New Pomegranate Issue Published (22.2)

A new issue of The Pomegranate: The Internatonal Journal of Pagan Studies has been published, belatedly completing vol. 22, 2020.

This one lives up to the subtitle, with contributors from Slovenia, Czechia, Sweden, and Kurdistan.[1]You won’t find Kurdistan on the map, but it is real to the Kurds.

If you are at a college or university and in a position to influence journal purchases through the library, please request The Pomegranate — everyone with a campus IP address will then get electronic access.

And if you want an article and have access to a library with interlibrary loan service (which most public libraries of any size can provide), request it!

Book reviews are free downloads.

Notes

Notes
1 You won’t find Kurdistan on the map, but it is real to the Kurds.

Jefferson Calico Talks Heathenry with Ethan Doyle White

Click over to Ethan Doyle White’s blog, Albion Calling,  to read a new interview with Jefferson Calico, author of Being Viking: Heathenism in Contemporary America.

Since I acquired this book for Equinox Publishing’s Pagan studies book series, I am happy to see it praised by an astute writer on Pagan history like Doyle White, who called it “one of two important works on American Heathenry that have appeared over the past decade.”

A little bit about Calico’s scholarly journey is interesting:

Many of us have experienced paradigm shifting moments during our educational journeys— those moments of discovery that unfold for us along new and unexpected paths. These moments arise from all sorts of stimuli—disciplined reading, insights from our teachers, and from seemingly random “aha” moments, to name a few. In my own journey, one of those moments came for me in reading Carole Cusack’s Invented Religions (Routledge, 2010) . .  The cumulative effect of that book rescued me from a previously dismissive attitude about new religious movements and opened a new world of scholarly interest. I had entered my PhD program initially intending to pursue research on Islam. However, a conversation with my supervisor—strangely enough about the 1994 Olympics hosted by Norway—caused me to re-evaluate and drew my attention to the growing presence and influence of Paganism in the contemporary world. As I discuss in the introduction to Being Viking, an offhand question in a graduate seminar stirred my initial curiosity about Heathenry and led to it becoming a major interest. A chance conversation with a friend, Dr Thad Horrell, while walking to an American Academy of Religion (AAR) venue in San Diego led to a new line of inquiry and research that helped me to better understand the tributaries of American Heathenry.[1]You don’t get these experiences on Zoom. Rather than one over-riding passion, my interests and work have been nudged along by these sorts of important and transformative experiences.

Read it all here, including the part about being an “outsider” researcher at Heathen events.

Notes

Notes
1 You don’t get these experiences on Zoom.

Free Download on Historians of Witchcraft

To be clear, The War on Witchcraft treats historical writing about the late medieval and early modern witchtrials, seen as an outbreak of “unreason.”

From the publisher :

Historians of the early modern witch-hunt often begin histories of their field with the theories propounded by Margaret Murray and Montague Summers in the 1920s. They overlook the lasting impact of nineteenth-century scholarship, in particular the contributions by two American historians, Andrew Dickson White (1832–1918) and George Lincoln Burr (1857–1938). Study of their work and scholarly personae contributes to our understanding of the deeply embedded popular understanding of the witch-hunt as representing an irrational past in opposition to an enlightened present. Yet the men’s relationship with each other, and with witchcraft sceptics – the heroes of their studies – also demonstrates how their writings were part of a larger war against ‘unreason’. This Element thus lays bare the ways scholarly masculinity helped shape witchcraft historiography, a field of study often seen as dominated by feminist scholarship. Such meditation on past practice may foster reflection on contemporary models of history writing.

Free PDF download here.

Free Download: The Materiality of Magic

Fomr the description:
The Materiality of Magic is an exciting new book about an aspect of magic that is usually neglected. In the last two decades we have had many books and proceedings of conferences on the concept of magic itself as well as its history, formulas and incantations in antiquity, both in East and West. Much less attention, however, has been paid to the material that was used by the magicians for their conjuring activities. This is the first book of its kind that focuses on the material aspects of magic, such as amulets, drawings, figurines, gems, grimoires, rings, and voodoo dolls. The practice of magic required a specialist expertise that knew how to handle material such as lead, gold, stones, papyrus and terra cotta—material that sometimes was used for specific genres of magic. That is why we present in this well illustrated collection of studies new insights on the materiality of magic in antiquity by studying both the materials used for magic as well as the books in which the expertise was preserved. The main focus of the book is on antiquity, but we complement and contrast our material with examples ranging from the Ancient Near East, via early modern Europe, to the present time.

Lucifer, Women, Witches, Freedom

Here Caroline Tully offers a detailed review of Satanic Feminism: Lucifer as the Liberator of Women in Nineteenth-Century Culture by Per Faxneld.

This is more a literary than a religious Satanism, although any story of Satan has its religious underpinnings:

Although they attributed positive qualities to the figure of Satan, the subjects examined in this book were not satanists as commonly imagined; that is, they were not believers in a supernatural being called Satan and did not perform rituals dedicated to him. Rather, as Faxneld explains, they were satanists sensu lato (in the broad sense); they used Satan as a symbol to critique Christianity, its accompanying conservative social mores, and patriarchy. Theistic and ritualizing satanism, on the other hand, is termed here sensu stricto (in the strict sense). Thus, the book is not about satanism as a religious practice but as a “discursive strategy”

There is a chapter on “Satanic” witchcraft:

One of the most prominent examples of the negative association between women and Satan was the figure of the witch. In chapter 6, Faxneld investigates works such as Jules Michelet’s La Sorcière (E. Dentu Libraire-Editeur, 1862), arguably “the single most influential text presenting a sort of feminist version of witches” (198). Relevant to new religious movements today, Michelet’s ideas about witches influenced authors who in turn were used as sources in the construction of modern pagan witchcraft. Feminist Matilda Joslyn Gage interpreted witches as satanic rebels against the injustices of patriarchy; and amateur folklorist Charles Godfrey Leland’s work Aradia; or, the Gospel of the Witches (1899), which presented witches as proto-feminist rebels against social oppression, continues to hold an authoritative position within the contemporary pagan witchcraft movement.

This review and many others can be found at Reading Religion, an ongoing collection of book reviews provided by the American Academy of Religion. You do not have to be an AAR member to read them, although a member login is required to comment on reviews.

 

Farewell to the “Bulletin”

M. declared that tonight’s dinner would be a farewell celebration.

I just sent an issue of the Bulletin for the Study of Religion to the printer and said goodbye to the sales rep with whom I have been working for a number of years. He is in Pennsylvania, and I have never met him. (We never felt the need for a Zoom or Skype conference either.)

This quarterly publication has been around for a while. I just completed volume 49 as production editor, and I started with volume 39, so I gave it a decade.

The Bulletin began as a publication of the Council of Societies for the Study of Religion before being acquired by Equinox Publishing in 2009, shortly before I became involved.

For a time it was published “in affiliation” with the North American Association for the Study of Religion, a learned society that leans toward — as they put it — a “relentlessly reflexive critique of the theories, methods, and categories used in such study [of religion].”

Richard Newton, assistant professor of religious studies, U. of Alabama

Its current editor, Richard Newton of the University of Alabama (the third editor with whom I have worked), offers this brief history:

Some of you will know that the Bulletin began in 1971 under the auspices of The Council of Societies for the Study of Religion. Both the Bulletin and the Council brought together a diverse array of scholars and associations invested in the academic study of religion. The Bulletin played a crucial role in facilitating exchanges about how we study religion in the academy, especially against the backdrop of departments, guilds, and nations trying to determine their identity in relation to religion. After the Council disbanded in 2009, the Bulletin moved to Equinox Publishing where it remains one of the oldest ongoing publications in the academic study of religion in North America. [Then came the NAASR era.]

Earlier in 2020, Equinox and the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama entered into an agreement to continue to bring you the Bulletin for the Study of Religion. And I’m honored to serve as editor in this chapter of the publication’s history. In this capacity, I am excited to carry forth a vision for the Bulletin that continues the tradition developed by all those who’ve contributed to it over the years.

As production editor, I had nothing to do with acquiring the content itself. My job was to clean up editorial problems, make sure the citations were in proper Chicago Author-Date format, typeset it, proofread it, and produce an issue whose total page count was a number divisible by four.

I worked with several editors and watched the pendulum swing between issues full of papers and reviews that could have appeared in a peer-reviewed journal and articles more focused on issues of definition, of techniques of teaching, and on that most enduring question, “What can you do with a PhD in religious studies besides teaching?” (Quite a few things, actually, but they may not be obvious.)

In Professor Newton’s words, “The Bulletin is unique in that it offers a forum for various academic voices to debate and reflect on the ever-changing state of the field, and insofar as it encourages scholars continually to engage meta-level questions at the leading edge of inquiry.”

If I had a problem, it was “mission creep.” The print issue became a print-and-online issue. Well, making PDFs of the print articles is easy enough. Then the publisher started making noises about a fully HTML online issue. My Web-design skills are about early-2000s level, and I did not want to invest in more software and to climb the learning curve.

It was more about time than money, really. The money has been helpful and the content was interesting, but I want to spend more time on The Pomegranate and on other Pagan studies-related editorial and writing projects. I have worked with Richard Newton on a year’s worth of issues now, and I like what he is doing with the Bulletin, but it is time for me to concentrate on other things.

Great Review for Calico’s “Being Viking”

I was happy to see Being Vking: Heathenism in Contemporary America get a good review in Reading Religion, which is the American Academy of Religion’s online book-review site.

Michael Strmiska (currently teaching in Latvia) writes,

Being Viking deserves great praise and wide readership as an extremely detailed and well-researched historical and ethnographical study of the American variant of the New Religious Movement (NRM) variously known as Heathenry, Heathenism, Asatru or Modern Norse (or Germanic) Paganism.

Calico ably addresses many dimensions of the American Heathen religion from the biographies and contributions of religious leaders such as Stephen McNallen, Valgard Murray, and Diana Paxson to such particular practices as the sumbel (a toasting ritual); the blot (an alternate form of the sumbel)), and seid/seit (an oracular rite). In addition, Calico examines the devotion to medieval Icelandic and Germanic literary and religious texts as key source materials, the dedication of many members to practicing premodern folk crafts from Norse and Germanic tradition, variant forms of organization that have developed over time, questions of the importance of ancestral identity in the self-definition of Heathenism, and the important and enduring debate between “universalist” and “folkish” forms of the religion over who should be allowed to participate in and affiliate themselves with the religion.

Being Viking

Being Viking deserves great praise and wide readership as an extremely detailed and well-researched historical and ethnographical study of the American variant of the New Religious Movement (NRM) variously known as Heathenry, Heathenism, Asatru or Modern Norse (or Germanic) Paganism.

Heathenism, to use Jefferson Calico’s preferred term for the modern Norse Pagan movement in America,  is a form of modern or contemporary Paganism that endeavors to create a workable contemporary version of pre-Christian Norse Paganism as was once practiced in Iceland, Scandinavia, and Germanic Europe. Being Viking is the product of many years of participant-observation fieldwork research that Calico has conducted among Heathens in the United States and informed by extensive reading in the literature of NRMs in general and Modern Norse Paganism in particular. He builds on the previous work of such scholars as Jeffrey Kaplan, Mattias Gardell, Jenny Blain, Jennifer Snook, and myself.

Calico ably addresses many dimensions of the American Heathen religion from the biographies and contributions of religious leaders such as Stephen McNallen, Valgard Murray, and Diana Paxson to such particular practices as the sumbel (a toasting ritual); the blot (an alternate form of the sumbel)), and seid/seit (an oracular rite). In addition, Calico examines the devotion to medieval Icelandic and Germanic literary and religious texts as key source materials, the dedication of many members to practicing premodern folk crafts from Norse and Germanic tradition, variant forms of organization that have developed over time, questions of the importance of ancestral identity in the self-definition of Heathenism, and the important and enduring debate between “universalist” and “folkish” forms of the religion over who should be allowed to participate in and affiliate themselves with the religion.

The universalist conception holds that Modern Norse Paganism should be open and embracing to any person anywhere regardless of ethnic or racial background who feels a sincere spiritual interest in Norse Pagan gods and traditions. The folkish perspective holds that membership in the religion should be mainly—or even exclusively—limited to people of European or Germanic descent. Calico also provides valuable discussion of the problematic “metagenetics” theory propounded by Stephen McNallen, a pseudo-scientific attempt to ground Heathen spirituality—and folkish exclusiveness—in European genetics.

Calico juxtaposes the historical development of each topic while also providing colorful sketches of particular Heathens and their life-situations and religious practices. The author traces the lineages of different organizational structures that have undergirded the development of American Heathenism such as the Ring of Troth, more commonly and simply known as the Troth, and the Asatru Folk Alliance (AFA) pointing out their differing attitudes toward both religious practice and preferred practitioners, with the Troth being the more open and inclusive structure and the AFA the least, with a pronounced emphasis on ancestry and ethnicity that many observers have reckoned a thinly masked form of racism, or at the very least, very attractive to racists. Calico uses the metaphor of a river into which tributary streams feed and swirl as a means of explicating the different intellectual, cultural and social “streams” of influence that have fed into American Asatru, and this is an effective and intriguing manner of conceptualizing the internal diversity, dialogue, and conflict in the religion.

Read the whole thing.

Being Viking is part of Equinox Publishing’s Pagan-studies book series, of which I am the longest-surving editor, a tale of success, frustration, corporate marriage and corporate divorce, and who knows what will happen next?

Pagan Studies Call for Papers, American Academy of Religion 2021

Part of San Antonio’s restaurant-packed Rivewalk. Let’s hope it looks like this by November again. (Image: AAR)

This is the call for papers for the Contemporary Pagan Studies unit of the American Academy of Religion for the 2021 annual meeting, to be held in San Antonio, Texas, Nov. 20–23. (Insert pandemic disclaimer here.)

Contemporary Pagan Studies is an interdisciplinary unit, and we welcome submissions of theoretically and analytically engaged papers and panels relating to modern Paganism and Polytheism, employing scholarly analysis to discuss the topic from any relevant methodology or theoretical orientation. In addition to receiving paper or panel proposals on topics generally in the purview of Contemporary Pagan Studies, we especially welcome proposals that address the following themes:

• What is the relationship between Contemporary Paganisms and other religious traditions and populations? Where are there shared goals, values and experiences? Are there common concerns such as sexual abuse, religious minority representation, and climate change? What is the impact and role of interfaith initiatives in increasing Pagan visibility in public discourses and in promoting religious pluralism?
• How are Pagans responding to various crises including economic, political, climate change and systemic racism? Suggestions might include explorations of ritual, political action and activism, community driven initiatives, or ideological shifts such as a tighter embrace of anti-modernism, orthodoxy or exclusivity.
• What is the relationship between Pagan worldviews and science, rationality and narratives of progress?
• Pagan responses to aging and end of life. As Pagans face the realities of an aging population, how are Pagan communities preparing? What are Pagan spiritual attitudes toward aging and the end of life? How do they ritualize aging and death? How do Pagans handle pastoral care and ministry for older demographics?
• What are some of the ways in which Paganisms and Witchcraft interacts with and responds to Neoliberalism? Examples may involve explorations of globalization, late capitalism, ideas about individualism and collectivism, marketing and branding.
• We are seeking presentations for a co-sponsored session between the Ecology Unit and the Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit related to ideologies of ‘blood and soil’ and white nationalism in recent radical political movements, and engagements with this in contemporary Paganism and Heathenry. Questions to address might include but not be limited to: what is the significance of religious identity, ancestry, and connections to land in these movements; how are concerns related to authenticity, legitimation, and “imagined community” involved in these narratives; and what implications does this suggest for developing attachment to place, and bioregional identity in settler and other populations?

Mission Statement

The Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit provides a place for scholars interested in pursuing research in this newly developing and interdisciplinary field and puts them in direct communication with one another in the context of a professional meeting. New scholars are welcomed and supported, while existing scholars are challenged to improve their work and deepen the level of conversation. By liaising with other AAR Program Units, the Unit creates opportunities to examine the place of Pagan religions both historically and within contemporary society and to examine how other religions may intersect with these dynamic and mutable religious communities.

Method of Submission: INSPIRE

Chairs:

  • Damon Berry, St. Lawrence University, dberry@stlawu.edu
  • Amy Hale, Atlanta, GA, amyhale93@gmail.com

New Collection on Western Esotericism, Downloadable

Quick, while it’s free, you can download New Approaches to the Study of Esotericism, edited by Egil Asprem (he has published in The Pomegranate) and Julian Strube.

The blurb:

This volume offers new approaches to some of the biggest persistent challenges in the study of esotericism and beyond. Commonly understood as a particularly “Western” undertaking consisting of religious, philosophical, and ritual traditions that go back to Mediterranean antiquity, this book argues for a global approach that significantly expands the scope of esotericism and highlights its relevance for broader theoretical and methodological debates in the humanities and social sciences.

That final sentence could be applied to Pagan studies too, which has the potential to upset a lot of comfortable thought about “religion.” But we need to do more.

Lurching into a Virtual Annual Meeting of the AAR-SBL

Screenshot from the annual meeting scheduling app. At least it works better than some of the scheduling choices do!

If this were a normal year — and we know it’s not — I would be in Boston right now with 10,000 of my closest friends, attending the annual meeting of the American Acafemy of Religion and its smaller, parent organization, the Society of Biblical Literature.[1]The SBL was founded in 1880 and the AAR in 1909, originally as the Association of Biblical Instructors in American Colleges and Secondary Schools. A typical meeting involves hearing papers until your brain is full, meeting with publishers and editors, shouting into friends’ ears in noisy hotel bars, attending receptions (free food!), touring the host city, drinking,eating, buying too many books, and generally getting your intellectual batteries recharged.

This year we are all Zoomerati. I got off to a bad start this morning, having quickly walked and fed the dog, made coffee, built a fire in the woodstove to warm the kitchen and dining room for M. when she got up, and settled myself to “attend” the first session of the day, a workshop from the Ritual Studies group.

I had attended a similar workshop last year, which was limited in size by the nature of the workshop. This time, you were supposed to pre-register, and I thought that I had done so, but sometimes I am a little dyslexic about online forms and stuff. The time came, but the “Join” screen button did not.

It turned out to be full. Evidently I messed up when I thought that I had registered — or I had been too late.. Today the  session’s chat room was full of people asking “Do I have to register”” “Can I register?” “I paid for AAR — why can’t I register?” and so on.

Some might have been confused by the Virtual Annual Meeting FAQ page, which states,

Is there a way to make a reservation in advance to attend a session?
No need to do this—just join the session when it begins.

A normal annual meeting is five days. This virtual annual meeing goes from November 29 to December 10, but still manages to produce situations where I want to be in sessions that meet simulataneously.

Like Tuesday. Some scheduler put New Religious Movements (which was the first home of Pagan studies before we got our own unit), Indigenous Religious Traditions, and a  “exploratory session”: “Things That Go Bump in the Night”: Folklore, the Supernatural, and Vernacular Religion,” all at the same time! Ten days they have to work with, yet much of what I want to attend happens all at once.[2]I should add that most groups have more than one session; Contemporary Pagan Studies has three, for instance.

“But they will be recorded, surely,” you say. Maybe Not that I can see from the info in my planning app! Crap crap crapola. (I would love to be wrong about that.) Do I just jump from virtual room to virtual room? Apparently so.

And there is no book show and no dinner in a nice restaurant on the publisher’s tab. No quick trip on the train up to Salem to buy witch kitsch. No window-shopping on Newbury Street. Just the same old house and the same old screen.[3]I pity attendees in Europe, who have to say up through the wee hours to attend.

But there is at least one book that I bought last year in San Diego that I have yet to read, so I will pretend it’s new.

Notes

Notes
1 The SBL was founded in 1880 and the AAR in 1909, originally as the Association of Biblical Instructors in American Colleges and Secondary Schools.
2 I should add that most groups have more than one session; Contemporary Pagan Studies has three, for instance.
3 I pity attendees in Europe, who have to say up through the wee hours to attend.