New Issue of The Pomegranate

Links to articles from the newest issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, (vol. 24, no. 2). These articles are paywalled — but you know a librarian, don’t you? If you don’t, you should.

“Patrick, Pagans and Party Animals”

A screenshot from Patrick, Pagans and Party Animals, a video about the saint and the explosion of the secular holiday of St. Patrick’s Day.

Jenny Butler, a Pagan-studies scholar from University College Cork, appears at 3:00 and elsewhere to speak up for the “Pagan” dimension of the story.

Requires free Vimeo account.

The Creeping Menace of ‘Paganism’

Dear god! Nature religion! (Illustration by Katie Martin, Getty Images).

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple and (visiting at) Harvard Divinity School is like someone who steps in dog shit, comes back indoors, and keeps wondering where the smell is coming from.

“We are all children of the same God,” he announces in a essay in The Atlantic  (link goes to archived version).

And “we” are opposed to [small-p] “paganism,” which is about power, nature-worship, and wealth-worship. “Hug a tree or a dollar bill, and the pagan in you shines through.”((For Wolpe the exemplar of this “paganism” is, of course, Donald Trump, that notorious tree-hugger. But it’s an election year.))

The rabbi’s essay was not the first to make that point — as I will point out — but it hit at the right time and place, and suddenly contemporary Pagans were asking, “What’ s that smell?”

In  her letter to The Atlantic, anthropologist and Pagan studies scholar Sabina Magliocco, “long-time reader of and subscriber to The Atlantic,” lambasted the piece as “misinformed and distorts both historical and contemporary understandings of paganisms in ways that are profoundly damaging to both Indigenous and revived religions.”

Pagan blogger John Halstead observes correctly that the rabbi is not talking about actual people, today’s Pagans, but about this bogeyman lurking in the shadows, one described in 1937 by the historial Arnold Toynbee as “the new paganism.”

Wolpe equates nature with the most violent and base behavior. His fear, like that of so many other monotheists, is that, in the absence of a transcendental ideal of Goodness, we will all turn into savages raping and eating each other.

Halstead’s blog links to other responses to Wolpe’s article. I will mention just two more. The Wild Hunt has also covered this issue, as linked above.

At Harvard’s Program for the Evolution of Spirituality, Dan McKanan and Giovanna Parmigiani posted an open letter to David Wolpe, siscussing how his approach illustrates how hard it is to discuss religion when “many religions define themselves in opposition to other religions.”

One way to do this is to frame the critiques in the most culturally specific manner possible. Judaism did not emerge in response to “paganism” writ large; it emerged in response to the specific religious and political practices of immediately adjacent cultures. But again and again, Wolpe misses the chance to be specific in his critique. Instead, he identifies Donald Trump, Elon Musk, communism, fascism, Friedrich Nietzsche, the QAnon Shaman, and Peter Singer as diverse manifestations of a single phenomenon that he calls “pagan.” This universalizing gesture is especially problematic given the inherent diversity of Paganism.

Later, Dr Parmigiani noted on Facebook that “We heard back from David Wolpe and he appears to be willing to have a conversation with us and the Pagan community at HDS, once the semester starts.”

Holli Emore, executive director of Cherry Hill Seminary, had less luck, telling The Wild Hunt that she had invited Wolpe “to join me one day soon, perhaps on a Zoom call, to chat about how we can better understand each other.”

The rabbi responded, “I have been deluged with advocacies, requests for dialogue and so forth. The article did not and does not address the current pagan [sic] communities nor was it intended to.”

That makes me feel so much better. As she put it, “While his message to me was cordial, it is clear that he has no intention of revisiting his lack of research or redressing the feelings of the many he has slighted.”

The problem is defining Paganism. We have a long history of small-p paganism meaning “outside any [monotheistic] religion.”  This is the straw man pummeled by Wolpe and others, such as the British journalist Louise Perry, whose article “We Are Repaganizing” appeared only two months earlier in the interdenominational Christian magazine First Things.((The story about the babies’ bones sounds like the old anti-Catholic folklore that there are babies buried under every convent.))

Her borrowed definition of “paganism” ias not “an interest in entrails or in praying to Jupiter. Rather, [but]  a fundamentally different outlook on the world, and on the sacred.”

But Christianity takes a perverse attitude toward status and puts that perversity at the heart of the theology. “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” is a baffling and alarming claim to anyone from a society untouched by the strangeness of the Jesus movement.

And that led to converting Pagans by the sword, but we won’t go there. Look over here at the cathedral! And furthermore, as the legalization of abortion proves, “the Western world has arguably always remained more pagan than Christian. In some ways Christianity has been more of a veneer than a substantial reality.”((She quotes from Steven Smith’s Pagans and Christians in the City.))

The Christian writer Rod Dreher, with two bestsellers to his name (The Benedict Option and Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents), is also promoting the view that there was no morality in the ancient world (outside, perhaps, the imperial province of Judea) until Christianity arrived.((Sorry, Confucius. Sorry, Socrates.))

The book I finished last night, Pagan America, will be out from Regnery in March. The author, John Daniel Davidson, is not really talking about Wiccans and suchlike (though they do get significant mention), as much as he is talking about how the kinds of evils that permeated Greco-Roman culture, and that were eliminated by the triumph of Christianity, are coming roaring back now that Christianity has gone into abeyance in the West

Where does that leave today’s capital-P Pagans? You cannot accept Wolpe’s sidestepping of the issue because there are other singers in the choir, like John Daniel Davidson, who are apparently are happy to mix the two, jumping from “pagan = irreligious” to “Your gods are demons.”

(Davidson apparently wants to junk this silly “freedom of religion” idea and put the government firmly on the side of Christianity — his book’s subtitle is “The Decline of Christianity and the Coming Dark Age.”)

So we cannot get away with offering a pagan/Pagan (polytheist-animist) distinction. The cultural tides are moving. The secular talkers of both the right and left have moved from “Pagans don’t exist” to “they are bunch of silly New Agers” to the point of  “viewing with concern.” Pagan readers, don’t be surprised to be asked for your position on sacrificing babies.

The Pagans, the Unicorns, and the Serial Killer

I have complained before about the relative lack of good American Pagan biography and autobiography. John Sulak’s biography of Oberon Zell (b. 1942) and his partner Morning Glory (1948–2014), The Wizard and the Witch was one of the exceptions.((Yes, Morning Glory either invented or co-invented the term “polyamory,” and she was aware of creating a Greek-Latin hybrid.)) While it was first published in 2014, Sulak and Oberon subsequently revised and enlarged it, splitting it into two volumes.  The link goes to volume 1.

It’s also a history of the American Pagan movement in the 1970s-1990s particularly, with a West Coast emphasis. In the early 1980s, the Zells lived at Greenfield Ranch, a ranch in the Coast Range near Ukiah, Calif., that had been divided into acreages for back-to-the-landers and, yes, cannabis-growers, which meant the level of paranoia was fairly high. The ranch was raided by drug agents at least once, as I recall.

My friend the Pagan songwriter Gwydion Pendderwen lived there, and M. and I visited several times between 1978 and his passing in 1982. I have not been back since. Obviously much has changed.

In the late 1970s the Zells got an opportunity to live at Greenfield Ranch as caretakers for an absenteee Pagan parcel-owner, and there they practiced a documented but neglected ancient technique for turning new-born Angora billy goats into true unicorns. These went on the Rennaissance Faire circuit—later under the big top.

As Oberon would say, they were hoping to influence “kids who saw the Unicorn and would recognize it for what it was—not a fantasy creature made of moonbeams, just a small white animal with its own kind of beauty and heart and horn . . . . Those kids would make the connections and see that Magkick was possible and then go on to create their own contribution to that unique world-view [and] make their live whatever they want it to be.” ((John G. Sulak, The Wizard and the Witch: An Oral History of Oberon Zell and Morning Glory (Woodbury, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 2014) 180–81.))

But something darker was afoot. Another Greenfield Ranch resident helped out with showing the unicorns at Renn Faires, etc., so much so that he was sometimes called “Unicorn Man.”

Morning Glory and Angora goat “unicorns.”

His name was Leonard Lake, and he was a serial killer, although he had not really started on his murderous path at that time but apparently was planning it. There is plenty about him online, but my introduction to his story came through Episode 1 of the Trace of the Devastation podcast, a true-crime series about serial killers of the 1980s-90s in the California Gold Rush country.

In that episode, “The Unicorn Man,” you will hear Oberon Zell give his own honest self-appraisal of how he and others were fooled by Lake, whom they took to be just another back-to-the-lander, albeit with a more ex-military outlook.

Anyone can be fooled some of the time. Consider this a footnote to Sulak and Zell’s books.

Latvian to Head European Congress of Ethnic Religions

U?is Nastevi?s
Uġis Nastevičs (Facebook).

Latvian Pagan Uġis Nastevičs,  a resident of Riga, was elected president of the European Congress of Ethnic Regions at a meeting in that city earlier this month. He works there as a translator and guide.

The group defines “ethnic religion” as  “religion

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, spirituality, and cosmology that is firmly grounded in a particular people’s traditions. In our view, this does not include modern occult or ariosophic theories/ideologies, nor syncretic neo-religions.

Delegates from seventeen countries also passed what is called the “Riga Delaration,” which begins with these statements:

We, the undersigned, represent religious communities upholding the traditional, ethnic religions of diverse peoples of Europe. We hold deep reverence for our ancestors, the Gods and Goddesses they worshiped and the worldview and values that they bequeathed to us. Our spiritual traditions are inseparable from our traditional culture, and both require support and protection.

We call on all the governments of the nations of Europe and the European Union to grant our religions the same respect and privileges that are accorded to other religions in European societies and legal systems. We ask for the following specific measures:

Of the items listed, Nastevi?s said that his personal priority was ” to contribute to securing the status and protection of holy places, many of which are getting already vandalized and desecrated.

Ronald Hutton’s Gresham Lectures Available Online

The five lectures that Ronald Hutton gave this past spring in the Gresham College series Finding Britain’s Lost Gods are available for viewing online. Each lasts about an hour.

  1. Gods of Prehistoric Britain

  2. Paganism in Roman Britain

  3. Anglo-Saxon Pagan Gods

  4. Viking Pagan Gods in Britain

  5. Finding Lost Gods in Wales

  6. How Pagan was Medieval Britain?

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Yet It’s Not October: Paganism in the News (Part 1)

I have been seeing a flush of Pagan-related articles in Anglosphere news media lately, so many that it feels like October, which is usually the only time we are noticed.((Possibly with a smaller peak around Yule.))

One reason may be upcoming coronation of King Charles III.((I might as well say it: when I was young, my older sisters and I independently worked out that I was probably named for him, at least partly, by our anglophile mother. Officially, I was named for a maternal great-grandfather, who was a job printer, newspaper publisher, and postmaster in Baxter Springs, Kansas.)) There was a flutter of exitement over the Green Man on the coronation invitation. Was the king a closet Pagan?

When the Times announced that the Princess of Wales might wear flowers in her hair, historian Francis Young((Also a contributor to The Pomegranate)) playfully tweeted, “The folk horror theme of this Coronation intensifies.”

Young, in fact, has written an article on the king’s coronation, “Monarchy re-enchanted: The new Coronation liturgy underlines Charles III’s sacral kingship,” which emphasizes both the coronation’s deep Christian roots and an attempt to add an element of mysticism.

[The King] has consistently demonstrated sensitivity to an expansive awareness of the sacred that exceeds the strictures of a single religious tradition, in spite of his unambiguous commitment to the Church of England. . . .  Charles III seems intent on re-enchanting the monarchy through a Coronation service rooted in both the past and the present

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, but suffused with mysticism. . . .  Charles III’s Coronation will be the first in many centuries to take place directly on top of the Cosmati pavement made for Coronations in the reign of Henry III, a talisman designed to draw down celestial influences on the new king. The new “Cross of Wales”, the processional cross, contains a relic of the True Cross given to the King by the Pope; the holy oil for the King’s anointing has been consecrated in Jerusalem. Furthermore, the King has insisted that his anointing, the holiest moment of the ceremony, be entirely hidden by a specially designed screen adorned with words of the mediaeval mystic Julian of Norwich, and he has elected to wear the full sacred vestments of his forebears.

Saturday’s coronation will be a deeply Christian ceremony with ancient roots. They are bringing out a manuscript of the gospels, the St. Augustine Gospels, believed to have been brought to England in 596 by Augustine, a missonary to the Anglo-Saxons, before there ever was a political entity called “England.”((This is Augustine “of Canterbury,” not to be confused with the earlier Augustine “of Hippo,” the weaselly lawyer.)) (The Celtic British were largely already Christian by then, with a connection to Christian Ireland.)

But the sort of Pagan penumbra persists. Why does the BBC pick this time to discuss the The Wicker Man, the Pagan-themed horror that became a cult favorite of actual Pagans in the 1980s? (“Just ignore the ending,” they would say, which is of course not posssible.) Is there some sort of Fraserian sacred king/death/rebirth smoke in the air, ancient gospel manuscripts or not?

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.((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.

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Green Man Image Starts ‘Pagan King’ Chatter

Enormous preparations, both pragmatic and ceremonial, are under way for the crowning of King Charles III and Queen Camilla next month in London. When the official invitation was prepared, people’s attention was drawn to the foliate head, the “Green Man” at the bottom.

Was it a sign to those who know of the king’s Pagan sympathies? Was it just a sort of “spirit of Britain” thing? After all, those could be Scottish thistles to him, and what about those old-fashioned red/white roses? And the oak leaves?

The Guardian, not a reliable source of religion news, burbled, “Is Charles planning a pumpimg pagan [sic] party?

Here is a historian’s view (no, not Ronald Hutton this time), but Francis Young, author of the newly released Twilight of the Godlings: The Shadowy Beginnings of Britain’s Supernatural Beings from Cambridge University Press.

Young has an article in The Spectator (UK) on the Green Man and the king:

The Green Man is an intriguing figure. He is not, as many claim, an ancient fertility god, but something much stranger: a twentieth-century creation, a deity invented in modern Britain. In 1939 the folklorist Lady Raglan published an influential article which drew together several disparate strands to construct an imagined character whom all written sources

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, strangely, had previously failed to mention. According to Lady Raglan, the foliate heads often found in medieval churches portrayed a figure who was commemorated by pubs named ‘The Green Man’ and the dancer bedecked with foliage (known as ‘Jack-in-the-Green’) who was part of May Day festivities. Hiding in plain sight in churches, the Green Man embodied ongoing pagan [sic] sympathies.

Many historians and folklorists have debunked Lady Raglan’s claims. There were no pagans in high medieval Britain, stonemasons often indulged in bizarre visual jokes or favoured a particular motif for no apparent reason, and a ‘green man’ in early modern England just meant a man who dressed in green. But the debunking didn’t work; people had already come to believe that a god called the Green Man existed. A brisk trade in clay and resin replicas of foliate heads in Britain’s churches helped. No one was worshipping the Green Man at this point, but the notion that a deity cheekily lurked in churches tickled mid-century Britons’ desire for a little light-hearted subversion at a time when the Church was losing its grip on national life.

But I have one of those resin heads hung by my front door (a sign to those who know), and it means something more to me.

ADDED: Sebastian Milbank, editor of the British “contrarian conservative” magazine The Critic, offers a Christian genealogy of the Green Man: “The Green Man is a Christian Symbol.”

Phallephoria 2023 — Paganism in the Streets of Athens

Back in 2014, I posted about a revival after 2,000 years of Phallephoria, the festival of Dionysus in the city of Athens, rain or not.

There was a break for Covid, but now it’s back. And look how many people are following the costumed participants now! Look at the 2014 video and then at this one to see the difference!

Some dancers are still wearing body suits — well, it is February.

Not everyone wants to live and breathe Paganism 24/7. But give them something to participate in

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, and they will be there. Don’t turn your backs on the polis.

After all, the polis wants to put it in the tourist guide. Learn more from the organizers’ website.