Vol 13 No. 1 (2011)
Response to Dominique Beth Wilson [+] 5-16
In this paper, Michael York responds to Dominique Beth Wilson’s response to his article on idolatry.
The religious and ideological standpoints of the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik gathered some attention by scholars of religious studies in the wake of the 22/7 attacks in Oslo and on Utøya. These comments mostly focused on the question of Breivik's alleged Christianity: in what sense is he a Christian, and to what extent did his religious leanings motivate his acts of extreme violence? This essay reflects on some dimensions of Breivik's ideology and religiosity that have garnered much less attention. Identifying Breivik as a part of the "counterjihadist movement", his "cultural Christianity" must first of all be seen as a part of his identity politics. By analyzing Breivik's identity politics more closely, however, we find that there is also an "esoteric" dimension to it, which helps explain the coexistence of Templarism, Freemasonry, Christianity, and Norse Paganism in the terrorist's so-called "manifesto".
Pagan Saxon Resistance to Charlemagne’s Mission: ‘Indigenous’ Religion and ‘World’ Religion in the Early Middle Ages [+] 33-51
What is “known” about the interplay between Paganism and Christianity in the Middle Ages grows more problematic with every new scholarly contribution. Recently it has become fashionable to assert that nothing can be known of the earlier oral tradition of Pagans, as all that remain are Christian texts written by Christian clergy who drew upon Biblical models such as Canaanite “idolatry” to depict the Paganism of medieval peoples like the Anglo-Saxons and the Frisians of whose religion they were ignorant. Extreme versions of this position deny the existence of Paganism entirely; this is because all the texts were produced by Christians, and other potential sources of information about Paganism (archaeological evidence, comparative Indo-European parallels, and folklore) are deemed inadmissible. The encounter between literate, urban Christianity and non-literate rural Paganism in early medieval Europe resembles contemporary cases where the claims of “indigenous religions” (e.g. legal actions to establish native title mounted by peoples who were non-literate at the time they were colonized by Europeans) and “world religions” (e.g., missionary religion directly or indirectly facilitating colonialist enterprises) clash. Yet this is rarely recognized within the academic disciplines of history and medieval studies. This article considers the struggle between the Pagan Saxons and the Frankish Christian army of Charlemagne in the late eighth and early ninth centuries as a case study of an indigenous people and religion being crushed by a universalizing world religion promoted by a globalizing colonialist empire. It argues that medieval Christian missionary and colonialist programs were intended to bring about the deliberate obliteration of indigenous Pagan cultures, a fact which is rarely recognized by scholars.
Contemporary Paganism, Utopian Reading Communities, and Sacred Nonmonogamy: The Religious Impact of Heinlein's and Starhawk’s Fiction [+] 52-76
Contemporary Paganism’s emphasis on sacred story and narrative has led to an interdependent relationship with popular media. Pagans draw inspiration from fiction and also bring their practices to life in popular novels. Robert Heinlein’s 1961 Stranger in a Strange Land has had a major impact on the practice of ethical nonmonogamy in the Pagan community, an impact that is reflected in Starhawk’s 1993 The Fifth Sacred Thing. Along with liturgical echoes from Stranger, Starhawk’s novel contains sacred sex practices similar to those Heinlein describes. Unlike Heinlein, however, Starhawk is writing from life; The Fifth Sacred Thing reflects the developing real-life norms of her San Francisco-based Pagan community. Both novels also follow the generic conventions of the American utopian novel, a literary form that has influenced communal and millennial movements of the past. Together, Heinlein and Starhawk’s novels demonstrate how fiction can inspire religious practice that then appears again in fiction.
Although the legacy and work of John Michell is frequently associated with a culturally liberal neo-tribalism, certain aspects of Michell’s thought can be, and have been, interpreted as an esoteric extension of more explicitly right-wing political positions, ones which are currently convergent with the political subcultures surrounding the European New Right both in Europe and also among newly emerging right-wing groups in the US. This essay examines the ways in which the work of John Michell is resonant with many of the philosophies of the European New Right, and how in his final years and after his death new markets for his work are emerging in the various subcultures associated with right-wing Paganism.
Book Review: Kerriann Godwin, ed., The Museum of Witchcraft: A Magical History (Boscastle, Cornwall: The Occult Art Company, 2011), 142 pp., £34.00 (hardcover). 106-108