Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Western Institute for Intercultural Studies

Observant readers may have noted a change in my blog profile, not only in the form of the addition of my photo, but also in a change in my organizational affiliation. In the past I worked through an organization called Neighboring Faiths Project, but various circumstances have come together to result in a transformation of this organization into something new. Over the last few months I have been working with a colleague, Ken Mulholland, one of the founders and former President of Salt Lake Theological Seminary, to form the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies (WIIS).

WIIS represents an expansion and revision of the work begun several years ago under the previous organization that have been transferred over to the new ministry. For some time now it has been my desire to help evangelicals and mainline Protestant Christians come to a new way of understanding the new religious movements in America and the Western world, one that shifts from viewing many of them as "cults" to a broader framework that understands them as religious or spiritual cultures or subcultures. Within this context I have been pursuing a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the new religions, and have also been reflecting on the history of Christian missions and cross-cultural missiology as sources that can inform how the story of Jesus might more appropriately be shared with those pursuing alternative spiritual pathways.

As we have expanded and revised the organization over the last several months we have seen new interest in what we are doing, new partnerships in our work, and a new project in the works.

* As mentioned in a previous post, Sacred Tribes Journal has been revived and the website expanded and greatly improved due to a partnership between WIIS and Michael Cooper and other faculty from Trinity International University. The journal is now peer reviewed, is currently seeking new submissions for future issues, and includes a Scholars Network in partnership with WIIS. In addition, a partnership between Sacred Tribes, Trinity International University, and WIIS has come together to put together a scholarly conference on new religions to be held at Trinity in October of this year. This conference represents a collection of some of the best Christian scholars and lay practitioners working in the field coming together in plenary and parallell sessions to reflect on moving the study of and response to new religions forward. As a result, it promises to present something unique in evangelical conferences on new religions.

* Not long ago we completed the website for WIIS which can be found at This website was designed by John Smulo, and we highly recommend his abilities at website and blog design. On the new website you will find many helpful features, including a description of our organization and its activities, as well as a listing of the scholars who comprise our WIIS Research Fellows, our presentations and training, and our latest project (described below).

* The first major resource produced by WIIS is called Transitions. For any number of reasons, each year large numbers of Latter-day Saints leave their church and move toward traditional Christianity. But with this migration comes many challenges, including emotional, cultural, and doctrinal issues. We are in the pre-production stages for the creation of a 10-part series that will include video segments, a facilitator's workbook, and participant guide, that will address the challenges in transitioning into traditional Christian churches and spirituality. This resource will follow in the tradition of Bridges and Grounded, two resources on Mormonism produced by Salt Lake Theological Seminary. Learn more about Transitions by visiting our website at this link.

I look forward to the continued contributions of WIIS to fresh perspectives and new resources addressing new religious movements.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Louis Markos: Pagan Mythology, and the Apollonian-Dionysian Duality

Louis Markos is a Professor in English at Houston Baptist University. He received his B.A. in English and History from Colgate University (Hamilton, NY) and his M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI). While at the University of Michigan, he specialized in British Romantic Poetry (his dissertation was on Wordsworth), Literary Theory, and the Classics. At Houston Baptist University (where he has taught since 1991), he offers courses in all three of these areas, as well as in Victorian Poetry and Prose, Seventeenth-Century Poetry and Prose, C. S. Lewis, Mythology, Epic, and Film (classics, Hitchcock, Capra, Hollywood Studios, musicals, etc.).

In the publishing arena, Dr. Markos is quite busy, and is the author of Lewis Agonistes: How C. S. Lewis can Train us to Wrestle with the Modern and Postmodern World (Broadman & Holman, 2003), and the new volume From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics (InterVarsity Press, 2007). In this book, he explores how the faith and discernment of both secular and Christian readers can be strengthened and enhanced by a vigorous interaction with the central literary masterpieces of the ancient world: Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, the Greek Tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, and Virgil's great Roman epic, the Aeneid.

The latter volume is of particular interest to me in my reflection on mythology in connection with re-enchantment in the West. Lou took some time out of his speaking schedule while he is traveling to discuss the book, and in particular, the issue of the Apollonian-Dionysian duality in religion.

Morehead's Musings: Lou, thanks for making some time to discuss your most recent book. Can you begin by sharing why you have a personal interest in classical pagan mythology, and why your book puts forward the idea that Christians can benefit from reading this material?

Louis Markos: Although there are Christians out there whose faith has been challenged and even hurt by their reading of classical pagan mythology, I have always found that my faith is strengthened by such a reading. Indeed, I feel that my early love of mythology helped lay a foundation for me that has made me a stronger and richer Christian. For me, myth does not point away from Christ, but points to him. Christ fulfilled in himself all of the Old Testament law and prophets, but he also fulfilled all the deepest yearnings of the pagan world--and many of those yearnings are recorded in their myths and in the great literary works based on those myths (the Iliad and Odyssey, the Greek tragedies, and the Aeneid).

Morehead's Musings: In the introduction to your book you reference a passage in the biblical gospel of John, chapter 12 and verses 32-36, where Jesus presents a unique and brief parable in response to Greeks seeking to talk with him. You then refer to this episode as an example of Jesus using myth to build a bridge to doctrine. Can you touch on this a little bit and why myth of the past and present is important for Christians as they seek to interact with a Western world seeking re-enchantment?

Louis Markos: When Jesus sent back a message to the Greeks in John 12, he was speaking their language (the language of the Eleusinian mysteries, rather than the language of the Old Testament), practicing a kind of cultural evangelism that needs to be practiced today as well. And it needs to be practiced not only to reach people living in other cultures but the Neo-Pagans who live among us today in the midst of our own modern culture. We need to build a bridge, to touch them in their hearts and imaginations with the power and mystery and, yes, magic of the gospel. The modern Neo-Pagan yearns for story, for a grand narrative or adventure to be a part of. We have the best story of all and we need to share it not only as doctrine but as story. I think John Eldridge has done a good job explaining this, mostly by using the modern myths of fantasy and film.

Morehead's Musings: I'd like to focus on one particular chapter in your book, chapter 15 titled "Euripides' Bacchae and Hippolytus: Apollonian versus Dionysiac." This chapter is especially interesting to me in my research. I have encountered frequent references to the Dionysian urge, whether reading commentary on horror films, to study of festivals, to an analysis of the changing religious and spiritual landscape in America and the West. I have a hint as to how you interpret the Dionysian myth in terms of unfortunate duality as exemplified in the rational/festive, and the mythos/logos (with the latter discussed by Karen Armstrong in her book on various forms of religious fundamentalisms in The Battle for God (New York: Ballentine Books, 2000). As you engage the Bacchae and Dionysian myth, how do you define the "Apollonian-Dionysian duality?"

Louis Markos: The Apollonian takes in the rational, the masculine, the western, the logical; the Apollonian is that which seeks order and balance and calm. The Dionysian (or Dionysiac to use Nietzsche's phrasing) takes up the emotional, the feminine, the eastern, the intuitive; it is that which seeks to break all confines by an almost divine madness. Apollo speaks through the dream; Dionysus (or Bacchus) through intoxication. The former embodies the 18th century age of reason and enlightenment; the latter embodies the romantic emphasis on feeling and spontaneity. The Dionysian takes us out of our body, seeking a more direct inspiration and inner light, that comes not from study and system but from direct apprehension of the divine.

Morehead's Musings: In this chapter you state that "Western thought has traditionally privileged the Apollonian over the Dionysiac." You also note that Protestant Christianity "has seen some division between the Apollonian and the Dionysiac." Can you provide us with some examples as you offer an alternative interpretation of the Dionysian myth for engagement by Christians?

Louis Markos: If I were to place Protestantism next to Catholicism, I would say the former is more Apollonian (due to its emphasis on systematic biblical study and rational doctrine) while the latter is more Dionysian (due to its emphasis on sacrament and ritual). Within Protestantism, I would say that denominations like the Baptists, Presbyterians, and Dispensationalists are more Apollonian and the Pentecostals or Charismatics are more Dionysian. The former seek knowledge by way of inductive Bible study; the latter by a more direct kind of revelation mediated through spiritual gifts like tongues and prophecy. As Christians (and especially Protestants) we need to learn from both. Rather than thinking of charismatics as drunken revelers, think of them as people who are open to a kind of positive divine madness or "possession." The Romantics understood as well that we learn through feeling and intuition as much as through careful study, reason, and logic.

Morehead's Musings: J.K. van Baalen helped popularize an idea that said that controversial religious movements at times fill a vacuum in the culture left by a deficiency in the church in praxis and doctrine. I find this idea of interest when connected to a reading of Harvey Cox in his book The Feast of Fools (Harvard University Press, 1969) where he referred to human beings as homo festivus and homo fantasia, creatures with "the capacity for festive revelry and the ability to fantasize." In my experience of Burning Man Festival, with its strong emphasis on the Dionysian through art, performance, and festival celebration, alternative cultural events like this might be understood in some sense as a response to a "festivity deficit" in American culture that has not been addressed by the church. The same might be said of the continued cultural interest in fantasy in film, television, and literature.

To connect these ideas to the church, you reference the mutuality (at least ideally) between Lent and Carnival working in union. In your opinion, why do we not see more of this union in many of the expressions of Christianity in the West as "Christ fuses within himself both the Apollonian and the Dionysiac"? What traditions within Christianity seem to do a better job at including Dionysiac elements and working toward balance?

Louis Markos: The Medieval Catholics knew better than Protestants (and modern Catholics) how to balance the feast and fast. They understood better the rhythms of the sacred year. The rational and scientific (and the Protestant) seek too often to pull us out of the cycle to some kind of removed perspective above all the noise and mess of the world (and this is a temptation that affects men more than woman, for, like the Apollonian in general, it is a masculine urge). But to seek this too exclusively is to become something of a gnostic--to ultimately deny the flesh and the real world and seek a pure, balanced abstraction. We need to take part in the dance of life, in the cycles of the world. The old Catholic festivals (like those of the Israelites) were tied mostly to a seasonal cycle, to the new life of spring, the full blossom of summer, the slow decay of autumn, and the death and burial of winter. The Apollonian, aided by modernism, would pull us out of the cycle; the Dionysian, which has postmodern elements to it, would bring us back into the cycle. Solomon was right: there is a season for all things.

Morehead's Musings: I'd like to share an excerpt from a Christian writer and ask you for comment. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart wrote the interesting volume Jesus the Holy Fool (Franklin, WI: Sheed & Ward, 1999). As she discusses the positive aspects of the Dionysian in religion she connects this with the conception of Jesus as "holy fool." She writes, "Precisely because contemporary Western Christianity has become disconnected from the Holy Foolishness of Christ and from the Dionysian elements of religion, the person of Jesus has been 'tamed' into a marketable construct far removed from the gospel Jesus or from the living Christ who can still be encountered in Third World nations." She goes on and contrasts the Dionysian Christ with the prevalent "my buddy Jesus" in much of American evangelicalism, and concludes that Christians who find this appealing would "cower in dread before the figure of a Dionysian Christ because he is too passionate, too alive, and too challenging to be attractive." This will seem fairly provocative to many, but would you have any responsive thoughts, Lou?

Louis Markos: Amen! We have sought in the Apollonian west to domesticate and tame Jesus. But Jesus, like Aslan, is not a tame lion!! He is a fierce and passionate God; C. S. Lewis calls him the divine hunter and bridegroom. He is the hound of heaven. We have lost that sense of awe and reverence when we come in the presence of the holy God. When the children first see Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, they learn for the first time that something can be both beautiful and terrible at the same time. Jesus shatters all boundaries and fills us with new wine.

Morehead's Musings: Near the end of this chapter you state that the "Apollonian and the Dionysiac must be kept in balance..." How might this be done in the church, and how might an interaction with the pagan classics of mythology help with this task?

Louis Markos: First, let us keep a balance between a firm study of and meditation on the scriptures and a worship that draws us upward toward God. Let us allow God to speak to us in many ways. Let worship not be the "warm up" to the sermon, but let it be a vital part of the service that brings us into the presence of the Lord and fills us with both emotion and wisdom. If we read the pagan classics with eyes that see, we will see that even these pre-Christian pagans yearned for God and were hungry for divine presence and meaning. We would do well to learn from their hunger. The pagan classics can also teach us to balance the two in a different way. We can study them closely to understand what they teach us about the ancient world (Apollonian), but we must also allow ourselves to enter into them and to share in their yearnings (Dionysian). God set the time for every nation, says Paul in his address atop Mars Hill (Acts 17), "so that they might reach out and yearn after him: though he is not far from any of us. For in him we live and move and have our being." To wrestle with the pagan classics is to join in the dance.

Morehead's Musings: Lou, thank you again for talking about your book, and the interesting topic of the Dionysian in religion. I hope our discussion contributes to some new reflection on it in Christian circles.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Jaroslav Pelikan and "The Need for Creeds"

A few weeks ago I came across an interesting radio program, Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett that is a part of public radio. A search on their website reveals a number of interesting topics related to an exploration of religion and spirituality. In light of the Easter celebration by Roman Catholic and Protestant Christianity this Sunday, the program is revisiting an interview from the past, one with the noted late scholar, Jaroslov Pelikan. Following is Tippett's recent discussion of this in the Speaking of Faith e-newsletter:

The Need for Creeds
"The late, great historian Jaroslav Pelikan devoted his life to exploring the modern vitality of ancient Christian doctrines and creeds — which all revolve in some sense around the Easter events of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And Pelikan believed that even modern pluralists need strong statements of belief. For Easter, which is celebrated by Western Christians this week and by Eastern Orthodox churches next month, we revisit our 2003 conversation with him.

On the Role of Creeds in Modern Society
"Every field of human endeavor has its heroes: men and women who may be relatively unknown in the wider culture, but are living legends in the worlds of their accomplishments. Jaroslav Pelikan was one of those.

"I first interviewed him at Yale a decade ago. "Jary" speaks in full paragraphs, his friends said to me. He was considered by many to be one of the great minds of the last century. He was a professor of history at Yale University for four decades and a past president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Among his many books, he wrote five epic volumes, the defining work of our time, on Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine.

"And I was fascinated when I learned that in his eighth decade, Jaroslav Pelikan had taken on another monumental topic: the history and importance of creeds in the Christian church. He collected Christian creeds from biblical times to the present and from across the globe and wrote a dense, wide-ranging historical and theological guide to accompany them. This was the first such effort since 1877, and is already hailed as the standard resource for the coming century.

"Jaroslav Pelikan understood what a difficult thing unchanging creeds can be for modern people. He knew as well as anyone that historically creeds were employed in part to consolidate power — both of church authority and of Christian empire. But he insisted on capturing a sense of the profound and positive reasons Christianity, alone among the major traditions, seemed to require creeds. The global spread of Christianity and of the translation of the Bible into now more than 2000 languages, as Pelikan described it, "is the history of how one sought in a new setting not to speak the same thing but to say the same thing."

"And creeds, he believed, also meet a deep human need — one that is not diminished but intensified by pluralism. Pluralism, he reiterates during this conversation, is not the same as relativism; the singing of a creed, in fact, is a way of indicating a universality of the faith across space and time. Pelikan's own generous sense of space and time, I think, helped him internalize the original impulse of creeds and communicate their meaning to the rest of us. Every time he recited or sang the creeds, he tangibly experienced the fact that these same words were sung in the Philippines that same morning and recited by the Emperor Justinian in the sixth century and Thomas Aquinas in the 13th and intoned by his own grandfather in the 20th century. I have been struck by the number and diversity of people who have told me over the years that this program touched them in a special way. Among them have been more than a few Unitarians, whose faith tradition was formed in part in reaction against the very idea of creeds.

"Attempts to make creeds modern and contemporary often seem to sacrifice something in depth and grace. Jaroslav Pelikan compared this, interestingly, to the language of love. We can try to be creative and unconventional but there aren't terribly many ways to say "I love you." Again and again most of us fall back on well-worn words and find that they more than suffice.

"Having noted that, in one of the most poignant moments of this program, Jaroslav Pelikan recites one of the newest creeds he discovered — a creed written by the Maasai people of Africa. In 1960, they took the bare-bones summaries the great creeds represent, and enlivened them with the vocabulary of their lives. Pelikan reads this Maasai creed, which includes mention of hyenas and safari, with reverent passion and an almost child-like delight.

"And isn't religion at heart about mystery, I had to ask Jaroslav Pelikan, that can never be captured in words? Can creeds ever be sufficient as a statement of faith? He left me with a wonderful statement of St. Augustine, who apparently struggled with this same question in his own theologizing as well. We resolve to speak of these things nevertheless, Augustine concluded — inspiring Jaroslav Pelikan centuries later — not in order to say something, but in order not to remain altogether silent.

"I am grateful to have sat with Jaroslav Pelikan during his lifetime, and to have gathered some of the language and ideas he added to our collective resources for pondering ultimate and important matters of faith and of life."

The interview is a fascinating one as Tippett asked Pelikan the difficult questions surrounding the credibility of a creedal Christianity in the post-Christendom, late modern world of the West.The interview will benefit Christians and non-Christians alike as they seek to understand Christian history and its creeds in light of the contemporary religious scene. The program can be listened to in a variety of formats, including MP3, RealAudio, and Podcast.

Monday, March 03, 2008

David Waldron and the Forthcoming Book "The Sign of the Witch"

I recently had the opportunity to review a pre-publication manuscript for The Sign of the Witch: Modernity and the Pagan Revival (Carolina Academic Press, Forthcoming 2008) by Dr. David Waldron. David is a lecturer at the University of Ballarat, and in our recent exchanges he gave me an opportunity to ask him some questions about his new book.

Morehead's Musings: David, thank you for the opportunity to review your book manuscript for The Sign of the Witch. I know this was an adaptation of your doctoral dissertation. What was it that attracted you to the subject matter and the manner in which you approached it?

David Waldron: Well at the time I had just completed my Honours dissertation on the history of Free Market economics as applied in the so-called Third World and I had delved somewhat into post-colonial discourse regarding indigenous peoples and the noble savage mythos that tends to dominate western perceptions of cultures perceived as “less advanced”. I was then grappling with the issue of indigenous representations of their own identity and the impact of tourism and western expectations. Linked to this was the folklorist tradition, beginning with Tylor and Frazer, of “primitive” cultures being cultural fossils, as it were, giving insight into our past. This also tied in with the romantic reconstruction of indigenous people as intrinsically possessing a spiritual or sublime harmonious quality in tune with nature that we feel we lack today in the industrial world. I was also looking at issues raised by Edward Said’s work in “Orientalism” and more specifically “Culture and Imperialism” and the kinds of discursive structures that dominate western representations of the east and the indigenous other.

At the time I was working on this I was having a lot to do socially with people involved in various strands of neo-paganism and I found a lot of parallels with the representations of Pagan Celtic and Gothic Europe and the Witch trials with that of indigenous peoples. Many of the same issues raised regarding questions of empirical detail vs. romantic representation, the way the past is continually reconstituted as a vehicle for dealing with social anxieties of the present and a rather ambivalent relationship to empirical history were closely related. I also found that the history of the Pagan revival was closely linked to the kinds of issues that were galvanized behind representations of indigenous peoples and the colonial experience.

Morehead's Musings: I note that your volume is pat of the Ritual Studies Monograph Series with Carolina Academic Press. What does your study bring to the consideration of contemporary ritual in religion and spirituality?

David Waldron: I think the quintessential issue, with regards to ritual in my work, is the centrality of historicity and authenticity in the legitimation and expression of ritual practice. Not just in terms of empirical accuracy and tradition but also in terms of generating a feeling of pastness through symbolism. The centrality of this sense of spiritual communion in the past as a means of creating a sense of place and identity with all the cultural significations that brings is fundamental to neo-Pagan ritual practice, indeed all religious ritual. I discuss at one point, for example, the way in which a ritual such as Beltane (or for that matter Communion or Passover) create a sense of a direct spiritual link between the present and perceived foundational moments in the movement’s past. This sense of shared tradition, culture, place and identity are fundamentally integral to the means by which people form a sense of community and shared heritage which binds these movements together. This kind of focus also brings to light the complexities and ambivalence of empirical history and the need to re-present this symbolically. These are then embedded through ritual forms that culturally generate a feeling of connectedness with the past, needed to give it its emotive and spiritual significance, whilst still remaining relevant to the very contemporary social and cultural issues that lie behind the ritual’s meaning in a present context. I think neo-Paganism, with its very explicit cultural themes of reviving long buried rituals, ideals and values of a perceived primordial past is a particularly pertinent vehicle for exploring these issues which are endemic to all religious forms.

Morehead's Musings: In the Introduction you state that the "purpose of this book is to examine the construction of Witchcraft images, histories and identities within the neo-Pagan movement." Can you share a little about your discussion in the book on this topic?

David Waldron: Well to call oneself a “Witch” or a “Pagan” or to identify with a particular stream of pre-Christian religion such Norse Paganism inherently requires a sense of an image, a symbol and a network of values as the basis for what you mean by this identity. These structures are also socially constituted in that they have a significance which is enacted symbolically with others within and exterior to your community. Further to this, these constellations of meaning are both creative and socially constituted, that is to say they organically emerge from a network of meanings which have a history and evolution all of their own.

A case in point is the image or sign of the witch. The term has a multiplicity of meanings for different sectors of society and within different religious and ideological points of view and has evolved dramatically over time. What the term, and more specifically, the symbol behind the term means today is dramatically different to its meaning during the East Anglican witch trials for example. However, while today’s structure of meanings is markedly different to its original historical interpretations it is still related and has a history we can trace through philosophical, social and cultural developments. These developments shape the way the image is utilized and appropriated as a vehicle of signification. Similarly, while today the term “Witch” means quite different things to a fundamentalist Christian to a feminist Pagan they are related and have a shared sense of meaning despite their contrasts.

Overall I came to the conclusion there are 4 categories of neo-Paganism tied to alternate means of coming to terms with historicity and legitimacy. There are eco-feminist neo-Pagans tied to a romanticist historical ideology of a repressed femininity emerging to challenge patriarchal forms of social and cultural control. There are reconstructionists who base legitimacy in notions of ethnicity, heritage and empirical reconstructions of history and folklore as well as Pagans who tie legitimacy to a specific lineage such as Gardnerian Wiccans. There are neo-Pagans who utilize a psychologised model of symbolism, such as that of C.G. Jung, to argue for the universal timeless truth of archetypal significance and, finally, there are neo-Pagans who take an eclectic approach who appropriate images from pop culture and reconstruct historicity as a text based on emotive impact.

Morehead's Musings: You also state that the "primary purpose of this book is to trace the historical and cultural patterns by which representations of Witchcraft and Paganism have been formed since the end of the witch trials of the early modern period." Can you summarize some of the ways in which Pagans have represented themselves, and by contrast, how they have been represented by others, such as Christianity?

David Waldron: This relates to a practical application of the more dense theoretical issues I was discussing in the previous question. Today, for both fundamentalist Christians and many neo-Pagans the witch is a symbol of disobedient powerful and disruptive femininity, it is manifested as a symbolic opposition to Christian values and is linked to sexual freedoms and against traditional Christo-centric patriarchal hierarchy. However while these symbolic patterns are shared between many Christians and neo-Pagans what is meant by this and its import in terms of values and ideals and potential benefit/threat is radically different. For neo-Pagans the Witch is a persecuted victim (drawing on enlightenment and romantic representations of the early modern witch trials) of an intolerant, dogmatic vicious religious hierarchy bent on solidifying control of society and the human (particularly the feminine) body. The Church, in this view is also viciously hypocritical suppressing sexuality overtly and issues like sex abuse by clergy, etc. is highlighted as an example of this sort of hypocrisy, etc.

Conversely, from a fundamentalist Christian perspective the Witch is seen as inimical to Christian values which are constituted as values positive to society such as “love thy neighbour”, family values socially appropriate sexuality between married heterosexual couples etc. Subsequently, the Witch becomes an image of depravity, family break down, ritual abuse, etc. and evil associated with the requisite demiurge of Satan. In this sense the Witch becomes an icon of contemporary political conflict within, especially, the United States but also in Western society in general between progressives and conservatives. The two meanings are essentially mirror images of each other with a contextual meaning linked to how you come to terms with broader society. There are also alternate interpretations but this particular confrontation based in contemporary social, political and cultural structures gives insight into the multiplicity of meanings given to this term.

That being said you will find a wide spectrum of interpretations particularly amongst liberal Christians and reconstructionist neo-Pagans that would range widely from this view. The key point is that the symbol or sign of the witch is a symbol associated with a system of values and representations which have multiple interpretations yet which are grounded historically and have evolved in patterns that we can trace historically.

Morehead's Musings: One of your chapters that had most appeal for me is chapter 6, "New Age Witches?: Neo-Paganism and the Sixties Counter Culture." This time period is of great interest to me not only for what it brought out in the culture and society in the 1960s themselves, but also for its continuing influences and legacy into the present in America and the Western world. What was the impact of the counter-culture on the neo-Pagan movement?

David Waldron: Well the Sixties counter culture was a wellspring and a watershed in evolution of the neo-Pagan movement. A vast array of romantic ideals linked to Paganism both within the United States and in the United Kingdom coalesced together in a multiplicity of new constructions of what Paganism meant. New ideological formulations such as the rise of feminism and leftist politics to the ideological and cultural mainstream, the impact of post-colonial discourse and the influence of idealized representations of indigenous peoples played a majour role in shaping the new directions taken by various strands of neo-Paganism. Into this mix, of course was the sexual liberation movement which integrated well with themes of sexual freedom, ritualized sexuality and the liberation of the sacred feminine that were already prominent in the occult and neo-Pagan communities. Gerald Gardner’s version of Wicca as taken up by Doreen Valiente is particularly pertinent here. Overall the cumulative effect of this change was to shift the foundation of the Pagan revival from a predominantly English movement practiced by the cultural elite and linked to ideals of a revived English Nationalism and traditional nobility/hierarchy rooted in folklore to a leftist movement aligned with indigenous peoples, environmentalism, leftist politics and feminism. That being said the traditionalist forms continued through emerging into today’s reconstructionist neo-Paganisms such as Asatru.

Morehead's Musings: You also devote a chapter to a consideration of eco-feminist neo-Paganism. How has this segment of the Pagan movement been influential not only in neo-Paganism, but also in broader streams of "the new spirituality"?

David Waldron: I think the eco-feminist branch of neo-Paganism came out of Romantic discourse which postulated the ideal of a feminine linked to nature and emotion in contrast to a patriarchal hierarchy associated with reason, order and industry. While it is a problematic (or at least a very difficult to substantiate) position when taken cross culturally or when faced with the enormous ambiguities of what it means to be male or female in a given society, it makes a great deal of common sense when taken into context with the overt sexism of much Christo-centric and enlightenment discourse of femininity in western culture and the correlate implications of this socio-politically.

Eco-feminism came, during the 1980’s and early 1990’s to predominate discussions of what it meant to be a neo-Pagan, or more specifically a Witch. As an icon of disorderly femininity set against the cultural conservatism of patriarchal Christianity combined with the powerful imagery of the Witch trials configured as a holocaust against women (another overwhelmingly powerful image), eco-feminist neo-Paganism has had a great deal of symbolic impact. This is particularly important when combined with the very overt practical needs and injustices faced by women worldwide. The New Religious Movements emerging from the well spring of the Sixties counter culture were all grappling with this issue of patriarchal conservatism and were grasping for models and symbols to evoke the kinds of values and emotions they were dealing with at that time. Eco-feminism, particularly in its neo-Pagan incarnations as sponsored by Starhawk and Szuzanna Budapest amongst others fell into this niche and played a massive role in shaping what it meant to be a “Witch” and helped create a neo-Pagan politics as it were.

In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s the influence of eco-feminist neo-Paganism has fallen considerably due to new historical interpretations of central events such as the Witch trials and more circumspect anthropological interpretations of civilizations perceived to be matri-focal. This has been exacerbated by the changing nature of contemporary society and the experience of women in general. However it has had an enormous contribution to both neo-Paganism and New Religious Movements in general. This has, of course, had a great deal of follow on influence in broader social issues associated with feminism, leftist politics and environmentalism amongst other areas.

Morehead's Musings: What do you see as the greatest strengths and challenges to "the Old Religion" in the post-modern or late modern age?

David Waldron: I think the greatest strength and weakness of neo-Paganism lies in its flexibility and anthropological basis in wide ranging but fragmented network of small groups and communities. The flexibility of neo-Paganism means that there is a wide-ranging network of approaches to society, culture and religiosity yet which share a “family resemblance” in ideology and symbolism (to borrow Wittgenstein) that allow for a deeply enriching exchange of ideas and representations. That being said this very diversity and the fundamental question of who speaks for neo-Pagans is also the source of a great deal of conflict and division. This is a phenomenon described as “Witch Wars” in Dr. Sian Reid’s wide-ranging study of conflicts in Canadian neo-Pagan communities. Similarly, the basis of neo-Paganism, anthropologically speaking, in widely disseminated small groups leads both to close knit very supportive communities and extra-ordinarily fierce social conflicts under the weight of interpersonal politics or group implosion.

Underlying both these structural issues is the impact of commodification where, as neo-Paganism becomes more mainstream and popularly represented in the media and in pop culture, ideological and cultural forms within neo-Pagan communities can become subverted by mass marketing and pop culture. Furthermore, Pagan gatherings can become inundated by people wishing to engage in the sub-culture but with little sense of community, responsibility or engagement with the broader social issues or with a sense of historical authenticity.

This is a problem faced with great difficulty and soul searching during the sixties counter culture, articulated with great insight by Jerry Rubin, for example. Relating to this experience is conflict within the movement between feminist neo-Pagans who have concerns about the ideological project becoming subverted by pop culture, traditionalist and reconstructionist neo-Pagans who fear the loss of genuine historicity to commercial nostalgia and fluffies (a slang derogatory term used to describe pop culture affiliated neo-Pagans) who are believed to be along for the pop culture ride rather than serious religious exploration of social issues or heritage. I would argue that coming to terms with the issues raised by commodification and mass marketing will be the litmus test of the longevity of the Pagan revival as it has shifted from an underground of disconnected small groups to a more mainstream religious network of movements.

Morehead Musings: David, thanks again for making me aware of your book, and for discussing it here. I think it will make a good contribution to the growing body of academic literature on Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism.