Free Book Reviews from Latest Pomegranate

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.[1]I receive a small commission on Amazon sales, which helps to pay for this website.

The King in Orange: The Magical and Occult Roots of Political Power by John Michael Greer, reviewed by Chas S. Clifton. Download PDF here.

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”?

Quebec’s Distinct Paganism: A Study on the Impact of Language, Culture, and History in the Development of Contemporary Paganism in Quebec by Marisol Charbonneau, reviewed by Helen A. Berger. Download PDF here.

“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”

Spirits of Blood, Spirits of Breath: The Twinned Cosmos of Indigenous America, by Barbara Alice Mann, reviewed by Sarah Dees. Download PDF here.

“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.”

The Imagination of Plants:  A Book of Botanical Mythology by Matthew Hall, reviewed by Michael D. J. Bintley. Download PDF here.

“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”

To submit a book for review or to beome a reviewer yourself, please contact Christopher Chase, Dept. of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Iowa State University.

Notes

Notes
1 I receive a small commission on Amazon sales, which helps to pay for this website.

CFP: Pagan Studies Conference at Masaryk University

Paganism and its Others

13-14 June 2022

Masaryk University, Faculty of Arts, Brno, Czechia

The Department for the Study of Religions at Masaryk University invites your participation in a conference on the overall theme of “Paganism and its Others” to be held in Brno, Czechia, 13-14 June, 2022, with in-person participation encouraged but online presentations also acceptable.

Although relating to the religions of ancient times, the contemporary Pagan movements are part of our shared modern world, bringing up many challenges and opportunities in interactions with their Others. It is precisely these interactions and their implications that we would like to explore at this conference.

The topics we seek to cover include (but are not limited to) these:

Paganism, its Others and the war in Ukraine: targeted to the theme of Pagans and their perception of the war in Ukraine. How do different Pagan groups interpret the war in Ukraine? How did the war change the relationship between Pagans in Ukraine and in Russia? Do Pagans actively participate in the war (e.g. in the army)? How do Pagans across Europe perceive refugees from Ukraine? Do Pagans help refugees?

Paganism in relation to Christianity: this could concern the contemporary situation or past Pagan-Christian relations; Pagan views of Christians, past or present; strategies of Pagan groups for coexistence with Christianity in contemporary Christian-dominant societies; Pagan acceptance or rejection of Christian elements in Pagan religions; attitudes toward Christian “converts” to Paganism.

Paganism in relation to other minority religions: this could also involve contemporary situation or past history; Pagan views of Jews, Muslims, Eastern religions, New Age movements; strategies of Pagan groups for coexistence, collaboration or competition with other minority religions

Paganism and its internal Others: splits in Pagan groups based on personal or doctrinal differences; successful and unsuccessful strategies to deal with such splits

Paganism and its Sexual and Gender Others: analysis of Pagan responses to increasingly prominent issues of sexual and gender diversity; whether Pagan groups are seeking to be more inclusive of homosexuals, transgendered individuals and others, or excluding them; how Pagan “traditionalists” interpret sexual and gender diversity

Paganism and its Ethnic Others: with most Pagan movements grounded in pre-Christian European religious traditions with primarily “white” European identity and membership, how do Pagans relate to people who are ethnically different in their societies, such as Roma, Africans, Asians? Are Pagans moving to include, exclude or ignore people with such identities in their Pagan associations? Are new interpretations of Pagan traditions developing to enable inclusion of ethnically different persons, or are ethnic borders hardening? Are Pagans supportive of policies and programs to help disadvantaged others such as Roma? Have any Pagan movements developed charity programs to assist such persons and groups?

Paganism and its Scholars: Reflections on the fieldwork and scientific research of Modern Paganism; researcher-researched dynamics, methodologies, theoretical frameworks, advances and problems in Pagan Studies; Pagan Studies in relation to other fields of study.

See Abstract submission & Registration for more information. Both passive and active attendance is free of charge

Organizing bodies: Department for the Study of Religions, Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University

Organizing committee:

Dr. Michael Francis Strmiska (Global Studies Department, SUNY-Orange in New York State, United States)

Dr. Miroslav Vrzal (Department for the Study of Religions, Masaryk University, Czechia)

Matouš Vencálek (Department for the Study of Religions, Masaryk University, Czechia)

Michal Puchovský (Department for the Study of Religions, Masaryk University, Czechia)

A Very Good History of the Vikings

It’s an academic truism that historians and archaeologists do not play well together. Historians like texts. Archaeologists like artifacts. Each profession favors its own methodology.

But there are execeptions. An archaeologist friend wrote to me last year recommending Neil Price’s Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings. Price, who teaches at Uppsala University in Sweden, blends the strands masterfully, along with some climatology, religious studies, and geography.

Why did the “Viking Age,” roughly the 8th through 11th centuries happen as it did? I have seen some people blame population growth – Scandinavia had excess people, and they had to go somewhere.

Wrong. The volcanic “Finbul Winter” — I wrote about it here — cut the Scandinavian population in half in the 530s. It was a terrible time for the Norse, the End of Civilization as They Knew It. An Iron Age version of Mad Max. Whatever the earlier cultures had been — and they included Bronze Age boat trips to Western Europe — this was literally the post-apocalypic version.

The ones who survived probably did so by forming warbands for mutual defense. There is no way that by the mid-700s there were too many people for the land.

So what grew up next were many small chieftaindoms. Pirate kings, you might say. And there was also a shortage of marriagable women, something like we see in China today after decades of the One-Child Policy and selective abortion in favor of boys.

The Big Men could have more than one wife; the poor boys were out of luck. So what is a poor boy to do? Join the jarl’s raiding crew and if lucky come back with lots of loot to impress the girl next door — and meantime, bring back a sex slave too. (So what if she only speaks Old Irish; she is not there for her conversational skills.)

Coupled with [conflict between petty kingdoms] were social pressures—the effects of polygyny creating an underclass of young men disenfranchised by the laws of inheritance and with minimal marriage prospects. A summer or two of maritime violence offered the potential for life-altering change in many directions. Lastly, there was the traditional Scandinavian worldview itself, and its weaponised expression in an assault on the Christian cultures that really were bent on its destruction (274–75).

Although it was left out of the History Channel Vikings series, the slave trade was big for them in both Western and Eastern Europe. So was fighting as mercenaries.

But there is more to Price’s big book that that. With chapters like “The Performance of Power,” “Meeting the Others,” and “Dealing with the Dead,” readers get more than raiders, kings, long ships and mead halls.

It was through the medium of sorcery, not cult, the most of the conversations with the powers were conducted. . . . At its simplest, sorcery was a means, or a method, a set of mechanisms by which people tried to influence or compel the Others to do their biding. In the Viking Age, this was a field of behaviour that lay within the real of ordinary communities rather than any kind of priestly or royal officialdom (221).

There are fascinating calculations, such as it would have taken three to four person-years to prepare the woolen yard and weave the main sail for one Vikig ship. “We might realistically speak of a year’s constant work for about thirty people to fully equip a ship and crew (387).” (Slaves probably did a lot of it, Price suggests.)  Or the wool of two million sheep annually for the sailcloth of the warships, cargo vessels, and fishing boats of Norway and Denmark.

A coin of the Viking-founded city of Kyiv (urkraine.ua).

He gives the East equal space with Western Europe (and North America) and the Mediterranean. I started this book in late February and, trying to take my mind off the news, flipped it open only to read, “According to the Primary Chronicle [Kyiv] was founded by one Oleg (Helgi), a Scandinavian relative of Rurik, who expanded the Rus’ territories along the [Dniepr] river and needed a more southerly base (426).”

That trident (tryzub) insignia you see on Ukrainian aircraft, etc. comes from the Rurik dynasty. In other words, it’s Viking.

The Viking Age, Price writes, “was a time of horrifying violence and equally awful structures of institutionalised, patriarchal oppression. . . . also a period of social innovation, a vivid and multi-cultural time, with considerable tolerance of radical ideas and foreign fairths.”

Their most respected values were ot only those forged in war but also — stated outright in poetry — a depth of wisdom, generosity, and flection. Above all, a subtlety, a certain play of mind, combined with a resilient refusal to give up.

There are worse ways to be remembered (504).

New Pomegranate Published — New Editor Joins

Caroline Tully, U. of Melbourne, Australia

A new issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies has been published online.

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.

Caroline also guest-edited the “Paganism, Art, and Fashion” (vol.22, no. 2) special issue in 2020.

I will make some posts about individual articles, but here are the contents pages. Book reviews are free downloads. Articles can be downloaded for a price — or talk to your friendly librarian.

Ronald Hutton’s Goddess Book Available for Pre-order

From the publisher, Yale University Press:

In this riveting account, renowned scholar Ronald Hutton explores the history of deity-like figures in Christian Europe. Drawing on anthropology, archaeology, literature, and history, Hutton shows how hags, witches, the fairy queen, and the Green Man all came to be, and how they changed over the centuries.

Looking closely at four main figures—Mother Earth, the Fairy Queen, the Mistress of the Night, and the Old Woman of Gaelic tradition—Hutton challenges decades of debate around the female figures who have long been thought versions of pre-Christian goddesses. He makes the compelling case that these goddess figures found in the European imagination did not descend from the pre-Christian ancient world, yet have nothing Christian about them. It was in fact nineteenth-century scholars who attempted to establish the narrative of pagan survival that persists today.

The book will be out later this spring. For some reason, Yale UP is not taking pre-orders, but you can pre-order from Amazon,[1]If you do, you will help me pay my hosting fee or from several other sources linked on the Yale UP catalog page.

Notes

Notes
1 If you do, you will help me pay my hosting fee

Pagan Studies: 2022 American Academy of Religion Call for Papers

(Photo: Denver Convention & Visitors Bureau)

The Call for Proposals for the Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, November 19–22, 2022 is now available, and the PAPERS System is open for submission.

This is the Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit’s particular call, to save you searching.

More info from the AAR secret headquarters in north Georgia:

  • The Annual Meeting will have an in-person only format this year. There will not be a virtual component for the 2022 meeting. For future years, we are exploring the possibility of offering a separate, virtual meeting in addition to the in-person Annual Meeting.
  • Annual Meeting proposal submission is restricted to current AAR members only. You will need to renew your membership in order to log into the PAPERS site.
  • Exceptions will be made for scholars outside of the field of Religious Studies and Theology on a case-by-case basis. Requests must be submitted through the AAR Membership Waiver for Proposal Submission form by February 25, 2022 to be considered.
  • The deadline for submitting proposals is Tuesday, March 1, 2022 at 5:00 p.m. EST.

Egil Asprem and Giovanna Parmigiani on Esotericism Studies

Here is a webinar on “The Truth Shall Set Whom Free? A Conversation on Esoteric Knowledge, Alternative Spirituality, and Conspiracy Theories,” with Egil Asprem and Giovanna Parmigiani.

If, like me, you would sometimes rather read than listen, there is a transcript. For instance, here are some Egil’s opening remarks:

EGIL ASPREM: Yeah, sure. We can try. I mean it’s the million dollar question, what is this esotericism, actually. Because esotericism is a lot of different things. But one thing that it is a category, an umbrella term, more or less, that scholars use to talk about various, you could say, alternative religious, spiritual, philosophical currents. Pretty much the things that, I think, you referred to in your introduction of the series actually [? write ?] things that occur that are hard to classify in terms of the way that we look at religion and science today.

So they seem to clash with our understandings of institutionalized Christianity, for example, and science, natural science. So falling between these tiers. So in that sense, of course, they have a lot to do with knowledge, in the sense that there is often a focus on special ways of attaining knowledge, that’s central in it. Some people talk about the dynamic of the hidden and the revealed as being central to it, which can also go back to the origins of the term, actually.

Egil Asprem is a professor of history of religion at Stockholm University. while Giovana Parmigiani is a lecturer on religion and culltural anthropology at the Harvard Divinity School.

Both of the speakers have published in The Pomegranate. Asprem’s articles include “Heathens Up North: Politics, Polemics, and Contemporary Norse Paganism in Norway” 10, no. 1 (2008) 41–69, and several others. Parmigiani’s “Spiritual Pizzica: A Southern Italian Perspective on Contemporary Paganism” 21, no. 1 (2019):53–75, is turning into a book now in final editing, The Spider Dance: Tradition, Time, and Healing in Southern Italy, which Equinox will be publishing later this year.

Interview with Helen Berger, Leading Scholar of Paganism

Prof. Helen Berger

At his blog, now called On New and Alternative Religions, Ethan Doyle While interviews Helen Berger, one of the leading American scholars of contemporary Paganism.

Since completing her PhD research on the early modern witch trials in the 1980s, Berger has devoted her career to the sociological analysis of modern-day communities whose practitioners call themselves witches. Her first book, A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States (University of South Carolina Press, 1999), was a landmark in the subject and was followed up with important studies such as Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States (with Evan A. Leach and Leigh Shaffer, University of South Carolina Press, 2003), Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for the Self (with Doug Ezzy, Rutgers University Press, 2007), and most recently Solitary Pagans: Contemporary Witches, Wiccans and Others Who Practice Alone (University of South Carolina Press, 2019). Currently a Professor Emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania and an Affiliated Scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, Berger is continuing to work on the modern Pagan milieu, exploring its relationships with far-right politics. She tells us about her career and her thoughts on the future of the academic study of modern Paganism.

She explains how her interest in today’s Witches and Pagans grew from earlier research on the Salem Witch Trials and similar events. In the mid-1980s, she gave a series of lectures at the Boston Public Library — and realized who was in the audience.

The audience for each of the lectures varied with some people who attended every week and others who came only for a particular lecture. One elderly woman with white hair always sat in the front row, listened intently, and asked interesting questions. I looked forward to seeing her there every week. At the final lecture, when I said what was then a surprising fact; Witches looked like everyone else. You could be living next door to, or working with, a Witch and not know it. She stopped me mid-lecture and asked, “are you saying there could be Witches in the room.” As the average age of the participants had dropped significantly for this lecture, I offered that I thought there probably were Witches in the room. She stood up, turned around with her hands on her hips, and asked, “are there any Witches here?” I think it is because she looked like the quintessential grandmother that a number of people raised their hands.

Read the whole thing. Helen Berger has also published a number of articles in The Pomegranate as well as being one our most valuable peer-reviewers in the sociology of Paganism. Her 2015 article “An Outsider Inside: Becoming a Scholar of Contemporary Paganism” reflected on some of the issues involved.

Early Pomegranates Now Available Free Online

Issue 1 of The Pomegranate, February 1997.

The first eighteen issues of The Pomegranate, back when its subtitle was a still “A New Journal of Neopagan Thought,” are now available in in PDF form from Valdosta State University in Georgia.

Spanning from 1997–2002, these are the issues produced by its founding editor, Fritz Muntean, in Vancouver, BC.

Fritz and I spent some time at the 2001 and 2002 annual meetings of the Americab Academy of Religion seeking an established scholarly publisher to help it become a recognized, peer-reviewed journal, listed in all the databases.

Instead, after a short hiatus, we ended up with a start-up publisher, Equinox, which has helped it to grow in the subsequent years.

Lots of good content here: scroll through the issues here.

Who Benefited from the Vinland Map?

Part of the Vinland Map, supposedly from the mid-1400s, before Columbus (Wikimedia Commons).

The Vinland Map has been controversial since the 1960s when it popped into public view. Did it really record a Norse partial-mapping of North America? Its modern history is viewed as scandalous. Most scholars who examined it leaned toward its being a forgery.

But from when? And for whose benefit?

A team at Yale University places it in the 1920s:

Acquired by Yale in the mid-1960s, the purported 15th-century map depicts a pre-Columbian “Vinlanda Insula,” a section of North America’s coastline southwest of Greenland. While earlier studies had detected evidence of modern inks at various points on the map, the new Yale analysis examined the entire document’s elemental composition using state-of-the-art tools and techniques that were previously unavailable.

The analysis revealed that a titanium compound used in inks first produced in the 1920s pervades the map’s lines and text.

It looks like another case of a forger using paper — or in this case, parchment — from the appropriate historical era but not taking the time to re-create the inks of the time. The ink, the Yale researchers say, is 20th-century.

In a follow-up article Smithsonian sees the map as playing a part in American struggles over identity, although leaving open the question of when it was actually forged. After the 1920s is the nearest that can be said.

In the modern era, the European discovery of North America became a proxy for conflicts between American Protestants and Catholics, as well as northern Europeans who claimed the pagan Vikings as their ancestors and southern Europeans who touted links to Columbus and the monarchs of Spain. Feted on the front page of the New York Times, the map’s discovery appeared to solidify the idea of a pre-Columbian Norse arrival in the American mindset.

As it turns out, the map was indeed too good to be true.