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 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.

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.

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.

What Female Heathen Instagrammers Reveal

Instagrammer Helheimen as the goddess Hel.

Instagrammer Helheimen as the goddess Hel.

Another article from the new issue of The Pomegranate on the theme of Paganism, art, and fashion, guest-edited by Caroline Tully.

Hashtag Heathens: Contemporary Germanic Pagan Feminine Visuals on Instagram,” by Ross Downing. You can download the entire paper free at the link this summer. Here is the abstract:

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.

 

Fashion Designers Borrowing from Paganism

From a fashion shoot at Breen Down— site of Dion Fortune’s novel The Sea Priestess. Headpiece by Charlotte Rodgers, photo by Marc Aitken (www.marcaitken.com).

In her Pomegranate article “High Glamour: Magical Clothing and Talismanic Fashion,” designer Charlotte Rodgers asks, “Why now?”

The iconography and visuals associated with magic are highly evocative and responsible for a major part of its appeal. The strong, often iconoclastic imagery exerts a particularly powerful draw for the artist or craftsperson because of its ability to fire the imagination, and to inspire creative work in response. Until recent times, creative interpretations of magic within mainstream fashion have mainly been on a subtle and subversive level; generally within a counter cultural context.  So why is magical symbolism being appropriated within high fashion at this particular point in time?

This article is part of Pomegranate’s “Paganism, Art, and Fashion” special issue, guest-edited by Caroline Tully. All content may be downloaded for free at this time.

Paganism, Art, And Fashion: “Feminist Interpretation of Witches”

Sheela-na-gig figure interpreted by the Swedish artist Monica Sjöö (1938–2005).

In her artlcle for The Pomegranate, Katy Deepwell, editor of the feminist art journal n.paradoxa, discusses “Feminist Interpretations of Witches and the Witch Craze in Contemporary Art by Women.” (Free download at this time — and the illustrations are in color where possible.)

In her abstract, she writes,

This article considers feminist interpretations of the witch in contemporary art in relation to the witch craze: examples are by Georgia Horgan, Ann-Sofi Sidén, Mathilde ter Heijne, Monica Sjöö, Tania Antoshina, Helen Chadwick, Jesse Jones, and Carolee Schneemann. The argument explores the ways that the figure of the witch is analyzed in three different feminist critiques of patriarchy, and subsequently pursues how these ideas have been taken up in contemporary art by these women artists. The differences between three authors: Matilda Joslyn Gage (1893); Mary Daly (1984); and Silvia Federici (2004) are highlighted and contrasted to other historians’ analyses from the last thirty years of the fate of women accused as witches during the European Witch Hunt between the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries. This was a paper given at Misogyny: Witches and Wicked Bodies, Institute of Contemporary Arts, (ICA) London in March 2015.

The “Paganism, Art, and Fashion” Issue of The Pomegranate

Design by Gareth Pugh inspired
by the Padstow Oss.

A new issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies devoted to Paganism, art, and fashion has been published online (print to follow) and is currently available as “open acess,” in other words, free downloads.

It is guest-edited by Caroline Tully (University of Melbourne), who writes in her introduction,

Caroline Tully on Pagan Art and Fashion

Caroline Tully is an Australian scholar of Classics, archaeology, and esotericism with a background in fine arts:

I am an Honorary Fellow in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art from Monash University, Graduate and Postgraduate Diplomas in Classics and Archaeology and a PhD in Aegean Archaeology from the University of Melbourne. From 1996 to 2010 I worked as a professional tapestry weaver at the Australian Tapestry Workshop, during which (from 1999 to 2005) I also worked as a feature writer, reviewer and news and events editor at Australia’s Witchcraft Magazine. I returned to university study in 2004, started PhD research in 2009 and was awarded my Doctorate in 2017. My PhD, which is on tree worship in the Late Bronze Age Aegean and East Mediterranean (primarily Crete and mainland Greece, with comparative material from Cyprus, the Levant and Egypt), is currently in press with Peeters Publishers and due out this year. I also work on the reception of the ancient world, particularly the ways in which ancient Egyptian and Minoan (Bronze Age Crete) religions have been interpreted by late nineteenth century British magicians such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and their spiritual heirs, the 20th and 21st century ceremonial magicians, witches and Pagans.

Last year she waded into the job of guest-editing an issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies on Pagan art and fashion, which she is now assembling.

The Wild Hunt had a short interview with her last year, but here is a long version of her interview by Rick de Yampert.

I think Paganism is inherently creative because of its this-worldly, rather than other-worldly, focus. There is a wide spectrum of aesthetic expression that manifests in the materiality of Paganism; in the ritual objects we use, the way we design rituals, our robes (or lack thereof), direct – bodily – contact with deities, ecstatic expression, sexuality, and the general artistic legacy of all forms of ancient pagan religions that we are able to draw upon in order to create our religion and rituals. However, the initial impulse to create this special issue came from the creativity, often aligned with business savvy, of Witches on Instagram; the sex-positive feminist collective website, Slutist.com; and the fact that Witchcraft was appearing in high fashion contexts such as catwalk collections and featuring in magazines like Vogue. Witchcraft has become glamorous – and I’m not talking about its traditional faerie glamour, but fashionista glamour. Bloggers, Peg Aloi (“The Young Ones:Witchcraft’s Glamorous New Practitioners”), and Thorn Mooney (“The HipsterWitch: Aesthetics, Empowerment and Instagram”), have already noted that this is a new kind of Witchcraft, less focussed on deities, Pagan history and community, and more focussed on self-care and characterised, to quote Mooney, by “a strong entrepreneurial streak”. These Witches are also politically active, more multicultural than Paganism has traditionally been, and read magazines like Sabat and Ravenous, and books like Kristen J. Sollee’s Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive. This issue of The Pomegranate is interested in research on these new slick Witches – who are they? Are they really so new after all? What does it mean for Witchcraft to be so distinctively stylish?

Read the whole interview here at her blog Necropolis Now.

New Issue of ‘Pomegranate’ Journal Published

Some people are perplexed as to why this issue carries a 2012 date, although the articles are copyright 2014. We got behind schedule a couple of years ago and have been slowly catching up. The 2013 volume will be a double issue published during the first half of 2014, d.v., followed by the first 2014 issue. Full subscription information here.

Table of Contents

Articles

Introduction: Paganism, Initiation and Ritual PDF Open Access
Christian Giudice, Henrik Bogdan 181-183
How to Become a Mage (or Fairy): Joséphin Péladan’s Initiation for the Masses PDF Restricted Access
Sasha Chaitow 185-211
Pagan Rome was Rebuilt in a Play: Roggero Musmeci Ferrari Bravo and the Representation of Rumon PDF Restricted Access
Christian Giudice 212-232
Cleanliness is Next to Godliness, But Oaths are for Horses: Antecedents and Consequences of the Institutionalization of Secrecy in Initiatory Wicca PDF Restricted Access
Léon A. van Gulik 233-255
The Law of the Jungle: Self and Community in the Online Therianthropy Movement PDF Restricted Access
Venetia Laura Delano Robertson 256-280
Meeting Freya and the Cailleich, Celebrating Life and Death: Rites of Passage beyond Dutch Contemporary Pagan Community PDF Restricted Access
Hanneke Minkjan 281-303

Review Articles

“Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids: A Journey through the English Ritual Year” PDF Restricted Access
Ethan Doyle White 304-308

Book Reviews

Melissa M. Wilcox, Queer Women and Religious Individualism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009), 276 pp., $24.95 (paper), $65 (cloth). PDF Open Access
Rachel Morgain 309-312
Catherine R. DiCesare, Sweeping the Way: Divine Transformation in the Aztec Festival of Ochpaniztli (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2009), 248 pp., $60 (cloth), $45 (ebook). PDF Open Access
Susana Perea-Fox 313-316
Carole M. Cusack, Invented Religions: Imagination, Fiction, and Faith (Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2010), 179 pp., $89.96 (cloth), $79.96 (e-book). PDF Open Access
Christine Hoff Kraemer 317-320
Philip West, The Old Ones in the Old Book: Pagan Roots of the Hebrew Old Testament (Winchester: Moon Books, 2012), 128 pp., $16.95 (paperback). PDF Open Access
Stephanie Lynn Budin 321-324
Kristy S. Coleman, Re-Riting Woman: Dianic Wicca and the Feminine Divine (Lanham, Md.: AltaMira Press, 2010), 257 pp., $35.00 (paperback). PDF Open Access
Michelle Mueller 325-328