Conference on Current Pagan Studies 4: Albrecht Auditorium

Jeffrey Albaugh drawing a winning raffle ticket for something from Equinox Publishing.

Part 1: The Southwest Chief

Part 2: Holing up in Claremont

Part 3: Harper Hall

I titled this post because my friend Jeffrey Albaugh, one of the conference organizers, more than once admitted that he just loved saying “Albrecht Auditorium.” It’s a German given name and surname and also connects to “Alberich,” the dwarf who guards a treasure in Wagner’s operatic cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen.

On the opening day, Saturday, January 25th, I admit that among the various talks on dealing with bad changes — extinctions, elections, end times— the one talk that really stuck with me was Murtagh anDoile’s “With a Whimper, not a Bang: The ‘Death’ of Pagan and Magical Traditions.” It put me in mind of a talk that I had with my friend Evan John Jones (English witch, member of Robert Cochrane’s coven in the mid-1960s), who said that on his death, all his Craft-related papers were supposed to be burnt.

From my vantage point, a very long way away, I do not know what happened. As a writer, John left behind at least some records that deserve to be archived. Maybe not everything, but some things.

This is not the Pagan studies conference (photo: Claremont Graduate University).

At any rate, the Albrecht Auditorium is an up-to-date lecture hall at Claremont Graduate University, with lots of elbow room, AC and USB chargers at every seat, and other good stuff. So when I finally had to stand up and fill an hour on the history of Pagan studies and some things that I would like to see more covered in the future, it was a pleasure to be in that room.

It was a good conference where you could hear thoughtful Pagans discuss our response to some of the Big Issues — and like all conferences, the best parts were in the restaurants and bars afterwards! But about about 6:30 on Sunday evening I had to pry myself from the big table at Packing House Wines (in the same complex as Augie’s Coffee, where my Claremont visit began) and accept a ride from a conference-goer who was headed east through San Bernardino anyway.

The train rolled in on time. I had booked a roomette (sleeper) because I knew I would be tired. I dropped my bags, went to the dining car for supper (included), and when I came back the attendant had my bed made up, into which I fell.

Around 2 a.m. an announcement from the conductor woke me (and everyone else).  A man in my car was having an acute asthma attack. “Does anyone have an EpiPen?)”

I thought for a moment — I did not have my first-aid kit with me, so I could not even offer pseudopehedrine. And does a Wilderness First Aid card let you give drugs? I think so, if they are over-the-counter things like that. But I had none. Twenty minutes later we were stopped in Kingman, Arizona, and as another passenger told me at breakfast, the ambulance was waiting and took him away.

And thus on across New Mexico and southern Colorado, where I retrieved the Jeep at the railway station and drove home at night through an increasing snowstorm, past the signs that warn that roads are not plowed after 5 p.m.

Conference on Current Pagan Studies 3: Harper Hall

A cup of the free hotel coffee, and Black Philip and I are ready to conference deliciously.

Part 1: The Southwest Chief

Part 2: Holing up in Claremont

It was a 20-minute walk from the hotel to Claremont Graduate University, where the Conference on Current Pagan Studies rents space during CGU’s winter break. CGU is one of the seven “Claremont Colleges” — five undergrad, two graduate schools — that together form a “collegiate university.” Six of them share a campus with a combined library and other facilities. Pomona College, the oldest, dates from 1887; the others were founded in the 1920s, which must have been when Claremont shifted from “citrus town” to residential suburb of Los Angeles.

Walking to CGU, I did not see anything that resembled a “student ghetto,” which made me wonder if there is such a thing as off-campus housing, or if those students must all commute.

No, definitely not the “student ghetto.”


Was I on the right street? I looked at some license plates. Yes, this must be the right building.

When Fritz Muntean started The Pomegranate in 1997, its subtitle was “A New Journal of Neopagan Thought.” That approach fits this conference too, and in fact, a new online journal is in the works that will take up that strand of Pagan publishing, I was told. More on that when I learn more.

The conference draws a mixture of older and younger Pagan academics, at least one outside PhD student researching Paganism in academia, some writers, some original West Coast Pagan figures from the 1960s–70s, and other members of the (chiefly) West Coast Pagan community.

The difference between this and the American Academy of Religion Pagan studies sessions that I am used to is that there is less of a sense of working on issues in the larger world(s) of religious studies and more a sense of telling our own stories, working on our own issues (like what happens to archives when groups shut down?), examining our origin stories, and talking about what is changing.

The first day’s venue: CGU’s Harper Hall, a fine example of 1930s Romano-Californian architecture.

Conference attendees begin to gather in the CGU Board of Trustees room, a comfortable space with open doors onto a courtyard — but pretty soon there were chairs jammed everywhere.

Part 4: Albrecht Auditorium

Conference on Current Pagan Studies 2: Holing Up in Claremont

Sunrise scene, Claremont station.

Part 1: The Southwest Chief

After killing time at Augie’s Coffee, I faced a mile walk through bosky Claremont to the hotel, but because of the roller bag, I gave in and summoned a Lyft driver. No need to put extra wear on the little plastic wheels. That is my story, and I am sticking to it.

Expecting to be told that my room would not be ready until 2 p.m., I was happy to learn that I could have it right there at 8:30 a.m. I could sleep! Only I could not. Exercise is good, so I did walk about a mile to a copy-print shot to get fliers made up promoting The Pomegranate and Jefferson Calico’s excellent new book on Heathenry, Being Viking.

I spotted a Trader Joe’s grocery near the hotel, and picked up a sandwich and a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck.1)Charles Shaw wine, the grocery chain’s house brand, is priced at $1.99 for 750 ml, the same as a small bottle of water at the hotel. Now which is a better deal? Half a bottle gone, I finally slept.

Later, I spent the evening re-reading parts of George Hanson’s The Trickster and the Paranormal (2001). This is not an easy book. Hanson was a paid university parapsychology researcher, one of a “club” of about fifty such people in the United States. As he points out, the budget of one paranormal-themed Hollywood movie is bigger than the budgets of all the programs such as his.

The book is not an easy read. It goes into lots of area: sociological theory, history of paranormal researched, history and personalities of the professional skeptics (think CSICOP), the prevalence of cheating by psychics, etc. Hanson wonders why, when at least half of the population accepts some level of “psi” phenomena, it is so completely off the table for academic researchers. Likewise, scholars of religion are all about texts, not “woo.” They would rather discuss gender theory than people’s experience with divine power. (Hint: part of the problem is monotheism and the idea of a transcendent god who is outside of the cosmos.)

There are exceptions, my favorite being Jeffrey Kripal at Rice University. I want to blog about some of his newer work . . one of these days.

And so to bed, because the next two days would be wall-to-wall sociability.

Part 3: Harper Hall

Notes   [ + ]

1. Charles Shaw wine, the grocery chain’s house brand, is priced at $1.99 for 750 ml, the same as a small bottle of water at the hotel. Now which is a better deal?

Call for Papers: American Academy of Religion’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit

The deadline is March 2nd. For general information, visit this site.

Call for Proposal

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:

• Cultural appropriation.
• Contemporary approaches to magic.
• Practices involving ancestor worship or devotion.
• What are the analytical frameworks we use to discuss paranormal or magic phenomena?
• The works of Philip Pullman
• How is the current interest in Heathenry being impacted by trends in popular culture and media? In particular we seek papers exploring the influence of television shows such as “The Vikings”, the rise of interest in genealogy and ancestry.com, internet message boards and meme culture, and Marvel. (Co-sponsored with the Religion and Popular Culture Unit).

Statement of Purpose

This Unit provides a place for scholars interested in pursuing studies 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.

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.

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

A New Study of Solitary Pagans

Solitary Pagans: Contemporary Witches, Wiccans, and Others Who Practice Alone is a new study from Helen A. Berger, a sociologist of religion who has been studying contemporary Paganism for decades. Her body of work is large enough now that future scholars will be returning to it again and again for its depth.

It is published by the University of South Carolina Press, which says,

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.

Prof. Berger has authored or co-authored a number of books on contemporary Paganism, including A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States (1999),  Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States (2003), Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for Self (2007), Witchcraft and Magic: Contemporary North America (2005).

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.

Pagan with a Capital P

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.

I was happy to see recently that Koenrad Elst, a Belgian scholar of Hinduism, was using the capital-P in a broad sense.2)Although he has a PhD in the study of Hindu nationalism, he is in fact is a civil servant, not an academic, which gives him certain advantages. Here, interviewed in the Hindu Post, he implies that “Pagan” is like “Hindu”—a label imposed by outsiders that nevertheless has been adopted today:3)This is a pro-BJP (ruling party) website.

The historical definition of the term “Hindu”, brought by the Muslim invaders[1], 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.

Notes   [ + ]

1. And that term, popular in the 1970s–80s, is more and more supplanted by “contemporary Pagan” or “modern Pagan.”
2. Although he has a PhD in the study of Hindu nationalism, he is in fact is a civil servant, not an academic, which gives him certain advantages.
3. This is a pro-BJP (ruling party) website.

Driven to Drink by Editing

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 Studiesas 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.

Then will come layout for the Bulletin for the Study of Religion and, oh yes, another Pomegranate to get us back on schedule.

Always at hand (to the left of the wine glass), the Chicago Manual of Style. Learn it, people—or at least bookmark the important shortcuts. (Actually, CMS is for editors; academic writers can get by with A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations  for considerably less money.)

On the right, Kaarina Aitamurto and Scott Simpson’s edited collection, Modern Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Central and Eastern Europe — the article that I was editing referenced it quite a bit. And of course a back issue of The Pomegranate for those “How did I do X last time?” questions.

Male evening grosbeak (Cornell University).

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!”

“No, Wendy,” I say, “those are evening grosbeaks. We are not hunting them.”

“Ha!” she says, and the next morning on dog walk,she dashes into the brush and comes out with a very very dead grosbeak, which she carries proudly into the house.

Retrieving birds is what she does — can’t punish her for that! And she knows it.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Are we supposed to say “Czechia” now?
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.