Vol 16 No. 1 (2014)
Imagine a room with a desk and bookshelves. On the shelves are books by Mircea Eliade, Starhawk, Catherine Bell, Victor Turner, Robert Graves, Margot Adler, and maybe a few Tarot and oracle decks. The desk supports a messy stack of papers, a drained eco-friendly reusable Starbucks mug, and a printed manuscript with notes. This is a typical home office of a contemporary Pagan practitioner, whose career may vary from education, software engineering, to a government agency or social services, and so on. The short of the matter is that many scholarly books on ritual theory are integrated into the library collections and knowledge set of Pagan practitioners (part of the canon if you will). Important works in ritual studies are warmly incorporated into a modern religious community’s sense of identity and their understanding of the history and practice of religion. In this article, author lifts up the natural, existing connections between Pagan studies and ritual studies and argues that Pagan studies scholars can and ought to deepen the conversations by drawing on other methodologies from ritual studies and sharing their discoveries with the field of ritual theory. Author accomplishes this with a broad overview of Pagan studies and ritual theory, with especial reference to rites of passage, and a sample analysis using liturgical theology of a coming of age ritual for an adolescent male from Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions.
Well before the advent of the Internet, Paganism had been experiencing increasing fragmentation due to the growing numbers of solitaries. The Internet did more than simply bring new people into the movement; it also dramatically altered the overall social organization of Paganism. The present article brings together questionnaire data that paint a quantitative picture of these changes. Through the use of a quasi-longitudinal technique, data collected in 2009/2010 is projected backwards in time to show how points of entry for new participants gradually changed across the course of five decades. Information from other questionnaire items is then used to measure how Paganism changed from a movement based on face-to-face interactions to a community of physically-separated individuals interacting within a virtual world. Finally, we consider whether this kind of involvement should be understood as comparable to ‘conversion’ in the traditional sense, or whether this sort of mediated and mediatized interaction is better described as a form of identity construction.
Using quantitative methods to analyze a national survey conducted by the author, this study investigates the prevalence and relative importance of categories of religious practice to a large sample (N=3318), of American contemporary Pagans. Results indicate that almost all Pagans identify as following multiple religious paths. A core constellation of ubiquitous religious practices was identified (individual ritual; seasonal rituals; meditation; making offerings; worshiping deity/ies; environmental or green practices as a part of religious practice; performing magick or spells on behalf of the self; healing work; divination; prayer; herbalism; and performing magick or spells on behalf of the greater good). Also identified was a subset of practices that are not as common but have high levels of significance for those who do them, suggesting possible specialization. There was minimal significant variation of prevalence and importance of practices by Pagan tradition, but there was some variation based on group membership and leadership status. The results indicate a high level of importance placed on personal practice, whether or not an individual belongs to a group or is solitary.
Many fields of specific knowledge develop their own terminology and language, redefining and redeveloping the language as the area develops. The field of the occult is no different. Over the years, many authoritative occult writers have developed their own definitions and, indeed, entire conceptual frameworks within which they operate. As the concept of magic is central to most occult frameworks, the definition of magic has been continuously refined. Within weblogs, web forums and discussion groups these terms are frequently the subject of heated debate, producing definitions which are constantly in motion. The definitions of these terms are of interest to the scholar of the occult, as well as to researchers on new religious movements (NRMS) and popular mysticism, as they are required for the investigation and discussion of many occult phenomena. Changes to these terms directly lead to changes of meanings, and as a result, shifts in the paradigm or framework within which the phenomena are discussed.
The Pagan Health Survey Project originated in 2010 in response to an American Public Health Association call for papers on minority religions and health. 1,598 respondents from all regions of the United States provided insight into the ways Pagans think about health and healing, their care-seeking patterns, and their experiences as they navigate the biomedical health care system. This treatment of the data weaves a practice-oriented story of one important aspect of Pagan culture – healing – describing the commonalities found throughout Pagan traditions as they are instantiated in individual journeys toward well-being and wholeness. The author critically examines the biomedical health care model from the perspective of the survey respondents, and then turns the same lens on Paganism itself, providing suggestions for new ways to address prejudice and to organize to meet people’s health needs.
Nevill Drury, Stealing Fire From Heaven: The Rise of Modern Western Magic (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 356 pp., $105 (cloth), $31.95 (paper) 109-111
Emma Wilby, Visions of Isobel Gowdie: Magic, Shamanism and Witchcraft in Seventeenth-Century Scotland (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2010), 616 pp., £75/$125 (cloth), £35/$65 (paper). 112-114
Marco Pasi, Aleister Crowley and the Temptation of Politics (Durham: Acumen Publishing, 2013), 238 pp., $99.95 (cloth), $27.95 (paper). [+] 115-117
This is a book review of Marco Pasi's Aleister Crowley and the Temptation of Politics. In it, I examine the contents of the book, Pasi's arguments, and how the study of Crowley enhances out understanding of the intersection of politics and occultism.
Velma E. Love, Divining the Self: A Study in Yoruba Myth and Human Consciousness (University Park, Pa.: Penn State University Press, 2012), 143 pp., $52.95 (hardback) 118-129
Valerie Kivelson, Desperate Magic: The Moral Economy of Witchcraft in Seventeenth-Century Russia (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2013), 349 pp., $79.95. (cloth), $27.95 (paper). 121-124