In editing the current issue of The Pomegranate, one of my “favorite” issues came up again: whether or not Pagan is capitalized.
American scholars and Pagan authors tend to say yes. There has been a small campaign to convince the editors of the Associated Press Stylebook, widely used in the news media, and the Chicago Manual of Style, widely used by university presses and serious nonfiction publisher.
It’s a matter of accurate labeling and of respect. If Muslim, Hindu, etc. get capital letters, so should Pagan.
This is not an issue that will be settled in a year, or even two or three. But I have hope.
Meanwhile, “pagan” can be used in direct quotation, particularly when it has the sense of “irreligious,” as in C. S. Lewis‘s reference to the Roman poet Ovid as “that jolly old pagan.” (But he was also a cap-P Pagan, in my view.)
On the other hand, writers in the UK tend to lowercase “pagan.” Others try to split the difference, using “pagan” for the ancients and “Pagan” for practitioners of post-1900 Pagan traditions, i.e. “Neo-Pagans.”1)And that term, popular in the 1970s–80s, is more and more supplanted by “contemporary Pagan” or “modern Pagan.”
To my editorial eye, this approach is worse than no capital P at all. Imagine someone writing this: “Ancient pagans and today’s Pagans differ in their attitudes toward animal sacrifice.”
The reader might think that someone had either forgotten to capitalize one “pagan” or mistakenly capitalized the other. Confusing.
The historical definition of the term “Hindu”, brought by the Muslim invaders, does not define a specific worldview and practice, as the definitions of Christianity and Islam do. “Hindu” is a geographically defined slice of Paganism, viz. all Pagan (=non-Christian, non-Muslim) traditions coming from Bharat (India). This means every possible belief or practice that does not conform to either Christianity or Islam. It includes the Brahmins, the upper and lower castes, the ex-Untouchables, the Tribals, the Buddhists (“clean-shaven Brahmins”), the Jains, and many sects that didn’t even exist yet but satisfy the definition: Lingayats, Sikhs, Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission, ISKCon. I am aware that many now refuse to be called “Hindu”, but since they satisfy the definition, they are Hindu, period. Elephants are not first asked whether they agree to being called elephants either.
My preference, too, is to use capital-P Pagan for all non-monotheists, ancient or modern. It is a simple and orthographically uncomplicated solution. And if anyone questions it, just refer them to the umbrella term “Hindu,” now accepted by (almost all) Hindus.
Yes, that is coffee and wine together. And a candle.
This is my world this week, as I wrap up a tardy issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies — as soon as a certain person OK’s my copyediting job on her article and I can send it to the layout editor with the rest. Articles in this issue come from Russia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic,1)Are we supposed to say “Czechia” now?Britain, and the United States.
But there are advantages to working at home, like being pestered by dogs, particularly Wendy the foster dog, an excitable German wirehaired pointer.2)She has been living here since March, but now that her owner is out of the hospital and feeling better, he hopes to pick her up next month.
She clatters into my study: “Come quick! come quick!” then rushes through the open door onto the veranda.”Look! Birds! Birds! We must act!”
Back in the mid-1990s, Nancy Mostad, then the acquisitions editor at Llewellyn, told me that they estimated that 70 percent of purchasers of books on Paganism were solitaries.Hence the immense success — by their standards — of Scott Cunningham’sWicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.
Solitary Pagans is the first book to explore the growing phenomenon of contemporary Pagans who practice alone. Although the majority of Pagans in the United States have abandoned the tradition of practicing in groups, little is known about these individuals or their way of practice. Helen A. Berger fills that gap by building on a massive survey of contemporary practitioners. By examining the data, Berger describes solitary practitioners demographically and explores their spiritual practices, level of social engagement, and political activities. Contrasting the solitary Pagans with those who practice in groups and more generally with other non-Pagan Americans, she also compares contemporary U.S. Pagans with those in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada.
Berger brings to light the new face of contemporary paganism by analyzing those who learn about the religion from books or the Internet and conduct rituals alone in their gardens, the woods, or their homes. Some observers believe this social isolation and political withdrawal has resulted in an increase in narcissism and a decline in morality, while others argue to the contrary that it has produced a new form of social integration and political activity. Berger posits the implications of her findings to reveal a better understanding of other metaphysical religions and those who shun traditional religious organizations.
The meeting this year was in Denver for the first time since 2001. Although I live in Colorado, I visit Denver only once or twice a year, and when I do, I feel like a country mouse in the urban canyons. There was a time when I sold print advertising up there once or twice a month and was pretty familiar with the central areas, but so much has changed, that my memories are palimpsests, and I have to learn its geography all over again. That restaurant that I remember as moderately priced is now more expensive, and they don’t have any tables available.
That said, if you are a meeting planner, Denver’s convention center is easy to navigate, is withing about four blocks of thousands of hotel rooms, and also within a short walk from many restaurants, so that 10,000 hungry intellectuals discharged into the city center can find places to eat lunch.
And you can take an Amtrak train (or a commuter train from the airport) into the city center and then ride a free shuttle bus into the hotel district. M. and I drove, however, handing our mud-splattered Jeep over to the hotel parking valet for the duration.
But enough boosterism. I was there with a light heart: I am no longer co-chair of the AAR’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit, and I had no obligations to anyone about anything, not to mention no obligation to attend the 7:15 a.m. chairs’ breakfast (yawn) or the tense negotiations of the steering committees’ reception, where, drink in hand and shouting in someone’s ear, you attempt to arrange joint sessions for the following year.
Thank you, term limits!
Instead, I went to sessions and talked to authors, coming away with a possible two books for the Equinox series in Contemporary and Historical Paganism and a contribution to an editing collection that is in progress. I will not name these, because I do not wish to jinx them. The series, I should say, has published more than one book as it has moved from publisher to publisher, but after a merger and a de-merger, we had to re-set the meter to zero. Long story.
I also came away with plans for a guest-edited issue of The Pomegranate on Traditionalism and Paganism. I had always though of Traditionalism as concerned mainly with esoteric approaches to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but there is also Pagan or Pagan-friendly version, largely traceable back to the French philosopher Alain de Benoist.
And then we get into some very tricky territory. Here there be dragons.
Soon I will post all the “calls for papers” for three special issues of The Pomegranate, each with a well-qualified editor, and if you are working in any one those areas, I hope that you will get in touch.
Before we go any further, we should define both “tradition” and “ritual” because people often use them interchangeably. Although traditions can be religious in nature, ritual is more specific to spiritual matters. So, for the sake of clarity in this article, we will use “ritual” to describe spiritual matters and “tradition” to describe non-spiritual matters.
Most rituals, even for Christian hunters like myself, originate from our pagan ancestors. Some of these rituals are pre-hunt and some of them are post-kill. As humans, we have always asked for blessings before the hunt and given thanks for our success after it. This is not so different than the pre-planting rituals and the post-harvest rituals in our agrarian history. We need food to survive, so we ask for assistance and when we’re full, we express our gratitude in hopes that our appreciation will be looked upon kindly when it comes time to ask for assistance again.
Climer lives in northern Colorado, but he was kind enough to rendezvous in Florence, a southern Colorado town that I visit weekly. (Try the Pour House coffeehouse if you are there.)
My first writing on Craft hunting ritual was published in 1992, in the chapter “Witches and the Earth” in Witchcraft Today, Book One: The Modern Craft Movement, that being a four-book series that I edited for Llewellyn in the 1990s. It included a description of pre-hunt ritual performed by my hunting partner and myself.
I was in my first month as managing editor of the (long-gone) Colorado Outdoor Journal when an article came in about fishing in Utah. Hello? “Colorado” is in the title.
When I was freelancing for commercial magazines, I was told always to read at least a couple of issues before submitting an article query, advice that I passed along to my students. The same would hold with academic journals — you would think — since they are often so narrowly defined.
On May 16th, an article came in through The Pomegranate’s online submission process (which requires filling in various fields in the Online Journal System) titled “The Holy Qur’an: The Origin of Human Discourse in Ethics.”
Less than a week later, one of the co-authors, who appeared to be teaching in the Islamic Education Department at Shiraz University of Medical Sciences in Iran, is writing to me wanting know my editorial decision on the piece.
So (a) she/they is unclear what “peer-reviewed journal” means and (b) she/they missed all the language on the main page about “Pagan,” “polytheist,” “reconstructionist,” etc.
Maybe “Pomegranate” just sounded Middle Eastern?
I sent a PDF of the last issue with my response, just to make the point that their piece outside our remit. Very far.
Then, of course, the voice of doubt: “He didn’t mean you.” But I will take the reflected glory of some of the big names and rising stars in the field, people like Antoine Favre, Joscelyn Godwin, Olav Hammer, Wouter Hanegraaff, Egil Asprem, Hereward Tilton, Hugh Urban, Kocku von Stuckrad, Cathy Gutierrez, Lee Irwin, and many others.
Some of its entries on are online at that link (not mine as yet). It is a religion nerd’s paradise. Right now the featured online article is “Festivals in Ancient Greece and Rome” by Fritz Graf. (In the entries I have looked at, no one else fought for the capital P.)
So it hit me that although I have yet to set foot at either of the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge, I have — in a small way — been published by both of their university presses. Sitting here in my little house in the pines, that is an odd and interesting thought.
Ah, Mary Magdelene, who was she? A minor disciple of the wandering preacher? Or the disciple who understood him best? A wealthy follower who financed his wanderings? His wife and mother of their kids? Some combination of the above? Or as Robert Graves imagined in the 1940s, the priestess of some surviving Canaanite Paganism who sexually conveyed to him a sovereignity over the land — the thesis of his novel King Jesus, which predated The White Goddess by two years.
The Lost Gospel’s authors, “Simcha Jacobovici, author, and TV personality perhaps best known for his series The Naked Archaeologist, along with Prof. Barrie Wilson of York University,” make a textual argument over a “6th century Syriac text that records the apocryphal tale entitled Joseph and Aseneth.”
So this is a text written some centuries after Jesus lived but maybecopied from a much earlier original about two biblical characters who might be read as allegories for Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
She pokes some holes in their argument and faults them for taking the rhetorical stance sometimes called “They laughed at Galileo” — If the established experts are against me, then I must be right!
But I might still read The Lost Gospel anyway, just for cultural reasons. Whereas we Pagans are comfortable with the idea of female religious leaders, the Middle Eastern monotheisms mostly still are not. Cwikla quotes an MCC pastor:
The possibility of Jesus having a wife sparked positive responses from some female clerics. For example, in a blog post on the Huffington Post website, Moderator of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson expressed tempered optimism about the fragment’s potential to change the patriarchal position of many Christian denominations: “Will a little snippet of ancient writing change the Christian world? It is possible, and I am hopeful.”
By looking to the past for evidence of women as leaders in early Christianity, we are attempting to look for a way to change the longstanding tradition of women having less power in most Christian traditions that is still evident in modern society. By wedding Jesus, we may be trying to make him more “human-like,” or, as Alex Beam suggests: “The purpose, animated by the all-powerful secularism of our time, is to bring him [Jesus] down to our level.”
There is a potential irony there for the liberal Christians: If you add female clergy but lose the divinity of Jesus, what is left? Where is the “juice” of your religion?