Vol 13 No. 2 (2011)
Darna: A Lithuanian Pagan Approach to Life [+] 130-145
Pagans constitute a minority of long standing in society; even in Lithuania, the last state of Europe to be Christianized, they've endured for over six hundred years. This persistence probably indicates that the movement meets certain religious and spiritual needs in society, but may also reflect something about how Pagans function as a movement. Here we report an ethnographic investigation of a Pagan group in Lithuania where we find evidence for a Pagan ideological influence on the movement's organizational functioning. These Pagans not only seek inspiration in their national heritage and folklore but in the concept of darna, which relates to harmony, morality, honor, and fruitfulness. Our research shows that darna is one factor affecting a Pagan group’s organization and functioning.
Perhaps the most mysterious of the gods identified by Tacitus in his Germania of c.98 is the Suebian regnator omnium deus—the god who is lord of all things. In a rather enigmatic fashion, Tacitus reveals that the woodland sanctuary of this god, the so–called Semnonenhain as it has become known in scholarship, was thought to have been the ancestral birthplace of a number of Germanic tribes.1 The aim of this essay is to show that traces of a similar tradition in Old Norse literature, postdating the Germania by over a thousand years, may indicate that a creation myth related to this belief was still alive in Iceland in the final years of Germanic heathen religion. I will begin by outlining what is known about the compositional contexts of the Germania, before discussing what can usefully be drawn from Tacitus’ description of the Semnonenhain and its associated anthropogonic myth. Following a brief consideration of the contexts in which the conversion of Scandinavia took place, we will move on to consider elements of a potentially related tradition preserved in Norse Eddic and Skaldic verse, and conclude with a few reflections on the extended potential of these observations.
The Heart of Thelema: Morality, Amorality, and Immorality in Aleister Crowley’s Thelemic Cult [+] 163-183
In the wisdom literature of ancient Egypt, as in modern culture, the heart is a physical organ but also a metaphor for one’s moral centre. Aleister Crowley is the founder of a small but significant magical cult that claims to be a revival of Egyptian magical religion. Some Thelemites do not admit moral distinctions or judgments; and are in this sense amoral. Moral issues are raised in a core passage in Crowley’s inspired text, Liber AL (II 18-21) which presents the essence of its “Nietzchean standpoint.” Crowley rarely departed from this “Law of the jungle.” Crowley acknowledged and validated a magical “son”, Charles Stansfield Jones (Frater Achad) as “the one” who would unlock the true meanings of Liber AL. Jones promulgated a revisionist interpretation, more liberal and in tune with the philosophy of Ma’at, the ancient Egyptian personification of justice. Jones wrote that: “by trying to help Humanity as a Whole, without distinction, as far as in me lay, I could learn to do the Will of God, or the True Will.” Rejected by Crowley and other important opinion formers, Jones’ ideas continued an ex cathedra existence, gathering followers anxious to make Thelema more relevant. Recently published correspondence between Crowley and Jones will apparently show that toward the end of his life, Crowley acknowledged Jones interpretation as valid and equal to his own. In the years since Crowley’s death there has been an interesting revival of Ma’atian philosophy in the mainstream and independent of Neo-Paganism. Pan African Political groups have found in it material for an ethical system that avoids the tradition of Abrahamic faiths and also Mediterranean ethno-centrism. There has been new research, especially on the socalled “Negative Confession.” The philosophy of Ma’at emphasises our social being. Its first principle is “I have not impoverished the people.” Thelemites are shown to have views relevant to controversy between individualism, free will and social justice.
This paper will explore shared symbols in Western shamanism, their meanings and signification. Shamanism is a contested and multivalent term, so first there will be a theoretical delimitation of what is meant by Western shamanism. The definition presented is a religious practice found in contemporary Western society. Symbolism will then be analysed through three main categories. The first category of symbols will be the use of darkness/light metaphors, and their meaning and importance in Western shamanism. Then the symbol of soul loss and retrieval will be analysed, and the image of the journeys and what this is supposed to achieve. Finally, the practice of symbolic appropriation will be tackled by analysing the use (and abuse) of symbols from other cultures. What this will demonstrate on the one hand is the Western origin of the shared symbols used in Western shamanism and on the other hand how this origin is concealed with non-Western symbols, used as a strategy of legitimation.
Robert Cochrane and the Gardnerian Craft: Feuds, Secrets and Mysteries in Contemporary British Witchcraft [+] 205-224
The English occultist Robert Cochrane (1931–1966) has remained one of the most enigmatic figures from the burgeoning contemporary British Witchcraft movement, being the founder of the Cochranian tradition and a core influence on the “Traditional Craft” current that has blossomed in the West since the early 1990s. The magister of a coven named the Clan of Tubal Cain, Cochrane was known for his scathing criticisms of Gerald Gardner and the Gardnerian tradition of Wicca, but at the same time allegations have emerged in recent decades that Cochrane was himself an initiate of that very tradition. In this paper, the author explores the complex relationship between Cochrane and the Gardnerian Craft, examining the nature of his criticisms and the evidence for his involvement in it, utilising both a textual examination of his published writings and private letters, accompanied with information obtained from discussions with some of his contemporaries and later followers.
During the past few years, a series of heated arguments have broken out among Pagans across the Western world, but much more particularly in North America and Australia, about the historical context of modern Paganism. This has been provoked by extensive scholarly revision of the traditional portrait of that context, which has caused dismay and anger among some Pagans. Their reactions have in turn produced similar emotions among some of their co-religionists and professional scholars (the two groups often overlapping). This review essay is intended to clarify the issues that are being debated; to examine the potential for Pagans to write their own history; to look at points at which the arguments may have provided useful historical insights; and to suggest a likely outcome for the controversy.
The MAS (Museum aan de Stroom), the brand new city museum of Antwerp (Belgium), became the first museum in Belgium to openly include a presentation on the life and work of the contemporary shaman and artist Jóska Soós (1921-2008). It is incorporated within a permanent presentation on shamanistic practices throughout the world, and urban shamanism is itself recognized as a contemporary and western European form of shamanism in Europe. The article discusses the selection of art works, ritual objects and multimedia documentation in the presentation and the pioneer role of Jóska Soós. The author co-curated this presentation, based upon many years of scientific research into the life and work of the Hungarian-Belgian shaman and artist.
Michael Howard, Children of Cain: A Study of Modern Traditional Witches (Richmond Vista, Calif.: Three Hands Press, 2011), 320 pp., $48.50 (hardcover) 274-276
John Breen and Mark Teeuwen, A New History of Shinto (Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), xii + 264 pp., $94.95 (cloth), $32.95 (paperback). 277-279