Conference on Current Pagan Studies Seeks Presenters

Last year I had the honor to give a keynote address at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies in Claremont, California. Last year’s conference involved a train trip. This year, like everything else, it’s virtual. Dates are January 16–17, 2021. The keynote speakers are scholar Michael York  and writer and Heathen leader Diana Paxon. I expect that virtual-attendance details and pricing will be announced later.

From program manager Jeffrey Albaugh:

This upcoming meeting of the Conference on Current Pagan Studies, now in its 17th year, will take place in a virtual setting. While the restrictions that keep Pagan studies scholars from gathering together physically are necessary to check the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, these restrictions offer us a unique opportunity to gather utilizing the digital magic of the internet, and opens the conference up to individuals that may not otherwise attend or present.

This year’s conference theme concerns “Contemporary Paganisms During Extreme Change,” and the online nature of the 2021 Conference on Current Pagan Studies is an aspect of the adaptations all of us are making within our practices of Contemporary Paganisms and Witchcrafts.

Here is this year’s Call for Papers:

Like a living organism, historic and contemporary Paganisms adapt to shifts in the environment, the swelling and shrinking of populations, or the migration of peoples across the landscape. History, practices, belief, even the masks worn by the divine, dance to the music of change, revealing and vanishing within the ka- leidoscope of human experience.

Contemporary Pagans look toward the traditions of the past, observing the ways that we have traveled from some distant place and time, and using the tra- jectory of those journeys to chart paths forward into the future. Many of these “old ways” may be deemed worthy, and others may be found wanting and in- compatible to modern sensibilities. What do we keep? What do we discard? What do we transform? Who do we become?

How do the conditions surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic change the content and shape of contemporary Paganisms? How does social distancing practices strengthen or weaken coming together in community, the teaching of magical practices, and the continuation of the various traditions of Witchcraft, Wicca, Reconstructionist, and other practices?

The Conference on Current Pagan Studies is looking for papers that explore these possibilities. How will we endure the extremities of change and find new ways of being in a brave new world? From this point in the here and now, how do we demonstrate respect to those who have gone before, and how will we create a heathy and sustainable future for those who will follow?

The Conference on Current Pagan Studies invites papers that explore this theme from historical, creative, psychological, spiritual and other points of view. We are looking for  papers from all disciplines, because a community needs artists, teachers, scientists, healers, historians, philosophers, educators, thinkers, activists, etc. As usual we are using the word “Pagan” in its most in- clusive form, covering Pagans, Wiccans, Witches and the numerous hybrids that have sprung up as well as any indigenous groups that feel akin to or want to be in conversation with Contemporary Pagans.

Abstracts should be no longer than 300 words and are due by October 31, 2020. Go to our website  for advice on presenting papers. Please email abstracts to pagan_conference@yahoo.com.

Book to Explore Paganism in Early Modern Lithuania

The Samogitian Sanctuary, a reconstructed Pagan observatory and sacred place in Lithuania (Wikipedia).

I post a lot about old and new Pagan movements in the Baltic nations, a region that I have never visited, although some of my family members have.1)One of my older sisters lived the last couple of years of her life in Kaunas, Lithuania, but that had nothing to do with Paganism although I believe her choice had a strong “karmic” element. So here is an interview with the Britsh historian Francis Young about a forthcoming book, Pagans in the Early Modern Baltic.

On his own blog, Young writes,

The Baltic peoples of Prussia (Lithuania Minor, today’s Kaliningrad Oblast) and Lithuania were almost unique among European nations in retaining their ancestral pre-Christian religion until the late Middle Ages. While the conversion of the Prussians was the justification for the Baltic Crusades, which brought Prussia and Latvia under the rule of German military orders, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania not only remained officially pagan but also expanded into a vast Central European empire. Although Lithuania formally converted to Christianity between 1387 and 1413, according to some accounts the nation was not fully Christianised until the eighteenth century.

His work is previewed at The Thinker’s Garden blog in a post titled “Paganism in Early Modern Lithuania and Prussia.” where writer J. Locksley notes,

Paganism in Lithuania was curiously–and perhaps preternaturally– resilient. Notably, it persisted in the wilder regions of the Baltic state until the eighteenth century. For this reason, as Young has pointed out, descriptive texts by contemporary observers of its key rites and mores might be the “closest we can ever get to encountering an ancestral European paganism as an unbroken tradition”.

Read both posts to get a broader picture. And don’t forget to watch The Pagan King.

Notes

↑ 1. One of my older sisters lived the last couple of years of her life in Kaunas, Lithuania, but that had nothing to do with Paganism although I believe her choice had a strong “karmic” element.

“The Woman Who Inspired Wicca”

This popped up on Twitter recently:

There is no conference that I know of, which may say something about how small a set of academics are interested in Wiccan history. Maybe we Pagan-studies types do not have anything new to say right now, because this issue has been covered pretty well. The debunking of Murray’s claims was underway in the 1960s by such historians as Elliot Rose  (A Razor for a Goat: A Discussion of Certain Problems in the History of Witchcraft and Diabolism) and Norman Cohn (Europe’s Inner Demons).

In my own experience, I would say that by about 1980, Wiccan elders were quietly beginning to abandon the Murray-ite thesis of unbroken ancient Pagan religion lasting to the 17th century or later.

Leave it to First Things, a Catholic-leaning magazine on religious issues, to weigh in on the upcoming centenary, which deserves to be noted.

While Margaret Murray was by no means a founder or adherent of Wicca, the religion to which her writings gave birth, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe inspired the now global phenomenon of neopaganism. There can be no doubt that Murray had a brilliant scholarly imagination—too brilliant, perhaps, for the serious flaws in her reasoning to be seen by many. While few Wiccans and neopagans now believe literally that their religion has existed since prehistory, Murray’s legacy persists in the strange idea that witchcraft was a religion, an idea long since debunked by historians of witchcraft. It is ironic that this idea, devised by a feminist historian, often eclipses the reality that the accusation of witchcraft was a misogynistic construct weaponized against innocent women. Murray’s unsubstantiated claim that these women practiced a secret pagan religion was, ultimately, a calumny against the victims of a dark era of misogynistic violence.

Read the whole thing here: “The Woman Who Inspired Wicca” by Francis Young.

Witchcraft: You’re Not Making It Strange Enough

Teresa Palmer as Diana Bishop, historian and witch, in A Discovery of Witches, Episode 1 (2018).

The final article in the “Paganism, art, and fashion” issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies argues that books and television series based on historical witchcraft make it too safe and fail to portray “the genuine strangeness of witches and magic users in all periods and cultures.”

It is written by literature professor Diane Purkiss and titled “Getting It Wrong: The Problems with Reinventing the Past” (currently a free download). Purkiss’ books include At the Bottom of the Garden: A Dark History of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Nymphs, and Other Troublesome Things and The Witch in History: Early Modern and Twentieth-Century Representations.

The works she discusses include Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches and the series developed from it, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon (both the novel and the TV series), and the Outlander series—not to mention such classics as Lord of the Rings.

The authors, she argues, focus too much on female empowerment and not enough on how “early modern witches are much stranger and much more disconcerting than anything likely to be found at Hogwarts or in Narnia or Rivendell.”

Thus the “getting it wrong” of her title not an attack on contemporary Pagan-themed literature — she admits its creative energy— but the suggestion that if you think you are doing something “transgressive” now, you ought to look at some primary sources. And since she teaches at Oxford, she has some snarky things to say about how her university is portrayed in Discovery of Witches on TV.1)Purkiss’ exclamation over the fictional Professor Bishop, ‘That’s not how this works!” might equally well have been applied to the long-running British Inspector Morse mystery series, set in Oxford town, which portrayed Oxford dons as bludgeoned on an almost-weekly basis. Apparently that is how positions are opened up for new hires. Perhaps Bishop arrived immediately after a murder.

M. Z. Bradley, she points out, was more influenced by Starhawk than by anything on ancient Pagan religion. “We tend to want goddesses with moral characteristics derived from Christianity and from the Enlightenment, and matriarchal societies with characteristics derived from Christian socialism and even Marxism. All this excludes the bitter truths embodied in Pagan myths and ideology.”

It’s not that we cannot enjoy Diana Bishop, heriditary witch and professor, but that, as Purkiss is anxious to point out, the real thing was even stranger than the “anondyne” modern re-creations.

Notes

↑ 1. Purkiss’ exclamation over the fictional Professor Bishop, ‘That’s not how this works!” might equally well have been applied to the long-running British Inspector Morse mystery series, set in Oxford town, which portrayed Oxford dons as bludgeoned on an almost-weekly basis. Apparently that is how positions are opened up for new hires. Perhaps Bishop arrived immediately after a murder.

The Morrigan, Therapy, and Female Self-Narration on Social Media

Idealized interpreation of the Morrigan

The Morrigan (great queen, sometimes seen as a trio of goddesses. (DePaul University.)

From The Pomegranate’s special issue on Paganism, art, and fashion, here is a link to Áine Warren’s article, “The Morrigan as a ‘Dark Goddess’: A Goddess Re-Imagined Through Therapeutic Self-Narration of Women on Social Media.”

Áine Warren

Áine Warren, U. of Edinburgh

It and other Pomegranate articles are currently available as free downloads.

Here Áine Warren talks about her research on women and the Dark Goddess.

A related blog.

An article on Pagans, the Morrigan and YouTube,
from the Journal of Contemporayr Religion.

Northern Wolves: Garb and Shiny Boots in a Polish Pagan Order

Tattooed man holding medieval sword

Tattoos on the body of Igor Górewicz, a noted Polish Slavic Pagan famous for Viking reenactment (not ZZPW).

In his article “Wolves among the Sheep: Looking Beyond the Aesthetics of Polish National Socialism,” Polish cultural anthropologist Mariusz Filip examines the symbolic meanings of tattoos, re-created medieval garb, and modern paramilitary uniforms in the Polish Pagan group Zakon Zadrugi “Polnocny Wilk,” (the Order of Zadruga “Northern Wolf”).

Military-style boots worn by ZZPW members.

The artiicle is part of the “Paganism, art, and fashion” special issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, guest-edited by Caroline Tully. It and the other contents will be available as free downloads for a limited time.

What Female Heathen Instagrammers Reveal

Instagrammer Helheimen as the goddess Hel.

Instagrammer Helheimen as the goddess Hel.

Another article from the new issue of The Pomegranate on the theme of Paganism, art, and fashion, guest-edited by Caroline Tully.

Hashtag Heathens: Contemporary Germanic Pagan Feminine Visuals on Instagram,” by Ross Downing. You can download the entire paper free at the link this summer. Here is the abstract:

A rising number of young adult females use Instagram, posting pictures with hashtags which alert Instagram users to their specific interests. Heathens have also begun to use Instagram and in order to better understand this new feature of the religious movement I interviewed fifteen Instagram account owners whom I identified by three factors.

1. Their use of three or more of the following hashtags: #norsewitch #heathengirl #seidr #volva #galdr #norsepagan #heathensofInstagram #witch #runes #viking #shamanism #witchesofInstagram
2. Their personal identification as Heathen, Asatru, Norse Pagan, or otherwise expressing spiritual belief in a Nordic mythology.
3. The account had at least 500 followers, indicating the likelihood of having an impact on Heathens, Pagans, and sympathetic individuals.

My focus is to document the processes and dynamics of Instagram as a medium for religious communication from the point of view of producers of religious content: the alpha Instagram account owners. The data shows that these young females apply significant theological thought in their posts and most have a strong sense of responsibility to teach others about Heathenry. The data departs from previous research on Instagram and Heathenry in that the account owners appear to have altruistic motives in the first instance and an affirmative non-political epistemology in the second.

 

Fashion Designers Borrowing from Paganism

From a fashion shoot at Breen Down— site of Dion Fortune’s novel The Sea Priestess. Headpiece by Charlotte Rodgers, photo by Marc Aitken (www.marcaitken.com).

In her Pomegranate article “High Glamour: Magical Clothing and Talismanic Fashion,” designer Charlotte Rodgers asks, “Why now?”

The iconography and visuals associated with magic are highly evocative and responsible for a major part of its appeal. The strong, often iconoclastic imagery exerts a particularly powerful draw for the artist or craftsperson because of its ability to fire the imagination, and to inspire creative work in response. Until recent times, creative interpretations of magic within mainstream fashion have mainly been on a subtle and subversive level; generally within a counter cultural context.  So why is magical symbolism being appropriated within high fashion at this particular point in time?

This article is part of Pomegranate’s “Paganism, Art, and Fashion” special issue, guest-edited by Caroline Tully. All content may be downloaded for free at this time.

Paganism, Art, And Fashion: “Feminist Interpretation of Witches”

Sheela-na-gig figure interpreted by the Swedish artist Monica Sjöö (1938–2005).

In her artlcle for The Pomegranate, Katy Deepwell, editor of the feminist art journal n.paradoxa, discusses “Feminist Interpretations of Witches and the Witch Craze in Contemporary Art by Women.” (Free download at this time — and the illustrations are in color where possible.)

In her abstract, she writes,

This article considers feminist interpretations of the witch in contemporary art in relation to the witch craze: examples are by Georgia Horgan, Ann-Sofi Sidén, Mathilde ter Heijne, Monica Sjöö, Tania Antoshina, Helen Chadwick, Jesse Jones, and Carolee Schneemann. The argument explores the ways that the figure of the witch is analyzed in three different feminist critiques of patriarchy, and subsequently pursues how these ideas have been taken up in contemporary art by these women artists. The differences between three authors: Matilda Joslyn Gage (1893); Mary Daly (1984); and Silvia Federici (2004) are highlighted and contrasted to other historians’ analyses from the last thirty years of the fate of women accused as witches during the European Witch Hunt between the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries. This was a paper given at Misogyny: Witches and Wicked Bodies, Institute of Contemporary Arts, (ICA) London in March 2015.

The “Paganism, Art, and Fashion” Issue of The Pomegranate

Design by Gareth Pugh inspired
by the Padstow Oss.

A new issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies devoted to Paganism, art, and fashion has been published online (print to follow) and is currently available as “open acess,” in other words, free downloads.

It is guest-edited by Caroline Tully (University of Melbourne), who writes in her introduction,