Vol 18 No. 2 (2016)
The Image of Paganism in the Age of Reason: From Idolatry towards a Secular Concept of Polytheism [+] 125-149
This article argues that the concept of “paganism,” though originally theological in nature, came to be used in the Enlightenment and its secular thought as a term for non-Abrahamic religions. Discussions on paganism were conducted in an environment where concerns about religious plurality had become central. As such, these discussions, and their subject—paganism, also served as a means to find solutions for concerns about religious plurality. This article will focus on three components of the discussion on paganism: (i) the origin of idolatry, (ii) the nature of gods, and (iii) the nature of pagan worship. This article argues that purportedly secular concerns regarding paganism expressed by Deist and Enlightenment scholars were in fact rooted in Christian theology. This article is divided into four sections. The first section gives a general account of relevant discussions taking place in the seventeenth century. The second section discusses the father of English deism, Herbert of Cherbury, and his notion of paganism. The third section discusses Herbert’s successors. The fourth section discusses David Hume and his work on paganism. The article argues that internal theological concerns in the seventeenth and eighteenth century gave rise to a specific conceptual language used in thinking about and discussing paganism. This language was later adopted by contemporary Pagans in the twentieth and twenty first century. As such, the article argues, in any study of the phenomenon referred to as “paganism” the present framework inevitably leads one to theological questions and answers. As a result, while the discussion on paganism continues to be a theological one, the phenomenon being studied remains inaccessible.
Thousands of women, and men, have made the effort to go on pilgrimage due to epiphany or research or distrust of their née religions on a Pagan path. That path leads them to an ancient Celtic—or at least a simulacrum—way of being. They, we are drawn to the sites/sights and sounds of a European “homeland” we have never seen before. How do these people, many with non-European backgrounds, come to this particular pilgrimage? Why search for Avalon? This article looks at the phenomena that pulls a stranger/tourist/pilgrim population to a “homeland” they have never seen, never experienced, and only came to as an adult making a decision after searching, not as an enculturated child. Further, this article discusses those “quasi-Stendhalian” epiphanies that are evoked when one reaches such “sacred ground.” Women who come in pilgrimage to find the Goddess – in whatever form they might think of her – have a multitude of experiences at various venues and “hotspots” that abound in Glastonbury. Whether it is going to sacred water, either Chalice Well or the White Spring, climbing the Tor to the summit or as far as one can get, or attending one of the Goddess-centered events throughout the year, pilgrims come to connect with She That Is and with each other. What is this visceral experience of anticipation and completion upon reaching the goal at Glastonbury/Avalon? This is an introductory article to search for these answers.
Contemporary Pagans have historically been invested in the idea of Paganism’s survival from pre-Christian times through the early modern witchcraft trials to the present, but the story takes on specifically gendered significance within spiritual feminism. The “Burning Times” complex of ideas combines stories of horrific and often sexualized torture with assertions that the true religion of persecuted Witches was not only Pagan, but traces back to Neolithic, Goddess-centered matriarchy. Foundational spiritual feminists Mary Daly, Zsuzsanna Budapest, and Starhawk, as well as first-wave author Matilda Joslyn Gage, have put horror stories of the witch hunts in their publications, each deriving different feminist mandates from these shared tales of torture. I also take this opportunity to reflect on some of my own experiences as a scholar and feminist engaged with the moral weight of witchcraft history.
Sophie Page, Magic in the Cloister: Pious Motives, Illicit Interests, and Occult Approaches to the Medieval Universe (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2013), x + 232 pp., $82.95 (cloth), $39.95 (paperback). 235-238
Rigoglioso, Marguerite, Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010) 267 pp., $110 (cloth), $36.00 (softcover), $24.99 (ebook). 239-241
Michael D. J. Bintley and Thomas J. T. Williams (eds), Representing Beasts in Early Medieval England and Scandinavia (Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: The Boydell Press, 2015), xii and 295 pp., €84.99 (cloth). 242-244
Jean La Fontaine, Witches and Demons: A Comparative Perspective on Witchcraft and Satanism (Oxford: Berghahn, 2016), 150 pp., £60 (cloth), £17.50 (paper) 245-247