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Israeli scholar of Paganism has published a paper on “Connecting British Wicca with Radical Feminism and Goddess Spirituality during the 1970s and 1980s: The Case Study of Monica Sjöö” in the Journal of Contemporary Religion.

It is currently available as a free download. Here is the abstract:

This article attempts to chart some of the ways in which ideas of radical feminism, Goddess Spirituality, and feminist Witchcraft—which originated in the United States during the late 1960s and the 1970s before taking root in Britain—were introduced to British Wiccans during the latter half of the 1970s and throughout the 1980s. Several UK-based radical feminists who combined their newfound political awareness with Goddess Spirituality acted as important conduits for the transference of these ideas. This will be shown through the use of a case study of the artist and Goddess Feminist Monica Sjöö (1938–2005).

As they say, this offer may expire, so act now.

Magic Earth Lines 1: “Discovering” Ley Lines

At Bad Archaeology, a skeptical look at Alfred Watkins and the “discovery” of ley lines:

According to a later account, all this [discovery of a hidden web of straight lines in the English countryside] came to him “in a flash” on 21 June 1921 during a visit to Blackwardine; according to his son Allen, this happened while poring over a map. A variation on the ‘origin myth’ quoted by John Michell holds that the revelation happened whilst out riding in the hills near Bredwardine in 1920, observing the Herefordshire landscape he loved. It is unclear why there are two different versions of the story; Tom Williamson and Liz Bellamy note wryly in their excellent Ley Lines in Question (Tadworth: World’s Work, 1983) that John Michell’s version reflects how “ley hunters would like to think it happened”.

Speculations about “trackways” and astronomical alignments go back well into the nineteenth century, before even Watkins’ time.

A critique of the Wikipedia entry for ley lines is included.

Read the rest.

Female Viking Warriors? A New Cinematic Arthur? And the Intern’s Tale

¶ Based on only six skeletons, some people are going crazy on Facebook, etc., about female Norse warriors. It’s not that simple, says someone who read the original archaeology paper. But it’s still interesting.

¶ Peg Aloi is a bit short of breath about a possible new film series on the Arthurian legend.

¶ What is it like to be an intern in a witchcraft museum? At least here is someone who knows who Cecil Williamson (Gerald Gardner’s business partner) was.

Literary British Paganism and an Unusual Thor’s Hammer

Photo from National Museum of Denmark

¶ Ethan Doyle White reviews Ronald Hutton’s Pagan Britain and Marion Gibson’s Imagining the Pagan Past (free PDF download). The first I have, but the second might actually be more valuable to anyone studying contemporary Paganism, for it looks not at “not at paganism [sic] itself, but instead explores how pagan deities – both native and foreign – have been interpreted in British literature from the Early Medieval right through to the present day.”

After all, at least nine or ten centuries elapsed between the effective end of cultic Paganism in that area and the mid-twentieth century revival. Hutton, too, has written on how literary works kept the old gods in public consciousness (at least that of educated readers) during  eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

¶ Speaking of the last era of old European Paganism, archaeologists have discovered an unusual Thor’s hammer talisman — unusual in that it was plated with precious metal and bore a runic inscription.  It was found in Denmark and dated to the tenth century.

Back to the Neolithic: Building a British Long Barrow

Interior with shelves for cremations (BBC).

Some “experiential archaeology” — yes, it will hold the cremated remains of modern people.

“It’s strange really. We haven’t built a long barrow for 5,000 years, but then about six weeks ago we had another enquiry for one.

“They want a burial chamber built in central London to hold some art.

“They’re like London buses. You don’t get one for 5,000 years and then all of a sudden two come at once.”

1971: Witches in Bellbottoms, Talking Heads

Here is a 1971 documentary from the BBC that is supposed to be about witches. But at the time it was made, no one was making much effort to sort out the new Pagan Witches, anthropological and folkloric witches, and Satanic witches of the Church of Satan variety. So what you get is all of them! Plus talking heads — academics, clergy, exorcists . . .

Like so many of the paperback “I go among the witches” books of the time, the filmmakers interview a few of the most public Pagans, such as Doreen Valiente (who should get equal billing with Gerald Gardner in creating Wicca), Alex and Maxine Sanders, and others. But they quickly run out of interview subjects — there were not too many in Britain back then — so they start skipping around: a famous murder case with a possible (folk) witchcraft connection, desecration of graveyards, the evil grip of Satanism, and so forth, to fill up their 49 minutes.

I write about this period in Chapter 4 of Her Hidden Children: “The Playboy and the Witch: Wicca and Popular Culture.” Looking at a number of paperback books on the American scene, I created a rough spreadsheet of places visited and people interviewed. It was interesting how much overlap there was. There seemed to be a “witchcraft trail” that the writers followed — you could imagine it starting at the Warlock Shop/Magical Child store in New York City and ending at Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey’s house in San Francisco.

What is missing at this moment from the outsiders’ view is an overall sense of the new Paganism, at least until Hans Holzer’s 1972 book, The New Pagans. Even the participants themselves were just coming to the view that Wiccans, for instance, might share a Pagan outlook with Druids — the new Druids, that is. We often forget how deliberately isolated those covens were (“We can’t circle with Coven XYZ because it would mean sharing our secrets!” Really, I heard stuff like that in the 1970s.)

Serious academic study of the new Paganism(s) would not really get rolling until the 1980s. For instance, during the 1970s Robert Ellwood, Jr. at the University of Southern California was writing Alternative Altars: Unconventional and Eastern Spirituality in America (1979), which would offer some theoretical models applicable to the new Paganism, but he did not incorporate it into his discussion in that book.

Welcome, visitors from The Wild Hunt. Look around a bit.

(Thanks to Renna in Denver for the link.)

Paganism Coming in from the Cold?

British SF writer Liz Williams explores the social position of “paganism” (yeah, the Brits can’t find the shift key) at The Guardian and asks if we are coming in from the cold.

In essence, Pagans are muddling through, what with our tolerance for eccentricity, etc.

(And if we are, who is “Control“?)

Britain and the “Festival Gap”

A contributor to the BBC magazine takes the summer solstice as an opportunity to comment on the UK’s paucity of good festivals — particularly at midsummer:

If in this year of 2013, an interplanetary anthropologist came to England for fieldwork, what would they discover? On a variable Sunday each spring, we give our children more chocolate than is good for them, eat roast lamb and visit garden centres.

On the last day of October, we dress the kids up in old sheets, black bin liners and plastic fangs, and send them down the street to extort sweets from our neighbours. A few days later, we gather around a bonfire, set off rockets and celebrate the execution of a Catholic conspirator. The following month, we get together with our birth families to exchange gifts, to eat too much and to argue.

And that’s about it.

Not that he wants to be a Druid or anything: “Druids parading at Stonehenge seem to me as contrived as Morris dancers.” But there is a lack.

For American culture, I suggest, the Fourth of July takes the place of midsummer, falling less than two weeks later, and being a time for family and community gathering, feasting, and loud noises.

Currents in Esoteric Studies

The current newsletter of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism is available for download. In it, some of the members discuss their current doctoral work. It is always interesting to see how new scholars are formulating just exactly what “esoteric studies” covers.

Like Pagan studies — there is some degree of overlap — esoteric studies (if I may personify it) struggles to find out who it is. Egil Asprem, doctoral candidate and blogger, writes,

On the one hand, you often hear that the field has now matured, but when you look for some of the signs that characterise a mature academic field it is hard to see them in practice. I am particularly thinking of the lack of agreement on fundamental issues, such as ”what is it”, ”how do we study it”, ”what’s its importance”, and ”how is it related to the broad spectrum of human activity”. If you pick up the three most popular introduction books to the field, you’ll find three very different ways of handling these fundamental questions.

Kocku von Stuckrad, an established scholar but still “younger” in academic terms, makes the comparison:

It is a kind of identity work that I perceive in the study of esotericism, but also in ”pagan studies” and related fields of research. This identity work often leads to a neglect of critical methodological reflection, which I find problematic. What we need is an active collaboration with as many colleagues as possible, no matter whether or not we like their definitions of esotericism, in order to build up networks that can make research into these historical and cultural dynamics sustainable for the future. If we study these phenomena as part of the cultural history of Europe and North America, in an increasingly globalized perspective, we will be able to integrate the field of Western esotericism” in larger research structures and critical scholarship. This will also help students who enroll in our programs to find a job after their studies.

More resources in the newsletter about courses and research opportunities, chiefly in Britain and the Netherlands.