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.

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.