Which “Paganism” Did the New York Times Mean?

When New York Times (mostly) political columnist Ross Douthat wrote a December 12 column titled “The Return of Paganism: Maybe There Actually is a Genuinely Post-Christian Future for America,” some Pagans got a little too excited — look, the NYT is writing about us!

Remember, there are at least three definitions for “pagan/Pagan.”

  1. A nonreligious person or an unbeliever, from a monotheistic perspective.1)For Jews, this means to never have them as close friends or family. For Christians, it means they should be converted. For Muslims, it means they should be converted, and meanwhile, it permissible to enslave them.
  2.  A person philosophically opposed to monotheisms on the grounds that they are life-denying cosmologies that desacralize the world. An example that I will return to is the French philosopher Alain de Benoist, known for his book On Being a Pagan, and other works. Camille Paglia fits here too. Such philosophical Pagans, however, often look down their noses at category 3.
  3.  Persons who declare that they are following a Pagan religion. This may represent a reconstructed version of what their ancestors did or a new set of practices deemed compatible with ancient Paganism or a reconstructed version of practices from an admired ancient culture (for instance, if I were a Hellenic reconstructionist although not Greek by heritage). In addition, “Pagan” sometimes is employed to cover all polytheistic,2)There are “atheist” and “humanistic” Pagans, it is true. Perhaps they are merely Unitarians who like to be in the woods. animistic, and indigenous religions

A lot of Douthat’s piece is about position #1.

Here are some generally agreed-upon facts about religious trends in the United States. Institutional Christianity has weakened drastically since the 1960s. Lots of people who once would have been lukewarm Christmas-and-Easter churchgoers now identify as having “no religion” or being “spiritual but not religious.” The mainline-Protestant establishment is an establishment no more.

Then he goes into a “spiritual smorgasbord” section, where the “religious impulse” produces new creations of spiritual entrepreneurs who “cobble together pieces of the old orthodoxies” that are still under the overarching monotheist worldviews.

Nevertheless, he continues, there comes a “moment when you should just believe people who claim they have left the biblical world-picture behind, a context where the new spiritualities add up to a new religion.”  He quotes a new book by Steven D. Smith, Pagans and Christians in the City: Culture Wars from the Tiber to the Potomac, which speaks of a “new religious conception”:

What is that conception? Simply this: that divinity is fundamentally inside the world rather than outside it, that God or the gods or Being are ultimately part of nature rather than an external creator, and that meaning and morality and metaphysical experience are to be sought in a fuller communion with the immanent world rather than a leap toward the transcendent

That sounds exactly like what Benoist was writing in the early1980s, or like various other people in the “#2 Pagan” category. But we have not even gotten to Wiccans, Heathens, Druids, etc.!

He finally gets to Wiccans, etc., at the end, consigning them to a “New Age” category, which just shows his ignorance. After all, if your Paganism includes “the gods are a part of nature,” you are not New Age but very Old Age. “New Age” is all about leaping towards the transcendent, just in a more gnostic way than in the churches.

By the end, he is broadly hinting that this “new paganism” will lead to an increase in demonic possession — just follow his last hyperlink.

Writing for The Wild Hunt, Manny Tejado-Moreno claims that “Douthat has it backwards. . . . Douthat appears to be profoundly disturbed at the loss of central moral authority, and, apparently unable to cope with what organized religion has done to itself, seeks a scapegoat in Paganism.”

But no, it’d not “backwards” insofar as Doughtat is not really writing about us practicing Pagans. We are just an afterthought. He is indeed concerned about the loss of Christian hegemony, a concern raised a couple of generations ago in western Europe but only more recently popping up in North America, where Christianity was always the 600-pound gorilla in the religion room.3)Now it’s what, the 300-pound gorilla? He sees the #1-#2 “paganism” that is replacing it as a falling away from The Truth.

If you want to watch a thoughtful Christian writer struggle with that issue, bookmark Rod Dreher’s blog or read his book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in Post-Christian Nation, which is selling well in translation in France and Italy, I wonder why.

Notes   [ + ]

1. For Jews, this means to never have them as close friends or family. For Christians, it means they should be converted. For Muslims, it means they should be converted, and meanwhile, it permissible to enslave them.
2. There are “atheist” and “humanistic” Pagans, it is true. Perhaps they are merely Unitarians who like to be in the woods.
3. Now it’s what, the 300-pound gorilla?

Call for Papers: Digital Paganism and Digital Occultism

For a special issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies.

My name is Heather Freeman (Professor of Art, UNC Charlotte, USA) and I am seeking research on Digital Paganism / Digital Occultism for a future issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies.  Please see the CFP (below) for details.

I am particularly interested in research on practices that employ scripting/programming, social media platforms, and/or mobile technologies.  Most of the published research on digital practices is a decade old and focused on using then-new technologies to meet virtually and communicate. In 2018 this practice is not surprising, yet it stands to reason that digital Pagan and Occult practices may be much more nuanced and rich, even (or especially) when it is otherwise hidden from forward-facing social media platforms.

If you have existing research on any of these topics, or if this is something you might be interested in pursing, please email me at heatherfreeman@uncc.edu. If you would like, I’d be happy to meet via Skype, Hangouts, or a phone call to discuss the CFP further.

Thank you in advance,

Heather Freeman
Professor of Art, UNC Charlotte (North Carolina, USA)
 
 
Request for Proposals: Digital Pagan and Occult Practice

Potential topics may include, but are not limited to Pagan and/or Occult intersections with mobile technologies, game design, programming, hacking, social bots, trolls, sock puppets; spellcasting in OSNs (on-line social networks); on-line covens; software as spell crafting; virtual familiars, fetches, and spirit homes; blogging and Craft community ; digital spaces and virtual collectives of marginalized witches; young Millennial and GenZ Pagans in on-line spaces; Pagan generational gaps and the ‘digital divide’; digital chaos magick, both historic and contemporary; ritual magick in virtual spaces or with digital tools; challenges in the ‘Nature vs. Technology’ binary.What is the current interplay between digital technologies and Pagan and Occult practice? Many deliberately distance their Craft from new media technologies, seeing screen-based mediation as antithetical to a nature-based practice.  Yet many Millennial and GenZ Pagans and Occultists embrace these new tools. While earlier generations of Pagans used sites like Witchvox.com to find fellow practitioners, the rapid development of commerical on-line social networks, such as Facebook, present new avenues for Pagans and Occultists to pursue community. 
 
Digital spaces have created myriad new tools and opportunities for magickal practice, from Phantasmaphile’s WitchEmojis to the mass binding spell on President Donald Trump. On-line magickal practices, tools, and actions leverage the power of vast social networks, making normally hidden and secretive acts highly public — sometimes as a side-effect, sometimes deliberately. Millennial and GenZ Pagans appear to use sites such as Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Reddit, and Twitter for their practice in a radically different way from older users. But is this actually the case? And if it is, are Millennial and GenZ beliefs and practices also different? Indeed, numerous blog posts on Patheos – Pagan have consider this question, with discussions ranging from ‘validity’ to a consideration of how digital natives adopt new technologies for magical practices. But are these new trends in on-line magical practice also new religions? Do Millennial and GenZ Pagans and Occultists have a different relationship to the gods and spirits and, if so, is this because of digital technology? Is there really an on-line schism between GenZ magical practitioners and older generations, or does it just appear that way on Instagram?
 
But these publicly available and searchable Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr feeds are only the most forward facing manifestations of Digital Paganism. What of ‘back end’ digital magick? On-line social networks are rich with (or polluted by, depending on your perspective) social bots, trolls, and sock puppets, which are software and account behaviors used to skew the appearance of popularity and therefore algorithmic rankings. Chaos magicians used software code in their operations from the 1990s onwards, yet there has been little written about this practice since the explosion of social media technologies in the last decade. MySpace, which is arguably the first widely adopted social media platform, come out in 2006; the first iPhone in 2007; the incredibly rapid development and adoption of these information technologies is astounding.

It seems obvious that Pagan programmers would adopt these new technologies towards their practices, but where are they? What are they doing, and why has this become so hidden, even as so-called “aesthetic witchcraft” has become so popular? There are certainly Pagans and Occultists building divination and astrology apps, but are they also discrete apps as spells? Or are their spells entirely backend? How do digital technologies (including OSNs, video games, mobile apps, AR, and VR, and other forms) present new ways for Pagans and Occultists to Know, to Will, to Dare, and to Be Silent? What are the roles of gender, race, age, class, and global location in the adoption and manipulation of digital media technologies for the pursuit of Hidden Knowledge?  

And if there is a generational schism growing between GenZ and older generations of magickal practitioners, what might this mean for the future of Paganism in an increasingly networked and connected global society?
 
If you are interested in contributing to this special issue of The Pomegranate:The International Journal of Pagan Studies, please, email an abstract (200 – 400 words) to Heather D. Freeman (heatherfreeman@uncc.edu).
 
Heather D. Freeman is Professor of Art – Digital Media at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Director/Producer of the feature documentary Familiar Shapes: The Story of Social Bots, Early Modern Witches, and How Information Technologies Reveal Them.

Heather D. Freeman
Professor of Art, Digital Media
Co-Director, The Digital Arts Center (D+Arts) in the College of Arts + Architecture
Faculty Advisor to the UNC Charlotte Archery Club and the Digital Art Mob

Familiar Shapes — A documentary about social bots, misinformation, early modern witches, and how human behavior shapes them.

The Moving Image Workshop: Introducing animation, motion graphics and visual effects in 45 practical projects.

Department of Art & Art History
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte
9201 University City Blvd.
Charlotte, NC 28223
(o) 704-687-0184
heatherfreeman@uncc.edu 
www.HeatherDFreeman.com


Call for Papers: The Impact of Traditionalism on Contemporary Magical Communities

For a special issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies

Traditionalism is a philosophical school which has significantly impacted religious communities and political movements in the twentieth and twenty first centuries, yet it remains virtually unknown among scholars and the general public. Yet when Steve Bannon cited Réne Guénon and Julius Evola as key influences in formulating his political positions, this inspired new interest in the history and ideas informing the growing Alt Right. However, both Guénon and Evola have been known within Pagan and occult communities for decades as esoteric theorists. Overall, the tenets of Traditionalism, which include Perennialism, the cultivation of an initiated elite, the notion of cyclical time, a past golden age and anti-modern sentiments, have increasingly impacted Pagan and occult communities, as some of these ideas are complementary to Pagan and occult aesthetics, values and practices.

This special volume of The Pomegranate would feature articles examining the ways in which Traditionalism has influenced Pagan and occult subcultures. Topics could include

· Traditionalism and Pagan or esoteric publishing.
· The intersection of Traditionalist ideas with Pagan values and ethics.
· Neofolk music.
· Traditionalism and Polytheism, Reconstructionism and Heathenry.
· Pagan and occult themes in Traditionalist theory.
· The impact of Traditionalist debates in various orders, such as the O.T.O.
· The impact of Traditionalism on historic individuals relevant to Paganism, for example W.B. Yeats or Kathleen Raine.

Please note that while papers may reflect the impact of Traditionalism
on the Alt Right or New Right in relationship to these topics, that we
would like to ensure that we focus on relevant philosophies and
frameworks explicitly inspired by Traditionalism.

If you would like to contribute to this issue of The Pomegranate: The International
Journal of Pagan Studies
edited by Amy Hale, please submit an abstract
of 300-500 words to amyhale93@gmail.com by April 1, 2019. Final
Submissions of 5000-8000 words will be due August 1, 2019.

Call for Papers: Pagan Art & Fashion

CFP for a special issue of The Pomegranate on 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 VanessaIrena 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 Lanadel Rey admits hexing Donald Trump. 

  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

Publishing Thoughts after AAR-SBL 2018

Nothing gladdens an editor’s heart like seeing an author with his new book. Here Jefferson Calico talks about Being Viking: Heathenisn in Contemporary America with Giovanna Parmigiani, who also presented a paper in a Contemporary Pagan Studies session.

I got so busy with the “Season of the Witch(crap)” series that I wrote nothing about last month’s joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature.1)The SBL is actually the parent of the AAR, but the child organization is now much bigger and broader.

The meeting this year was in Denver for the first time since 2001. Although I live in Colorado, I visit Denver only once or twice a year, and when I do, I feel like a country mouse in the urban canyons. There was a time when I sold print advertising up there once or twice a month and was pretty familiar with the central areas, but so much has changed, that my memories are palimpsests, and I have to learn its geography all over again. That restaurant that I remember as moderately priced is now more expensive, and they don’t have any tables available.

That said, if you are a meeting planner, Denver’s convention center is easy to navigate, is withing about four blocks of thousands of hotel rooms, and also within a short walk from many restaurants, so that 10,000 hungry intellectuals discharged into the city center can find places to eat lunch.

And you can take an Amtrak train (or a commuter train from the airport) into the city center and then ride a free shuttle bus into the hotel district. M. and I drove, however, handing our mud-splattered Jeep over to the hotel parking valet for the duration.

But enough boosterism. I was there with a light heart: I am no longer co-chair of the AAR’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit, and I had no obligations to anyone about anything, not to mention no obligation to attend the 7:15 a.m. chairs’ breakfast (yawn) or the tense negotiations of the steering committees’ reception, where, drink in hand and shouting in someone’s ear, you attempt to arrange joint sessions for the following year.

Thank you, term limits!

Instead, I went to sessions and talked to authors, coming away with a possible two books for the Equinox series in Contemporary and Historical Paganism and a contribution to an editing collection that is in progress. I will not name these, because I do not wish to jinx them.  The series, I should say, has published more than one book as it has moved from publisher to publisher, but after a merger and a de-merger, we had to re-set the meter to zero. Long story.

I also came away with plans for a guest-edited issue of The Pomegranate  on
Traditionalism and Paganism. I had always though of Traditionalism as concerned mainly with esoteric approaches to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but there is also Pagan or Pagan-friendly version, largely traceable back to the French philosopher Alain de Benoist.

And then we get into some very tricky territory. Here there be dragons.

Soon I will post all the “calls for papers” for three special issues of The Pomegranate, each with a well-qualified editor, and if you are working in any one those areas, I hope that you will get in touch.

Notes   [ + ]

1. The SBL is actually the parent of the AAR, but the child organization is now much bigger and broader.

Season of the Witch(crap), Part 3

As a rule, media witches are always young and female (Mercator).

Season of the Witch(crap), Part 1

Season of the Witch(crap), Part 2

“Witchcrap”: superficial journalistic treatments of Wicca, Witchcraft, and related Pagan paths.

• In The Atlantic,Young black women are leaving Christianity and embracing African witchcraft in digital covens.” Except the article discusses a convention and gets to the digital stuff later. I think the “penchant for digital religion” extends across racial boundaries

• Meanwhile, “Though it is the subtext of savagery that animates narratives around witches, white women who take up the mantle of witch magic rarely understand themselves to be engaging in Indian or savage play,” proclaims the online magazine New Inquiry.

• The Australian Catholic magazine Mercator keeping an eye on Wicca too, but the article is by Massimo Introvigne, who is a well-known scholar of new religious movements and also a Roman Catholic. “The Rise and Rise of Wicca.”

Spike groans, “Spare Me This Pagan Revival.” “Pagans are generally perverts, and not even sexy ones.”

• And from India, Swarajya magazine offers “The Religion They Want to Build,” which notes the Indo-Europeaness of much revived Western Paganism:

As is expected from the linguistic kinship among Indo-European languages, European Pagan cultures show striking similarities with various Indic indigenous traditions. For instance, among Lithuanian Neo Pagans, the notion of Damumas as a foundation of the world order is a central idea. According to Lithuanian ethnologist and Romuva ideologue Jonas Trinkunas, the word Damumas is linked etymologically to the Sanskrit dharma and the Pali Dhamma. J P Mallory, a prominent Indo-European scholar cites another linguistic parallel in a Lithuanian proverb — ‘Dievas dave dantis; Dievas duous duonoss’. The proverb translates as ‘God gave us teeth, God will give bread’. The Sanskrit equivalent of the proverb is Devas adadat datas, Devas dat dhanas.

Not so crappy. And another indication that some Hindus are realizing that they have more in common with us than with the Middle Eastern monotheisms.

Season of the Witch(crap), Part 2

Candace Aguilera trained in Guatemala’s jungle (Colorado Springs Independent).

“Season of the Witch(crap), Part 1” here.

Continuing . . .

• One more “high” priestess joke, and you’re out of here. From the Colorado Springs Independent, the weekly that gets all the cannabis advertising because the chain-owned daily paper won’t touch it: “Meet Colorado’s High Priestess of Cannabis.” Yes, it’s that favorite form of American creativity: Let’s start a church!

• The Catholic News Agency views the number of self-proclaimed witches with alarm: “Number of Americans who say they are witches is on the rise.” With video.

• If you dare . . . “Go inside a Wiccan ceremony.” Also with video. Fairly mild sauce, actually.

• It’s the Guardian again: “The season of the witch: how Sabrina and co [sic] are casting their spell over TV.”  “Diverse, digitally savvy and definitely feminist” — yes, that’s all it takes to be a media witch.

• And on public [sic] radio, “When you hear the word ‘witch,’ what does your mind conjure?” Damn, that’s clever writing. This time it’s the 1A show: “Hex in Effect: Why Witches are Back.” (Were we gone? Did I miss that memo?) A teaser for the radio show, which you can listen to if you have unlimited earbuds time.

• On Halloween, Vox.com covered the Sephora witch-kit kerfuffle, which is already old news. “The occult is having a moment. Companies want in, but not if witches can help it.” So much is wrong with this. Is there something measurable called “the occult”?  Sigh. I wanted to list everything Vox gets wrong, I would need a bigger blog. At least The Onion tells you that it is non-serious. Anyway, this one is over.

Maja, photographed by Frances Denny of Brooklyn. Denny is descended from a Salem witch-trial judge of 1692. That qualified her to “explore what it means to be a witch today.”(Daily Mail).

• Ah, those millennials. Now they are “ditching religion for witchcraft and astrology.” I could be snarky and say, “Hey, the Seventies called and they want their headlines back.” Or I could say that this is something that is always going on. Decades. Centuries.

The Daily Mail just goes for the photo shoot. If you don’t look like these “actresses, authors, and a technician,”  are you a real witch?

At least the photographer was inspired by a a worthwhile book, Stacy Schiff’s The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692. (What does it say that the Daily Mail cannot even get a book title right?)

Link fixed — sorry.

Don’t go away. There will be more. And guess what is missing from almost all of these articles.

Season of the Witch(crap), Part 1

When I look out my window,
Many sights to see.
And when I look in my window,
So many different people to be
That it’s strange, so strange

Strangeness. Back before there was an Internet, dear readers, I clipped and photocopied newspapers and magazine articles on Wicca, other Paganisms, etc., and sorted them into folders labeled “Witchcrap 1970s,” “Witchcrap 1980s,” and so on. Eventually, printed-out Web pages joined the rest. Why the name? Because so much of it was crap, but at least it kept the idea out there.

Dear readers, I have to say that this past “season of the witch” has been extraordinary! I have so many bookmarked links that this will be a two-part blog post (or three-part). So . . . in no particular order, it’s “Best of Witchcrap 2018”!

• Those of us in the know know that the heartland of America is the heartland of Paganism, so a title like “Occult Rituals in the Backwoods of Wisconsin” should not raise any eyebrows. After all, who else is in the backwoods of Wisconsin? Circle Sanctuary, that’s who. This one is not really about Paganism, however, so much as it is about murder and “Goatman.” You know, teenagers summoning Satan and all that. Not Selena Fox.

• In Britain, the ever-so-earnest Guardian newspaper asks, “Why Are Witches So Popular?” Since it’s the Guardian, the answer must be that “this new wave is linked to the bubbling cauldron of contemporary politics.” Move along, nothing religious to see hear. No invisible friends — Karl Marx said they don’t exist.

• Elsewhere on the political spectrum, inviting witches into politics is seen as a bad thing — and to be honest, it does not produce predictable results. In the Washington Examiner, “Emails: Kyrsten Sinema summoned witches to her anti-war rally.” She won a close election though, “hocus-pocus” or not.

• Meanwhile, in Pagan-friendly but officially Lutheran Iceland, “Icelanders abandon National State Church, as old pagan Ásatrú continues to grow.” The Pagan Association of Iceland claims 1.2 percent of the population, all of whom could fit into Colorado Springs with room left over. But still, I do feel that 1 percent is a kind of tipping point, the point where “they” have to take you seriously. Also, 6.9 percent of Icelanders are registered as “nones.”

Continue to Part 2!

Continue to Part 3!