Interview with Kaarina Aitamurto on Russian Paganism

Kaarina Aitamurto, Univ. of Helsinki

Kaarina Aitamurto, University of Helsinki, Finland

Prof. Kaarina Aitamurto, University of Helsinki, is interviewed here for the World Religions and Spirituality Project about her research on Paganisms in Russia. She has published on Russian Paganism in The Pomegranate (here and here) and co-edited the important collection Modern Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Central and Eastern Europe with Scott Simpson.

This interview was conducted by Ethan Doyle White. It also deals with her work on other minority religions in contemporary Russia.

I started my research through esoteric bookstores and stalls as well as inquiring if my Russian colleagues knew any Wiccan groups in Russia. Every way I turned there were hardly any signs of Wicca and questions about the topic usually led to ethnic Slavic Paganism. To be honest, I was initially a bit reluctant to change the topic of my research because it was the feminist aspect of Wicca that had appealed to me. In contrast, contemporary Slavic Paganism seemed emphatically patriarchal and conservative. Moreover, infrequently it was linked to intolerant nationalism. In many respects, this ethnic Paganism with its emphasis on warrior spirit and admiration of masculinity seemed to represent an opposite to the kind of feminist spirituality that had originally drawn me to Paganism. However, gradually I became captivated by Slavic Paganism. First, I have always loved Russian culture and folklore so, of course, being able to gain a new perspective on it was fascinating. Secondly, it was intriguing to notice that Rodnoverie contained many similar features to the forms of Paganism I had encountered previously and which had initially drawn me to it: the emphasis on independent thinking and individual freedom, a connection to nature, the central role of aesthetics and play in religious practice.

Download the whole interview as a PDF file here.or read it on Doyle White’s blog Albion Calling here.

Are Pagan Zines — Like Vinyl Records — Coming Back?

I recently have purchased copies of two Pagan zines, and I am thinking about a couple more. (What is a zine? Read here.)

That is the most in years. Is this a trend? Is a small-press renaissance underway? A rebellion against the corporate social media of InstaFaceTwit etc. and their online “walled gardens”? They say vinyl records are outselling CD’s now, but that is more because CD sales have slumped than vinyl is rising, although vinyl has in fact risen in market share. Will zines come back too?

A saddle stapler for pamphlets, essential for zine publishers!

I used to have shelves of Pagan zines and a subscription to Factsheet Five, but the air leaked out of zine publishing in the late 1990s as people got used to the “World Wide Web,” which was free (or seemed to be) and where you could post your stuff without having to type or draw pages, take them to the copy shop, then collate, staple, and mail.

Before that, I’d been involved with a couple of literary zines, two Pagan zines not worth mentioning, and finally Fritz Muntean’s new, intellectually ambitious one: The Pomegranate: A New Journal of Neopagan Thought, which ended up as something else. Fritz flattered me by saying he was partly inspired by my short-lived (1984–86) effort, Iron Mountain: A Journal of Magical Religion, which you can now read online, all four issues of it.

Some examples: Edited by Maria J. Pérez Cuervo, who is interviewed here, Hellebore is published in Bristol (UK), and leans heavily towards folk horror, folk witchcraft, myth, and psychogeography. Issues are £6.75 (US $9.58) plus postage.

She grew up in a fertile environment for a zine editor, and she has an MA in archaeology from Bristol University (What do you do with an MA? Write a lot and start your own journal.)

I grew up in a fairly bookish home and I don’t remember not writing. As a child I used to make my own magazines, with comics I drew and articles I wrote. My dad was into ancient history and mythology, and my mum has always been a bit of an anglophile, and it probably rubbed off on me. My mum told me a lot of fairy tales, and what really fascinated me was the magic. You know, the witch, the magic mirror, the curses. A bit later I became obsessed with Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books, partly because of the settings (the moors, the Cornish coast, the ancient ruins), and with Sherlock Holmes

I bought issue #3, The Malefice Issue, (“What has been buried ought not to return”) and was reminded of some of the older Pagan zines. The resemblance was intentional, for she says she wanted “the aesthetics to evoke that particular era, the late 60s and 70s, grabbing inspiration from Czech film posters, with a touch of psychedelia, and an old-school fanzine finish.”

Is it typical of connected life today that I followed Fiddler’s Green for months on Instagram before I got around to ordering a sample issue? It is the zine of “Art & magic for tea-drinking anarchists, convivial conjurors & closeted optimists,” with a mailing address in Berkeley, California. I bought volume 2, number 3, “Gods of the Afternoon,” which is $15 + postage.

Speaking of postage, alongwith the articles, listed here, was a table of postal rates, which warmed my heart, and — OMG real zine culture! — several pages of zine reviews! Further explorations await.

And speaking of vinyl, the issue included a 45 rpm flexi-disk of “Mushroom Madness” by Anton Barbeau, so I need to blow the dust off my old Technics turntable and learn what it sounds like.

The famous Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, Cornwall, is re-opened post-COVID lockdown and also has a museum journal (I am calling it a zine too) called The Enquiring Eye, “that aims to showcase a wide range of research into all aspects of magical practise, witchcraft and the occult.” Issues are £5, and five have been published so far, with articles like “Wisdom from the Wilderness: Using the Fae to Re-enchant the Landscape in a Time of Crisis.” Table of contents for issue 5 here.

When it comes to vinyl record albums, says Charlie Randall, CEO of McIntosh Labs, “I think it’s natural for any generation to think that the technology of their time will be replaced by future technology and go extinct.”

In large part I think that’s the case except with vinyl records. There is something romantic about records, something satisfying about opening the album jacket, seeing the fantastic artwork and studying the liner notes while listening to the album. That’s something that today’s digital files just can’t replace.”

Maria J. Pérez Cuervo

Maria J. Pérez Cuervo agrees when it comes to print-on-paper:

So much of the content we consume these days is digital that print feels like a small luxury. And I wanted to make a beautiful object for everyone who loves these themes, because there wasn’t anything quite like it. Making it limited-run was partly a practical decision, but also, I think, reminiscent of a time when you didn’t have constant access to information. And you could be a little girl, catch a film halfway through on TV, and not know the name of it, but be haunted by it for life. And somehow this invests the film, or the book that you borrowed from the library but never found in any shops, with an almost mythical quality. Maybe in a few years there’ll be people saying “oh, do you remember that little zine?” Who knows?

“Goodbye Jesus” — Writers Sought for Anthology

News release from Oberon Zell:

Soliciting essays for “Goodbye Jesus” book

Goodbye Jesus; I’ve gone Home to Mother!

Oberon Zell’s well-known “Milennial Gaia” statue.

This is the title of an anthology for which I’ve been gathering essays over the past couple of decades. These are accounts of their journeys from former Christians—especially Clergy—who have left their churches and come over to Paganism and the Goddess.

This whole idea began in a hot tub over 20 years ago, after a CUUPS conference, where we were all sharing our stories of how we found (or were found by) the Goddess. A couple of us were former Christian Clergy, and I found their journeys fascinating, and thought they should be published. I have a couple dozen submissions now on-file, but other things came up over the following years, and I just had to set the whole project aside ‘til later. This is later.

I believe these stories are important to the world and should be told, so if you used to be Clergy in a Christian Church (any denomination), and now serve the Goddess, I’d like to know your story, and potentially include it in this collection. And even if you weren’t actually Clergy, if you were particularly devout as a Christian and then came over to the Goddess, I invite you to tell about your journey.

Here are some things you could address in your personal account:

  • Tell about your religious upbringing. What was it like for you? Was your family devout? What church did they (and you) attend? How deeply were you immersed in the church, its activities and teachings? Did you take Confirmation or other serious religious education?
  • As you came of age, did you experience conflict with your church’s teachings on moral issues and strictures, such as dancing, music, sex, birth control, abortion, sin, etc.?
  • If you were Christian Clergy, tell about your Calling. What made you decide to become Clergy? Did you attend seminary? How did you feel upon ordination?
  • How was it for you serving as Clergy? Did you experience challenges to your faith? Disillusionment? A “Crisis of Faith”?
  • And most important—how and when did you discover The Goddess? What was that like for you? How did your family and friends react when you told them?
  • What was your experience coming into the Pagan community? When was that? How did you feel? Was it with an individual, a small circle, a large gathering? Did you join a particular Tradition or group? And how has it been since?
  • How do you feel about Jesus now? Do you still hold him in high regard and reverence? Do you feel that you may have left the church, but not necessarily Jesus? Talk about this.
  • Tell about your present life in Paganism. How are you currently involved? Have you become a Priest or Priestess? How is that for you? Would you ever consider going back to your former church? Why or why not?
    • And finally, what message would you like to convey to other Christians (Clergy or otherwise) who are still in the Church?

There is no word limit, but essays will be subject to editing as may be needed. I will, of course, need your permission to publish your account, so please provide your contact info, and I’ll send you a permission form to be filled out.

While I would like to use real names, if you don’t want your name printed, no problem; just give me a pseudonym you’d like us to use. Also, readers would love to see your face, if that’s OK with you. If so, please include a 300 dpi jpeg portrait photo to print with your story.

Please submit your essay (and photo, if you wish) to: GoodbyeJesusSubmissions@gmail.com. I look forward to reading your story!

Thanks, and Bright Blessings,

Oberon Zell

Another Podcast: Ravens at the Crossroads

I have added another link to the list of Pagan podcasts in the right-hand sidebar: Ravens at the Crossroads, by Mistress Prime and Tyler Matthews, who “realized the stories of our community, especially of our elders, were being lost and forgotten. In an effort to preserve many of those stories the podcast was created.”

If you are not seeing the sidebar, click the banner at the top of the page (the photo and title) to go there. Or click here.

The podcasts are mixtures of interviews with notable Pagans such as Ivo Dominguez, Jr., and Macha Nightmare, and personal reflections.

How Old is the Cerne Abbas Giant?

If you have read anything on ancient Paganism(s) in Britain, you have probably read about the Cerne Abbas Giant, the huge figure made of chalk (crumbled into ditches) with an upraised Hercules-style club and an upright Cernunnos-style penis.

You probably read that he was prehistoric, or at least pre-Roman — although some dissidents claim there was no record of the giant’s existence before the late 1600s CE.

Now archaeologists have been working to date the site, and they are coming up with a different age.

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