Conference on Current Pagan Studies Moves Online

This year’s Conference on Contemporary on Contermporary Pagan Studies will be an online event, the weekend of 16–17 January.

The theme is “Brave New World: Contemporary Paganisms During Extreme Change,” and the keynote speakers, pictured above, are Diana Paxson and Michael York.

Basic registration is $40 for all sessions, and you can register online here.

Thanks to His Sublime Excellency Gavin Newsom, Caesar of the West, the post-conference bar scene will not. It’s not like you can go to the French Laundry in Claremont.

New Collection on Western Esotericism, Downloadable

Quick, while it’s free, you can download New Approaches to the Study of Esotericism, edited by Egil Asprem (he has published in The Pomegranate) and Julian Strube.

The blurb:

This volume offers new approaches to some of the biggest persistent challenges in the study of esotericism and beyond. Commonly understood as a particularly “Western” undertaking consisting of religious, philosophical, and ritual traditions that go back to Mediterranean antiquity, this book argues for a global approach that significantly expands the scope of esotericism and highlights its relevance for broader theoretical and methodological debates in the humanities and social sciences.

That final sentence could be applied to Pagan studies too, which has the potential to upset a lot of comfortable thought about “religion.” But we need to do more.

Is Contemporary Druidry an ‘Indigenous’ Religion?

I mentioned in yesterday’s post my sadness at missing one of the Indigenous Religious Traditions sessions at the American Academy of Relligion’s online annual meeting this year. (There is another one though). “Indigenous” is a word of power, like “decolonize..”[1]In the 1990s, every grad student in humanities wanted to “foreground the hegemony.” Now it’s “decolonize the [blank] body,” or something like that.

Enter Leeds Trinity University PhD student Angela Puca. (She just passed her doctoral oral exam — “viva” to the Brits — with flying colors, says Ronald Hutton, who was her external examiner,” so I suppose she is only waiting on the formalities now. She has been a graduate teaching assistant in the Dept of Theology and Religious Studies at Leeds Trinity University in the UK.

She has been researching the way the term indigenous is employed in rehabilitating Italian witchcraft in light of contemporary Paganism, among other things. And in her copious free time, she has created a YouTube channel of short lessons and discussions in Paganism: Angela’s Symposium.

“Indigenous,” she admits, is a political classification invoked to protect the rights of certain colonized minority peoples. Colonization has happened throughout history and has affected almost all peoples at some point. But the term is limited when used to talk about religion, she points out. Some people are characterized as “indigenous” and others, who have lived on the same land for centuries, are not, yet they may have experienced cultural and religious colonization, e.g., what Charlemagne did to the Saxons.[2]Carole Cusack, “Pagan Saxon Resistance to Charlemagne’s Mission: ‘Indigenous’ Religion and ‘World’ Religion in the Early Middle Ages,” The Pomegranate: The International Journal … Continue reading

But “indigenous traditions” are not necessarily walled gardens. They can import and transform outside influences and just as importantly, they can export and share their own ways. She follows Suzanne Owen in building an argument that today’s European Druidry can be seen as indigenous, for it relates to t”he land, the people, and that which has gone before.”

Is a YouTube video an “oral tradition”? Discuss.

Notes

1 In the 1990s, every grad student in humanities wanted to “foreground the hegemony.” Now it’s “decolonize the [blank] body,” or something like that.
2 Carole Cusack, “Pagan Saxon Resistance to Charlemagne’s Mission: ‘Indigenous’ Religion and ‘World’ Religion in the Early Middle Ages,” The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies 13, no. 1 (2011) 33–51.

Lurching into a Virtual Annual Meeting of the AAR-SBL

Screenshot from the annual meeting scheduling app. At least it works better than some of the scheduling choices do!

If this were a normal year — and we know it’s not — I would be in Boston right now with 10,000 of my closest friends, attending the annual meeting of the American Acafemy of Religion and its smaller, parent organization, the Society of Biblical Literature.[1]The SBL was founded in 1880 and the AAR in 1909, originally as the Association of Biblical Instructors in American Colleges and Secondary Schools. A typical meeting involves hearing papers until your brain is full, meeting with publishers and editors, shouting into friends’ ears in noisy hotel bars, attending receptions (free food!), touring the host city, drinking,eating, buying too many books, and generally getting your intellectual batteries recharged.

This year we are all Zoomerati. I got off to a bad start this morning, having quickly walked and fed the dog, made coffee, built a fire in the woodstove to warm the kitchen and dining room for M. when she got up, and settled myself to “attend” the first session of the day, a workshop from the Ritual Studies group.

I had attended a similar workshop last year, which was limited in size by the nature of the workshop. This time, you were supposed to pre-register, and I thought that I had done so, but sometimes I am a little dyslexic about online forms and stuff. The time came, but the “Join” screen button did not.

It turned out to be full. Evidently I messed up when I thought that I had registered — or I had been too late.. Today the  session’s chat room was full of people asking “Do I have to register”” “Can I register?” “I paid for AAR — why can’t I register?” and so on.

Some might have been confused by the Virtual Annual Meeting FAQ page, which states,

Is there a way to make a reservation in advance to attend a session?
No need to do this—just join the session when it begins.

A normal annual meeting is five days. This virtual annual meeing goes from November 29 to December 10, but still manages to produce situations where I want to be in sessions that meet simulataneously.

Like Tuesday. Some scheduler put New Religious Movements (which was the first home of Pagan studies before we got our own unit), Indigenous Religious Traditions, and a  “exploratory session”: “Things That Go Bump in the Night”: Folklore, the Supernatural, and Vernacular Religion,” all at the same time! Ten days they have to work with, yet much of what I want to attend happens all at once.[2]I should add that most groups have more than one session; Contemporary Pagan Studies has three, for instance.

“But they will be recorded, surely,” you say. Maybe Not that I can see from the info in my planning app! Crap crap crapola. (I would love to be wrong about that.) Do I just jump from virtual room to virtual room? Apparently so.

And there is no book show and no dinner in a nice restaurant on the publisher’s tab. No quick trip on the train up to Salem to buy witch kitsch. No window-shopping on Newbury Street. Just the same old house and the same old screen.[3]I pity attendees in Europe, who have to say up through the wee hours to attend.

But there is at least one book that I bought last year in San Diego that I have yet to read, so I will pretend it’s new.

Notes

1 The SBL was founded in 1880 and the AAR in 1909, originally as the Association of Biblical Instructors in American Colleges and Secondary Schools.
2 I should add that most groups have more than one session; Contemporary Pagan Studies has three, for instance.
3 I pity attendees in Europe, who have to say up through the wee hours to attend.

New: the “Rejected Religion” Podcast

Stephanie Shea

The number of high-quality Pagan and esoteric podcasts continues to grow, and I am listing some in the right-hand column.

Today’s add is Rejected Religion, created by Stephanie Shea. She writes,

I hold a Research Master in Religious Studies from the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. My resesarch interests are located in the areas of Western esotericism, and emergent identity groups. During the course of my studies, I realized that there was a gap between the plethora of information being produced by academics and the mainstream public. This platform acts as a bridge, with the goal to bring these two spheres closer together by offering podcast interviews, YouTube videos, blog posts, book reviews, plus a wide array of information that focuses on the ways that ‘the esoteric’ is found within popular culture. My motto is “illuminating the obscure”  — I strive to provide a historical viewpoint that aims to share information and to highlight misconceptions surrounding all things ‘esoteric’ or ‘occult’ in an engaging and entertaining way — no stuffy, boring lectures, but instead, down-to-earth discussions about topics that are often vague and therefore misunderstood

If you do not see the blog-and-podcast roll to the right, that is because you are not on the home page. Click the banner at the top — or here — to go there.

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” … Continue reading 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 … Continue reading

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.