Religious Scholars Incognito

The AAR’s 2019 annual meeting graphic.

When you are a scholar of religion, sometimes you forget how seriously people take religion.

Riding across New Mexico this week on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, M. and I went to the dining car for supper. All the tables seat four, and to save space and facilitate service, if there are fewer than four of people, the steward will seat others at your table (or you at theirs) to fill them up. To some people, this is social event; others just greet you politely and then ignore you.

We had just one companion, however, an older man who introduced himself as “Fred.” I don’t know how it came up, but he said that he wrote books on various topics, including theology. (Uh-oh.) Also, he said, he had produced a new version of the Bible in 21st-century English. (What a concept! No one has thought of that before!) It became clear that his theology is very conservative.

He asked what I did. I said I had worked as a newspaper journalist and magazine editor, which is perfectly true. I did not say that I was on my way to the annual joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature, because if nothing else, many people will think you are Bible Answer Man or something.

Like the time I was riding a shuttle bus between my Chicago hotel and the McCormick Place convention center and the bus driver shut the door, looked over his shoulder, and said, “I bet you gentlemen know when Jesus is coming back.”

I let the Protestants on board handle that one.

My encounter with Fred, though, was mild compared to what another friend encountered on her trip to San Diego this year:

[I spent the flight] listening to some techbro explain to the Dean [of a certain seminary] how he and his friend started their own church based on self-actualization through electronic dance music.

He ended the plane ride by making the Dean make a Facebook video for his gurufeed (his words) about what he was grateful for and the great synchronicity they had.

I thought about trying to send the Dean a rescue party, but the Southwest flight attendants wouldn’t allow it.

If you are shy or just feeling anti-social, sometimes it is better not to say that you are a religion scholar.

A New Book for the Pagan Studies Series on Pagan Aspects of Pizzica in Southern Italy

A year ago I photographed Jefferson Calico (r.), author of Being Viking: Heathenism in Contemporary America with Giovanna Parmigiani, a visitor to the Equinox Publishing booth at the American Academy of Religion-Society of Biblical Literature joint book show at their annual meetings in Denver, Colorado.

I am happy to say that Giovanna has now signed a contract with us in the Contemporary and Historical Paganism series for her new book, which has a working title of The Spider Dance: Tradition, Time, and Healing in Southern Italy. A little piece of it is in the current issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies as “Spiritual Pizzica: A Southern Italian Perspective on Contemporary Paganism.”1)If you do not want to buy access to the article, have you talked to your friendly inter-library loan librarian?

Q:  Two books is a “series”?

A: It is more complicated than that. The series was originally published by AltaMira Press, a division of Roman & Littlefield, an American publisher. The first book in the series was Barbara Davy’s (a Canadian scholar) Introduction to Pagan Studies (2007), followed by my book Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America (2006).2)Wait, you say, those numbers are out of sequence. All I can say is that Barb’s was actually printed first. There were others in the series, some acquired by my first co-editor, Wendy Griffin.

Wendy stepped down, and was replaced by the late Nikki Bado. Meanwhile, editorial changes at Rowman left Nikki and me looking for another home. We quickly found one at Equinox, which was already publishing The Pomegranate. Nikki and I brought in more books, including Pop Pagans: Paganism and Popular Music and Modern Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Central and Eastern Europe, whose co-editor, Scott Simpson, stepped up to replace Nikki after her death and continues as series co-editor now.

Meanwhile, there was a merger, a de-merger, and a sale, and those books in the “Series in Contemporary and Historical Paganism” ended up with Routledge, who discontinued the series. Meanwhile, we carried on with Equinox, starting over from scratch, more or less.

Q: What does pizzica sound like?

A: Try this (it’s kind of a formal performance):

Drummers might like this one:

This one is fun too. Remember that this part of the Italian peninsula was settled by Greeks way back.

One last thing: if you order from the links, I do get a small commission, which helps with the Web-hosting bill. Thanks.

Notes   [ + ]

1. If you do not want to buy access to the article, have you talked to your friendly inter-library loan librarian?
2. Wait, you say, those numbers are out of sequence. All I can say is that Barb’s was actually printed first.

Playing Heathen Neo-folk on North Dakota Highways

I was on my way to a little town in North Dakota where a friend lives about at the intersection of Norway and Washington streets — can you get any more perfect than that? And every little town is dominated by a Lutheran steeple.

A friend in Poland and I were emailing about how the eastern Dakotas and eastern Canadian prairies line up with Russia, ecologically. Only this is what you see instead of onion domes.

I drive on by, blasting Hedningarna (The Heathens) or some other Norski neo-folk on the Jeep’s speakers. The poor immigrants— their pastors thought that even Hardanger fiddle music was devilish. So much left behind.

Pomegranate 21.1 Published—Table of Contents

The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies

Issue 21.1 (2019) table of contents

Articles
Fallen Soldiers and the Gods: Religious Considerations in the Retrieval and Burial of the War Dead in Classical Greece
Sarah L. Veale

Attitudes Towards Potential Harmful Magical Practices in Contemporary Paganism – A Survey
Bethan Juliet Oake

Spiritual Pizzica: A Southern Italian Perspective on Contemporary Paganism
Giovanna Parmigiani

The Ethics of Pagan Ritual
Douglas Ezzy

“The Most Powerful Portal in Zion” – Kursi: The Spiritual Site that Became an Intersection of Ley-lines and Multicultural Discourses
Marianna Ruah-Midbar Shapiro , Adi Sasson

Book Reviews-open access
Stephen Edred Flowers, The Northern Dawn: A History of the Reawakening of the Germanic Spirit. Vol. 1, From the Twilight of the Gods to the Sun at Midnight
Jefferson F. Calico

Liselotte Frisk, Sanja Nilsson, and Peter Åkerbäck, Children in Minority Religions: Growing Up in Controversial Religious Groups
Carole M. Cusack

Ronald Hutton, The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present
Chas S. Clifton

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween, dear readers. This day finds me still coping with the 16.5 inches (41 cm) of snow that fell this week, working simultaneously on two journals (a new Pomegranate is coming!) and preparing to start a book-editing project. And my own stuff too, of course.

It doesn’t feel very Halloween-ish, to tell the truth, but the British neighbor is throwing a Bonfire Night party on the compromise date of November 2nd, and I am looking forward to that.

Have We Indeed Reached “Peak Witch”?

I doubt it. But that is the kind of significant question that the New York Times is asking during Witchcraft and Paganism Media Month: “When Did Everybody [sic] Become a Witch?

Witches are influencers who use the hashtag #witchesofinstagram to share horoscopes, spells and witchy memes, and they are anti-Trump resistance activists carrying signs that say “Hex the Patriarchy” (also the title of a new book of spells) and “We are the granddaughters of the witches you weren’t able to burn.”

Witches are panelists, they are podcasters, they are members of The Wing (which calls itself a “coven”), they are in-house residents at swanky Manhattan hotels and some might say that one is even a presidential candidate, Marianne Williamson. (Alyssa Milano, of “Charmed” fame, recently fund-raised for Williamson. Coincidence?)

Wait a minute, I thought that Marianne Williamson was a Jewish New-Ager. It is so confusing.

There are some interesting links here though.

That Altar Needs More Skulls

Photo: Secretariat of Citizen Security of Mexico City

People have been stacking up skulls in what is now Mexico City since the Aztecs ruled it.

I just wonder at the timing of this particular raid in late October . . .

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Police found more than 40 skulls, dozens of bones and a fetus in a glass jar next to an altar in the den of suspected drug traffickers in Mexico City during a raid this week, authorities said on Sunday.

Four of the skulls were built into the altar in the central Tepito neighborhood, where police arrested 31 people on Tuesday on suspicion of drug cartel activity, the city government said in a statement. A judge ordered 27 of the suspects released.

Vocabulary word of the day: Tzompantli.

Building an Altar to the Dead

A Step-by-Step Guide to Building Your Own Altar This Día de Muertos,” from the Remezcla (” the most influential media brand for Latino Millennials”) website.

Rooted in pre-Hispanic traditions and mixed with elements of Christianity, the ofrendas – which can consist of several levels, depending on space – are a place of gathering. Not only do they unite the living and the dead, they’re also a space to share stories. Each family member contributes by talking about their history.

You can build ofrendas, which include items that reveal a little into the person you’re celebrating, anywhere within your home. Centered around the photos of a loved one, ofrendas typically commemorate those you knew personally. But it’s not rare to see ofrendas honoring celebrities, especially those we feel we know firsthand.

The beauty of these altars is they can take any shape and are highly customizable. But they should represent the four elements: fire (candles), wind (papel picado), earth (food), and water. While no two ofrendas are alike, here is a eight-step guide to get you started.

I published a similar set of instructions earlier along with some reflections. 

And after that, La profesora became upset that students were doing it wrong — in other words, they were being too much multicultural with their altars to celebrities, etc., and so the campus-wide altar building in the Student Center was stopped, while only one “correct” altar was erected in a showcase in one classroom building.

It’s October, and You Know What That Means: Media!

It’s in this issue.

At The New Yorker, they have discovered that astrology is back. In never leaves, actually — ask the people at Llewellyn —but new media interest is cyclical as the Moon. Maybe it is just astrology’s “growth” on social media that gets noticed.

In July, I was ushered into a glass-enclosed conference room on the sixth floor of a building in Tribeca to meet with Banu Guler, the thirty-one-year-old co-founder and C.E.O. of the astrology app Co-Star, whose Web site promises to allow “irrationality to invade our techno-rationalist ways of living.” Guler is a casting director’s idea of a tech executive. She is a vegan who used to design punk zines and was a bike messenger until she got into “a gnarly car wreck.” She has cropped hair, a septum piercing, and a tattoo of Medea on the back of one leg. Why Medea? I asked. “Witchcraft,” she explained. A copy of Liz Greene’s “Relating: An Astrological Guide to Living with Others on a Small Planet” lay between us. Guler hasn’t read it, but it’s been on her Goodreads list forever.

That is a little stomach-turning, in that Liz Greene is one of the best astrologers out there. When I decided that I was less into astrology than in previous years, I got rid of most of my books — except for Liz Greene’s and Robert Hand’s.

Maybe Guler needs a tattoo of Media, not Medea.

Interview with Carl Weschcke’s Biographer

Melanie Marquis (Voyage Denver).

I once stayed a couple of nights at Carl Weschcke’s house, when he lived out in Marine on St. Croix, and on the drive back and forth to the old Llewellyn Publications office in St. Paul I heard a lot of his stories — but I am sure there are more!

Colorado author Melanie Marquis has written several books for Llewellyn, but the one that I most want to see is Carl Llewellyn Weschcke: Pioneer & Publisher of Body, Mind & Spirit.

From the publisher’s description:

To the countless people he inspired, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke will forever be known as the Father of the New Age. This vivid and entertaining book tells Carl’s story, from a childhood influenced by his Spiritualist grandfather to his early days as a member and president of the Minnesota NAACP. Discover the fascinating account of how he transformed Llewellyn Publications from a small publisher of astrology pamphlets into the largest and most important publisher of body, mind, and spirit literature. Read about Carl’s relationships with the most influential thinkers and teachers of the counterculture, and his public Wiccan handfasting and enduring relationship with his wife, Sandra. Written by longtime friend Melanie Marquis?and including photos and contributions from authors, artists, family, friends, and collaborators?this is a book that looks back at the kindling of a movement while empowering fellow travelers on their journey forward.

When people talk about the history of Paganism, most of the emphasis is on the groups, leaders, and inspirational writers. Carl did some writing too, but I focus on his accomplishments as publisher and facilitator. He added Wiccan and then other Pagan titles to what had been an astrology-focused list. He threw parties. He published Gnostica, his “magalog” (magazine + catalog) with people like Isaac Bonewits (briefly editor) and Robert Anton Wilson writing for it. His Gnosticon festivals, along with the Church of Wicca’s Samhain Seminars (both of them hotel-based conventions) were among the first large Pagan gatherings where people actually met practitioners from other groups beyond their own.

Really, could you imagine North American Paganism without Llewellyn books, say what you will about some of them? No Buckland’s “Big Blue Book“? No Scott Cunningham? No Silver Ravenwolf? No Chas Clifton’s Witchcraft Today series?

According to Marquis, interviewed on the website Voyage Denver, Carl was “an absolutely fascinating man who took a small mail-order company of astrology pamphlets and built it into a multi-million dollar publishing house focused on New Age and occult literature. He was also a lifelong student of the occult sciences. and a dedicated activist and engaging speaker and outspoken leader during the civil rights era.”

Read the whole interview about her life and her writing here.