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.”

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

Interview with an American Pagan Studies Scholar in Latvia

Long-time Pagan studies scholar Michael Strimska has been in Latvia the last few months on a Fulbright, teaching at Riga Stradiiš University. He edited the volume Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives  and guest-edited a recent  issue of The Pomegranate devoted to Paganism and politics.

The university has published an interview with him — here is a sample:

What would you say are the main differences between Swedish, or Nordic, and Latvian and Lithuanian paganism?

That’s interesting. The biggest differences are in the source materials they have to work with. In the Scandinavian countries, what they have left over from the old pagan days, from the original pagan times, is literature. They have a lot of texts that were primarily written down in Iceland (mainly by Christian monks, strangely enough). These texts give a lot of information about the gods and tell stories about people who practiced the religion, but they don’t have any music. Old styles of music were forbidden by the authorities, particularly by Christian authorities. In the Baltic case it’s almost the opposite. Here you don’t have so much rich mythological literature, or rather, you don’t have it put into a form that’s very attractive and accessible. The Scandinavian written materials are very attractive, enjoyable, accessible, and obviously have worldwide appeal. In the Baltic case, while there’s not that kind of rich literary foundation, what you have here is the music, the folk songs, and that tradition is obviously very, very strong and appealing here.

Read the whole interview here.

You can also visit the entry on Dievturi, the revived ( since 1925) Latvian old religion, at the World Religions and Spirituality database.

It is quite detailed, with a chronology, bios of important figures, and a bibliography. It ends on this note:

The contemporary neo-pagan movement in Latvia is characterized by conflicting aspects. On the one hand, in pagan activities, a desire is expressed to juxtapose oneself and one’s national views against globalization trends, which do not conform to the unhurried and contemplative lifestyle of traditional cultures. On the other hand, the latest trends reveal that in Latvia too, paganism is following a similar trajectory to Anglo-American paganism. Respectively, it is gaining New Age features: scientific terminology and a self-reflexive character is entering pagan discourse. In the near future, paganism in Latvia is dependent on its capacity to respond to the challenges of the era. However, looking further into the future, there is some doubt about the existence of “traditional” Dievturiba as something that is capable of survival. This is because Dievturi currently exist on the periphery of social life in Latvia and are providing vitally important answers only to members of the movement. They have never exceeded a thousand members, and there are currently only a few hundred.

Mircea Eliade, Witches, and Fascists

Initiated: Memoir of a Witch, by Amanda Yates Garcia, is a gritty story of growing up as a second-generation Pagan wtich in coastal California. I am partway through it, encountering passages like this: “We go into the underworld to reclaim the integrity of our lineage, to snatch it back from the hands of those who had taken it from us. Sometimes those takers are our own kin,our own blood, ourselves, our Ereshkigals.”  This is one that I want to read slowly and carefully — and as I keep saying, we need more Pagan autobiography.

Amanda Yates Garcia, Oracle of Los Angeles

Amanda Yates Garcia

Her mother was a feminist witch in the orbit of Reclaiming, the group that Starhawk founded. The daughter, however, is even more fiercely anti-patriarchal and, unlike her Unitarian/Reclaiming mother, who “always saw [witchcraft] as a practice of devotion,” Yates Garcia has turned pro — she is the Oracle of Los Angeles.”(“Book a session.”)

Early in her memoir, she quotes the famous historian of religion Mircea Eliade:

In his book Rites and Symbols of Initiation, anthropologist [sic] Mircea Eliade says that puberty initiations usually begin with an act of rupture. The child is separated from her mother. Persephone is dragged down to Hades. A brutal process. Yet in Ancient Greece, the Eleusinian Mysteries were rites of initiation almost everyone chose to perform.

Mircea Eliade, 1950s (?). He seems always to be smoking cigarettes in his photos.

Who Was Mircea Eliade?

Eliade lived from 1907–1986. Through the 1940s and 1950s he described himself as a “wandering scholar,” he and his first wife literally homeless but staying with this friend or that.  Had he returned to his native Romania, the Communist government would have imprisoned him or worse. In the late 1950s he was hired at the University of Chicago, where he helped build a highly influential religious-studies department. At least two of my own professors studied there and knew him, and he came to CU-Boulder a couple of times to guest-lecture in the early 1980s.1)I got to hear him only once, however, and he was quite frail then, with only a year or so to live.

Seeing him quoted in a 2019 book, therefore, is a sign that his name is one to conjure with, that he is an authority to cite. Inside the field of religious studies, the story is more complicated. It has to do with a “civil war” in that discipline that has gone on for a long time and may never end.

In which Micea Eliade “Has Links”

A recent article in the journal Religions by a writer from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, accuses Eliade of “influence” on the current far-right or alt-right. He is a “spiritual source.”2)Mark Weitzman, “‘One Knows the Tree by the fruit That It Bears’: Mircea Eliade’s Influence on Current Far-Right Ideology.

As a writer, Mark Weitzman is way too fond of constructions in which Person A “has links” to Person B. (Cue the menacing music.) The phrase “has links” can mean anything or nothing: it is empty of actual meaning, but it sounds important. Overusing it is poor journalism and poor scholarship.

For example, as editor of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, I have published articles from all over: India, Russia, Poland, France, Belgium, UK, Israel, Australia, Latvia, Canada, USA . . .  I know only a fraction of these scholars face-to-face, yet to a politicized writer like Mark Weitzman, I “have links” to all of them. And if any of them have the “wrong” political philosphy, well, now I “have links” to that as well. Sheesh.

Unlike openly “New Right” intellectuals like Alain de Benoist, for instance, Eliade died 34 years ago, a highly respected figure. Why him, why now? Why does Weitzman clalm that his reputation is “indelibly stained”? Weitzman admits that even if some alt-right figures name-drop Eliade — even as Amanda Yates Garcia does name-drops him in connection with witchcraft — that name-dropping may merely be “an attempt to gain intellectual credibility.”

But there is more to the story. Let’s start with his childhood in Bucharest, Romania.

Romania’s Homegrown Fascists, pre–World War Two

Romania’s history is complicated. In historic times, it has been all or partly within the Roman Empire, the Mongol Empire, the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, the kingdom of Transylvania, the Turkish Ottoman Empire, the Hapsburg Monarchy, some smaller principalities, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which Romania opposed in World War One. Romania became a constitutional monarchy in 1918, when Eliade was 11 years old. The new government was somewhat democratic, but you cannot say the county had many democratic traditions!

When Eliade was young, a lot of energy went into questions of “After all this foreign domination, who is truly is a Romanian?” “What is Romania?” “Must you be an Orthodox Christian to be a Romanian?” “Should the schools teach only in the Romanian language?” (Others, including Hungarian, were also spoken.)

Gheorghe Eliade

Eliade’s father, Gheorghe, a hawk-nosed gent with a cavalryman’s moustache, had changed the family’s name to “Eliade,” related to the Greek Helios, symbolizing the rising sun of a  potential new nation in the 19th century.

For a young intellectual in the late 1920s and early 1930s, political change was in the air. Benito Mussolini (widely admired in the West, at least at first) was modernizing Italy with his Fascist ideology—should Romania take that path? But what about spirituality? What about a national literature? It was all a swirl.

One group said they had the answers: The Legion of Saint Michael the Archangel, later to be known as the Iron Guard and including the “Everything for the Country” Party.3)It is true that some of Legion’s insignia have been copied by contemporary alt-right types who probably could not say “Hello” in Romanian. The legion was anti-capitalist, anti-Communist, and pro-Orthodox Christianity.

Wikipedia’s article on the Legion notes that

Even before the Great Depression, Romanian universities were producing far more graduates than the number of available jobs and the Great Depression had further drastically limited the opportunities for employment by the intelligentsia, who turned to the Iron Guard out of frustration . . . . The Great Depression seemed to show the literal bankruptcy of these [National Liberal Party] policies and many of the younger Romanian intelligentsia, especially university students, were attracted by the Iron Guard’s glorification of “Romanian genius” and its leaders who boasted that they were proud to speak Romanian.

Mircea Eliade about age 30 — definitely not a street-fighter revolutionary.

I suppose all that attracted young Eliade, who after studying at the University of Calcutta in India and earning a PhD for his work on yoga, had returned to his home country. But he was always a bookish type, not a street-fighter. The Legion was openly antisemitic; he spoke against that, but the idea of spiritual national renewal still kept him interested, as I see it.

In 1938, after economic downtowns and political turmoil, the king dissolved all political parties and iinstuted a royalist dictatorship. Eliade had lost his university teaching job in 1936 amid the turmoil of the times, and in 1938, when King Carol attacked the Legion, he was scooped up in the mass arrests, sent to jail and then a prison camp from July to November.4)Some of the leaders were “shot while trying to escape.” Writer friends helped him to get the post of cultural attaché in the Romanian embassy in London and later the embassy in Lisbon, where he sat out World War Two in neutral Portugal. “At the age of thirty-three, I left the country with empty hands,” he later wrote.5)Mircea Eliade, No Souvenirs: Journal 1957–1969 (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 18. I read “with empty hands” metaphorically, meaning,that he abandoned his old political stance as well — he had dropped his “baggage.”

King Carol was replaced by a German-backed military dictatorship in 1941. Romanians fought alongside Germans on the Eastern Front, but after Germany’s defeat, the Communists took over from 1944–1989.

Unable to go home, Eliade found postwar employment teaching in France and later the United States.

If Mircea Eliade is Accused of Fascist Leanings, Who Benefits?

Jonathan Z. Smith. Yes, people often compared his look to Gandalf (Wikipedia).

Eliade was a huge name in religious studies in the 1960s and 1970s, but there was a scholarly backlash against his top-down comparative and structuralist methods and his invocation of universal homo religiousus, the archaetypal transcultural religious person. A new generation of scholars that still respected his work began to critique parts of it, such as Jonathan Z Smith (1938–2017), who himself would go on to hold the endowed Mircea Eliade Chair in history of religions at Chicago.

Eliade knew who his real intellectual opponents were, however. In 1960 he wrote, “To think like a materalist or a Marxist means giving up the primordial vocation of man.”6)Ibid., 86. If I understand Eliade, he means by that vocation that humans to seek transcendence, to break somehow the bonds of earthly life through encounter with a Sacred dimension. He admits that he has “[taken] a position against the myth of the Earth Mother.”7)Ibid. 79.

Who does this talk of “primordial vocation” offend? That significant group of Marxist-influenced religion scholars who reject all talk of “the Sacred,” “the transcendental” or “the supernatural,” and who instead want to intepret all “religious” activity as human power games.

One leading figure of this group is Russell T. McCutcheon (b. 1961), a Canadian scholar now teaching at the U. of Alabama. In his 1997 book Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia, he devotes a chapter to cutting Eliade off at the knees.8)Which, granted, is how scholarship often proceeds. He is not “concerned primarily with scrutinizing Eliade’s theoretical writings in the light of his early political involvement” (74, emphasis added). He wishes to argue that all defenses of Eliade’s methods and books are theoretically weak and based on the false idea that there is something called “religion” that is “above” human power games. Any thinker who is “anti-modernist” is suspect, in McCutcheon’s view.

In essence, associating Eliade’s mature work with some kind of lingering fascism gives McCutcheon and others a powerful lever to use against someone whom they think is studying religion the “wrong” way, a way that is “ahistoric, apolitical, fetishized, and sacrosanct.” There is no Sacred! Another scholar of similar bent wrote a blog post titled “Urinal Talk at the AAR,” where he sneered at some of the New Testament scholars who make up a big bloc of the American Academy of Religion’s membership:

After a session today I raced to the bathroom to relieve my bladder and overheard a group of individuals coming from another session declaring the following: “Wow; that was so wonderful” “Best session ever!”  “That was incredible!”

Then, most importantly, “You know, that wasn’t even the AAR—that was church!”

And we wonder why others are suspicious that the academic study of religion is actually religious in nature.

In conclusion, whether or not any members of the alt-right “have links” to Eliade is not the the long-term problem.9)Whatever it is today, the factious and fissiparous alt-right will probably morph into something else. The problem is an ongoing split in the study of religion, between those who might accept a religious or spiritual claim—even while “bracketing it out” of their scholarly work—and those who reject anything transcental and question whether there even is anything called “religiion” once you shine a light on it.

For his voume of work and subsequent effect on scholarship, Eliade remains a major figure. But to the materialists, his view of life as containing spiritual seeking is suspect in and of itself. (Apparently, only fascists go on spiritual quests.) He is a big boulder in the road, and to clear the road for the progress of materialism, any tool will do.

Yet for writers like Amanda Yates Garcia, he remains an authority, one of few scholars of religion who is known outside the academy.

Notes   [ + ]

1. I got to hear him only once, however, and he was quite frail then, with only a year or so to live.
2. Mark Weitzman, “‘One Knows the Tree by the fruit That It Bears’: Mircea Eliade’s Influence on Current Far-Right Ideology.
3. It is true that some of Legion’s insignia have been copied by contemporary alt-right types who probably could not say “Hello” in Romanian.
4. Some of the leaders were “shot while trying to escape.”
5. Mircea Eliade, No Souvenirs: Journal 1957–1969 (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 18. I read “with empty hands” metaphorically, meaning,that he abandoned his old political stance as well — he had dropped his “baggage.”
6. Ibid., 86.
7. Ibid. 79.
8. Which, granted, is how scholarship often proceeds.
9. Whatever it is today, the factious and fissiparous alt-right will probably morph into something else.

Read The Pomegranate and Other Equinox Journals for Free

Equinox Publishing, which publishes The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, has made the last year’s worth of its journals available online at no cost. Here is the announcement:

Campus and library closures and, for many, the abrupt switch to remote teaching and learning are causing shockwaves through the academic community. If nothing else, the crisis has underlined the critical need for publishers to improve the user experience in accessing content remotely. To help, we are offering the following routes to Equinox content for our current subscribers as well as others who are compiling online courses and may need to access book content:

– all journal issues published in the last 12 months will be opened and all new issues  will be freely accessible until the crisis abates

Read the complete announcement, which affects some ebooks and textbooks, here.

If you try it and have problems — or if you try it and experience success — please let me know in the comments.

 

The Spirits in the Archives

Snagged off Twitter this morning:

It’s all true. One of these days, one of my favorite archivists might have a tale to share.

And for my librarian friends: if you work at a college or university and have to teach first-year students how to use the library, can you explain that they will be working with spirits?