Quick Notes: Absent Christian Soldiers, A Blessed Ex-Satanist, and We’re All Neo-Pagans Now

Just a few quick quick news notes to start off your Wednesday.

Absent Christian Soldiers: Remember that story a couple weeks ago about a Christian group in Dorset, England who were going to hold vigils outside a pub in order to “combat” a Pagan moot (social gathering)? Well, it turns out they didn’t show up.

“A Pagan moot in Bridport last week went ahead without any trouble after a planned Christian demonstration never materialised. [...] Despite the Christian group announcing to the press they expected “a high turn out” no one showed up at the venue on the night.”

That’s right, not a single Christian prayer warrior braved the elements to do some anti-Pagan praying. Instead, triple the number of Pagans who usually attend showed up, and they raised some money for the Dorset County Hospital’s Kingfisher Ward. Obviously Pagans meeting in pubs and donating to charity is something that should be stopped, and I’m shocked that these Christian Soldiers who have vowed to halt “evil” failed in their quest.

The Blessed Ex-Satanist: Maybe those Christian Soldiers should take a page from the Blessed Bartolo Longo, a Catholic lay-leader who had once joined a “Satanic” group in Italy during the late 19th century. Once converted, he had no qualms about acting like a jerk around the people he used to hang out with.

To prove his new-found commitment to Christ and His Church Bartolo even attended a séance. In the midst of it, he stood and raised a medal of the Blessed Virgin Mother and cried out: “I renounce spiritism because it is nothing but a maze of error and falsehood.”

See? These are the kind of people who don’t get invited to the cool spirit-invoking parties. As for the article itself, the author seems to be unsure if Longo was “New Age,” “pagan,” or a “Satanist.” But I suppose such distinctions matter little if you believe they are all going to the same place.

We’re All Neo-Pagans Now: Former Wild Hunt guest contributor Lee Gilmore, author of “Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man”, writes an essay for the University of Southern California blog The Scoop on modern Paganism. Entitled “Boy Wizards, Green Living, Blue Aliens: We’re All Neo-Pagans Now,” the piece touches on our growth, treatment in the media, Patrick McCollum’s court case, and the “allure of magic and witchcraft” in popular culture.

“In the broader culture, Paganism remains comparatively small in numbers, but influential in terms of the broader cultural trends it embodies. The definitive number of American Pagans remains elusive, but reasonable estimates place the number between 750,000 to 1.2 million, or possibly more. Religious censuses like the Pew Forum’s Religious Landscape survey often lump Pagans in with “Other/New Age” faiths, thus missing the extent to which the values that typify Neo-Paganism are increasingly found in other arenas.

The allure of magic and witchcraft— whether in practice or in fancy—also bubbles up in cultural phenomena like the “Harry Potter” franchise and the new Wiccan subplot in HBO’s “True Blood.” There is also a growing cultural turn toward “green spirituality” in which individuals and faith communities strive to value ecological sustainability and to seek harmony between nature and the sacred. And while it may seem like old news, the widespread and ongoing fascination with the romantic, pantheistic world of “Avatar“—along with its sequels in the offing—is also part of this important cultural trend.”

In her closing, Gilmore notes that reporters would  “do well to take a closer look at Paganism, and other minority faiths,” a sentiment I heartily agree with. Be sure to read the whole thing, she has some incisive analysis, particularly of the McCollum case.

About Jason Pitzl-Waters
  • Mia

    “Blue Aliens”?

    • http://vermillionrush.wordpress.com Vermillion

      My guess is it’s a reference to the film Avatar.

      • Mia

        I completely forgot about that movie.

      • http://www.facebook.com/kargach Rob Henderson

        They should have gone with “Giant Naked Smurfs”.

        • Mia

          Nah, they had loinclothes and bikinis on. Honestly, my first thought was a cult following for “Megamind”.

  • Grimmorrigan

    Onward Christian Soldier marching as to……oh forget about it Britan’s Got Talent is on.

  • Charles Cosimano

    Sounds like some seriously wishful thinking.

  • http://oldmoonsisterstars.wordpress.com Apuleius Platonicus

    I am not a neo- anything. Only people who worship recently discovered/invented Gods and/or who do not claim any spiritual continuity from pre-Christian traditions (such as UFO-cultists, and/or those who take their theology and liturgy directly from mid-twentieth-century science fiction novels) are “Neopagans”.

    The rest of us are Pagans or Heathens or Hellenes etc. This includes everyone who worships Isis, Hecate, Dionysos, Zeus, Hermes, Athena, Cernunnos, Brigid, Diana, Artemis, Pan, Osiris, and so forth.

    • Anonymous

      (winks across the room to A.P.) :)

    • Fritz Muntean

      Hmmmm. Are you counting the fiction & (kinda) non-fiction works of GBG as ‘mid-twentieth-century science fiction novels’? Makes a certain amount of sense.
      I think the current term in use in and around the academy is ‘Contemporary Pagans’ — an acknowledgement that our religion, which no lesser a luminary than Ronald Hutton has cited as the only religion Britain has given to the world, is, in spite of the fact that we invoke some classical deities, quite different from anything practiced at any time in the known past.

      • http://oldmoonsisterstars.wordpress.com Apuleius Platonicus

        Gardner is very cautious about making any specific historical claims regarding Wicca. It is Ronald Hutton and those of his ilk who propagate the Big Lie that he did otherwise.

        Gardner is very clear that the tradition of Wicca has many sources from many different cultures and many different historical periods. He is also clear that much of Wicca is modern, and he provides (at least) three different reasons for this: (1) the practices and beliefs of modern Wiccans must be compatible with modern sensibilities and lifestyles, (2) much has been lost over the centuries, and (3) change is a natural part of any religious tradition.

        • Cigfran

          Have meant to ask this a few times, and while not on topic to the article here, I may as well:

          Is there or is there not a significant discrepancy between the attribution claimed by Gardner for his Book of Shadows and its probable origin?

          • Fritz Muntean

            So it would seem. But those claims of discrepancy are being made by virtually every academic scholar who’s studied the related documents. And, as brother Apuleius continues to inform us, those scholars are Big Liars!

            Still, the war of words between the scholars and the bloggers seems to be winding down, and the more thoughtful writers, like Ben Whitmore, appears to have abandoned the field. Even Max Dashu hasn’t been heard from on this topic lately. So our Apuleius is left holding the torch of fervent obscurantism in sparse and increasingly eccentric company.

          • Grimmorrigan

            What is the reason for academics to perpetrate this “Big Lie”? What is the gain?

      • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

        I like that term “Contemporary Pagans” – we’ve been using it in the intro to our show for a number of years now.

        It cuts through all the drama of “Pagan vs. Neo-Pagan” since some people find insult in their beliefs being called old or new. Besides, for our show, such a distinction is ultimately irrelevant.

        “Contemporary Pagan” doesn’t have all that baggage and lets us all move on with our lives, while clearly explaining to non-Pagans that this reflects people today that identify as Pagan.

        • Fritz Muntean

          Good. ‘Contemporary Paganism’ was the term finally chosen by Pagan scholars, after nearly a decade of sometimes convoluted debate.

          The other useful distinction, now in general use by Pagan scholars, is between ‘small p’ pagan/paganism(s) and ‘large P’ Pagan/Paganism(s).

          The former refers to historical (usually pre-Christian) religious/cultural activities/identities — ie, ‘classical Graeco-Roman paganism’ — while the latter is restricted to its use in reference to Contemporary Paganism, a New Religious Movement, founded in the mid-20th century by Gardner as ‘Wicca’ (or ‘Wica’, in GBG’s eccentric spelling), which has subsequently spun off any number of distinct denominations — eg, Druidry, Feminist Witchcraft, Asatru, etc, etc.

          • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

            Yeah, just had that P/p conversation with @PaganNewswire on Twitter, and I concede that is amicable when used like that.

          • G Redford

            The problem with P and p is that it’s somewhat difficult to convey in spoken word or at the start of a sentence for that matter. Whilst my personal conscious preference is for Paganism I have found myself using Contemporary Paganism without realising it or giving too much thought. I think this is a positive sign for its usage.

          • Fritz Muntean

            That’s right. The ‘P’ vs ‘p’ convention is limited to written discourse. When speaking, most of us use the qualifiers — ‘Contemporary Paganism’, as you said — and ‘pre-Christian paganism’,
            or ‘classical paganism’,
            or ‘Graeco-Roman paganism’, etc, etc.

          • Nick Ritter

            “…founded in the mid-20th century by Gardner as ‘Wicca’… , which has subsequently spun off any number of distinct denominations — eg, Druidry, Feminist Witchcraft, Asatru, etc, etc.”

            I really don’t think that Asatru is a spin-off of Wicca. Druidry also has an independent genesis, as I understand it. Do you have evidence to the contrary?

          • Fritz Muntean

            Religious movements have an almost universal tendency to represent themselves as being a great deal older (and thus more venerable) than they really are. Gardnerian Wicca is an obvious case in point. For example, ‘The Wiccan Ordains’ were obviously written in the mid-20th century, but presented in the linguistic style of the late 16th century.

            Asatru may claim that its beliefs predate Garnerianism, but Contemporary Paganism is a religion of practices (‘orthopraxis’), and not beliefs (‘orthodoxy’). All we need to do is compare the practices (eg, hefty hammers held aloft in the Four Directions) to see how beliefs in a thousand-year old Viking-like tradition were grafted onto the practices of its Wiccan rootstock.

            One notion as to why this sudden proliferation of Pagan denominationalism flourished when it did (mostly during the 1980s) is that once ‘Witchcraft’ was publicly declared to be a ‘women’s religion’, Driudry, Asatru, etc, stepped up as ‘Paganism for men’.

            Just a theory, of course. But still . . .

          • http://paosirdjhutmosu.wordpress.com Djhutmosu Si-Hathor

            I don’t, either, nor for that matter, any of the reconstructionisms/revival movements/whatever you want to call them. I’m a Kemetic, and I certainly don’t /feel/ like I’m practicing a spin-off of Wicca.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Carron/100001353268347 David Carron

            I’m attempting to reply to Fritz but this system is kinda fritzy. Anywho….

            “Asatru may claim that its beliefs predate Garnerianism, but Contemporary Paganism is a religion of practices (‘orthopraxis’), and not beliefs (‘orthodoxy’). All we need to do is compare the practices (eg, hefty hammers held aloft in the Four Directions) to see how beliefs in a thousand-year old Viking-like tradition were grafted onto the practices of its Wiccan rootstock.”

            Except that I haven’t been to a ritual where they did your Four Directions. Correction, at least since the Original East Coast Thing about 15 years ago which was derided at the time as a Wiccan Ritual and designed by a Wiccan, thus proving my point…

            I suggest you listen to my podcast. We have three separate takes on the issue. Each quite scholarly with citations and evidence based observational takes on this very subject via myself, Gary Golden and Josh Rood (who’s magazine Odroerir should be out soon).

            I’ll even make it easy for you:
            http://ravencast.podbean.com/2010/12/08/episode-47-reconstructionism-101/

            http://ravencast.podbean.com/2011/03/14/episode-50-asatru-ritual-class-and-discussion-by-gary-golden/

            http://ravencast.podbean.com/2009/12/03/episode-40-best-blot-practices/

            We even have the lore citations available for download at the site…

          • Fritz Muntean

            I’m trying to reply to David Carron, but, like him, I’m finding this system a bit ‘fritz-y’ (har har).
            In any case, thanks, David, for your podcast references. Well done, and very interesting. I have some material I think you’ll find thought-provoking as well. It’s the text of about a dozen email exchanges with Asatru practitioners on a scholar’s list I belong to. Being elderly, and by no means adept at placating the Dark Deities of the Digital Interface, I’ll need some help/advice on how I might get this information to you.

          • Nick Ritter

            “All we need to do is compare the practices (eg, hefty hammers held aloft in the Four Directions)…”

            I tend to regard this as cross-pollination, which is a different matter than origin, I think. In any case, Germanic religion was being explored in Germany (and possibly elsewhere) already in the 19th century, and there is a theory that some of this was brought to the US after the second World War.

            My main point is that modern Paganism does not have a monogenesis with Gerald Gardner. Gardner was himself only part of a larger motion.

          • Fritz Muntean

            Germanic religion was certainly being imported to the US before Contemporary Pagan Heathenism ‘gelled’ in its current form. But it had a radically different ‘look’. See for a very eye-opening article. Apparently all this ‘Nature Boy/Wandervogel’ spirituality had a much greater effect on the hippie counterculture than it did on contemporary Heathenism.

            And — you’re also right about modern Paganism not having a monogenesis with GBG. But it was Olde Gerald who had the foresight (which Aidan Kelly refers to as ‘the genius of Gerald) to combine several disparate elements — most notably belief in European witch-cult survivals (as he had it from Margaret Murray, and the ritual style of the HOGD (as he had it from Aleister Crowley) to form his ‘Wica’ — a clever combination of ceremonial and folk magic practice, the likes of which the world had never before seen.

          • Nick Ritter

            “Apparently all this ‘Nature Boy/Wandervogel’ spirituality had a much greater effect on the hippie counterculture than it did on contemporary Heathenism.”

            Indeed, although I was actually thinking more along the lines of Else Christensen. That said, one mustn’t assume that modern Heathenry comes from only one source, either. I rather like the Wandervogel movement, myself, and think that there is something there that modern Heathenry could take from.

            “But it was Olde Gerald who had the foresight..”

            None of this means that Ásatrú, or other forms of modern Heathenry, or even other Reconstructionist traditions, “come from” or are “spun off” from Wicca in any meaningful fashion.

          • http://twitter.com/TheJeopardyMaze _

            …which has subsequently spun off any number of distinct denominations — eg, Druidry, Feminist Witchcraft, Asatru, etc, etc.

            Could you at least try to do some basic research yourself before making these kinds of claims? Search engines are your friends, it really isn’t that hard to understand the differences between Wicca and attempts at revivalism, which involve educating yourself about culture, history, and language.

            The Heathen and Reconstrctionist religions aren’t Wicca, period, and in fact has already been written about by scholars such as Margeret Adler in books like Drawing Down the Moon, so you can’t claim no one doing scholarship about modern paganism isn’t aware of them.

          • Fritz Muntean

            Margo, bless her heart, was doing her very best to describe what Heathens/Recons/etc *believe*. A phenomenological methodology examines what’s actually being *done*.

            Here’s how you go about this. Whatever your tradition/denomination, start by making a list of what you actually *do* in the course of your ritual. Itemize your actions, step by step.

            For example, do you start by standing in a circle? No ‘basic research’ that I know of has revealed any ritual magical practice from anywhere in the European-derived world in which the celebrants begin by standing in a circle. But once Gardnerian-style Pagan practice got legs, everybody was doing it.

            Get the idea? I could go on, but space here is obviously limited.

            Of course, in the 20 or 30-odd years since Heathens/Recons/whatever split off from the original Wiccan rootstock, many original and trad-specific details have, no surprise, been added. But I clearly remember the first Asatruan and Kemetic rituals I ever saw. Beyond the costuming details and the names of the deities involved, there was very little to distinguish the activities from their BTW roots.

          • http://twitter.com/TheJeopardyMaze _

            I seem to be having issues with this page, so I’ll respond here:

            …But I clearly remember the first Asatruan and Kemetic rituals I ever saw. Beyond the costuming details and the names of the deities involved, there was very little to distinguish the activities from their BTW roots.

            You fail to understand that during the early days, these people were in the process of having to rethink how they viewed the cultures and deities, so naturally they were going to make mistakes along the way, because they had to get themselves out of the Wiccan mindset, and more in to a traditional one.

            You also seem to think you know your objects of study better than they know themselves, a mindset which is not good for social studies research. Despite my interest in anthropology and desire to get back in to academia, I can’t blame people for not liking anthropologists or sociologists.

  • Joe Perez

    Hi, Jason. Just a note that I didn’t find Lee Gilmore’s broader point about pagan trends in the culture persuasive. I expressed my skepticism here: http://beyondlanguage.net/2011/07/are-we-all-really-neo-pagans-now-really/

  • John T Mainer

    When Fritz asks the question about what formation are we standing in when we begin an Asatru ritual, I would have to answer simply that we are in whatever shape is most efficient for the space we are in. When gathered around a central fire, we will be in a round, unless smoke is blowing one way, in which case we sort of flatten into a dumbell shaped mass with the curve of the fire shaping our middle. When performing under a picnic shelter, we are sitting at benches, with the godhi and whoever is being married, named, oathed at the front where everyone can see and hear them.

    Heathens did not use purpose built temples much in antiquity. Most Hoff’s were multi-use buildings. People gathered in multiple use buildings will naturally form in the groupings of that building’s usual usage. When a dozen or so people gather together in a place without walls, they gather about the speaker so everybody can see and hear each other. Gardner did not invent standing in circles. He did dress it up pretty though.

    • Fritz Muntean

      Hi, John. Good to see you here, and thanks for the insight into your workings!

      I guess we’ll have to disagree about Gardner not inventing standing in circles. Maybe I should say that he seems to have cobbled it together from some of the things the HOGD-type orgs were doing, plus Margaret Murray’s idea of ‘covens’ meeting in circles. He certainly deserves the credit, as you say, for dressing it up pretty.

      In any case, all the descriptions we have (esp the iconography) of classical pagan/heathen gatherings has the congregants in a semi-circle around the ritual officers, who are usually backed up by some sort of altar/shrine/etc. When you think about it, this is a more ‘natural’ arrangement — esp if what everybody wants to do is see and hear what’s going on — a problem that about half the people in a Pagan circle always seem to have.

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