the Inner Light, and its directors apparently had no interest in licensing a television adaptation.

A pity — they would have made a perfect 1970s TV show, when occult topics were in vogue.

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.