Magic in the United States, a new podcast by Heather Freeman of U. of North Carolina-Charlotte, has just launched. As one of her panel of advisors, I have had the opportunity to listen to several episodes. They are well-organized and not t00 long (usually under 30 minutes). So far I have heard about the famous murder of a Pennsylvania Dutch pow-wow doctor and the beginnings of Spiritualism — it’s a wide-reaching show.
Magic can mean different things to different people. For many, it’s reserved for those fantastical worlds seen on screen, but for others, it’s not so far removed. For Heather Freeman, its proximity to our world is something she seeks to explore in her podcast Magic in the United States: 400 Years of Magical Beliefs, Practices, and Cultural Conflicts.
“It really spans the gamut. So I started putting together a proposal for a podcast series to do this project looking at magic in the United States,” she recalled. “There’s tons of podcasts about witchcraft, about ceremonial magic, and then also about religious practices that get called magic. But historically, calling these practices magic is a racist pejorative.” . . . .
Freeman said exploring why certain practices get called magic while the word “religion” is reserved for more mainstream practices is at the heart of her podcast.
“This question of ‘What is religion?’ is really challenging,” she said. “If most people understand religion as one of these major monotheisms, they’re missing a lot.”
This survey is a means of gathering information about beliefs, behaviors, and demographics from Heathens and Pagans in the United States and Canada. It will ask you questions about aspects of your religious and personal life, and your opinion on hot-button issues. Its results will tell us what Heathens and Pagans have in common across borders, and how different Pagans are within them. For the purposes of this survey, “Pagan” is defined as anyone who practices a form of Paganism and / or identifies as a practitioner of any form of Paganism, and “Heathen” is defined as anyone who practices a form of Heathenry or Asatru or identifies as a practitioner of any form of Heathenry or Asatru.
Warning: A lot of the questions are about race, guns, and politics, so if you are uncomfortable with slicing and dicing that stuff, don’t go there.
Among other things, The Golden Bough contributed much to the idea of “ancient Pagan survivals” that influenced just about all late-nineteenth and twentieth-century folklore research as well as the grown of conetemporary Paganism.
The high priest of my first coven really wondered at one point if the male leadership should not be decided Rex Nemorensis-style.
This conference hosted by Drs. Caroline Tully and Stephanie L. Budin under the auspices of the University of Melbourne from Friday, 10 February to Sunday, 12 February 2023 evaluates the continued influence of Sir James G. Frazer and his magnum opus The Golden Bough on the Humanities in modern academia. Talks are 20 minutes/40 minutes (keynote speakers) each, with a short time for Q&A after.
Presentations include “The ‘resurrection’ of Frazer’s dying gods in the ancient Mediterranean mythology: A fresh take on the divine death and resurrection through comparison: the case of Baal, Inanna/Ishtar and Dionysus,” plus “’A Victorian Educated Gentleman’: Frazer and his Golden Bough in Context,” and many others.
When I was new to Pagan studies — actually, “Pagan studies” had not even coalesced as a field of study — Jim Lewis’s edited volume Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft(SUNY Press, 1996) was one of my go-to volumes.
I had an essay in it, not something I am proud of, but definitely a product of “fake it till you make it.”It has not been cited often. Once was in a court brief over a prisoners’ rights case.
And like many scholars of new religious movements (NRMs), he had a hard time making a living in academia. Despite the vibrancy and relevance of NRM research, it just does not draw the funding and respect. You’re better off specializing in New Testament studies and writing yet another book about the Apostle Paul, or developing some new slant on gender-and-theology, if you want to be hired.
Born in 1949, Jim died October 11, 2022. I did not learn this until the American Academy of Religion meeting in late November, sadly. He was hugely prolific as an author and editor, but he was also working right up to the end — because he had to.
After some para-academic publishing work, Jim had taught in the University of Wisconsin system for some time but apparently never had a solid position. Then he was hired by the Arctic University of Norway in Tromso, which really is so far north that you lose the Sun for a while. Seasonal affective disorder aside, it seemed like a good gig, and I for one was happy for him. And presumably there would be enough petro-kroner for a pension.
But apparently there was a problem in Norway — he had not put in enough years — he could not get a full-time appointment past age 66 — or some such thing. I don’t how this worked, but he ended up at Wuhan University in China, although he was working remotely in 2020, luckily for him.
If you look at his publications from 2018–2021, you will see a lot about Falun Gong, the large, international new religious movement that has been a particular target of the Chinese government.
To be honest, the Chinese government, after a period of general hands-off, has been realy hard on all religions: Tibetan Buddhism, Islam, Chinese Christian groups, ancient Daoist temples, family and clan ancestral shrines — all have been shut down, bulldozed or forced to turn themselves into government billboards.
Beyong writing critically about Falun Gong, he tried cutting some corners in order to pad the rèsumès of his new Chinese colleagues. As far as The Pomegranate was concerned, I refused to play along, and he cut all communications.
But whatever he did, I suspect he took the Wuhan gig to make some last good money as a senior scholar for himself and his wife. Which loops me around to where I started, that the study of new religous movements still, after fifty or sixty years, is not taken as seriously in academia as it ought to be — and hence not compensated.
And that is why too that I don’t expect to see any endowed chairs in Pagan studies in my lifetime.
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”
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.
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.
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).”
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.
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.
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,If you do, you will help me pay my hosting fee or from several other sources linked on the Yale UP catalog page.