Chaos Magic Goes Mainstream

Peter Carroll, call your office.
I was checking someone on the University of North Texas website today while working on a future Pomegranate article, clicked by chance on the student login page of its website — and this graphic appeared.

Denton, Texas, is a hotbed of chaos magicians? Or is it just the UNT website design office? Someone expects that students will (kind of, sort of) recognize that term?

“Cracow Monsters” Is Just “Weak Horror,” Says Polish Professor

Cracow Monsters is a Netflix series about “a young woman haunted by her past [who] joins a mysterious professor and his group of gifted students who investigate paranormal activity — and fight demons.”

Can you say “TV trope“?  I knew you could. Maybe “Cool teacher” or possibly “More than just a teacher,” which may in fact include demon-slaying.

Comes now[1]https://grammar-ttlms.blogspot.com/2007/07/comes-now.html Andrzej Szyjewski, professor of religious studies at Jagiellonian University, which has been doing business in Cracow/Kraków since 1364, as they calculate it, back when demonology was an academic discipline.

He does not approve of the way that the series treats Slavic supernaturals or his university and city.

The viewers are subjected to a whole series of disgusting and terrifying characters of various origins. It quickly becomes obvious that even Trentowski’s inventive vocabulary and imagination is not sufficient enough to describe the mix of entities gathered under the banner of supposedly Slavic mythology. The screenplay incorporates ideas from other, more contemporary Native Slavic faith believers (Rodnovery) and New Age workshops. For instance, in episode four, Chworz summons a creature called Spas. He is, in essence, a personification of certain holidays, described by Ukrainian Rodnovery volkhv (wisewoman) Halina Lozko, which the series depicts as something similar to Ded Moroz, who in turn can be likened to Santa Claus. Over the course of the series, Spas, carrying a staff decorated with hanging dolls, busies himself with freezing and then hanging people who failed to give him a present. The ‘Slavic Grinch’ meets his end when Alex electrocutes him with a high voltage wire. It therefore seems that the screenwriter didn’t bother to carry out at least a minimum amount of research when it came to the most key aspect of the show. She didn’t know that the name ‘Spas’, coming from the word spasitel, which means ‘saviour’ and denotes Christ, is unsuitable for a pre-Christian demon. . . .

Even when the screenwriter bases the story around concepts introduced by [19th-century writer Bronislaw] Trentowski, she seems not to understand them and misrepresent them, either knowingly or unknowingly. The best example of this is using the neologism bo?yca, which Trentowski means as ‘knowledge of gods and religion’, to signify a kind of protective spirit, a radiant entity guarding the main protagonist. She also calls it an Aitvara, which indeed denoted a guardian spirit, but one that watched over homesteads, not individuals. Aitvaras were reptilian in shape, brought wealth and prosperity, and were absolutely not exclusive to high priests and priestesses.

And futhermore:

One of the series’ strongest points could be its setting: Kraków, a city famous for its rich legendary and historical symbolism. Unfortunately, Kraków also becomes a fantastical amalgamation of real and fictitious places (such as Wanda Mound). Judging from the places visited by the protagonists during their chase after the zapadliska, they can magically jump from one side of the Vistula to the other every few seconds. The viewers will also get the impression that all classes at the Jagiellonian University are conducted solely in Collegium Novum, the administrative centre of the University. Because of this, the eponymous Kraków becomes a simulacrum just as much as the ‘Slavic beliefs’. The most convincing idea related to Kraków in the series is the issue of the curse: the city is unable to develop properly, trapped in a hollow, drowned in smog and ravaged by extreme weather. In the series, Kraków becomes something akin to London, either shrouded in fog or beaten by rain. In this regard, the screenplay rises to the challenge.

Unlike Ukrainian soldiers, I had to pay retail and wait a few months for delivery, but this looks like my temporary Starlink set-up, right down to the bricks.

I probably could not last through all two seasons, but now that I have Starlink and can stream easily to my isolated forest hideout, I am tempted to give it a look all the same, bearing Prof. Szyjewski’s cautions in mind.

(Thanks for the link to my co-editor in Equinox Publishing’s Pagan book series, Scott Simpson, who also teaches at Jagiellonian University and is the reason why I know anything at all about it. Trust me, he is “more than just a teacher.”)

 

 

Notes

Notes
1 https://grammar-ttlms.blogspot.com/2007/07/comes-now.html

CFP: Pagan Studies Conference at Masaryk University

Paganism and its Others

13-14 June 2022

Masaryk University, Faculty of Arts, Brno, Czechia

The Department for the Study of Religions at Masaryk University invites your participation in a conference on the overall theme of “Paganism and its Others” to be held in Brno, Czechia, 13-14 June, 2022, with in-person participation encouraged but online presentations also acceptable.

Although relating to the religions of ancient times, the contemporary Pagan movements are part of our shared modern world, bringing up many challenges and opportunities in interactions with their Others. It is precisely these interactions and their implications that we would like to explore at this conference.

The topics we seek to cover include (but are not limited to) these:

Paganism, its Others and the war in Ukraine: targeted to the theme of Pagans and their perception of the war in Ukraine. How do different Pagan groups interpret the war in Ukraine? How did the war change the relationship between Pagans in Ukraine and in Russia? Do Pagans actively participate in the war (e.g. in the army)? How do Pagans across Europe perceive refugees from Ukraine? Do Pagans help refugees?

Paganism in relation to Christianity: this could concern the contemporary situation or past Pagan-Christian relations; Pagan views of Christians, past or present; strategies of Pagan groups for coexistence with Christianity in contemporary Christian-dominant societies; Pagan acceptance or rejection of Christian elements in Pagan religions; attitudes toward Christian “converts” to Paganism.

Paganism in relation to other minority religions: this could also involve contemporary situation or past history; Pagan views of Jews, Muslims, Eastern religions, New Age movements; strategies of Pagan groups for coexistence, collaboration or competition with other minority religions

Paganism and its internal Others: splits in Pagan groups based on personal or doctrinal differences; successful and unsuccessful strategies to deal with such splits

Paganism and its Sexual and Gender Others: analysis of Pagan responses to increasingly prominent issues of sexual and gender diversity; whether Pagan groups are seeking to be more inclusive of homosexuals, transgendered individuals and others, or excluding them; how Pagan “traditionalists” interpret sexual and gender diversity

Paganism and its Ethnic Others: with most Pagan movements grounded in pre-Christian European religious traditions with primarily “white” European identity and membership, how do Pagans relate to people who are ethnically different in their societies, such as Roma, Africans, Asians? Are Pagans moving to include, exclude or ignore people with such identities in their Pagan associations? Are new interpretations of Pagan traditions developing to enable inclusion of ethnically different persons, or are ethnic borders hardening? Are Pagans supportive of policies and programs to help disadvantaged others such as Roma? Have any Pagan movements developed charity programs to assist such persons and groups?

Paganism and its Scholars: Reflections on the fieldwork and scientific research of Modern Paganism; researcher-researched dynamics, methodologies, theoretical frameworks, advances and problems in Pagan Studies; Pagan Studies in relation to other fields of study.

See Abstract submission & Registration for more information. Both passive and active attendance is free of charge

Organizing bodies: Department for the Study of Religions, Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University

Organizing committee:

Dr. Michael Francis Strmiska (Global Studies Department, SUNY-Orange in New York State, United States)

Dr. Miroslav Vrzal (Department for the Study of Religions, Masaryk University, Czechia)

Matouš Vencálek (Department for the Study of Religions, Masaryk University, Czechia)

Michal Puchovský (Department for the Study of Religions, Masaryk University, Czechia)

New Pomegranate Published — New Editor Joins

Caroline Tully, U. of Melbourne, Australia

A new issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies has been published online.

The special double issue on the theme of Pagans, museums, and heritage organizations was guest-edited by Pomegranate’s new associate editor, Caroline Tully.

She is an archaeologist at the University of Melbourne, Australia and the author of The Cultic Life of Trees in the Prehistoric Aegean, Levant, Egypt and Cyprus and many academic and popular articles. Caroline is an expert on Egyptomania and the religion of Minoan Crete. Her interests include ancient Mediterranean religions, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Thelema and contemporary Paganisms, particularly Witchcraft and Pagan Reconstructionism. Caroline has curated exhibitions of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities, and regularly presents lectures and workshops on ancient religion and magic.

Caroline also guest-edited the “Paganism, Art, and Fashion” (vol.22, no. 2) special issue in 2020.

I will make some posts about individual articles, but here are the contents pages. Book reviews are free downloads. Articles can be downloaded for a price — or talk to your friendly librarian.

The Making of an Ethnobotanist in a 1960s University Scene

One of the books on my ethnobotany shelves is Witchcraft Medicine:Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants, a colloboration between Wolf Dieter Storl, Claudia Müller-Ebeling, and Christian Rätsch, all three anthropologists and ethnobotanists.

Müller-Ebeling and Rätsch are married and live in Hamburg, but Storl was born in Germany in 1942 and came with his family to Ohio in 1953. Now he goes back and forth but lives primarily in Germany with his American wife.

Despite the cover and and subtitle, “A German ethnobotanist’s wild roots in the Psychedelic Sixties,” what  Storll’s memoir, Far Out in America, really describes is the pre-psychedelic late 1950s and early 1960s, the time when only a few university students would have heard of LSD and — lacking a connection to certain psychology professors or a father working in the right section of the CIA — would have had no idea how actually acquire some.

Storl himself describes Far Out in America as a story of personal adventure that would be “told in the hall of the gods.”  When not in school, he sets out on epic hitchhiking adventures, passing through every subculture from Appalachian moonshiners to civil rights activists to Chicano adventurers to seasonal workers in national parks.

I liked the two half-assimilated German beatniks, sons of German scientists brought to the US after World War Two “to continue their reearch on miracle weapons, rockets, antigravitational objects, and jet fighters.” They introduce college freshman Wolf Dieter to the music of Bob Dylan, whose 1963 album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Storl says “expressed the feeings of the times, the Weltschmerz, world-wearienss, and all that was stirring young hearts.”

For a bright young Ohian, Ohio State University is an obvious choice, and he goes off to Coumbus to study botany and agriculture, only to discover that he has enlisted in the Green Revolution, learning to “export high-yield ‘miracle seed’ to backward peasants in Asia, africa, and South America,” as one of his professors explains. The program is totally about large-scale, mechanized, monoculture farming guided by technocrats like he was being groomed to become.

Erika Bourguignon in the 1970s.

He drops out. After other false starts, he ends up in anthropology, where one of his professors is Erika Bourguignon (1924–2015), who taught more than forty years at OSU, and who was one of the few anthropologists to take “woo” — excuse me, “extraordinary states of consciousness” — seriously.

She published a lot, and when I was in grad school myself, her books and article were widely cited. Nikki Bado, my friend and former Pagan-studies book series co-editor, was one of her students.

Another was Felicitas Goodman (1914–2005), whom I met in the 1990s and thought of as sort of the European Michael Harner. She came to OSU as a middle-aged student, another one whose family emigrated to America after WW2, and earned a PhD there. She also started her own school of (neo)shamanism, The Cuyamungue Institute, in New Mexico, but also taught classes in Denmark, Germany, and other countries.

When I edited Witchcraft and Shamanism (1994) for Llewellyn, I was thrilled to get a chapter from her, “Shamans, WItches, and the Rediscovery of Trance Postures.” For the whole story how how she managed postures depicted in ancient and and indigenous pictures and sculptures with different sorts of trance experiences, read her book Where the Spirits Ride the Wind: Trance Journeys and Other Ecstatic Experiences.

Wolf Dieter Storl has numerous YouTube videos, about two-thirds of them in German and others in English.

Egil Asprem and Giovanna Parmigiani on Esotericism Studies

Here is a webinar on “The Truth Shall Set Whom Free? A Conversation on Esoteric Knowledge, Alternative Spirituality, and Conspiracy Theories,” with Egil Asprem and Giovanna Parmigiani.

If, like me, you would sometimes rather read than listen, there is a transcript. For instance, here are some Egil’s opening remarks:

EGIL ASPREM: Yeah, sure. We can try. I mean it’s the million dollar question, what is this esotericism, actually. Because esotericism is a lot of different things. But one thing that it is a category, an umbrella term, more or less, that scholars use to talk about various, you could say, alternative religious, spiritual, philosophical currents. Pretty much the things that, I think, you referred to in your introduction of the series actually [? write ?] things that occur that are hard to classify in terms of the way that we look at religion and science today.

So they seem to clash with our understandings of institutionalized Christianity, for example, and science, natural science. So falling between these tiers. So in that sense, of course, they have a lot to do with knowledge, in the sense that there is often a focus on special ways of attaining knowledge, that’s central in it. Some people talk about the dynamic of the hidden and the revealed as being central to it, which can also go back to the origins of the term, actually.

Egil Asprem is a professor of history of religion at Stockholm University. while Giovana Parmigiani is a lecturer on religion and culltural anthropology at the Harvard Divinity School.

Both of the speakers have published in The Pomegranate. Asprem’s articles include “Heathens Up North: Politics, Polemics, and Contemporary Norse Paganism in Norway” 10, no. 1 (2008) 41–69, and several others. Parmigiani’s “Spiritual Pizzica: A Southern Italian Perspective on Contemporary Paganism” 21, no. 1 (2019):53–75, is turning into a book now in final editing, The Spider Dance: Tradition, Time, and Healing in Southern Italy, which Equinox will be publishing later this year.

Interview with Helen Berger, Leading Scholar of Paganism

Prof. Helen Berger

At his blog, now called On New and Alternative Religions, Ethan Doyle While interviews Helen Berger, one of the leading American scholars of contemporary Paganism.

Since completing her PhD research on the early modern witch trials in the 1980s, Berger has devoted her career to the sociological analysis of modern-day communities whose practitioners call themselves witches. Her first book, A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States (University of South Carolina Press, 1999), was a landmark in the subject and was followed up with important studies such as Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States (with Evan A. Leach and Leigh Shaffer, University of South Carolina Press, 2003), Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for the Self (with Doug Ezzy, Rutgers University Press, 2007), and most recently Solitary Pagans: Contemporary Witches, Wiccans and Others Who Practice Alone (University of South Carolina Press, 2019). Currently a Professor Emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania and an Affiliated Scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, Berger is continuing to work on the modern Pagan milieu, exploring its relationships with far-right politics. She tells us about her career and her thoughts on the future of the academic study of modern Paganism.

She explains how her interest in today’s Witches and Pagans grew from earlier research on the Salem Witch Trials and similar events. In the mid-1980s, she gave a series of lectures at the Boston Public Library — and realized who was in the audience.

The audience for each of the lectures varied with some people who attended every week and others who came only for a particular lecture. One elderly woman with white hair always sat in the front row, listened intently, and asked interesting questions. I looked forward to seeing her there every week. At the final lecture, when I said what was then a surprising fact; Witches looked like everyone else. You could be living next door to, or working with, a Witch and not know it. She stopped me mid-lecture and asked, “are you saying there could be Witches in the room.” As the average age of the participants had dropped significantly for this lecture, I offered that I thought there probably were Witches in the room. She stood up, turned around with her hands on her hips, and asked, “are there any Witches here?” I think it is because she looked like the quintessential grandmother that a number of people raised their hands.

Read the whole thing. Helen Berger has also published a number of articles in The Pomegranate as well as being one our most valuable peer-reviewers in the sociology of Paganism. Her 2015 article “An Outsider Inside: Becoming a Scholar of Contemporary Paganism” reflected on some of the issues involved.

An Offer to Buy the Pomegranate, and Other Pagan Studies Scams

Statues of Communist leader Mao Zhedong in various Chinese temples (Bitter Winter).

Periodically I receive these emails, usually in the business-school dialect of babu English. Academic publishing, apparently, is full of scammy stuff like this.[1]I have also encountered them in real estate and in regard to mineral rights.

Dear Editor/Publisher,

Hope this mail finds you in best!

I am writing down this mail as a follow up in reference to the acquisition proposal I had sent recently. I request you to revert back and let us know if we can hope to take this forward.

Please feel free to get back to us with your valuable suggestions/queries.

Hoping for a positive response from your end.

Best regards,
Chia Appu

M&A Consultant
JCFCorp
Singapore | India | UK | US
Mobile/Whatsapp: +44 7451248959
website: www.jcfcorp.com

Not the first, won’t be the last. If I set the price at US $500,000, could I string “Chia Appu” on for a bit? The only problem there is that I do not own The Pomegranate; Equinox Publishing does. I would need to take the money and move somewhere that has no extradition treaty with the UK.

Academia has its scams, all designed for people willing to trade money for shortcuts.Diploma mills” have a hoary tradition, of course.

Sadly, I lost a friend over one of these shortcuts. “R.” had written a couple of articles for Pomegranate in the past, and he was good in his field. He then proposed another article, which appeared ready to publish — except that he wanted to list this Chinese professor as co-author.

Pagan studies is a fairly small world, and I had never heard of this man. I looked him up at [well-known Chinese university], and there he was, in the Dept. of Communist Studies or something like that.

It was clear to me that the Chinese professor had had nothing to do with writing the article, which was based on fieldwork in Western Europe. He was just being offered the chance to pad his c.v. in return for some other favor for R. — like a non-resident teaching position?[2]R. is lucky that he was not required to live there, given a certain well-known disease outbreak.

And there was more to the deal. [Well-known Chinese university] was supposedly starting a center for the study of new religious movements. The university was ready to “throw money at” the center’s projects.

If I were willing to designate their center as a “sponsor” of The Pomegranate and “put some Chinese names on the editorial board . . .  the arrangement [would be] more than nominally profitable [for you].”[3]R. had his own journal, which I am suppose now has some Chinese professors on the editorial board.

And there was no doubt that [Well-known Chinese university] had the cash.

There it was, a naked bribe. An odd  experience. Had I been as financially shaky as R. thought I was — as financially shaky as he himself had often been until later in his career — I might have been more tempted. Sorry, professor of Communist studies, you are not going to buy your way in Pagan studies that easily.

I said no, and R. cut me off completely.

Something chilling occurred to me later. The  incident was about five years ago. Since then, the mainland Chinese government has been cracking down on religion — all religions. The online journal Bitter Winter has carried many articles on the repression of not just “foreign” religions, mainly Islam and Christianity, in the People’s Republic, but also Buddhist and Taoist temples, new Chinese religious movements, and even family and clan memorial halls that go back for centuries.

All of them threaten President Xi Thought, apparently. All you can worship is Communism.

So if [major Chinese University] was preparing to study new reliigious movements, was that just part of a plan to wipe them out? There are predecents for that sort of thinking.

Notes

Notes
1 I have also encountered them in real estate and in regard to mineral rights.
2 R. is lucky that he was not required to live there, given a certain well-known disease outbreak.
3 R. had his own journal, which I am suppose now has some Chinese professors on the editorial board.

Jefferson Calico Talks Heathenry with Ethan Doyle White

Click over to Ethan Doyle White’s blog, Albion Calling,  to read a new interview with Jefferson Calico, author of Being Viking: Heathenism in Contemporary America.

Since I acquired this book for Equinox Publishing’s Pagan studies book series, I am happy to see it praised by an astute writer on Pagan history like Doyle White, who called it “one of two important works on American Heathenry that have appeared over the past decade.”

A little bit about Calico’s scholarly journey is interesting:

Many of us have experienced paradigm shifting moments during our educational journeys— those moments of discovery that unfold for us along new and unexpected paths. These moments arise from all sorts of stimuli—disciplined reading, insights from our teachers, and from seemingly random “aha” moments, to name a few. In my own journey, one of those moments came for me in reading Carole Cusack’s Invented Religions (Routledge, 2010) . .  The cumulative effect of that book rescued me from a previously dismissive attitude about new religious movements and opened a new world of scholarly interest. I had entered my PhD program initially intending to pursue research on Islam. However, a conversation with my supervisor—strangely enough about the 1994 Olympics hosted by Norway—caused me to re-evaluate and drew my attention to the growing presence and influence of Paganism in the contemporary world. As I discuss in the introduction to Being Viking, an offhand question in a graduate seminar stirred my initial curiosity about Heathenry and led to it becoming a major interest. A chance conversation with a friend, Dr Thad Horrell, while walking to an American Academy of Religion (AAR) venue in San Diego led to a new line of inquiry and research that helped me to better understand the tributaries of American Heathenry.[1]You don’t get these experiences on Zoom. Rather than one over-riding passion, my interests and work have been nudged along by these sorts of important and transformative experiences.

Read it all here, including the part about being an “outsider” researcher at Heathen events.

Notes

Notes
1 You don’t get these experiences on Zoom.

“Why Women Need the Goddess:” The Passing of Carol Christ

Carol Christ 1945–2021

Carol Christ (Unitarian Universalist Women and Religion).

Carol P. Christ, PhD, a foremost figure in women’s spirituality and Goddess religion, passed away five days ago (14 July 2021). She was born in 1945.[1]Most people said her surname as “Krist.”  Not to be confused with Carol T. Christ, former president of Smith College and chancellor of the University of California-Berkeley.

Via HecateDemeter, here is an obituary for her from The Girl God blog.

Christ’s first book, about women writers on spiritual quest, is a book of spiritual feminist literary criticism that focused on feminist authors Kate Chopin, Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessing, Adriene Rich, and Ntozake Shange. She discovers four key aspects to women’s spiritual quest: the experience of nothingness; awakening (to the powers that are greater than oneself, often found in nature); insight (into the meaning of one’s life); and a new naming (in one’s own terms). She emphasizes the importance of telling women’s stories in order to move beyond the stories told about women by the male-centered patriarchy. Her concluding chapter speaks of a “Culture of Wholeness,” that encompasses women’s quest for wholeness, and she adds that, for this wholeness to be realized, the personal spiritual quest needs to be combined with the quest for social justice.

She published an influential list of books (see link above) and was also known for leading group pilgrimages to Goddess sites in the Mediterranean region. There are also links to other tributes to her.

Notes

Notes
1 Most people said her surname as “Krist.”  Not to be confused with Carol T. Christ, former president of Smith College and chancellor of the University of California-Berkeley.