Vol 6 No. 2 (2004)
This article explores the lingering remnants of a late Victorian paganism in Britain during the 1940s, and traces some of the cultural consequences of the meeting between this and the often propagandist concern with a mythic England seen throughout World War II. A loose network of literary texts, art works and films is examined in order to suggest that the 1940s is a pivotal decade between the relatively genteel and individualistic pagan sympathies of the early twentieth century and the more systematic modes of allegiance that have characterized recent times. The article focuses in detail on Algernon Blackwood.s short story "Roman Remains". (1948), Jocelyn Brooke's novel The Scapegoat A Canterbury Tale (1944) and the art of Cecil Collins, chiefly The Vision of the Fool (1947).
This article explores the lingering remnants of a late Victorian ‘paganism’ in Britain during the 1940s, and traces some of the cultural consequences of the meeting between this and the often propagandist concern with a mythic England seen throughout World War II. A loose network of literary texts, art works and films is examined in order to suggest that the 1940s is a pivotal decade between the relatively genteel and individualistic ‘pagan’ sympathies of the early twentieth century and the more systematic modes of allegiance that have characterized recent times. The article focuses in detail on Algernon Blackwood’s short story ‘Roman Remains’ (1948), Jocelyn Brooke’s novel The Scapegoat (1948), Powell and Pressburger’s film A Canterbury Tale (1944) and the art of Cecil Collins, chiefly The Vision of the Fool (1947).
This article traces how a motif from folklore, that of the marauding dragon, became reinterpreted by UK Pagans and Earth Mystics—for whom it symbolised a mysterious ‘dragon energy’ circulating harmoniously through the landscape—and by a radically motivated branch of Paganism, namely Eco-Paganism. Eco-Paganism, which emerged during the environmental anti-road protests of the 1990s, advocated a blend of direct and magical action in the form of ‘dragon-raising’ rituals for the protection of threatened pieces of land. The history of this idea of the dragon is presented, with examples of political and dragon-raising rituals, with particular reference to those performed by the Dragon Environmental Group.
One characteristic, among others, of the contemporary Pagan religion of Wicca is its affirmation of occult knowledge. Some Wiccan traditions hold this knowledge to be secret; others, in particular Feminist Wicca, have a more open attitude. Despite these diverse approaches to the accessibility of occult knowledge, all Wiccans link it to embodiment. Many Wiccans associate it specifically with female embodiment through the concept of Women’s Mysteries. However, the broader definitive qualities of Wiccan occult knowledge are non-gender specific, namely that it is creative, non-rational, subliminal, and contextual. The twentieth-century philosophical system of process thought understands knowledge to have three levels: the deep, non-rational level of causal efficacy that affords one a grasp of the relationality at the base of all reality; the sensory level of presentational immediacy; and the humans-only abstract level of symbolic reference. The first of these, causal efficacy, can be associated with the qualities listed above for Wiccan occult knowledge. Wiccans access this level of knowledge through ritual, which takes them across the veil of rationality and abstraction into a brief and faint awareness of deep interconnections among all things. Some Wiccan ritual practices, in particular those of Feminist Wicca, then cycle back from this deep non-rational level to a more cognitive appropriation of the knowledge gained there. The process concept of causal efficacy offers philosophical insights into Wiccan occult knowledge and metaphysically grounds the Wiccan claim that at a deep level all reality is interconnected in a Web of Being.
At the end of the nineteenth century, in the midst of the intellectual battle between science and religion, a curious group emerged in Victorian Britain. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was unusual in that it was established to further the learning and practical techniques of ritual magic. In response to a growing interest in the esoteric and the occult, the Order opened its first temple in London in 1888. By drawing upon aspects of traditional Western magic and reformulating a Renaissance synthesis of cabalistic magic, the Golden Dawn brought together several systems of thought and technique resulting in a unique blend that is still practised by thousands of men and women worldwide. In its adaptation of traditional Western magic, the Order succeeded in creating a popular and suitable system of magic for the modern world. In identifying these changes and analysing their origins in late nineteenth-century magic as well as their relevancy for modern practitioners, the secret to the success of Golden Dawn magic, as well as the unique contribution made by the Order to the history of Western magic, will be established.
Sites, Texts, Contexts and Inscriptions of Meaning: Investigating Pagan Authenticities. in a Text-Based Society [+] 231-252
Questions of texts and ‘scripture’ sit uneasily with Paganisms. Most Pagans do not have ‘sacred scriptures’ and point to different constructions of spirituality that do not privilege conventional ‘texts’. Further, popular or political perceptions that a ‘religion’ should or must have ‘sacred texts’ can become a means of denying various Paganisms—or indeed some indigenous spiritualities elsewhere—the official stamp of authenticity being ‘a religion’ in a legal or institutional sense. Yet Pagan meanings and practices are constituted with respect to written or verbal forms that may be regarded as sacred, practical, authentic or inauthentic, according to practitioners and their Paganisms. If we regard ‘text’ as that which can be ‘read’, Pagans may claim authority for practices rooted in, for instance, inscriptions of meaning in places or ‘sacred sites’ rather than in the written word. We investigate and problematise Pagan engagements with such conveyors of meaning: sacred sites, mediaeval literature and folklore, and present-day emergent verse or sung forms, which, used on either a national/international or local scale, may contribute to structuring meanings and practices. We also point to issues in the relationship of ‘text’ and ‘performance’, and re-embed analysis within the context of the hegemony of ‘text’ within social organisation, by questioning extents to which practitioners fall back on the authority of the text for legitimation of self, practice and developing context.
Civil Religion Aspects of Neo-Paganism [+] 253-260
Robert Bellah’s concept of civil religion is largely an analytical concept that, like the notion of secularization, is more tautological than empirical—defying in general what evidence could be legitimately used to confirm or disconfirm it. As a sociological construct, however, “civil religion” is nevertheless deemed a useful heuristic device. The following analysis builds on the data of Wimberley and Swatos concerning who is likely to support American civil religion and who is not, but this is not an empirical study in and of itself. Instead, what I have sought to tease out are, first, the common denominator language of “civil religion” itself and its current renewal, secondly, where Pagans fit with the Wimberley–Swatos findings concerning the construct, and, thirdly, some of the nuances and difficulties regarding Pagan civil religion involvement—especially in the post-9/11 increase in patriotic fervor and the countervailing trend expressed through the separation of church–state juridical decisions involving the “under God” clause in the Pledge of Allegiance. The article concludes with a brief look at how nature religion/Goddess spirituality might constitute a Pagan form of civil religion in contrast to Pagan sectarian expression. Though not exclusively, this article draws from conversation on the Nature Religions List, which, if not fully representative of all facets of contemporary Paganism, represents some of the best of current intellectual Pagan thought and, at the same time, a diversified range between conservative right and liberal left orientations.
Review of Enchanted Feminism: Ritual, Gender and Divinity among the Reclaiming Witchesof San Francisco by Jone Salomonsen 261-267
Review of Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age Edited by Joanne Pearson 272-274