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,” in other words, free downloads.

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 … Continue reading

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?

Call for Papers: American Academy of Religion’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit

The deadline is March 2nd. For general information, visit this site.

Call for Proposal

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:

• Cultural appropriation.
• Contemporary approaches to magic.
• Practices involving ancestor worship or devotion.
• What are the analytical frameworks we use to discuss paranormal or magic phenomena?
• The works of Philip Pullman
• How is the current interest in Heathenry being impacted by trends in popular culture and media? In particular we seek papers exploring the influence of television shows such as “The Vikings”, the rise of interest in genealogy and ancestry.com, internet message boards and meme culture, and Marvel. (Co-sponsored with the Religion and Popular Culture Unit).

Statement of Purpose

This Unit provides a place for scholars interested in pursuing studies 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.

A New Study of Solitary Pagans

Solitary Pagans: Contemporary Witches, Wiccans, and Others Who Practice Alone is a new study from Helen A. Berger, a sociologist of religion who has been studying contemporary Paganism for decades. Her body of work is large enough now that future scholars will be returning to it again and again for its depth.

It is published by the University of South Carolina Press, which says,

Solitary Pagans is the first book to explore the growing phenomenon of contemporary Pagans who practice alone. Although the majority of Pagans in the United States have abandoned the tradition of practicing in groups, little is known about these individuals or their way of practice. Helen A. Berger fills that gap by building on a massive survey of contemporary practitioners. By examining the data, Berger describes solitary practitioners demographically and explores their spiritual practices, level of social engagement, and political activities. Contrasting the solitary Pagans with those who practice in groups and more generally with other non-Pagan Americans, she also compares contemporary U.S. Pagans with those in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada.

Berger brings to light the new face of contemporary paganism by analyzing those who learn about the religion from books or the Internet and conduct rituals alone in their gardens, the woods, or their homes. Some observers believe this social isolation and political withdrawal has resulted in an increase in narcissism and a decline in morality, while others argue to the contrary that it has produced a new form of social integration and political activity. Berger posits the implications of her findings to reveal a better understanding of other metaphysical religions and those who shun traditional religious organizations.

Prof. Berger has authored or co-authored a number of books on contemporary Paganism, including A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States (1999),  Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States (2003), Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for Self (2007), Witchcraft and Magic: Contemporary North America (2005).

In addition, she has mentored a number of younger social scientists studying contemporary Paganism (and other things) as well as having served on the steering committee for Contemporary Pagan Studies within the American Academy of Religion.

I will be looking to find this book at the AAR-SBL book show in November and will probably come home with a copy.

Caroline Tully on Pagan Art and Fashion

Caroline Tully is an Australian scholar of Classics, archaeology, and esotericism with a background in fine arts:

I am an Honorary Fellow in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art from Monash University, Graduate and Postgraduate Diplomas in Classics and Archaeology and a PhD in Aegean Archaeology from the University of Melbourne. From 1996 to 2010 I worked as a professional tapestry weaver at the Australian Tapestry Workshop, during which (from 1999 to 2005) I also worked as a feature writer, reviewer and news and events editor at Australia’s Witchcraft Magazine. I returned to university study in 2004, started PhD research in 2009 and was awarded my Doctorate in 2017. My PhD, which is on tree worship in the Late Bronze Age Aegean and East Mediterranean (primarily Crete and mainland Greece, with comparative material from Cyprus, the Levant and Egypt), is currently in press with Peeters Publishers and due out this year. I also work on the reception of the ancient world, particularly the ways in which ancient Egyptian and Minoan (Bronze Age Crete) religions have been interpreted by late nineteenth century British magicians such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and their spiritual heirs, the 20th and 21st century ceremonial magicians, witches and Pagans.

Last year she waded into the job of guest-editing an issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies on Pagan art and fashion, which she is now assembling.

The Wild Hunt had a short interview with her last year, but here is a long version of her interview by Rick de Yampert.

I think Paganism is inherently creative because of its this-worldly, rather than other-worldly, focus. There is a wide spectrum of aesthetic expression that manifests in the materiality of Paganism; in the ritual objects we use, the way we design rituals, our robes (or lack thereof), direct – bodily – contact with deities, ecstatic expression, sexuality, and the general artistic legacy of all forms of ancient pagan religions that we are able to draw upon in order to create our religion and rituals. However, the initial impulse to create this special issue came from the creativity, often aligned with business savvy, of Witches on Instagram; the sex-positive feminist collective website, Slutist.com; and the fact that Witchcraft was appearing in high fashion contexts such as catwalk collections and featuring in magazines like Vogue. Witchcraft has become glamorous – and I’m not talking about its traditional faerie glamour, but fashionista glamour. Bloggers, Peg Aloi (“The Young Ones:Witchcraft’s Glamorous New Practitioners”), and Thorn Mooney (“The HipsterWitch: Aesthetics, Empowerment and Instagram”), have already noted that this is a new kind of Witchcraft, less focussed on deities, Pagan history and community, and more focussed on self-care and characterised, to quote Mooney, by “a strong entrepreneurial streak”. These Witches are also politically active, more multicultural than Paganism has traditionally been, and read magazines like Sabat and Ravenous, and books like Kristen J. Sollee’s Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive. This issue of The Pomegranate is interested in research on these new slick Witches – who are they? Are they really so new after all? What does it mean for Witchcraft to be so distinctively stylish?

Read the whole interview here at her blog Necropolis Now.