Vol 12 No. 2 (2010)
This paper is written in response to Michael York’s paper “Idolatry, Ecology and the Sacred as Tangible.” Where York’s paper offers an introductory overview of the role and function of idolatry within the history of world religions and the practice of Paganism, my paper seeks to explore the notion that idols are numinous objects. Suggesting that for the Pagan the idol is just one of many sacred objects used as a trigger or focus to facilitate interactions with the divine. This paper will also engage with Rudolf Otto’s ‘idea of the holy,’ to show not only the role that numinous objects play in the special relationship that Pagans have with the sacred and the divine, but also suggest that York’s claim that there is no distinction between the sacred and the profane and that everything is sacred indiscriminately, ignores the experience of the holy which exists within Pagan practice.
Shamanic practices and practitioners in western countries are often derided as 'inauthentic' by both scholars and members of indigenous communities. The experience derived from such practices is therefore also implied to be contrived. This paper analyses shamanism in the UK as part of 'western shamanism' rather than 'neo-shamanism'. Western shamanism is understood to be a valid religious tradition found in Europe and America that is based on western cultural and religious traditions. The concept of authenticity is critically examined as a cultural construct, and the validity of a religious experience is located subjectively.
Contemporary Paganism, a rapidly growing religious movement, has the potential to impact the gender ideology of the larger culture. This community is moving away from an initial gender essentialism in which qualities defined by the cultural community as feminine, though highly valued, were viewed as intrinsically distinct from masculine qualities, toward a more complex and less essentialist understanding of gender. This article is based on ethnographic fieldwork and interviewing, survey questionnaires, and analysis of core Pagan texts. It first reviews the importance to Pagans of conceptualizing the Divine as both feminine and masculine. Next it shows how in early Wiccan writings women and men, as well as masculine and feminine divinity and cosmic “energy,” are characterized in gender-essentialist ways. It then examines some of the rhetorical strategies used by Contemporary Pagans to mediate between essentialist and non-essentialist understandings of gender. Finally, it explores, through examples, current trends that represent a movement away from essentialist images toward a new representation of gender.
This essay provides the first comprehensive examination of how the term "Wicca" - used in reference to the modern religion of Pagan Witchcraft - has been utilised throughout the faith's history. Examining its antecedents, including the Old English "wicca" and the early Gardnerian "Wica", the author looks at the many definitions that the term has seen over the last seventy years, and comes to conclusions that provide a new interpretation of not only how the term has been used in the Pagan community of the past and the present, but also how it can most effectively be used in the future.
The Magical Cosmology of Rosaleen Norton [+] 208-238
This article explores the magical cosmology of the controversial Australian witch and trance artist Rosaleen Norton (1917-1979). Within the social context of post-World War Two Australia, Norton was unquestionably an unconventional figure at a time when the local population was approximately 80 per cent Christian. Norton claimed to be an initiated follower of the Great God Pan and also revered Hecate, Lilith and Lucifer. Norton claimed to encounter these mythic beings as experientially real on the ‘inner planes’ which she accessed while in a state of self-induced trance. Many of her most significant artworks were based on these magical encounters. Influenced by a range of visionary traditions, including Kundalini Yoga, Kabbalah, medieval Goetia and the Thelemic magick of Aleister Crowley, Norton embraced a magical perspective that would today be associated with the so-called ‘Left-Hand Path’, although this term was not one she used to describe her work or philosophy. Norton’s artistic career began in the 1940s, with publication of some of her earliest occult drawings, and reached a significant milestone in 1952 when the controversial volume The Art of Rosaleen Norton – co-authored with her lover, the poet Gavin Greenlees – was released in Sydney, immediately attracting a charge of obscenity. Norton rapidly acquired a media-led reputation as the wicked ‘Witch of Kings Cross’, was vilified by journalists during the 1950s and 1960s, and was branded by many as demonic. But Norton’s magical approach was not entirely ‘dark’. Her perception that the Great God Pan provided a source of universal vitality led her to revere Nature as innately sacred, and in many ways she can be regarded as a significant forerunner of those Wiccans and Goddess worshippers from a later generation who would similarly embrace the concept of sacred ecology and seek to ‘re-sacralize’ the Earth.
Over the past forty years, professional historians have taken an intense, and unprecedented, degree of interest in the early modern European witch trials, resulting in a huge amount of new publications. These have had a knock-on effect on the self-image of modern witches, based as that has traditionally been on an interpretation of early modern witchcraft which was firmly rejected by these new studies. This resulted in a period of re-evaluation, to which both academics and Pagans have contributed (sometimes being the same people). As a contributor to that process, I would like here to situate my own work within it, and suggest that important opportunities have been provided by changing scholarly attitudes, both for professional historians and for modern Paganism. I would also suggest that in some respects they have also been missed, by both groups. Some attempt will be made, in the light of this, both to suggest ways of pursuing further research and predicting directions in which further research is most likely to go.
Book Review: Remembering a Faery Tradition: A Case of Wicca in Nineteenth-Century America [+] 270-272
Review of a book purporting through literary evidence to show the existence of a Wiccan practitioner in nineteenth-century Michigan.