Solitary Pagans is the first book to explore the growing phenomenon of contemporary Pagans who practice alone. Although the majority of Pagans in the United States have abandoned the tradition of practicing in groups, little is known about these individuals or their way of practice. Helen A. Berger fills that gap by building on a massive survey of contemporary practitioners. By examining the data, Berger describes solitary practitioners demographically and explores their spiritual practices, level of social engagement, and political activities. Contrasting the solitary Pagans with those who practice in groups and more generally with other non-Pagan Americans, she also compares contemporary U.S. Pagans with those in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada.
Berger brings to light the new face of contemporary paganism by analyzing those who learn about the religion from books or the Internet and conduct rituals alone in their gardens, the woods, or their homes. Some observers believe this social isolation and political withdrawal has resulted in an increase in narcissism and a decline in morality, while others argue to the contrary that it has produced a new form of social integration and political activity. Berger posits the implications of her findings to reveal a better understanding of other metaphysical religions and those who shun traditional religious organizations.
In addition, she has mentored a number of younger social scientists studying contemporary Paganism (and other things) as well as having served on the steering committee for Contemporary Pagan Studies within the American Academy of Religion.
I will be looking to find this book at the AAR-SBL book show in November and will probably come home with a copy.
In editing the current issue of The Pomegranate, one of my “favorite” issues came up again: whether or not Pagan is capitalized.
American scholars and Pagan authors tend to say yes. There has been a small campaign to convince the editors of the Associated Press Stylebook, widely used in the news media, and the Chicago Manual of Style, widely used by university presses and serious nonfiction publisher.
It’s a matter of accurate labeling and of respect. If Muslim, Hindu, etc. get capital letters, so should Pagan.
This is not an issue that will be settled in a year, or even two or three. But I have hope.
Meanwhile, “pagan” can be used in direct quotation, particularly when it has the sense of “irreligious,” as in C. S. Lewis‘s reference to the Roman poet Ovid as “that jolly old pagan.” (But he was also a cap-P Pagan, in my view.)
On the other hand, writers in the UK tend to lowercase “pagan.” Others try to split the difference, using “pagan” for the ancients and “Pagan” for practitioners of post-1900 Pagan traditions, i.e. “Neo-Pagans.”1)And that term, popular in the 1970s–80s, is more and more supplanted by “contemporary Pagan” or “modern Pagan.”
To my editorial eye, this approach is worse than no capital P at all. Imagine someone writing this: “Ancient pagans and today’s Pagans differ in their attitudes toward animal sacrifice.”
The reader might think that someone had either forgotten to capitalize one “pagan” or mistakenly capitalized the other. Confusing.
The historical definition of the term “Hindu”, brought by the Muslim invaders, does not define a specific worldview and practice, as the definitions of Christianity and Islam do. “Hindu” is a geographically defined slice of Paganism, viz. all Pagan (=non-Christian, non-Muslim) traditions coming from Bharat (India). This means every possible belief or practice that does not conform to either Christianity or Islam. It includes the Brahmins, the upper and lower castes, the ex-Untouchables, the Tribals, the Buddhists (“clean-shaven Brahmins”), the Jains, and many sects that didn’t even exist yet but satisfy the definition: Lingayats, Sikhs, Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission, ISKCon. I am aware that many now refuse to be called “Hindu”, but since they satisfy the definition, they are Hindu, period. Elephants are not first asked whether they agree to being called elephants either.
My preference, too, is to use capital-P Pagan for all non-monotheists, ancient or modern. It is a simple and orthographically uncomplicated solution. And if anyone questions it, just refer them to the umbrella term “Hindu,” now accepted by (almost all) Hindus.
Yes, that is coffee and wine together. And a candle.
This is my world this week, as I wrap up a tardy issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies — as soon as a certain person OK’s my copyediting job on her article and I can send it to the layout editor with the rest. Articles in this issue come from Russia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic,1)Are we supposed to say “Czechia” now?Britain, and the United States.
But there are advantages to working at home, like being pestered by dogs, particularly Wendy the foster dog, an excitable German wirehaired pointer.2)She has been living here since March, but now that her owner is out of the hospital and feeling better, he hopes to pick her up next month.
She clatters into my study: “Come quick! come quick!” then rushes through the open door onto the veranda.”Look! Birds! Birds! We must act!”
I love rolling the word Festschrift around, and if you are not used to it, this is what it means: “In academia, a Festschrift (plural Festschriften) is a book honoring a respected person, especially an academic and presented during their lifetime. It generally takes the form of an edited volume, containing contributions from the honoree’s colleagues, former pupils, and friends” (Wikipedia).
From the publisher:
This book marks twenty years since the publication of Professor Ronald Hutton’s The Triumph of the Moon, a major contribution to the historical study of Wicca. Building on and celebrating Hutton’s pioneering work, the chapters in this volume explore a range of modern magical, occult, and Pagan groups active in Western nations. Each contributor is a specialist in the study of modern Paganism and occultism, although differ in their embrace of historical, anthropological, and psychological perspectives. Chapters examine not only the history of Wicca, the largest and best-known form of modern Paganism, but also modern Pagan environmentalist and anti-nuclear activism, the Pagan interpretation of fairy folklore, and the contemporary ‘Traditional Witchcraft’ phenomenon.
Here are the contents:
1. Twenty Years On: An Introduction — Ethan Doyle White and Shai Feraro, editors
2. The Goddess and the Great Rite: Hindu Tantra and the Complex Origins of Modern Wicca — Hugh B. Urban
3. Playing the Pipes of PAN: Pagans Against Nukes and the Linking of Wiccan-Derived Paganism with Ecofeminism in Britain, 1980–1990 — Shai Feraro
4. Other Sides of the Moon: Assembling Histories of Witchcraft —Helen Cornish
5. The Nearest Kin of the Moon: Irish Pagan Witchcraft, Magic(k), and the Celtic Twilight — Jenny Butler
6. The Taming of the Fae: Literary and Folkloric Fairies in Modern Paganisms — Sabina Magliocco
7. “Wild Nature” and the Lure of the Past: The Legacy of Romanticism among Young Pagan Environmentalists — Sarah M. Pike
8. The Blind Moondial Makers: Creativity and Renewal in Wicca — Léon A. van Gulik
9. “The Eyes of Goats and of Women”: Femininity and the Post-Thelemic Witchcraft of Jack Parsons and Kenneth Grant — Manon Hedenborg White
10. Navigating the Crooked Path: Andrew D. Chumbley and the Sabbatic Craft — Ethan Doyle White
11. Witches Still Fly: Or Do They? Traditional Witches, Wiccans, and Flying — Chas S. Clifton
The purposes of this study are to explore the relationship between how the metaphysical and theological beliefs held by Pagans/Witches/Heathens relate to each other and to beliefs about ethics, as well as certain personal issues like your own sense of self-efficacy and the centrality of your spiritual path to your personal identity. There are questions in this survey that are designed specifically for the Pagan/Witch/Heathen community and others that were previously used in other studies with the general population and allow for comparisons.
I acknowledge that language is problematic and previous research has revealed that there is no consensus on the label/s to apply to the groups that are often talked about as Pagans/Witches/Heathens, etc., although typically we know who we are. The term that is most commonly adopted but far from universal is “Pagan.” For the purposes of this survey, “Pagan” is used as an umbrella term to make it easier to read.
Victor Anderson, apparently wearing a lei (Wikimedia Commons).
Victor Anderson (1917–2001) and Cora Anderson (1915–2008) founded the Feri tradition of Witchcraft (which had multiple spellings). Since their passing, their papers and home library has been divided among several recipients: the Oakland, Calif., public library, the New Alexandrian Library, and some private purchasers.
A large number of their books, 171 to be exact, have been added to the growing Pagan archives at Valdosta State University in Georgia. Special-collections librarian Guy Frost has now cataloged them as the “Victor and Cora Anderson Library, 1921–1998.
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(email@example.com).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.
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.
What do I like about Being Viking beyond Mark Lee’s arresting cover design? It is that author Jefferson Calico can move beyond rehashing the folkish-universalist issue and look at some things not normally talked about, such as social class.
Americans will talk you to death about race and ethnicity, but then turn around and pretend that the high-level university bureaucrat with a summer home on Martha’s Vineyard and the guy making a lot of overtime pay in a Texas oilfield are both earning “middle-class salaries.” While the English divide social-class issues with a microtome, we pretend that we all aspire to the same thing.
That is just one way that Being Viking moves beyond the radical politics-obsessed approach taken by authors such as Jennifer Snook in American Heathens or Mattias Gardell Gods of the Blood. (If you look at Gardell’s publishing history, he jumps from one sensational topic to another.) Calico is strong on history, ritual, polytheism, and the social side of American Heathenry.