“Goodbye Jesus” — Writers Sought for Anthology

News release from Oberon Zell:

Soliciting essays for “Goodbye Jesus” book

Goodbye Jesus; I’ve gone Home to Mother!

Oberon Zell’s well-known “Milennial Gaia” statue.

This is the title of an anthology for which I’ve been gathering essays over the past couple of decades. These are accounts of their journeys from former Christians—especially Clergy—who have left their churches and come over to Paganism and the Goddess.

This whole idea began in a hot tub over 20 years ago, after a CUUPS conference, where we were all sharing our stories of how we found (or were found by) the Goddess. A couple of us were former Christian Clergy, and I found their journeys fascinating, and thought they should be published. I have a couple dozen submissions now on-file, but other things came up over the following years, and I just had to set the whole project aside ‘til later. This is later.

I believe these stories are important to the world and should be told, so if you used to be Clergy in a Christian Church (any denomination), and now serve the Goddess, I’d like to know your story, and potentially include it in this collection. And even if you weren’t actually Clergy, if you were particularly devout as a Christian and then came over to the Goddess, I invite you to tell about your journey.

Here are some things you could address in your personal account:

  • Tell about your religious upbringing. What was it like for you? Was your family devout? What church did they (and you) attend? How deeply were you immersed in the church, its activities and teachings? Did you take Confirmation or other serious religious education?
  • As you came of age, did you experience conflict with your church’s teachings on moral issues and strictures, such as dancing, music, sex, birth control, abortion, sin, etc.?
  • If you were Christian Clergy, tell about your Calling. What made you decide to become Clergy? Did you attend seminary? How did you feel upon ordination?
  • How was it for you serving as Clergy? Did you experience challenges to your faith? Disillusionment? A “Crisis of Faith”?
  • And most important—how and when did you discover The Goddess? What was that like for you? How did your family and friends react when you told them?
  • What was your experience coming into the Pagan community? When was that? How did you feel? Was it with an individual, a small circle, a large gathering? Did you join a particular Tradition or group? And how has it been since?
  • How do you feel about Jesus now? Do you still hold him in high regard and reverence? Do you feel that you may have left the church, but not necessarily Jesus? Talk about this.
  • Tell about your present life in Paganism. How are you currently involved? Have you become a Priest or Priestess? How is that for you? Would you ever consider going back to your former church? Why or why not?
    • And finally, what message would you like to convey to other Christians (Clergy or otherwise) who are still in the Church?

There is no word limit, but essays will be subject to editing as may be needed. I will, of course, need your permission to publish your account, so please provide your contact info, and I’ll send you a permission form to be filled out.

While I would like to use real names, if you don’t want your name printed, no problem; just give me a pseudonym you’d like us to use. Also, readers would love to see your face, if that’s OK with you. If so, please include a 300 dpi jpeg portrait photo to print with your story.

Please submit your essay (and photo, if you wish) to: GoodbyeJesusSubmissions@gmail.com. I look forward to reading your story!

Thanks, and Bright Blessings,

Oberon Zell

Great Review for Calico’s “Being Viking”

I was happy to see Being Vking: Heathenism in Contemporary America get a good review in Reading Religion, which is the American Academy of Religion’s online book-review site.

Michael Strmiska (currently teaching in Latvia) writes,

Being Viking deserves great praise and wide readership as an extremely detailed and well-researched historical and ethnographical study of the American variant of the New Religious Movement (NRM) variously known as Heathenry, Heathenism, Asatru or Modern Norse (or Germanic) Paganism.

Calico ably addresses many dimensions of the American Heathen religion from the biographies and contributions of religious leaders such as Stephen McNallen, Valgard Murray, and Diana Paxson to such particular practices as the sumbel (a toasting ritual); the blot (an alternate form of the sumbel)), and seid/seit (an oracular rite). In addition, Calico examines the devotion to medieval Icelandic and Germanic literary and religious texts as key source materials, the dedication of many members to practicing premodern folk crafts from Norse and Germanic tradition, variant forms of organization that have developed over time, questions of the importance of ancestral identity in the self-definition of Heathenism, and the important and enduring debate between “universalist” and “folkish” forms of the religion over who should be allowed to participate in and affiliate themselves with the religion.

Being Viking

Being Viking deserves great praise and wide readership as an extremely detailed and well-researched historical and ethnographical study of the American variant of the New Religious Movement (NRM) variously known as Heathenry, Heathenism, Asatru or Modern Norse (or Germanic) Paganism.

Heathenism, to use Jefferson Calico’s preferred term for the modern Norse Pagan movement in America,  is a form of modern or contemporary Paganism that endeavors to create a workable contemporary version of pre-Christian Norse Paganism as was once practiced in Iceland, Scandinavia, and Germanic Europe. Being Viking is the product of many years of participant-observation fieldwork research that Calico has conducted among Heathens in the United States and informed by extensive reading in the literature of NRMs in general and Modern Norse Paganism in particular. He builds on the previous work of such scholars as Jeffrey Kaplan, Mattias Gardell, Jenny Blain, Jennifer Snook, and myself.

Calico ably addresses many dimensions of the American Heathen religion from the biographies and contributions of religious leaders such as Stephen McNallen, Valgard Murray, and Diana Paxson to such particular practices as the sumbel (a toasting ritual); the blot (an alternate form of the sumbel)), and seid/seit (an oracular rite). In addition, Calico examines the devotion to medieval Icelandic and Germanic literary and religious texts as key source materials, the dedication of many members to practicing premodern folk crafts from Norse and Germanic tradition, variant forms of organization that have developed over time, questions of the importance of ancestral identity in the self-definition of Heathenism, and the important and enduring debate between “universalist” and “folkish” forms of the religion over who should be allowed to participate in and affiliate themselves with the religion.

The universalist conception holds that Modern Norse Paganism should be open and embracing to any person anywhere regardless of ethnic or racial background who feels a sincere spiritual interest in Norse Pagan gods and traditions. The folkish perspective holds that membership in the religion should be mainly—or even exclusively—limited to people of European or Germanic descent. Calico also provides valuable discussion of the problematic “metagenetics” theory propounded by Stephen McNallen, a pseudo-scientific attempt to ground Heathen spirituality—and folkish exclusiveness—in European genetics.

Calico juxtaposes the historical development of each topic while also providing colorful sketches of particular Heathens and their life-situations and religious practices. The author traces the lineages of different organizational structures that have undergirded the development of American Heathenism such as the Ring of Troth, more commonly and simply known as the Troth, and the Asatru Folk Alliance (AFA) pointing out their differing attitudes toward both religious practice and preferred practitioners, with the Troth being the more open and inclusive structure and the AFA the least, with a pronounced emphasis on ancestry and ethnicity that many observers have reckoned a thinly masked form of racism, or at the very least, very attractive to racists. Calico uses the metaphor of a river into which tributary streams feed and swirl as a means of explicating the different intellectual, cultural and social “streams” of influence that have fed into American Asatru, and this is an effective and intriguing manner of conceptualizing the internal diversity, dialogue, and conflict in the religion.

Read the whole thing.

Being Viking is part of Equinox Publishing’s Pagan-studies book series, of which I am the longest-surving editor, a tale of success, frustration, corporate marriage and corporate divorce, and who knows what will happen next?

A New Graphic Timeline of American Wicca

One of the non-Californians on the timeline, Grey Cat (Manya M.) lived in Tennessee and was a friend of mine.

The Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) “TImeline” is now available for free download online. Anyone interested in the history of contemporary Paganism in America ought to give it a look.

The CoG Timeline was compiled and designed by Andrea Joy Kendall with contributions from Anne Agard, Angie Buchanan, Jo Carson, Andras Corban-Arthen, Phyllis Curott, Amber K, Anna Korn, Rowan Fairgrove, Donald Frew, J. Hildebrand, M. Macha NightMare, and Starhawk. This timeline includes events of interest to anyone that wants to understand what the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and its members do.

The Timeline is presented in two PDF files: Part 1 and Part 2. Do understand that since CoG started in northern California, the Timeline reflects that geographical slant. The San Francisco Bay Area is somewhat over-represented. New Yorkers may wail and lament.

CoG itself was started in the 1970s:

In the Spring of 1975, a number of Wiccan elders from diverse traditions, all sharing the idea of forming a religious organization for all practitioners of Witchcraft, gathered to draft a covenant among themselves.  These representatives also drafted bylaws to administer this new organization now known as the Covenant of the Goddess

It chief purpose, beyond fellowship, was to provide ministerial credentials to Witches who wished to perform weddings and fill other public roles.

“And even Wicca”: A Historical Study of Santa Muerte

An anthropologist and a historian examine the development of the cult of Santa Muerte (Holy Death) in this article, “Syncretic Santa Muerte: Holy Death and Religious Bricolage,” which currently is a free download.

“Bricolage” is a term beloved by scholars of new religious movements. It means building something with available materials in a do-it-yourself fashion — a little of this and a little of that. For its history in academic writing, see Wikipedia.

The authors write,

Firstly, taking an ethno-archaeological, anthropological and historical viewpoint, we argue that Santa Muerte accreted from the meeting of two distinct conceptions of death during the colonial era, when Spanish colonizers brought Christianity to Latin America to convert Indigenous people, and with it the figure of the Grim Reaper which represented death. . . .

Through further religious bricolage in the post-colony, we describe how as the new religious movement rapidly expanded it integrated elements of other religious traditions, namely Afro-Cuban Santeria and Palo Mayombe, New Age beliefs and practices, and even Wicca. In contrast to much of the Eurocentric scholarship on Santa Muerte, we posit that both the Skeleton Saint’s origins and contemporary devotional framework cannot be comprehended without considering the significant influence of Indigenous death deities who formed part of holistic ontologies that starkly contrasted with the dualistic absolutism of European Catholicism in which life and death were viewed as stark polarities

The nearest supermarket has candles for Our Lady of Guadalupe, Santo Niño de Atocha, etc., but no Santa Muerte. I wonder how long it will take before “our distributor” (they blame everything on “our distributor”) has them in stock.

We Pagans Are the “Useful Idiots”

Reading Religion, which is a book-review site run by the American Academy of Religion, recently assigned me a book to review: Our Non-Christian Nation: How Atheists, Satanists, Pagans, and Others Are Demanding Their Rightful Place in Public Life.

The author is a Boston University law professor, and he well summarizes the FIrst Amendment law cases that made it possible, for example, for an avowed Satanist to give the invocation before a city council meeting in upstate New York.  And he goes riding around Circle Sanctuary in an “side by side” ATV with Selena Fox.

But Professor Jax Wexler is the kind who expects the class to laugh at his jokes, and he spends a little too much time telling which Supreme Court justices he despises and how getting drunk is the only way to cope after spending time with people from Greece, New York (it’s a suburb of Rochester).

What struck me the most was that to Wexler we Pagans — and the Satanists and all the minority religions — are just “useful idiots.”[1]A “useful idiot” is a person [or group] perceived as propagandizing for a cause without fully comprehending the cause’s goals, and who is cynically used by the cause’s leaders … Continue reading We are levers to use against “Christian hegemony,” and when that is finished with, so are we.

He is an atheist with a capital-A, and in his world, there is no Out There or In There or Over There, only human consciousness trapped in the bone box of the skiull and only this world as revealed by Science. Down the road lies the Atheist utopia, once we get rid of all these “deplorables” with their silly religions.

If you want to read it, here is the review that I wrote.

Notes

Notes
1 A “useful idiot” is a person [or group] perceived as propagandizing for a cause without fully comprehending the cause’s goals, and who is cynically used by the cause’s leaders (Wikipedia).

“If Ancient Olympic Gods Lived in America Today”

Please forgive the “If,” it was in the tile of the original. Religion Unplugged is not necessarily polytheist-friendly. I think, however, that  David Ahmanson got Artemis pretty well.

Read about all the Olympians here. Would Athene be a Republican??

“Pagans,” a Short Documentary Film


Oooh, scary Pagans! We spend a lot of time with the curtains drawn, gazing at candles, right. We wear black robes . . .  Seriously, there is some good stuff here: Pagans, a short documentary.

To tell the story of the dramatic rise of neo-paganism in America, though, you quickly run into a roadblock. “No two pagans seem to agree on the same definition” of paganism, Iqbal Ahmed, who spent two years researching a large community of pagans in Southern California for his short documentary Pagans, told me. Because of this confusion, Ahmed said, “it’s no wonder that relatively informed laypeople might have still have misconceptions about paganism.”

In fact, Ahmed came to the world of paganism with his own set of preconceived notions. “Paganism conjured images of ’80s films about satanic cults,” he said. “I envisioned blood rituals, pentagrams, and hedonism.” Pagans, which is featured on The Atlantic today, aims to dispel some of this haze. By focusing on an intimate community of pagans who live within 200 miles of one another and often worship together, Ahmed’s film showcases paganism’s diversity of people and beliefs. “I found pagans of every ilk,” Ahmed said. Among his film’s subjects are teachers, social workers, and PTA members who engage in various pre-Christian practices steeped in ceremony and superstition.

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.

“Out of the Broom Closet” — American Wicca in the late 1980s

Valdosta State University in Georgia has digitized and posted two videos by Wiccan journalists Malcolm Brenner and Lezlie Kinyon. (That is Brenner’s voice-over narration.)

This one, Out of the Broom Closet, was released in 1991 from video shot in the preceding years.

This documentary begins with a protest of Z. Budapest speaking about witchcraft at the St. Theresa Public Library in San Jose, California on July 12, 1986. What follows are formal and informal interviews of Pagan leaders explaining what Wicca is, how the general public has a misconception of what witchcraft is, and why it is important for practitioners to come “Out of the Broom Closet” to educate the public.

It and much more are cataloged in VSU’s  New Age Movements, Occultism and Spiritualism Research Library (NAMOSRL), created by librarian Guy Frost.

A Survey on Pagan Metaphysics and Ethics

This comes from Gwendolyn Reese, whose work has appeared several times in The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies.

She writes,

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.  

You may take the survey here. It is projected to require about 25 minutes of your time.