Vol 6 No. 1 (2004)

Conference Reports

Cat McEarchern is a doctoral candidate in religious studies at the University of Stirling in Scotland.


Michael York directs the Sophia Centre for the Study of Cultural Astronomy and Astrology at Bath Spa University College, Newton Park Campus, Newton St Loe, Bath, BA2 9BN, United Kingdom. His previous book was The Emerging Network: A Sociology of the New Age and Neo-Pagan Movements.
Paganism, defined as a sacred religion with the tangible or sentient, might also be viewed as a spontaneous response to the world, the source of future religious expressions that are here divided into five main streams of developed religion: gnostic, dharmic, Abrahamic and pagan. The essentially pagan response to the natural world is unconditioned by theology, is experiential and is concerned with an individual’s transitions through life, as well as with the individual and communal encounter with the natural environment.
University of Tasmania
Douglas Ezzy is senior lecturer in Sociology at the University of Tasmania, Australia. His books include Qualitative Analysis (Routledge, 2002), Practising the Witch's Craft (Allen & Unwin, 2003) and the forthcoming edited collection Researching Paganisms (with Jenny Blain and Graham Harvey, Alta Mira Press). His most recent research is an international study of teenage Witchcraft with Helen Berger (West Chester University).
Cities inscribe on the earth a text of human being-in-the world. They contain, repress, facilitate, control and decimate nature. Put another way, the geography of our being-in-the world profoundly shapes human experience of nature. This article proceeds through a dialogue between my own mystical experiences in nature. and a rereading of Levinas.s account of face-to-face relations with the Other through which I argue that nature can be understood as Other. However, beyond a romanticised conception of nature as harmonious and ecologically balanced, a sophisticated Levinasian reading of face-to-face relations confronts us with the disruptive, violent implications of proximity to nature. This also provides an account of the violent, suppressive and distancing response of humans to nature. Further, the conceptualisation of nature as Other suggests some alternative urban experiences that may be seen as part of the human encounter with nature. In particular I examine human mortality as an aspect of nature. Finally, the sacred is found, both in urban and rural contexts, in that moment of transcendence when human responses to the Other of nature take them out of, or beyond, their ontological being to an ethical moment of relationship.
Independent Scholar and Writer
Dana Kramer-Rolls is an independent scholar and writer. She received her doctorate in Interdisciplinary Studies, with a focus on Folklore and History/Anthropology of Religion from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley. Her new book The Way of the Cat (Red Wheel/Weiser, 2004) explores multi-species communication and deep ecology from a practical point of view.
While it has long been assumed that the goddess veneration generated by the mystery cults of Late Antiquity were subsumed into the cult of the Virgin Mary, examination of the collections of legendaries called Mariales exposes direct links between Mary’s attributions and those of Isis and Cybele, among others. While canonical references to Mary were few, and often unflattering, with the establishment of Mary as the Theotokos, or God Bearer, at Ephesus in 431 CE, she was lifted in importance in both the mind of the church and the people. The evolution of the motif of “Mary and the Bridegroom” from its origins as a legend concerning Venus to its Medieval form, which culminates in a simulated sacred marriage by a devotee, exemplifies the integration of pre- and post-conversion tales. In “Murieldis” Mary’s powers exceed those of the Trinity, while Mary’s acts of shape-changing, necromancy, control of the elements, and healing, as well as her extraordinary protection of her devotees, expose Mary as a magical helper, and demonstrate Mary as both a repository of folk religious beliefs and a subversive locus by which doctrinal Christianity might be moderated in the popular mind.
Paul Thomas is a doctoral candidate in religious studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. A specialist in the religious history of the ancient Near East, he also focuses on reconstructions of ancient history by contemporary religious communities.
'Re-Imagining Inanna: The Gendered Reappropriation of the Ancient Goddess in Modern Goddess Worship' examines the specifically gendered reconstruction of the ancient Mesopotamian deity Inanna in modern Goddess worship. This paper argues that the reconstruction of Inanna in modern Goddess worship is an imaginative process based upon unexamined gendered assumptions of what is properly feminine for a great goddess. The result of this process is a constructed image of Inanna that is incongruent with the personality of Inanna as imagined in ancient Mesopotamia. Moreover, this incongruence leads to an examination of the Pagan approach to history and an analysis of the sociological features present in contemporary Paganism that allows for these selective reconstructions.
York University
Chris Klassen is a doctoral candidate in the Women.s Studies program at York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She is currently writing her dissertation on the construction of identity by feminist Witches through speculative fiction. She is contract faculty in the Religion and Culture department at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.
This article explores the religious and political identities of feminist Witches through a discussion of the way feminist Witchcraft constructs prehistoric Goddess societies as colonized by patriarchal societies and early modern European witch hunts as maintaining that colonization. Feminist Witches often use colonial and postcolonial language to indicate the relationship between patriarchal religion(s) and/or system(s) and that of women and women-centered religious systems. Thus, though often problematic, colonialism stands in for patriarchy in many instances; similarly, postcolonialism stands in for the shaping of a new future in which feminist Witches are engaged. This article explores how feminist Witchcraft uses the metaphor of colonialism and postcolonialism with an aim to understand how feminist Witches understand their own identities both as members of a marginal new religious movement and as predominantly white women in a postcolonial setting.
Ursinus College
Regina Smith Oboler is professor of anthropology and sociology at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania.
Clifford Geertz defines religion as “a system of symbols which act to produce powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations.” The Geertzian framework is applied here to the use by the contemporary Pagan community of Nature, the Earth, and the Environment as symbols in creating a system of pro-environmentalist moods and motivations that spill over into non-religious aspects of life. If Geertz is correct, Pagan imagery of Earth/ Nature as nurturing but vulnerable mother should contribute to creating a mood of concern about the state of the Earth, and motivation to engage in environmental activism or other pro-environmentalist actions. Results of a quantitative study of environmental attitudes and actions of 159 people who self-identify as Wiccan or Pagan are reported. Their responses to Gallup Poll questions on the environment are compared to those of the general population. In general, Pagan respondents did not report greatly higher levels of environmental concerns than Gallup Poll respondents, but did report a significantly better record of following pro-environmental practices. Questions are raised, however, about the degree to which differences between Pagan responses and those of others on Gallup Poll questions are the result of religious outlook vs. other confounding variables, such as levels of education. These numerical data serve as the starting point for an analysis that seeks to understand what an ethic of care for the Earth means to contemporary Pagans in their everyday lives. The author examines rhetorical uses to which Pagans put Earth/Nature imagery in explaining their own ideas and behavior with regard to environmental issues.
Simon Fraser University
bhayden@sfu.ca Brian Hayden is a professor of archaeology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. He is the author of Archaeology: The Science of Once and Future Things.
Debates over the origin and influences of Indo-European languages and societies have fueled nationalistic passions over ancestral homelands as well as more recent attempts to categorize Indo-European language speaking societies as patriarchal, violent, and disruptive of a Neolithic utopia in Old Europe. While archaeological data is generally not abundant or refined enough to explain the distribution of Indo-European languages, it is possible to generalize that religions of herding societies demonstrate surprising similarities, be they the Nuer or the Masai in East Africa and the historical Indo-European cattle herders of the steppes. Their warrior groups adopt powerful wild animals as totems and form exclusive and independent social groups or classes, with their own deities, rituals, myths, and ritual leaders. Priestly elites also form a separate class, which strives to maintain dominant control over raids, spells, and initiations. Thus, in the pastoral nomad type of society, there is an evident conflict of interest between the major power-wielding sectors (warriors versus priestly elites) resulting in problems of integrating both social groups together, not to mention the people that do most of the herding and gardening. In this respect, religion can be adaptive in both defining special interest groups within a society and in integrating groups together. This represents a further politicization of religion, a tendency that began in the Upper Paleolithic. This article is reprinted with permission from Shamans, Sorcerers, and Saints: A Prehistory of Religion (Washington, DC:Smithsonian Institution Press, 2003).

Book Reviews