Lifting up Love & Light in North Carolina

A mug with the Pagan triple goddess symbol is pictured at Quantum Soul in Carrboro on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023. S

A mug with the Pagan triple goddess symbol is pictured at Quantum Soul in Carrboro on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023.

The student newspaper at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, does the annual Pagans-and-witches story but reaches out a little farther to interview a graduate student working in that area.

“There are lots of different ways that people celebrate this time of year and engage in this time of year and the best thing to do to learn more is actually to just ask people,” Mary Hamner, a Religious Studies graduate student studying paganism and witchcraft at UNC, said.

* * * *

According to Hamner, it is very difficult to estimate pagan and witch populations in the U.S., but assumptions can be made based on statistics concerning witchcraft-related book sales or the number of posts under certain hashtags on social media.

She cautioned people from making the mistake of thinking pagans and witches are “fringe groups,” or a group with extreme views, especially in the South.

“The South has this really entrenched history in Protestant Christianity in particular,” she said. “That doesn’t erase the fact that it is a really diverse region and many other religious groups have been here the whole time just because they are not the ones routinely who get the microphone handed to them.”

Now if we could get the Daily Tar Heel  to follow  Pomegranate style and capitalize “Pagan” while lowercasing “religious studies,” which is not a proper noun unless you are talking about the UNC Department of Religious Studies.

An Online Presentation on the Wilderness Vision of Feraferia

Maiden Savioress Spirit Guiding the Age of Aquarius,Fred Adams, 1977.
“Maiden Savioress Spirit Guiding the Age of Aquarius,” artwork by Fred Adams, 1977.

The Pagan group Feraferia had a fairly large (by Pagan standards of the time) following, chiefly  in Southern California, starting in the late 1960s.

It was largely the creation of one man, the visonary artist Fred Adams, and was a unique creation, with some inspiration from the ancient Minoan civilization but no real connection to Wicca, ceremonial magic, other Pagan groups, although he did take up John Michell’s vision of ley lines and sought to delineate them in Southern California.[1]Many Feraferia members, however, also participated in Wiccan and other magickal groups. That’s how it often goes.

Adams described Feraferia (meaing “wild festival”) as “a love culture for wilderness, a liturgy of holy wildness, and a religion celebrating the Magic Maiden.”

Adams died in 2008, followed by his wife and co-leader, Svetlana, in 2010.

Their literary executor was the artist and filmmaker Jo Carson.  On Saturday, May 20, Cherry Hill Seminar will present a free online event with Carson, Feraferia, A Love Culture for Wilderness.

You can see the trailer for her documentary film, Dancing with Gaia, at its website.

So while the Adamses are gone and the group around them largely dispersed, Jo and others have tried to keep the vision alive, and here is a way to share in it.

They put out a zine, which I got in the 1970s, but to participate back then, you really had to be there, and “there” was Pasadena, California.

But you can still get feeling for “celebrating wildness” this way.

Notes

Notes
1 Many Feraferia members, however, also participated in Wiccan and other magickal groups. That’s how it often goes.

Look, the Son is Rising

Upper photo: “Sonrise Hill,” Thedford, Nebraska, site of Easter sunrise worship. Lower photo: signboard at a nondenomination Protestant church in Colorado

It’s that magical time of year, when Christianity does seem to resemble a solar cult, much to the satisfaction of all the internet scholars who say that Jesus is really just the same as Osiris, Adonis, Dumuzid, Mithras, Sol Invictus, Baldur, etc.

But at the same time, if I had a dollar for everytime someone — usually a Protestant Christian minister — has made the Son/Sun pun at this time of year, I would be drinking my morning coffee in my Teton County mountain mansion with my pet wolves gamboling on the lawn.

A New Survey on Pagans’ Political Attitudes

This survey, “Pagan and Heathen Political and Sociall Metrics,”  comes recommended by several scholars whom I know. It is for respondents in the United States and Canada only.

This survey is a means of gathering information about beliefs, behaviors, and demographics from Heathens and Pagans in the United States and Canada. It will ask you questions about aspects of your religious and personal life, and your opinion on hot-button issues. Its results will tell us what Heathens and Pagans have in common across borders, and how different Pagans are within them. For the purposes of this survey, “Pagan” is defined as anyone who practices a form of Paganism and / or identifies as a practitioner of any form of Paganism, and “Heathen” is defined as anyone who practices a form of Heathenry or Asatru or identifies as a practitioner of any form of Heathenry or Asatru.

Warning: A lot of the questions are about race, guns,  and politics, so if you are uncomfortable with slicing and dicing that stuff, don’t go there.

Holli Emore Interviewed about Pagan ‘Ministry’

Holli S. Emore, Cherry Hill Seminary

What is the difference between priest/essing  and ministry? What does a Pagan “minister” do?

Holli Emore serves as executive director of Cherry Hill Seminary (since 2008). Cherry Hill offers a variety of programs that help Pagans become not only more effective group leaders and also qualifies them to work with anyone in crisis or transformation, where officially a cap-P Pagan or not. In other words, to minister, in such settings as hospitals, natural disasters, schools, and prisons as well as day-to-day life.

She was recently interviewed by podcaster Robin Douglas for his Religion Off the Beaten Track. (Amazon link — Apple link — Spotify link — Twitter link — and there are others.)

Listen for a lucid 35-minute explanation of just what ministry is in a Pagan context.

Holli has a book out on the subject too, Constellated Ministry: A Guide for Those Serving Today’s Pagans. (Amazon link. Publisher’s link.)

Polyamory, Silverware, and the “Second Generation” Problem

In the pre-Civil War era, upstate New York produced several new religious movements, the best-known of which is now headquartered in Salt Lake City. The Oneida community is less well-known — except to people who study such movements. Like the Shakers, they combined a communal lifestyle and self-sufficiency through agriculture and manufacturing. But unlilke the Shakers, they were not celibate. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The Shakers grew through taking in new members, including single parents with young children. The children could stay until a point in their late teens, when they had to make their own decision to join the movement or go elsewhere. Most went elsewhere. Likewise the children of Oneida often wanted something different. Maybe they wanted to be “sticky.”

But show me a twentieth-century commune that could build as beautifully.

“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.