Invoking Gods and Elves

I am thinking of starting a series called “What You Can Do with a Master’s Degree,” such as be a lecturer or start your own online school. There was a time, pre-television, when well-known authors went on lecture tours, city to city, speaking to local literary societies, school groups, and the like. John Cowper Powys, author of A Glastonbury Romance, was one of many.[1]“Powys had success as an itinerant lecturer, in England, and in 1905–1930 in the US, where he wrote many of his novels and had several first published. He moved to Dorset, England, in 1934 … Continue reading

And I can think of one very popular Pagan-studies YouTuber who just completed a PhD, so there goes my titl — (except she started her YouTube channel first.

Maybe I should call it, “Start Your Own College,” in the orginal sense of “college” as an “organized association of persons invested with certain powers and rights or engaged in some common duty or pursuit.” You would need some collaborators. Or maybe all such people are part of the Invisible College of Pagan Studies and just don’t know it.

This is part one of a two-part video on Anglo-Saxon Paganism by Tom Rowsell of Survive the Jive, a former journalist, also filmmaker and scholar of medieval history, in which he received a master’s degree in 2021. He writes,

I continue to take an interest in polytheistic religions. The most recent direction of the StJ project since 2016 has been population genetics, with focus on the culture, identity and religion of the Indo-Europeans. My videos are based on thorough interdisciplinary research, drawing from archaeology, linguistics, historical sources, comparative mythology and population genetics — particularly archaeogenetics.

You can find Rowsell in the usual places: his “Survive the Jive” blog, YouTube channel, Tumblr, Instagram, and probably others.

I will return to this topic. Meanwhile, your suggestions are welcome.

Notes

Notes
1 “Powys had success as an itinerant lecturer, in England, and in 1905–1930 in the US, where he wrote many of his novels and had several first published. He moved to Dorset, England, in 1934 with his American partner, Phyllis Playter.’ [Wikipedia]. No master’s degree though.

Ancient Idol Is Older than They Thought

Head of the Shirgir idol

Head of the Shigir Idol, the world’s oldest wood sculpture, discovered in a Russian peat bog in 1890. Photo courtesy of the Sverdlovsk Regional Museum.

The Shirgir Idol, a wooden statue that you may see at the Sverdlovsk Regional Museum of Local Lore has now been re-dated, pushing its age back to 12,500 years before present.  In North American terms, that is about the time of the “Clovis culture,” when hunters with big spearpoints pursued big animals that no longer exist.

According to an article on the Artnet website, the statue was first dated as 9,500 years old.

In 2018, more advanced accelerator mass spectrometry technology testing the pristine core of the larch wood statue—rather than the surface, which had undergone numerous conservation treatments over the more than 100 years since its discovery—determined that it was actually even older: closer to 11,600 years old.

Now, a new study published in Quaternary International has pushed that date back by a further 900 years—making it more than twice as old as Stonehenge or the Egyptian pyramids.

The idol is nine feet tall, made of wood, with humanoid faces and geometric markings. It survived because it was in a peat bog, where gold miners found it in 1890s. There might be others still unfound.

In regions with large forests, wood would have been readily available to Paleolithic artists, but quick to deteriorate over the centuries. That means that our understanding of these ancient peoples is shaped by preservation biases, and might have been very different had more wooden artifacts like the Shigir Idol survived.

“Wood working was probably widespread during the Late Glacial to early Holocene,” the paper argues. “We see the Shigir sculpture as a document of a complex symbolic behavior and of the spiritual world of the Late Glacial to Early Mesolithic hunter-gatherers of the Urals.”

To be fair, as British historian Francis Young pointed out on Twitter, “And even if  [the Shengir idol and similar] did serve a religious purposes, are they gods or ancestors? Was there a distinction? I rather doubt it. We certainly can’t impose our Classically-derived assumptions about gods with distinct personalities and names, etc.”

“And even Wicca”: A Historical Study of Santa Muerte

An anthropologist and a historian examine the development of the cult of Santa Muerte (Holy Death) in this article, “Syncretic Santa Muerte: Holy Death and Religious Bricolage,” which currently is a free download.

“Bricolage” is a term beloved by scholars of new religious movements. It means building something with available materials in a do-it-yourself fashion — a little of this and a little of that. For its history in academic writing, see Wikipedia.

The authors write,

Firstly, taking an ethno-archaeological, anthropological and historical viewpoint, we argue that Santa Muerte accreted from the meeting of two distinct conceptions of death during the colonial era, when Spanish colonizers brought Christianity to Latin America to convert Indigenous people, and with it the figure of the Grim Reaper which represented death. . . .

Through further religious bricolage in the post-colony, we describe how as the new religious movement rapidly expanded it integrated elements of other religious traditions, namely Afro-Cuban Santeria and Palo Mayombe, New Age beliefs and practices, and even Wicca. In contrast to much of the Eurocentric scholarship on Santa Muerte, we posit that both the Skeleton Saint’s origins and contemporary devotional framework cannot be comprehended without considering the significant influence of Indigenous death deities who formed part of holistic ontologies that starkly contrasted with the dualistic absolutism of European Catholicism in which life and death were viewed as stark polarities

The nearest supermarket has candles for Our Lady of Guadalupe, Santo Niño de Atocha, etc., but no Santa Muerte. I wonder how long it will take before “our distributor” (they blame everything on “our distributor”) has them in stock.

We Pagans Are the “Useful Idiots”

Reading Religion, which is a book-review site run by the American Academy of Religion, recently assigned me a book to review: Our Non-Christian Nation: How Atheists, Satanists, Pagans, and Others Are Demanding Their Rightful Place in Public Life.

The author is a Boston University law professor, and he well summarizes the FIrst Amendment law cases that made it possible, for example, for an avowed Satanist to give the invocation before a city council meeting in upstate New York.  And he goes riding around Circle Sanctuary in an “side by side” ATV with Selena Fox.

But Professor Jax Wexler is the kind who expects the class to laugh at his jokes, and he spends a little too much time telling which Supreme Court justices he despises and how getting drunk is the only way to cope after spending time with people from Greece, New York (it’s a suburb of Rochester).

What struck me the most was that to Wexler we Pagans — and the Satanists and all the minority religions — are just “useful idiots.”[1]A “useful idiot” is a person [or group] perceived as propagandizing for a cause without fully comprehending the cause’s goals, and who is cynically used by the cause’s leaders … Continue reading We are levers to use against “Christian hegemony,” and when that is finished with, so are we.

He is an atheist with a capital-A, and in his world, there is no Out There or In There or Over There, only human consciousness trapped in the bone box of the skiull and only this world as revealed by Science. Down the road lies the Atheist utopia, once we get rid of all these “deplorables” with their silly religions.

If you want to read it, here is the review that I wrote.

Notes

Notes
1 A “useful idiot” is a person [or group] perceived as propagandizing for a cause without fully comprehending the cause’s goals, and who is cynically used by the cause’s leaders (Wikipedia).

Pagan Studies Call for Papers, American Academy of Religion 2021

Part of San Antonio’s restaurant-packed Rivewalk. Let’s hope it looks like this by November again. (Image: AAR)

This is the call for papers for the Contemporary Pagan Studies unit of the American Academy of Religion for the 2021 annual meeting, to be held in San Antonio, Texas, Nov. 20–23. (Insert pandemic disclaimer here.)

Contemporary Pagan Studies is an interdisciplinary unit, and we welcome submissions of theoretically and analytically engaged papers and panels relating to modern Paganism and Polytheism, employing scholarly analysis to discuss the topic from any relevant methodology or theoretical orientation. In addition to receiving paper or panel proposals on topics generally in the purview of Contemporary Pagan Studies, we especially welcome proposals that address the following themes:

• What is the relationship between Contemporary Paganisms and other religious traditions and populations? Where are there shared goals, values and experiences? Are there common concerns such as sexual abuse, religious minority representation, and climate change? What is the impact and role of interfaith initiatives in increasing Pagan visibility in public discourses and in promoting religious pluralism?
• How are Pagans responding to various crises including economic, political, climate change and systemic racism? Suggestions might include explorations of ritual, political action and activism, community driven initiatives, or ideological shifts such as a tighter embrace of anti-modernism, orthodoxy or exclusivity.
• What is the relationship between Pagan worldviews and science, rationality and narratives of progress?
• Pagan responses to aging and end of life. As Pagans face the realities of an aging population, how are Pagan communities preparing? What are Pagan spiritual attitudes toward aging and the end of life? How do they ritualize aging and death? How do Pagans handle pastoral care and ministry for older demographics?
• What are some of the ways in which Paganisms and Witchcraft interacts with and responds to Neoliberalism? Examples may involve explorations of globalization, late capitalism, ideas about individualism and collectivism, marketing and branding.
• We are seeking presentations for a co-sponsored session between the Ecology Unit and the Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit related to ideologies of ‘blood and soil’ and white nationalism in recent radical political movements, and engagements with this in contemporary Paganism and Heathenry. Questions to address might include but not be limited to: what is the significance of religious identity, ancestry, and connections to land in these movements; how are concerns related to authenticity, legitimation, and “imagined community” involved in these narratives; and what implications does this suggest for developing attachment to place, and bioregional identity in settler and other populations?

Mission Statement

The Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit provides a place for scholars interested in pursuing research in this newly developing and interdisciplinary field and puts them in direct communication with one another in the context of a professional meeting. New scholars are welcomed and supported, while existing scholars are challenged to improve their work and deepen the level of conversation. By liaising with other AAR Program Units, the Unit creates opportunities to examine the place of Pagan religions both historically and within contemporary society and to examine how other religions may intersect with these dynamic and mutable religious communities.

Method of Submission: INSPIRE

Chairs:

  • Damon Berry, St. Lawrence University, dberry@stlawu.edu
  • Amy Hale, Atlanta, GA, amyhale93@gmail.com

Neopagan Jewelry of 1951 and the Origins of the Tiki Bar

From the Evening Star (Washington, DC)  newspaper, 1 April 191. It was published 1852–1981.

Back in 1951, when Wicca was first being introduced to the world, largely via Gerald Gardner and Cecil Williamson’s seasonal museum on the Isle of Man, a store in Arlington, Virgina advertised that “the neo-pagan influence on fashion is one of the style news notes of the Spring season.”

Say what? Tim/Otter/Oberon Zell, who pushed “Neo-Pagan” as a religious designator in the pages of Green Egg, was still a little boy then, and that influential Pagan zine was almost two decades in the future.

So herein lies a tale and also a connection to the “tiki bar” craze, which has now become retro-cool.

For this research I thank Scott Simpson, co-editor of Equinox Publishing’s books series on “Contemporary and Historical Paganism,” who made some connections after prowling through Library of Congress databases.

He noted the line about “Bird of Paradise” fashions (the necklace would cost about $20 in today’s money) and linked it to a movie that premiered that year, Bird of Paradise, starring Debra Paget as “Kalua,” an “island princess.”[1]Note that her name is only an “h” away from the name of the popular Mexican coffee liqueur, introduced in 1936. Perhaps it was the writer’s drink of choice.

So this is one of those “Will the princess be thrown in the volcano to appease the angry gods?” movies that used to be popular. Cultural anthropologists are welcome to cringe now. You can watch it on YouTube.

But it was not the first. The Bird of Paradise began as a 1912 stage play, set in Hawaii, credited with creating an image of Hawaii as a land where native girls “dance the hula, play ukuleles, live in grass huts, and worship volcano gods.”

Dolores del Rio as “Luana” in the 1932 version of Bird of Paradise in s tender moment with Joel McCrae, plsying “Johnny Baker,” a visiting yachtsman.

Then there was the 1932 film version with Dolores del Rio as “Luana” and the same “appease the angry gods” motif. You can watch it on YouTube.

Even bigger was the huge success of the musical South Pacific (1949) and subsequent movie (1958), both based on one story in James Mitchener’s short-story collection Tales of the South Pacific.

The  “tiki bar” craze began in the 1930s and survived World War Two’s Pacific Theater. The Trader Vic’s chain, the only one that I was familiar with, started as a tropical-themed restaurant in Oakland, California, in 1934 — just two years after the first Bird of Paradise film.

Original menu cover from the first Trader Vic’s in Oakland (Wikipedia).

Some people had good wartime memories involving fruity drinks with umbrellas in them and tropical sunsets.

My stepmother lost her first husband, a young Navy ensign, when a German submarine sank his ship in 1942. But two years later she was in Honolulu, working as some general’s secretary, and filling a photo album of pictures of friends sitting around tables full of drinks with umbrellas in them, not to mention a lot of shots on the theme of “Me and Colonel So-and-So at the beach.”

She was not adverse to visiting Trader Vic’s either in later years.

Here is Wikipedia on the origins of the term “tiki.”

What interests me now though is that “neopagan” was enough in the American vocabulary that it could be used in advertising copywriting! [2]I think of advertising language because I spent a year in my early twenties as a copywriter in an ad agency. It was the English major’s equivalent of being drafted. And did it envoke angry volcano gods, semi-nude Polynesian girls, and rum drinks?

Scott Simpson found some other earlier uses of it (besides the G. K. Chesteron one that I already knew about). For instance, a group of young “creatives” at Cambridge University was using it c. 1908, including the artist Gwen Ravarat and the poet Rupert Brooke.

“But the New-Pagans seem to have had no real spiritual direction. The members went on long coutry walks and slept under canvas, but they made no serious attempt to restore the Pagan religions.”[3]Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick,  A History of Pagan Europe (London: Routledge, 1995), 216.

For example, In Italy, a poet named Giosuè Carducci (1835–1907), winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, wrote a poem titled “Hymn to Satan,” by which he meant, in a sort of Romantic sense, Lucifer as symbolic of the of rebellious and indepedent spirit. He also wrote poems dedicated to some of the old Roman gods. Based on that, he was sometimes referred to as a “neopagan” in his time.

And that is just one example. So it was not a common term, but it was out there. Especially when you wanted to honor the volcano gods.

Notes

Notes
1 Note that her name is only an “h” away from the name of the popular Mexican coffee liqueur, introduced in 1936. Perhaps it was the writer’s drink of choice.
2 I think of advertising language because I spent a year in my early twenties as a copywriter in an ad agency. It was the English major’s equivalent of being drafted.
3 Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick,  A History of Pagan Europe (London: Routledge, 1995), 216.

Call for Papers: Pagans and Museums

Ray Buckland (1934–2017) at the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cleveland, Ohio, which began with his personal collection (From the museum’s Instagram feed).

NOTE UPDATED DEADLINES AT BOTTOM

Museums and contemporary Paganism are inextricably linked. Gerald Gardner, founder of modern pagan witchcraft, first publicized Wicca in 1951 at Cecil Williamson’s Folklore Centre of Superstition and Witchcraft at Castletown (later The Museum of Magic and Witchcraft) on the Isle of Man. Some of his correspondence suggests that the first formal Wiccan coven might have been created partially to provide provenance for the museum’s exhibits.

Sold to Gardner in 1954, the museum housed his collections and was the base from which he promoted modern witchcraft and published Witchcraft Today. Inherited by his high priestess Monique Wilson after his death in 1964, the museum continued for almost a decade before Wilson sold the 10,000-piece collection to Ripley’s Believe it or Not Ltd in 1973. Tamarra and Richard James of the Wiccan Church of Canada purchased much of Gardner’s collection from Ripley’s in 1987. Cecil Williamson, meanwhile, had attempted to establish a new witchcraft museum on the UK mainland at various locations, eventually settling at Boscastle in Cornwall in 1960. Williamson’s Museum of Witchcraft was sold to Graham King in 1996; and has been under the direction of Simon Costin as The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic since 2013.

A number of small museums today focus on contemporary and historical witchcraft and magic: The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cleveland, Ohio was founded by Raymond Buckland, one of the first Gardnerian Wiccans in America. Others include the Witch History Museum in Salem, Massachusetts; The Hexenmuseum Schweiz in Gränichen, Switzerland; Strandagaldur, The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft; the Museo de las Brujas in Zugarramurdi, Spain; and HEX! Museum of Witch Hunt in Ribe, Denmark.

Temporary exhibitions of objects belonging to the “mother of modern witchcraft,” Doreen Valiente, were held in Brighton, UK, in 2016; the Academy of Arcana in Santa Cruz, California, ran for two years between 2015–2017; and objects loaned from The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic to The Last Tuesday Society & The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities in London were displayed in 2018. There are also museums dedicated to stage magic such as the American Museum of Magic in Michigan; the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas; The Magic Circle Museum in London; and the Musée de la Magie in Paris.

Exhibitions of objects pertaining to Paganism, witchcraft. and magic also feature in large “universal” museums, galleries, and libraries. Occult walking tours of London include the British Museum; the “Witches and Wicked Bodies” exhibition was held by the National Galleries of Scotland in association with the British Museum between 2013–2015; the British Library presented the exhibition “Harry Potter: A History of Magic” in 2017; which was followed by “Spellbound: Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft” at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in 2018. In 2019 “Second Sight: Witchcraft, Ritual, Power” was held at the University of Queensland Art Museum in Australia; and “Waking the Witch” at the Bonington Gallery at the University of Nottingham. Most recently (2019–2020), the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery held “Do You Believe in Magic?”

Beyond Wicca, museums have played important parts in other magical and Pagan revivals. The late nineteenth and early twentieth-century members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn sought to commune with the collections of large public museums such as the British Museum and the Louvre. Today, ancient Pagan objects are often the focus of quiet reverence by contemporary Pagans in museums, although in early 2020 the Witches of New York conducted a vocal “pop up” ritual to the goddess Hekate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. British Druids have been active participants in the controversy over the storage and repatriation of human remains held in museums; Pagans hold rituals at prehistoric archaeological sites which can be considered outdoor museums; and go on Goddess tours to experience sites and museums in locations such as Ireland, Crete, Malta and Turkey. “Witch City,” Salem, Mass., is a tourist/pilgrimage destination where public witchiness is encouraged; the Witch House is used as a backdrop for evocative Instagram photos and offerings are left at the Witch Trials Memorial.

In contrast, Salem’s Essex Peabody Museum is often ignored, although perhaps not for much longer with an exhibition on the Salem Witch Trials scheduled for September 26, 2020 to April 4, 2021.

The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies invites submissions of articles (5000–8000 words) for a special issue on Pagans and Museums, edited by Caroline Tully, University of Melbourne, Australia.

How and why do contemporary Pagans engage with museums today?

Possible topics include

  1. The role of elite museums in the creation of contemporary Paganisms
  2. The role of small museums: e.g., the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic; the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft; Salem witch museums
  3. Pagan perceptions regarding the agency and enchantment of museum objects
  4. Material and sensory aspects of Pagan experience within museums
  5. Pagan use of museums and preserved historic or archaeological sites for religious purposes: e.g., the replica Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee
  6. Pagans and Witch Trials Memorials: e.g., Bålberget Memorial, Sweden; Steilneset Memorial, Norway; Paisley Witches Memorial, Scotland; the Salem Witch Trials Memorial
  7. Pagan attempts to change the narrative in museums, including efforts at removing ancient human remains from display, for example, the efforts of the Honouring the Ancient Dead movement in the UK
  8. Memorializing contemporary Pagan history: e.g., the Doreen Valiente Foundation

Abstracts due 31 December 2020. If accepted, final papers due 31 March 2021.

For information on the submission process see this link.

Please note that The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies uses the University of Chicago Press notes-and-bibliography citation style.

 

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

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 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.