Mourning Wendy Griffin

Wendy Griffin as a Sixties folksinger.

My day was knocked sideways around noon when I learned that Wendy Griffin (1942–2021) had died a couple of hours earlier, peacefully and at home, according to Doug Cox, her husband.

After a late-blossoming career as an academic, where she retired after charing the Department of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies at California State University, Long Beach, she took on the job of academic dean at Cherry Hill Seminary for a few years more. Earlier, she had been a folksinger, a published novelist,[1]As Wendy Lozano, author of She Who Was King and other works. and I don’t know what all else.

(For more on Wendy’s bohemian, pre-academic life, go here.)

Doug Cox and Wendy Griffin.

In 2004, when after eight years of trying, a group of scholars persuaded the American Academy of Religion to recognize Pagan studies by granting us our own program unit, Wendy was the first co-chair, along with Michael York. When I succeeded her, she walked me through how to handle all the bureaucratic scutwork that came with the job, something I am not always good at doing.

Wendy’s Paganism and academic life were intertwined. In an autobiographical essay for The Pomegranate she wrote,

When the large red-headed student stood up the first week of the semester and announced to my women’s studies class at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), that she was a Dianic Witch, I knew it was going to be an interesting semester. It was 1987 and I was a “freeway flyer,” one of those PhDs teaching on multiple campuses, trying to patch together enough part-time jobs to survive until that magical tenure-track position appeared.

Attending a Dianic Witchcraft campout, she had a realization:

From the time I was two years old until I was 16, I had spent every summer surrounded by women in the forests of Wisconsin and Michigan. My mother was the associate director of a Campfire Girls camp during WWII and then opened a girls’ camp of her own.6 Before the campers arrived and after they had gone, I would be left pretty much on my own. I would take a lunch and walk in the woods, build fairy gardens, try to communicate with small animals. When I was a little older I’d take one of the canoes and paddle around the three small connecting lakes, losing myself in the tall reeds. I always felt safe, protected because, I would actively pretend, I was part of the wilderness. I remembered how we campers would walk two by two, singing softly as we processed down through the silver birch trees to the lake and the campfire that awaited us. I didn’t know the word “spirituality” at the time and probably wouldn’t have recognized it if I had. But as I stood there in the mountains outside Los Angeles, the memories flooded back and the magic of the night brought that sense of connection from my childhood. That was when I realized the feelings were spiritual, that I was a spiritual person, and what these women were doing were practices that they believed healed them and connected them to a greater whole.

Wendy at the American Academy of Religion, Atlanta, 2015.

She had published an edited collection, Daughters of the Goddess: Studies of Identity, Healing and Empowerment, with AltaMira Press, who asked her to edit a Pagan-studies series. She knew me only through email, but she asked if I would help, and now here I am, with the series at home at Equinox.

Birth of a book series? Wendy Griffn (l), AltaMira Press editor Eric Hanson, and Kristy Coleman, author of “Re-riting Women: Dianic Wicca and the Feminine Divine.” American Academy of Religion, Denver, 2001.

When Wendy retired from teaching and book-series editing, she was not done yet: in 2010 she agreed to help Cherry Hill:

I took the [academic dean] position a few months before officially retiring from CSULB. At Cherry Hill, I have been fortunate to work with deeply dedicated and hard-working professionals. That is especially important, as only the executive director and the faculty are paid, the latter only during the semester they teach and never what they are really worth. We are a small seminary and exist on a shoestring budget. Fortunately, I get a small pension from CSULB now that I am “retired,” so I can afford to do service at CHS.

O Fortuna, velut luna statu variabilis

She continued,

Writing this article is the first time I have looked back at my career as a Pagan studies scholar in any detail. Four main things stand out to me. First, I never would have gotten anywhere without putting in a great deal of hard work. That is a given for all of us, but to begin undergraduate education as a single parent on welfare in her thirties is uniquely challenging.

Second, the networking I have been able to do through professional organizations and the contacts I made there have been invaluable, beyond anything I could have imagined at the time. To me, that is why these annual meetings are worth it, even if there have been times when I had to go hide out in my hotel room from overload.

Third, I believe it is important to take risks, and I certainly have taken my share. Risk-taking doesn’t always work out, but you can always learn something from it. That knowledge can pay off in future, unexpected ways.

Fourth, all the hard work in the world would not have led me to a successful career without good luck. In several key places I was in the right place at the right time and prepared enough to take the hand of the Goddess Fortuna when she offered it to me.

I have been blessed.

Wendy, we have all been blessed to know you.

Notes

Notes
1 As Wendy Lozano, author of She Who Was King and other works.

Christmas, When the Veil is Thin

Christmas Eve 2020

In December (yeah, this is late) I was tapped by a public library in Oregon to give an hour’s Zoom lecture on the “Pagan origins of Christmas.”

I did it, but that format is still pretty weird. How many people are watching? Three? Thirty? Three hundred? And are they awake? No post-lecture Q&A or chat was scheduled by the organizers, so I will never know. On the other hand, they sent the check promptly.

While I agree there is some swapping of symbols back and forth, I will just say that Yule and Christmas are still fundamentally different.[1]And Santa is not a flying shaman; he never flew before about 1823, and his red and white suit commemorates Coca-Cola, not Amanita muscaria. Old-time Santa Claus/Father Christmas figures wore various … Continue reading The Christmas Story is just that, a linear narrative, while the Pagan Yule is cyclical and performative. We used a few minutes of video from the Denver winter solstice custom of Drumming Up the Sun at Red Rocks Amphitheatre to introduce my talk.

Another thing  — it’s been drilled into me since my twenties that the “veil between the worlds” is thin at Samhain, so it was a jerk back into someone else’s story to be reminded, while doing my research, that there is a whole parallel tradition of the “veil being thin” and the dead walking on Christmas Eve. (Also domestic animals talking and other nonordinary stuff.)

In fact, M. and I always do that, hang a candle lantern at Christmas Eve, Pagans that we are. For the Holy Family? For the dead? Is is just one of those customs that you follow, while the rationale changes from generation to generation? It has always seemed like the right thing to do.

Over in the sidebar of the blog — if you are looking at the main page — is a list of magickal and paranormal podcasts. One of my favorites is Timothy Renner’s Strange Familiars. For the last two Decembers, Renner, who sometimes calls himself a “Marian animist,” has invited on Br. Richard Hendrick, an Irish Franciscan monk with a deep interest in paranormal matters, albeit seen through a Roman Catholic lens.

For the 2020 show, “The Three Magi, Mary Magalene, and More,” he wrote, “We discuss the pagan [sic] origins of Christmas, the Three Magi, Mary Magdalene, the Holy Grail, the teachings of Saint Francis, Christmas legends and rituals, and much more. Brother Richard also relates some stories of his encounters with The Other.”

In my talk, I did not have time to get into “thinning of the Veil” stuff, and I did not know if was appropriate for my invisible audience, but listen to this episode if you want to hear more.

And the show with Brother Richard from 2019 was pretty spectacular too!

You could imagine the Pagan Dead (countless generations of them) showing up at Samhain and the Christian Dead at Christmas, but really, from their perspective, does it matter?

Notes

Notes
1 And Santa is not a flying shaman; he never flew before about 1823, and his red and white suit commemorates Coca-Cola, not Amanita muscaria. Old-time Santa Claus/Father Christmas figures wore various colors — often green — frequently with fur trim.

Pagan Studies Call for Papers, American Academy of Religion 2021

Part of San Antonio’s restaurant-packed Rivewalk. Let’s hope it looks like this by November again. (Image: AAR)

This is the call for papers for the Contemporary Pagan Studies unit of the American Academy of Religion for the 2021 annual meeting, to be held in San Antonio, Texas, Nov. 20–23. (Insert pandemic disclaimer here.)

Contemporary Pagan Studies is an interdisciplinary unit, and we welcome submissions of theoretically and analytically engaged papers and panels relating to modern Paganism and Polytheism, employing scholarly analysis to discuss the topic from any relevant methodology or theoretical orientation. In addition to receiving paper or panel proposals on topics generally in the purview of Contemporary Pagan Studies, we especially welcome proposals that address the following themes:

• What is the relationship between Contemporary Paganisms and other religious traditions and populations? Where are there shared goals, values and experiences? Are there common concerns such as sexual abuse, religious minority representation, and climate change? What is the impact and role of interfaith initiatives in increasing Pagan visibility in public discourses and in promoting religious pluralism?
• How are Pagans responding to various crises including economic, political, climate change and systemic racism? Suggestions might include explorations of ritual, political action and activism, community driven initiatives, or ideological shifts such as a tighter embrace of anti-modernism, orthodoxy or exclusivity.
• What is the relationship between Pagan worldviews and science, rationality and narratives of progress?
• Pagan responses to aging and end of life. As Pagans face the realities of an aging population, how are Pagan communities preparing? What are Pagan spiritual attitudes toward aging and the end of life? How do they ritualize aging and death? How do Pagans handle pastoral care and ministry for older demographics?
• What are some of the ways in which Paganisms and Witchcraft interacts with and responds to Neoliberalism? Examples may involve explorations of globalization, late capitalism, ideas about individualism and collectivism, marketing and branding.
• We are seeking presentations for a co-sponsored session between the Ecology Unit and the Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit related to ideologies of ‘blood and soil’ and white nationalism in recent radical political movements, and engagements with this in contemporary Paganism and Heathenry. Questions to address might include but not be limited to: what is the significance of religious identity, ancestry, and connections to land in these movements; how are concerns related to authenticity, legitimation, and “imagined community” involved in these narratives; and what implications does this suggest for developing attachment to place, and bioregional identity in settler and other populations?

Mission Statement

The Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit provides a place for scholars interested in pursuing research in this newly developing and interdisciplinary field and puts them in direct communication with one another in the context of a professional meeting. New scholars are welcomed and supported, while existing scholars are challenged to improve their work and deepen the level of conversation. By liaising with other AAR Program Units, the Unit creates opportunities to examine the place of Pagan religions both historically and within contemporary society and to examine how other religions may intersect with these dynamic and mutable religious communities.

Method of Submission: INSPIRE

Chairs:

  • Damon Berry, St. Lawrence University, dberry@stlawu.edu
  • Amy Hale, Atlanta, GA, amyhale93@gmail.com

Your Ancestors May Not Be What You Think They Were

Bartolomew Stanhope (or was it “Stanhope Bartholomew”?) Clifton, 1828–1884. Update his clothes, buy him a Ford F-250, and drop him right back into Perry County, Mo. — he would fit in.

A lot of us contemporary Pagans have a problem with our ancestors. We feel like there is a huge chasm of separation between them and us. I mean, look at Stan (as I think he was known) Clifton here. He was one of my great-great-grandfathers

Born in North Carolina, he lived mostly in rural Perry Co., Missouri, in or near Crosstown. Like a lot of my relatives on that side, he is buried in the Plesant Grove Cemetery in Crosstown, which is just a dot on the map.

Pleasant Grove is a Baptist cemetery — I have been there — so what could be more different? A 19-century Baptist rural Missouri farmer[1]Maybe he had another trade too, I don’t know, but it was common. versus . . .  me, the Pagan (now) rural Colorado journalist-professor-writer/editor.

I am not picking on Stan, may he rest in peace. He has not turned up in my dreams or anything like that. Our connection seems pretty distant, but, nevertheless, he is part of me — even though he seems so spiritually distant.

It’s easy to focus on the things that separate him and me though. But there is one fundamenal flaw in thinking that way.

Recently I listtened to an episode of the podcast What Magic Is This? called “Ancestors with Chiron Armand.” (His personal website is Impact Shamanism.) There is a lot of good stuff there, but this part stayed with me: Our ancestors are not frozen in amber, so to speak. Whever Great-great-grandfather is, he is not necessarily the same man who died in 1884 — that is the point.

If you want to complicate things, figure in reincarnation. You not only honored Great-Grandmother, you gave birth to . . . him.

While most people who accept the idea of reincarnation tend to think of lives as beads on a necklace, there are those esotericists who say, “No, it’s all happening at once, kind of sort of, if we could only see.”

Which loops back to the idea that we can “heal” our ancestors of their faults and traumas. Assuming we know what those are.

Your thoughts are welcome.

Notes

Notes
1 Maybe he had another trade too, I don’t know, but it was common.

Neopagan Jewelry of 1951 and the Origins of the Tiki Bar

From the Evening Star (Washington, DC)  newspaper, 1 April 191. It was published 1852–1981.

Back in 1951, when Wicca was first being introduced to the world, largely via Gerald Gardner and Cecil Williamson’s seasonal museum on the Isle of Man, a store in Arlington, Virgina advertised that “the neo-pagan influence on fashion is one of the style news notes of the Spring season.”

Say what? Tim/Otter/Oberon Zell, who pushed “Neo-Pagan” as a religious designator in the pages of Green Egg, was still a little boy then, and that influential Pagan zine was almost two decades in the future.

So herein lies a tale and also a connection to the “tiki bar” craze, which has now become retro-cool.

For this research I thank Scott Simpson, co-editor of Equinox Publishing’s books series on “Contemporary and Historical Paganism,” who made some connections after prowling through Library of Congress databases.

He noted the line about “Bird of Paradise” fashions (the necklace would cost about $20 in today’s money) and linked it to a movie that premiered that year, Bird of Paradise, starring Debra Paget as “Kalua,” an “island princess.”[1]Note that her name is only an “h” away from the name of the popular Mexican coffee liqueur, introduced in 1936. Perhaps it was the writer’s drink of choice.

So this is one of those “Will the princess be thrown in the volcano to appease the angry gods?” movies that used to be popular. Cultural anthropologists are welcome to cringe now. You can watch it on YouTube.

But it was not the first. The Bird of Paradise began as a 1912 stage play, set in Hawaii, credited with creating an image of Hawaii as a land where native girls “dance the hula, play ukuleles, live in grass huts, and worship volcano gods.”

Dolores del Rio as “Luana” in the 1932 version of Bird of Paradise in s tender moment with Joel McCrae, plsying “Johnny Baker,” a visiting yachtsman.

Then there was the 1932 film version with Dolores del Rio as “Luana” and the same “appease the angry gods” motif. You can watch it on YouTube.

Even bigger was the huge success of the musical South Pacific (1949) and subsequent movie (1958), both based on one story in James Mitchener’s short-story collection Tales of the South Pacific.

The  “tiki bar” craze began in the 1930s and survived World War Two’s Pacific Theater. The Trader Vic’s chain, the only one that I was familiar with, started as a tropical-themed restaurant in Oakland, California, in 1934 — just two years after the first Bird of Paradise film.

Original menu cover from the first Trader Vic’s in Oakland (Wikipedia).

Some people had good wartime memories involving fruity drinks with umbrellas in them and tropical sunsets.

My stepmother lost her first husband, a young Navy ensign, when a German submarine sank his ship in 1942. But two years later she was in Honolulu, working as some general’s secretary, and filling a photo album of pictures of friends sitting around tables full of drinks with umbrellas in them, not to mention a lot of shots on the theme of “Me and Colonel So-and-So at the beach.”

She was not adverse to visiting Trader Vic’s either in later years.

Here is Wikipedia on the origins of the term “tiki.”

What interests me now though is that “neopagan” was enough in the American vocabulary that it could be used in advertising copywriting! [2]I think of advertising language because I spent a year in my early twenties as a copywriter in an ad agency. It was the English major’s equivalent of being drafted. And did it envoke angry volcano gods, semi-nude Polynesian girls, and rum drinks?

Scott Simpson found some other earlier uses of it (besides the G. K. Chesteron one that I already knew about). For instance, a group of young “creatives” at Cambridge University was using it c. 1908, including the artist Gwen Ravarat and the poet Rupert Brooke.

“But the New-Pagans seem to have had no real spiritual direction. The members went on long coutry walks and slept under canvas, but they made no serious attempt to restore the Pagan religions.”[3]Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick,  A History of Pagan Europe (London: Routledge, 1995), 216.

For example, In Italy, a poet named Giosuè Carducci (1835–1907), winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, wrote a poem titled “Hymn to Satan,” by which he meant, in a sort of Romantic sense, Lucifer as symbolic of the of rebellious and indepedent spirit. He also wrote poems dedicated to some of the old Roman gods. Based on that, he was sometimes referred to as a “neopagan” in his time.

And that is just one example. So it was not a common term, but it was out there. Especially when you wanted to honor the volcano gods.

Notes

Notes
1 Note that her name is only an “h” away from the name of the popular Mexican coffee liqueur, introduced in 1936. Perhaps it was the writer’s drink of choice.
2 I think of advertising language because I spent a year in my early twenties as a copywriter in an ad agency. It was the English major’s equivalent of being drafted.
3 Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick,  A History of Pagan Europe (London: Routledge, 1995), 216.

Conference on Current Pagan Studies Moves Online

This year’s Conference on Contemporary on Contermporary Pagan Studies will be an online event, the weekend of 16–17 January.

The theme is “Brave New World: Contemporary Paganisms During Extreme Change,” and the keynote speakers, pictured above, are Diana Paxson and Michael York.

Basic registration is $40 for all sessions, and you can register online here.

Thanks to His Sublime Excellency Gavin Newsom, Caesar of the West, the post-conference bar scene will not. It’s not like you can go to the French Laundry in Claremont.

Forget Ecotourism—Try Fairytourism

Part of Pat Noone’s farm (Agriland)

Ecotourism often involves naturalist-guided tours of relatively wild areas, but also visits to small-scale agricultural producers, also called “agritourism.” Sometimes this operates in a B&B fashion. See, for example, the state of Vermont’s guide.

But never mind milking cows and picking berries. Suppose you could offer encounters with the Other Crowd?

Pat Noone, a Irish farmer in County Galway, is almost there already.

A lot of people come here to see the fairies in this field and they get great experiences here.

“I have the porthole to the fairy world, where the blackthorn meets the whitethorn.”

Noone says that people come to the area and get great experiences of peace, joy, healings and some “find emotions here”.

According to Noone, the members of the aos sí (fairy world) speak normal English to him, as it is the only language he has – but that they “will speak any language you want to speak”.

The fairy fort is a place where the fairies “live and congregate”.

I’ve seen the fairies here on a lot of occasions – playing music, having a drink and dancing.

“They look like the image of yourself – whatever height you are, they will be that height. They are the very same image as us, when they want to show themselves.

“A lot of the time they don’t show themselves and they have shown themselves to people that were here and didn’t show themselves to me.”

Pointing to the branches of the fairy tree in the field, Noone explains that a lot of people tie bits of material as a “thank you or a wish to the fairies”.

“I generally give them [visitors] pieces of rushes from now on; I don’t give them anymore cloths because the whole place was covered in cloths.”

Noone feels that he gets great inspiration when he goes to the field.

I go in here [wondering] about when to sell livestock and that’s only the farming end of it. Just to know when to sell and be ahead and thank God this year I obeyed them [fairies] – I’m well ahead before the lockdown.

“Of course I believe in it – it has helped me in farming a lot.”

I like that this article appeared on Agriland, “Ireland’s Largest Farming-News Portal.”

New Collection on Western Esotericism, Downloadable

Quick, while it’s free, you can download New Approaches to the Study of Esotericism, edited by Egil Asprem (he has published in The Pomegranate) and Julian Strube.

The blurb:

This volume offers new approaches to some of the biggest persistent challenges in the study of esotericism and beyond. Commonly understood as a particularly “Western” undertaking consisting of religious, philosophical, and ritual traditions that go back to Mediterranean antiquity, this book argues for a global approach that significantly expands the scope of esotericism and highlights its relevance for broader theoretical and methodological debates in the humanities and social sciences.

That final sentence could be applied to Pagan studies too, which has the potential to upset a lot of comfortable thought about “religion.” But we need to do more.