Until recently many academic disciplines and subjects avoided the subject of the occult, deeming it too ‘irrational or ‘eccentric’ for serious study. Exceptions to this include the discipline of anthropology, which since the 19th century, embraced the study of religion and belief from Western rationalist perspectives. In recent decades anthropology has explored magic and occultism from a broader range of viewpoints, including phenomenology, relativism, and post-structuralism. In the last two decades adjacent disciplines to design history such as history, art history, sociology, cultural studies, and film studies have increasingly embraced occult subjects. Likewise, the interdisciplinary field of environmental humanities has examined Indigenous, Western and Eastern ideas about the relationships between humans and the natural world, including esoteric, folkloric, and occult concepts.
However, within the field of design history esotericism, occultism, and magic have been largely overlooked with no sustained explorations of their relationships with design and the decorative arts. Notable exceptions to this include studies such as Zeynep Çelik Alexander, ‘Jugendstil Visions: Occultism, Gender and Modern Design Pedagogy’ Journal of Design History, Vol. 22, Issue 3, September 2009, pp. 203–226, and Elizabeth Otto, Haunted Bauhaus: Occult Spirituality, Gender Fluidity, Queer Identities, and Radical Politics (The MIT Press, 2019)
I will have to get this issue of the journal when it’s published. (Pointy hat tip to Sabina Magliocco for the link.)
Even though The Pomegranate published its “Paganism, Art, and Fashion” special issue a while back, this remains a topic of editorial interest.
As ever, book reviews in The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies are open-access free downloads. Here are links to the four in this issue.I receive a small commission on Amazon sales, which helps to pay for this website.
Greer, a Druid leader, and writier on ecology, spirituality, and the future of industrial society, here confronts class issues in America and their political ramifications, as well as some Big Ideas about historical cycles. Did Kek and Pepe the Frog magically help swing the 2016 election to Donald Trump? And what was magically incompetent about the post-election “Resistance”?
“One of a growing genre of books and articles that explore the particularities of contemporary Paganism in a specific geographical place. Composed of two distinct linguistic communities, Quebec offers what sociologists call a natural experiment: two different groups in the same place that have different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. This existent distinction between groups permits Charbonneau to explore the question of how much language and cultural differences influence the practice of those who become contemporary Pagans”
“Barbara Alice Mann contributes to discussions of Indigenous worldviews, mapping what she describes as the “twinned cosmos” comprised of complementary blood and breath energies throughout Turtle Island or North America. Taking a comparative approach, Mann examines the interconnection between blood and breath spirits and energies as they have manifested in multiple communities.”
“A generously illustrated treasure trove of plant mythology selected from across world from ancient times to the present. This is not all; the backbone of the book is formed by a series of discursive essays in which Hall identifies thematic links between his selections, and makes a series of interventions that will be of equal interest to specialist and general readers alike.
“Passages are drawn from editions easily accessible to readers for further reading, and range from the mythologies of European Antiquity to the Vedas, the Popol Vuh, and more recently recorded indigenous wisdom of (for example) Australia, New Zealand, and North America. Without simply listing the range of people and places covered in the book, it is fair to say that Hall’s collection is generally representative, rather than exhaustive, in its coverage of plants in the global imaginary”
The special double issue on the theme of Pagans, museums, and heritage organizations was guest-edited by Pomegranate’s new associate editor, Caroline Tully.
She is an archaeologist at the University of Melbourne, Australia and the author of The Cultic Life of Trees in the Prehistoric Aegean, Levant, Egypt and Cyprus and many academic and popular articles. Caroline is an expert on Egyptomania and the religion of Minoan Crete. Her interests include ancient Mediterranean religions, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Thelema and contemporary Paganisms, particularly Witchcraft and Pagan Reconstructionism. Caroline has curated exhibitions of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities, and regularly presents lectures and workshops on ancient religion and magic.
M. declared that tonight’s dinner would be a farewell celebration.
I just sent an issue of the Bulletin for the Study of Religion to the printer and said goodbye to the sales rep with whom I have been working for a number of years. He is in Pennsylvania, and I have never met him. (We never felt the need for a Zoom or Skype conference either.)
This quarterly publication has been around for a while. I just completed volume 49 as production editor, and I started with volume 39, so I gave it a decade.
Some of you will know that the Bulletin began in 1971 under the auspices of The Council of Societies for the Study of Religion. Both the Bulletin and the Council brought together a diverse array of scholars and associations invested in the academic study of religion. The Bulletin played a crucial role in facilitating exchanges about how we study religion in the academy, especially against the backdrop of departments, guilds, and nations trying to determine their identity in relation to religion. After the Council disbanded in 2009, the Bulletin moved to Equinox Publishing where it remains one of the oldest ongoing publications in the academic study of religion in North America. [Then came the NAASR era.]
Earlier in 2020, Equinox and the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama entered into an agreement to continue to bring you the Bulletin for the Study of Religion. And I’m honored to serve as editor in this chapter of the publication’s history. In this capacity, I am excited to carry forth a vision for the Bulletin that continues the tradition developed by all those who’ve contributed to it over the years.
As production editor, I had nothing to do with acquiring the content itself. My job was to clean up editorial problems, make sure the citations were in proper Chicago Author-Date format, typeset it, proofread it, and produce an issue whose total page count was a number divisible by four.
I worked with several editors and watched the pendulum swing between issues full of papers and reviews that could have appeared in a peer-reviewed journal and articles more focused on issues of definition, of techniques of teaching, and on that most enduring question, “What can you do with a PhD in religious studies besides teaching?” (Quite a few things, actually, but they may not be obvious.)
If I had a problem, it was “mission creep.” The print issue became a print-and-online issue. Well, making PDFs of the print articles is easy enough. Then the publisher started making noises about a fully HTML online issue. My Web-design skills are about early-2000s level, and I did not want to invest in more software and to climb the learning curve.
It was more about time than money, really. The money has been helpful and the content was interesting, but I want to spend more time on The Pomegranate and on other Pagan studies-related editorial and writing projects. I have worked with Richard Newton on a year’s worth of issues now, and I like what he is doing with the Bulletin, but it is time for me to concentrate on other things.
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..”In the 1990s, every grad student in humanities wanted to “foreground the hegemony.” Now it’s “decolonize the [blank] body,” or something like that.
“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.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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.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.
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.
A rising number of young adult females use Instagram, posting pictures with hashtags which alert Instagram users to their specific interests. Heathens have also begun to use Instagram and in order to better understand this new feature of the religious movement I interviewed fifteen Instagram account owners whom I identified by three factors.
1. Their use of three or more of the following hashtags: #norsewitch #heathengirl #seidr #volva #galdr #norsepagan #heathensofInstagram #witch #runes #viking #shamanism #witchesofInstagram
2. Their personal identification as Heathen, Asatru, Norse Pagan, or otherwise expressing spiritual belief in a Nordic mythology.
3. The account had at least 500 followers, indicating the likelihood of having an impact on Heathens, Pagans, and sympathetic individuals.
My focus is to document the processes and dynamics of Instagram as a medium for religious communication from the point of view of producers of religious content: the alpha Instagram account owners. The data shows that these young females apply significant theological thought in their posts and most have a strong sense of responsibility to teach others about Heathenry. The data departs from previous research on Instagram and Heathenry in that the account owners appear to have altruistic motives in the first instance and an affirmative non-political epistemology in the second.