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Religion Library: Paganism


Written by: Carl McColman

Carlos Castaneda (1925-1998) authored several controversial books that describe his alleged studies with Don Juan, a Yaqui "shaman." Despite that fact that the authenticity of Castaneda's writings are contested, his books have sold over eight million copies and helped to create a popular understanding of the "shaman" as an indigenous spiritual elder who can initiate others into the spiritual mysteries of nature.

Alex Sanders (1926-1988) established his own lineage of Wicca, the Alexandrian Tradition, which incorporated more elements of ceremonial magic into its rituals than Gardnerian witchcraft.A leading public witch in London in the 1960s, Sanders initiated several influential figures into the craft, including the writers Janet and Stewart Farrar.

Michael Harner (b. 1929) founded the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, an institution that teaches "core shamanism," a distillation of general principles of indigenous magico-religious spirituality from tribal cultures around the world. He is the author of The Way of the Shaman (1980), detailing his own experiences with tribal spiritual elders in the Amazon rainforest.

Zsuzsanna Budapest (b. 1940) was one of six women who founded the Susan B. Anthony Coven in 1971, now generally regarded as the birth of feminist or Dianic witchcraft (after the Greek Goddess Diana). Budapest has written numerous books on witchcraft and feminist spirituality, notably The Feminist Book of Lights and Shadows (1975) and The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries (1989).

Isaac Bonewits (1949-2010) established a Pagan Druid organization, Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF), which promotes a more scholarly approach to Paganism (and which accepts all varieties of Indo-European Paganism, not just Celtic Druidism). He authored several books, most notably Real Magic (1972).

Starhawk (Miriam Simos) (b. 1951) is the author of the highly influential book The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess (1979) and the founder of the Reclaiming Coven in San Francisco. Starhawk articulated both the political as well as the spiritual implications of witchcraft in her writing, and is as well known for her political activism as her religious authority.

Edred Thorsson(pen name of Stephen Flowers) (b. 1953) is a leading writer of books on the spirituality of the Runes and the religion of the ancient Norse. His books include Futhark: A Handbook of Rune Magic (1984) and A Book of Troth (1989).

This list is partial, incomplete, and is not intended to be comprehensive or universal. Because most forms of Paganism are decentralized and emphasize personal spiritual experience rather than religious dogma or doctrines, founding figures play a much smaller role in most Pagan paths than do the founders of other religious traditions.

Study Questions:
     1.    Why is there no single founder of Paganism?
     2.    Describe the contribution of three recognized leaders in the creation of Paganism.
     3.    What can be said about the relationship between the role of leadership within Paganism and gender?


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