TWH – The 18th annual conference on Current Pagan Studies took place Jan. 15-16 on Zoom. The conference is one of the few opportunities for pagan or pagan-friendly scholars to engage in scholarly discourse on modern paganism. The conference had 25 sessions. Some were experiential. Below are brief summaries of ten sessions from the weekend conference.
Orion Foxwood discussed “The River of Blood: Fairy Practice for Healing Intergenerational Ancestral Trauma”. He described the pagan movement as an ancestral movement, unearthing ancestral gods. Foxwood spoke much more poetically and graphically than usual in a college lecture. He said, “We are boats of flesh on a river of blood.” We only see entanglements and attachments. Until we cleanse the great river, we are only recycling trauma. Not only must we honor the ancestors, but we must also heal the ancestors, for we become them. Cleaning the creek honors the ancestors. Foxwood then led the conference in a powerful guided visualization on cleansing this river of blood.
Francesca Tronetti, Ph.D. spoke on “Creating a Pagan Community from Diverse Practices”. She noted that pagan communities consist of large numbers of loners. One would think that this would lead to fragmentation. This fragmentation, however, did not seem to occur. His presentation focused on why this did not happen. Tronetti argued that paganism is a creative religion. The pagans do not debate who holds the “Truth”. This pluralism of beliefs allows people to work together. Frequently, solitaries move in and out of groups and return to solitary work. The pagans are people of the Library, not of the Book.
Jeffrey Albaugh, Ph.D., discussed “The Conflict Between: Contemporary Pagans, Divine Inspiration, and Participation in Late Capitalism.” It looked more like an essay with observations than a typical academic paper with conclusions. He said that Jung considered creativity to be one of the main psychological drivers. In contrast, contemporary American capitalism has harnessed creativity to material gain. Religion has become a consumer good. Albaugh linked this concept to YouTube influencers who market paganism on the internet.
Pagans and pop culture
Film historian and journalist Heather Greene discussed “The Use of Pop Culture in Magic and Ritual.” She spoke about the growing intersection of pop culture and pagan practice. She compared the relationship of fans to their star to that of religious devotees to their god. Some pop culture media has given rise to what looks like a religion. Star Wars Jediism is perhaps the most famous. At first, fundamentalists attacked the Harry Potter books and films. Now some fundamentalists view them as telling a Christian story. Oberon Zell also used Harry Potter books and films as pagan teaching aids. Pagans frequently use pop music in rituals. Disney even produced a couple of tarot decks. Note: during Greene’s presentation, the “Chat” zoom appeared particularly lively and engaged, validating his argument.
Murtagh AnDoile spoke about “Folk Horror Revivals and Pagan Revivals: Cultural Touchstones, Interweaving Threads.” Folk Horror re-enchants the world. In doing so, however, old habits take their cruel revenge. Popular horror is based on the strange, Fortean events and urban wyrd. The latter refers to the “sense of otherness in the story”. Popular horror began in the 19th century with EA Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorn and continued into the 20th century with HP Lovecraft. Films of this genre include wicker (1973 Robin Hardy). and The village (2004, M. Night Shyamalan), among others.
Caroline Tully spoke of “imagination, creativity and ungrounded personal gnosis in contemporary pagan relations with ancient gods: the case of Hekate”. She explained how the cult of Hecate changed throughout the 1,200 years of her active worship. The cult of Hecate first appears around 700 BC. Archaeological evidence describes her as a single or triple goddess, but not as an old woman. In 425 BCE, the Athenians placed a statue of Hecate on the Athenian acropolis. In this stature, she had the form of a goddess in triplicate surrounding a column. During the Classic period, Hecate was a goddess of transitions. In Hellenistic times, she bonded with dogs. It was not until Roman times that she developed an association with the moon.
Denny Sargent spoke of “animistic-pagan werewolf cults in the ancient world”. Sargent linked werewolves to human-animal shapeshifting and the more Dionysian side of paganism. Sargent argued that among Indo-European tribes, traveling bands of warriors identified as werewolves. Herodotus reported that werewolf cults existed in his time. Mount Lykaion in Arcadia had temples dedicated to the wolves Pan and Zeus Lykaios, both werewolf gods. A wolf sucked Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. In the Roman Lupercalia ritual, the priests of the wolf god, the Luperci, would run through the streets of the city, beating people with the skin of a sacrificed animal.
Prepare for death and die
Herleena Hunt, a death midwife, spoke of the “role that imagination and creativity play in dying and dying”. She gave practical advice on preparing for death. People can leave their stories in the form of a keepsake video, heirloom letters, or treasure chests containing important items. She suggested having a home funeral. Green burials include compost burials, green caskets, and shroud burials. She called on pagans to reinvent death.
Kat Reeves spoke about “Death & Dying: Creative Transformation”. She pointed out that embalming pumps the body full of dangerous chemicals, including solvents. Burial puts these dangerous chemicals into the ground. Cleansing death transforms it from a natural process into an unnatural, losing battle for life. Currently, people tend to go to palliative care when they have a few days left. Reeves pleaded for six months in hospice to give people time to prepare and say goodbye to their loved ones.
Guy Frost spoke on the topic of “Inspiration in the Preservation of Contemporary Pagan History”. The Archive preserves and stores records of contemporary paganism for research. Individuals donate their papers and other documents to be archived. Several libraries now collect this material for use in the study of modern paganism. With digitization and the Internet, this material can be put online. Once online, these recordings can be accessed by anyone with an Internet connection. People can block certain content from going public for a set period of time. Items of interest include ephemera, receipts, notes and media as well as published and unpublished documents. Heirs may ignore or be hostile to the value of pagan material. These unwitting or hostile heirs have already sent parts of pagan history to landfills.
If anyone would like more information about donating his archive to the New Age Movements, Occultism, and Spiritualism Research Library, he should contact Guy Frost at [email protected]
The conference announced that in the future it will offer both face-to-face and zoom components. For those interested in the scientific understanding of paganism, the conference offers a unique opportunity for community and discourse.