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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The first problem on any university campus finding a parking spot. I pulled in behind the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum, which is part of West Texas A &M University, and all the faculty spaces were full.
There was an empty place for the president’s office. Hmmm.
Ah, there! “Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer.” I reckon that by being on their campus, I am bringing types of diversity that this edu-crat never thought of.Put me in charge, and I would fire his/her ass and give all that bloated salary money as pay raises to adjunct professors in the English Department. I call the museum’s research center director, a soft-spoken archivist named Warren Stricker, and tell him that M. and I have arrived. He promises to be right down.
A campus cop drives up, but he is talking to someone else. I am unloading cartons out of the trunk, like I have a perfect right to do so. A timid squirrel sneaks up on a spilled cup of Sonic french fries. The campus cop looks at M. and me, but stays in his vehicle.
The defendant, Loy Stone, and his wife, Louise, were both alumni of West Texas State University in Canyon, Texas — now known as West Texas A & M. The university still plays up the fact that that a young Georgia O’Keefe taught there from 1916–1918. I had approached Texas State University about taking my archive of documents about the case, but Texas is so big that the university archivists (except maybe at UT in Austin) think regionally. TSU’s response was, “We’re all about south Texas. You should talk to the Panhandle Museum.”
And so I did. Warren Stricker was immediately interested.
Dimmitt, Hereford, Plainview — these locales are all right in their front yard, so to speak.
I came away with a Temporary Custody Agreement, but Stricker assured me that his committee had already talked over the donation and wanted it all — the psychic impressions, the private investigator’s reports, the correspondence, the legal depositions, the evidence tags, all of it. Hurray! I am not in the archive business, but I could not bear to just toss all of that in the trash, not after the Stones’ two daughters had saved it all for forty-plus years.
And I like the idea of seeding America’s university libraries with witchcraft materials.
There was a period during the early days of modern Asatru where it was the norm for folks to wear Viking reenactment garb for events and rituals. There was an idea that by trying to recreate the look and feel of the Viking age, folks could better connect with our Gods and more “authentically” practice our religion. Perhaps that was a necessary stage in order to reject what folks were used to and embrace something that was very different. Perhaps folks felt better connected to an idealized time, a better time for our folk’s spirituality, by attempting to imitate the dress of that period. Happily, our religion has grown and developed over the last 50 years and, in the AFA, we no longer feel the need to reenact something dead, instead, we enact something living and vibrant in our own day and in our own real lives. Just as the Vikings did not dress up as cavemen in order to be more spiritual, we do not need to dress up as Vikings to be pious.
In the Wiccan world, I have gotten mixed messages over the years. There is the definite priestess-y fashion statement that involves auburn hair and flowing garments. I have no problem with that — in fact, I married one of them, although I have not seen M. in flowing garments for years. She turned out to be a boots-and-jeans type of gal, which is fine with me.
But against the Renn Faire Wicca stereotype, there was the Denver old-guard/Gard HP who told me during a festival around 1990 that “You can tell the elders. They’re the ones in blue jeans.” Of course, the old guard/Gard types don’t wear jeans in ritual, except maybe at mountain festivals.
So I have often wondered if “dressing like the ancestors” takes you out of the mundane world, but simultaneously if it is not also an obstacle.
Back in the mid-1990s, Nancy Mostad, then the acquisitions editor at Llewellyn, told me that they estimated that 70 percent of purchasers of books on Paganism were solitaries.Hence the immense success — by their standards — of Scott Cunningham’sWicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.
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.
The universe was listening, but gave my thought a different spin. As I wrote last fall in a post called “Feeding My Little Archives to Bigger Ones,” instead of a conference panel session, I was asked by Massimo Introvigne, a leading scholar of new religious movements (NRMs) to contribute to a special issue of the Journal of Religion and Violence with the theme of NRMs and violence.
Finally, there was the venue for an article that I had messed around with since the mid-2000s.
As is expected from the linguistic kinship among Indo-European languages, European Pagan cultures show striking similarities with various Indic indigenous traditions. For instance, among Lithuanian Neo Pagans, the notion of Damumas as a foundation of the world order is a central idea. According to Lithuanian ethnologist and Romuva ideologue Jonas Trinkunas, the word Damumas is linked etymologically to the Sanskrit dharma and the Pali Dhamma. J P Mallory, a prominent Indo-European scholar cites another linguistic parallel in a Lithuanian proverb — ‘Dievas dave dantis; Dievas duous duonoss’. The proverb translates as ‘God gave us teeth, God will give bread’. The Sanskrit equivalent of the proverb is Devas adadat datas, Devas dat dhanas.
Not so crappy. And another indication that some Hindus are realizing that they have more in common with us than with the Middle Eastern monotheisms.