Vol 14 No. 1 (2012)
An introductory overview to a special section of The Pomegranate featuring three articles concerning Latvian Paganism.
The Dievturi movement, a revived Paganism formed in Latvia in the early twentieth century, would have seemed to to be in accordance with national politics of the Latvian Republic after the coup of May 15, 1934, but the authoritarian regime of Kārlis Ulmanis (1877-1942) showed a deep lack of trust towards Dievturi. The reports of the Latvian Political Police stored in the funds of Latvian State Historical Archives deal with the Dievturi movement shortly before the occupation of Latvia by Soviet troops in 1940. The paper examines how the Dievturi movement is reflected in the discourse of the authoritarian regime. The narratives of secret agents include information on the political views of Dievturi and on their connections to the Pērkonkrusts (Thunder cross) movement, as well as references on the structure of the movement, detailed description of its ritual celebrations etc.
Representation of Nature Spirits and Gods in Latvian Art in the First Half of the Twentieth Century [+] 47-68
Various examples of Latvian art reveal specific appearances of Neo-Pagan concepts. Early in the twentieth century, inspired by Neo-Romanticism, several Latvian intellectuals strove to revive the boundaries with nature. When trying to visualize these notions, artists often felt free to invent new deities, thus expressing their own subjective understanding and feelings instead of strictly following the ideas of ancient religion. The most prominent examples are works created by Janis Rozentāls and Teodors Ūders. A second wave of such interest came during the 1920s and 1930s when, next to the ambitions of synchronizing with the Western culture or interest about the East, artists focused upon the national religion and actualized its values in the language of art. As a result, rather exotic and peculiar traits of Latvian artistic heritage were incorporated, including renditions of rendering ancient gods (like Māra, Laima, Dievs, Mārtiņš, Ūsiņš etc.). In an original way, accompanying the common people in their everyday works, they could appear in genre paintings (by Jēkabs Bīne, Hilda Vīka, and other). Or they can be displayed singly (for instance, in paintings by Ansis Cīrulis)— and in these cases the most intriguing is the choice of the artistic methods by which the viewer is being firmly assured that those beings, dressed in the national costumes, indeed do represent gods.
The Mythology of Ethnic Identity and the Establishing of Modern Holy Places in Post-Soviet Latvia [+] 69-90
The end of the twentieth century was a period in Latvian history marked with substantial political, social, economic, and world-view changes. When the movement for the establishment of the independent national state started, ethnic and cultural values were activated. Particularly important was the idea of the “heritage of ancestors.” These ideas were embodied in various forms, such as the renewal of local ethnic, pre-Christian religious practices, efforts to find certain meaning in traditional ornaments, search for esoteric information in folksong texts, and so on. In such a socio-cultural background new pantheistic cult sites or so-called modern holy places (MHP) gained a certain topicality. Various mechanisms and aspects influence people’s perception and attitudes toward these places, whose number is increasing. MHP visitors describe these places as “sanctuaries,” but, of course, their opinion is opposed by Latvian scholars (archaeologists, geologists, and folklorists), rationalists, or sceptics, who regard the MHP phenomenon as merely a well-developed business plan or of delirious talk. Despite many rational objections, public interest in MHP remains, so to some extent the question of why the phenomenon is popular—smart management, the complexity of the sociocultural situation in Latvia or strong personalities, who created the new mythology—still remains open.
Gleb Botkin and the Church of Aphrodite [+] 91-107
The Church of Aphrodite was the first Pagan religious group officially recognized as a religion by a modern state. The Church of Aphrodite was incorporated in the United States in 1939, headed by Gleb Botkin, son of the physician of the last Russian Czar, Nicholas II. Gleb Botkin emigrated to America after the Revolution in Russia, and in the 1920–1930s created a religious and philosophical system, which finally was embodied in his church. The church didn’t survive its founder and vanished after Botkin’s death in 1969. Besides Botkin’s printed works the author makes use of Botkin’s letters to Philip Proctor (1944–1963) to reconstruct the theology of his church and his life as its Arch-Priest. Ironically, Botkin did not want to revive or create Paganism: he viewed his “true” and timeless religion, based on “the laws of the cosmos,” as separate both from world religions with their “distorted” teachings, and from the Pagan element, no matter, whether that of the ancient or the modern world.
In many pre-modern, non-Western, and indigenous cultures, birds mediate between humans and a divine realm. In mythology and lore they are widely associated with the survival of death. Edward Tylor’s definition of animism identified a belief in spirits that survive death as a key conceptual error to be rectified by the advance of scientific rationality. Recent reconfigurations of animism as an ecological and relational worldview treat the notion of discarnate spirits as a projection of Western assumptions that locate mystery and divinity beyond the natural world. This essay responds by arguing for a degree of continuity between new animism and the spiritualist traditions denounced by Tylor. An autobiographical account of a sequence of encounters with the Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) and other birds appears to confirm their reputation as psychopomps.
Contemporary Paganism’s explosive growth was big news during the first decade of the new millennium. By the end of the decade, however, it was clear that this rapid expansion had fallen off, and the movement appeared to have returned to something approaching a normal pattern of growth. What actually happened was that shortly after the turn of the millennium, the Teen Witch fad temporarily inflated total numbers of self–identified Pagans. After the fad ended, explosive growth also ended, leaving an established and maturing religious tradition in its wake.
Since 2003, the International Council for Cultural Studies has organized a five-day “International Conference and Gathering of Elders of Ancient Traditions and Cultures” every third year. Participants include spokesmen of the Maori, Yoruba, Maya, Lakota, etc. religions, as well as neo-Druids, Romuva Lithuanians, etc. Each of the conferences took place in India, with the main organizational input and sponsoring provided by the ICCS’s American chapter. The sources of inspiration for what started as a Hindu outreach to the world’s other remaining or reviving Pagans are several, but can be traced to Hindu philosopher Ram Swarup (1920- 1998). His critiques of Christianity and Islam and particularly his defence of polytheism conclude with an appeal to global Pagan solidarity and networking. The triannual Gathering of Elders has become the Pagan International that he hoped for: genuinely global, rooted in genuine religions and with a positive message.
Barry Cunliffe, Druids: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 145 pp., $11.95 (paper). 159-160
Michael G. Lloyd, Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan (Hubardston, Mass.: Asphodel Press, 2012), 703 pp., $60 (cloth), $44 (paper), $9.99 (ebook). 161-164
David Waldron, The Sign of the Witch: Modernity and the Pagan Revival. (Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 2008), 288 pp., $30 (paper). 165-167
Robert Conner, Magic in the New Testament: A Survey and Appraisal of the Evidence (Oxford: Mandrake of Oxford, 2010). vi + 356 pp., $23 (paper), £12.99 (paper). 168-170