Thursday, January 15, 2015

AAR Annual Meeting - III

Site of Riddu Riddu

November 2014
San Diego, CA

Day Two:  Saturday Afternoon

After lunch I duly went to the joint session of “Contemporary American Studies and Ritual Studies Groups” on “The New Animism: Ritual and Response to the Nonhuman World.”

No regrets, but to do this I had to pass on three other sections scheduled at the same time slot:
  • I    Tantric Studies Group on “Funerary Practices in Tantric Tradition,” Featuring “Saving the Unfortunate: A Tantric Rite to Rescue the Dead,” Necorliberation in Early Sakyapa Funerary Manuals,” and The Five-Element Pagoda, the Mantra of Light, and the Six Paths: Tantric Elements in Medieval Japanese Funerary Practice.”  As someone interested in both death and dying and rites of passage and other rituals, including the employment of bricolage within them,[1] I’m drawn to these types of presentation on the rare occasions they can be found. 
  • I    Religion and the Social Sciences Section, Religious Conversions Group, Secularism and Secularity Group, and Sociology of Religion Group, on “The Shifting Boundaries of the Secular, Spiritual, and Religious.” This is another area of culture that I as a Pagan feel worthy of exploration, since we seem to be expanding in numbers, and even in diversity, as well as our having a face in the interfaith/multifaith movement for social change and social justice.

The panel brought together “papers exploring the fluid, antagonistic, and overlapping boundaries of the secular, spiritual and religious…how various across draw these boundaries differently be relying on multiple understandings of the religious and the secular and by creating hybrid identities that cut across religions traditions or the secular/religious divide.”

Again, as a Pagan who has always considered her religion to call for efforts at social justice and political change, this panel called to me.

Such papers as “Switching, Mixing, and Matching: Towards an Understanding of Multireligiousness in Contemporary America” and “Qualitative Research on Spiritual but Not Religious ‘Nones’: Heterogeneous yet Conceptually Converging,” seemed that they would have addressed some of the attitudes I’ve encountered frequently in my interfaith activities. 
  • I    Body and Religion Group on “Fragmented and Digitized Bodies,” chaired by my friend Shaun Arthur, and including papers on ”The Fragmented Body: Alternative Cinematic Visions,” Discerning the Body in Cyberspace: Jaron Lanier, Merleau-Ponty, and Contested Personhood” – this seems very relevant to the presence and personalities of Paganisms online, as distinct from those in terraspace, a subject I touched in in my book Witchcraft and the Web: Creating Pagan Traditions Online   --
  • I    Native Traditions in the Americas Group on “Native Traditions, Food, and Environmental Change: Restoring Right Relationships”  “Plants and animals are an essential part of the complex relationships that are central to the religious frameworks of indigenous peoples…” From four different bioregions of North America, papers address the relationships between Native traditions, food and the environment “as expressed through sacred narratives, teachings about reciprocity, responsibility, and respect, traditional stories, ceremonies and rituals, and songs.  Climate change, human manipulation of the environment, and the loss of traditional knowledge through government intervention are some of the ways these relationships have been altered, yet found within traditional knowledge are ways to restore these relationships. …presentations explore… different yet complimentary examples of indigenous peoples turning to their religious traditions to restore right relationships with food in the face of colonial legacies and climate change.”  Here’s a list of the juicy-sounding papers in this session:  “Restoring Himdag: Traditional Ecological Knowledge and the Tohono O’odham,” “Of Coyotes and Culverts: Tribal Salmon Preservation in the Pacific Northwest,” “How Traditional Storytelling and Activities Help Make the Anishinaabeg Defenders of the Earth: A Case Study of Making Maple Syrup,” and “The Nature of Food: Dene Approaches to Caribou Hunting.”  Isn’t it obvious how appealing these talks would be to a contemporary American Pagan whose existence, like the existence of all life as we know it, depends upon right relationship with our environment and food sources?
  • I    New Religious Movements Group.  The five best paper proposals received in 2014; papers included: 

o   Massimo Introvigne on “Painting the Southern Border: New Religions, the Mexican Revolution, and the Visual Arts”;
o   Stephanie Yuhas on “The Relationship of Dark Green Religion to the Spiritual But Not Religious Movement”’ – definitely Pagan flavored.
o   Erin Prophet on “California Science Fiction, Atlantis, and New Age Apocalypticism: The Constructino and Influence of Frederick S. Oliver’s Dweller on Two Planets by Phylos the Thibetan”;
o   Shannon Trosper Schorey: “’The Internet Is Holy.  Code Is Law’: New Religions and Sacral Materiality at the Intersections of Technology and Policy”; and
o   Donald Westbrook on “’A People’s History’ of the Church of Scientology: Conclusions from Ethnographic Research in the United States.”

Here’s the session I went to:  “Contemporary American Studies and Ritual Studies Groups” on “The New Animism: Ritual and Response to the Nonhuman World.”

Ronald Grimes
Arrived to greet several Pagan scholar pals, only to see someone who’s a rock star in my world, Ronald Grimes, now retired professor of Ritual Studies.  I’ve heard him speak at past Ritual Studies Sections of the AAR.  I’ve read several of his books, and require students to read them when I have the opportunity to teach ritual theory and liturgical design.  In particular, Rite out of Place: Ritual, Media, and the Arts, and Deeply into the Bone: Re-inventing Rites of Passage.  So, feeling emboldened, I went up to him and told him I’d been worshipping him from afar for years, I loved his work, and I used it in teaching.  I actually told him he was a rock star in my world.  After all, we’re both of an age (the same age) and I have nothing to prove one way or another, so appearing like a teeny-bopper fan girl didn’t concern me.  It needn’t have anyway, because I found him to be a lovely fellow.  He immediately invited me to sit next to him during the session, which I did.  Unfortunately, I seem never to remember to take photos, so I blew the opportunity to be in a shot with him.  Oh, well…

I was disappointed that Donna Seamone was unable to present her paper, “’The Path Has a Mind of Its Own’: Eco-Agri-Pilgrimage to the Corn Maze Performance – an Exercise of Cross-Species Sociality.”

Folklorist Sabina Magliocco spoke on “Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Animal Spirits in Contemporary Pagan Religions.”

* * *

Samuel Etikpal, from the University of Oslo, spoke on “Transition Concepts in Ghanaian Festival Performance,” specifically the annual Kundum Festival, “during which diverse participants ritually express their conceptions of and wishes for a health environment, spiritual protection, and socio-economic prosperity, bringing into play those other-than-human agencies expected to uphold or oppose these goals.”

First recorded by a Dutch trader around 1704, the festival takes place in the Jomoro DistrictWith drumming, a canoe regatta, the pouring of libations, the eating of special foods, for eight days or longer the people seek to honor their ancestors and elders, and to ensure good health and abundant crops.  In rituals involving communication between humans and non-humans, they appeal for protection.  They honor a “God creator” and Mother Earth Yaba. 

Earth Mother Yaba
 Local river goddesses are also honored, for they are seen as good mothers, providing a place for swimming, an artery for traveling, and fish for eating.  Today these rivers are threatened by oil drilling -- all the more reason to employ any and all means of restoring balance and repairing damage caused by human activity.

Samuel also showed some photos of a Kundum Festival held annually in Atlanta, Georgia.  He has not attended the one in the U.S.; rather, a friend sent him these photos.  Since, he’d emphasized the rituals honoring the local river goddess in Jomoro, I asked him if the festival in Atlanta connected to the Chattahoochee River in any way, but he wasn’t certain it did and suspected it did not.

* * *

Sami Flag by Jeltz
I found fascinating Graham Harvey’s paper, “Indigenous Cultural Events, Sovereignty, and Inter-Species Relations,” about the Riddu Riđđu Festival he attended last Summer.  Held in ‘the land of the midnight sun’ at a time of year when the sun is visible round the clock, the festival, Sami in origin, is described as “an international indigenous festival, which annually takes place in Kåfjord in Norway.  The festival has programs for the whole family. The program includes worldwide indigenous music, art, theater and dance, youth camps with artistic and political workshops, children's festival, seminars, film and literature.” 

They begin with a traditional greeting:

From our rivers to your rivers,
From our mountains to your mountains,
Form our people to your people.

Riddu Riđđu does not encourage travelers from afar because it discourages anything that increases one’s carbon footprint, which air travel obviously does; they nevertheless do welcome other indigenous peoples.  This particular year Maori people from New Zealand were among the participants.

Ándy Somby yoiking
Singers perform traditional Sami joiking, a personal and evocative vocalization in which the singer “sings” or “becomes” persons, animals, and landscapes.

In semi-underground lodges and outdoors they perform rituals around speaking to the food (meat and plants) when dining.  They emphasize inter-species communication.  They ask not “What do you believe?”  Rather, they ask “What do you eat?” or “Whom do you eat?”

Just as the health of the rivers of Ghana (and elsewhere) is threatened by oil drilling, so too is the health of the rivers in the circumpolar regions.  As Earth’s atmosphere heats and glaciers melt, at temperatures of 30º F. and higher in the arctic summer, rivers flood, resulting in the inability of trout to swim upstream to reproduce because the rushing water is too strong and too cold.

More to come.

[Apologies for funky formatting.]

[1]   I realize this treads closely to cultural appropriation.  I live in a multicultural society.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting - II

Witch Riding Backwards on a Goat
November 2014
San Diego, CA

Day Two:  Saturday Morning

Saturday morning I passed on the “Plenary Panel: Release of PRRI/AAR National Survey on Religion, Values, and Climate Change,” because, although I’m interested to see how mainstream religions are now paying closer heed to our utter and complete interdependence upon other species, weather, and other planetary phenomena, and am encouraged, I decided to pass. 

Instead, I attended the Arts, Literature, and Religion Section on “Writers and Artists as Agents of Cultural Change”  “What roles, if any, do writers and artists play in processes of cultural change, and what roles does religion play in an artist’s cultural agency?  Does individual interpretive and imaginative work influence culture or merely reflect it?”

As one of the panelists said at the outset of this series, “We rarely know what we’re doing until someone else tells us.”  That is one of the roles of artists and writers as interpreters of culture as well as in their roles as agents of change – to show and tell us what our behaviors seem to be indicting.

Discussions and analyses have traditionally taken place in pubs and coffee houses.  One panelist claimed that it is in these venues where ideas are transmitted, which may account, at least in part, for my affinities for metropolitan life.  It offers more access to other minds and other perspectives.  With the exception of Emily Dickinson, all the subjects treated were social creatures, very much engaged in the society around them.

According to the presider,  Shakespeare invented the idea of human personalities as agents for social and cultural change.

Each of four panelists spoke about an individual whose life works served these functions:  painter and engraver Albrecht Dürer, poets Emily Dickinson and Allan Ginsburg, and musician and songwriter Bob Dylan.

First, and by far the most interesting to me, was Dürer, primarily because I knew so little about him.  One of the panelists remarked that she learned more about Dürer in this presentation than she’d ever known before.  I did, too.  In today’s digital world, few but art historians delve into the works of German Renaissance artists.

The Fall of Man
However, unlike today when most people (in this country, anyway) are literate, in Dürer’s time (1471-1528) literacy was uncommon.  Ideas, theories, and most significantly theology were communicated by way of imagery.  In this regard, Dürer became a transmitter of evolving early Reformation Christian theology.  For instance, he created several images of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that changed over time.  In some the subjects seemed innocently naked, in some they are shown touching, in one Adam’s arm embraces Eve’s waist. 
Expulsion from Paradise

Among the other interesting characteristics of Dürer’s art is that he embraced the new technology of etching.  This presages new digital technologies in contemporary art.  He also inserted himself and his friends into his etchings.  Although this was not a fact mentioned by the presenter, I have since found that Dürer created many images of Pagan personages such as Nemesis, Apollo, Diana, and Orpheus, and allegorical figures such as Melancholia and Death, as well as the zodiac. 
Idealistic Male and Female Figures (Adam and Eve)
Bob Dylan, who was Zen, Christian, and Jew, all advanced and exclusive of each other..  Is he “unknowable” religiously?  His evangelical turn/”conversion” occurred in the 1970s, during the Presidency of Jimmy Carter, and the rise of the Moral Majority.  Dylan was introduced to the born-again creed of a charismatic sect called the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in 1979 when he became friends with Kenn Gullicksen, one of its founders.

My experience with Vineyard Christian Fellowship locally is minimal, except that I’ve noticed they keep a tight focus on their own version of Christianity and conversion, with little involvement in wider community issues.  Regardless of his enigmatic religio-spiritual identity, there is no doubt that Bob Dylan’s artistic output has influenced contemporary society.

Allen Ginsberg, such a mensch!  From his time at Columbia University in the late 1940s, through the publication of “Howl” in the ‘50s, and up until the time of his death in 1997, Ginsberg encouraged new literary and cultural, political, sexual, and religious expression.  A Jew by birth, Ginsberg was one of the founders of the Beat Generation in San Francisco in the ‘50s, traveled to India in 1962, where he studied yoga and meditation, and later embraced Buddhism.  He is tied to Eastern religions and the counter culture, and he lived where the culture around him enabled his ideas to be heard.

The respondent to these presentations asked two questions:  Is it the religion around or the cultural icon that predominates?  Is the artist a reflection or an agent of cultural change?  I would answer “both/and.”

* * * * * 
 More to come.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

An Example of Poor Group Process

Here’s something I’ve observed that I think may be a common phenomenon within many groups of people working together.  It has to do with compatibility, honesty, and integrity.

Your group is open to anyone who wishes to join in your shared work.  There is no method by which individuals are vetted for membership.  They simply attend meetings.  Well, that’s mistake number one.  No filtering to avoid antagonists.

Due to this loose policy, enters Starflower, a sweet person with a lack of boundaries and a casual attitude towards commitment.  She may volunteer for all sorts of projects and jobs, yet it seems that as soon as she leaves a meeting, those commitments evaporate.  She cannot be counted on to do what she said she’d do.

Veteran group member Bubastis works hard at teaching and taking care of the group’s funds.  She collects the money paid for classes and events, and then pays the costs (hall rentals, etc.) and issues checks to each teacher.  She’s older and can at times be cranky, but she’s entirely standup.

Others in the group realize that Starflower is flakey.  On the back end, some are griping about her.  They don’t like her much, but, heck, this group is egalitarian and fair and open to anyone, so what are you gonna do?

However, standup Bubastis confronts Starflower about the fact that she doesn’t do what she says she’ll do.  Others appreciate this statement, but they don’t give any indication that they share Bubastis’ frustrations.  They keep quiet, stand aside, and let Bubastis do all the confronting.

Months elapse, meetings continue, all the while nearly everyone in the group disliking Starflower.  She displays her antagonism, but no one except Bubastis calls her on it.

At some point Starflower complains about the lateness of a reimbursement check from Bubastis.  Needless to say, every member of this group is a volunteer.  Bubastis has a life beyond this group, with other things that need her attention besides the group’s books.  She is timely about writing checks.  No one else has ever complained about her work.

So Bubastis confronts Starflower about her unreasonable demands and her chronic dropping of the ball.  Again, everyone else shares Bubastis’ exasperation, but in the face of this confrontation they remain mute.

This state of affairs continues, with Bubastis calling Starflower on her unreliability and the difficulty of working effectively with her.  Finally, one of those who is most annoyed with Starflower says, “You two obviously need mediation.”  So the group decides to send Bubastis and Starflower to a mediator.  They go, but nothing is resolved.  Why?  Because the problems with Starflower are not Bubastis’s problems.  The problem of Starflower is shared by the whole group.  They have merely scapegoated Bubastis in order to avoid confronting Starflower themselves.

So what happens?  Well, Bubastis throws up her hands and leaves the group.  She has not been supported.  She has been scapegoated.  And what else happens?  Starflower leaves.  Perhaps she discovered that she and the others weren’t as compatible as she’d imagined they would be.  Or perhaps she resented being sent to mediation with Bubastis.  Or perhaps her role as antagonist has now been fulfilled.  Who knows?  But whatever the reason(s), the group, in losing Bubastis, has now lost a valued member.  Not only that, but there has been unnecessary hurt inflicted upon Bubastis.  She became discouraged because she was not supported by those she’d been working with all this time.  She had proven her worth.  Evidently the rest of the group felt it was okay to sacrifice Bubastis to rid themselves of Starflower.

To me, this is a sad commentary on the health of this particular group.  Do you recognize this type of situation in your group?

Monday, December 22, 2014

American Academy of Religion 2014 Annual Meeting - I

Coast Starlight
November 2014
San Diego, CA

Day One: Friday

The Pacific Surfliner Amtrak train arrived in San Diego at 1:00 a.m. on Friday, having boarded the Coast Starlight in Emeryville at 6:10 a.m. on Thursday.  Due to confused arrangements for lodging, I had no place to stay.  Took cab to home of my niece Ally and crashed on inflatable mattress in their living room.  The good news is that I got to spend a little time with her, her spouse Lisa, and their darling little Rockwell, aged 19 months, on Friday morning.  I taught him a new word.  He was identifying animals in one of his picture books.  He liked to go “hoo, hoo” when he saw owl.  He could say something approximating “sheep,” but didn’t have sheep’s sound.  I said “baaa, baaa” in a really croaky sheep voice, and he cracked up.  Now he has another word in his vocabulary: “baaa.”  Meaning I blew off the early Friday sessions I’d planned to attend.

Ally dropped me off at a hotel where I was staying for one night, thanks to my friend Megory Anderson of the Sacred Dying Foundation.  Checked in and made my way to the colossal San Diego Convention Center, where I picked up my nametag and bag.  (Purple this year, and sturdily made.)

Feeling a bit lost in the vastness of this convention center, I headed for familiar territory and found myself at the Forum on Religion and Ecology, Yale University, annual luncheon.  I decided to stay for a while because the luncheon was headed by John Grim and Mary Evelyn Tucker; John Grim and I had participated in The Biodiversity Project[1] Spirituality Working Group[2] at a small retreat near Madison, Wisconsin, in 1999.  The first person I encountered whom I knew was Bron Taylor, headed for this luncheon.  I was fortunate to have a little time for one-on-one with Bron, when we shared optimism about the emphasis on climate change at this AAR, and considered more recent changes in radical environmental activism with the death of such notables as my friend Sequoia in 2008.  I chatted with some of the organizers for a while because we were early, and learned that one of them, a man from Vermont, has a son who is a grower in California.  You never know.

Soon we were joined by Graham Harvey, Doug Ezzy, and others.  As I listened to every person in the room -- I would guess more than 100 -- introduce her or himself and say something about where they were working (universities, graduate students, NGOs, et al.), I was pleased to hear all the references to ecology, nature, climate change, and the like.  Of course, some went on and on explaining what they were doing, and that had to be checked so there was time for everyone else to speak.  I said I was from Covenant of the Goddess and Cherry Hill Seminary, indicating that CHS was the first and only Pagan seminary and that it operated in cyberspace (green, ya know), and that I lived in a county in a metropolitan area that, thanks to some far-seeing wealthy environmental activists and not to me, is zoned 70 percent open space.

I wasn’t able to stick around for very long because I left for a tête-à-tête with a Pagan pal from Colorado before the conference got too crazy.

Here are examples of a few of Friday’s sessions that intrigued me but that I couldn’t attend.

★     Religion and Media Workshop, “The History and Materiality of Religious Circulations,” a day-long seminar “designed to foster collaborative conversation at the cutting edge of the study of religion, media, and culture…[exploring] the history and materiality of religious circulations.”

★     Dharma Academy of North America (DANAM), “Polytheology: The Vision of Plural Divinities,” featuring, among others, papers on “Conceptualizing Divinity: One, None, or Many”; “Conceptualizing the Divine: How Hindu Deities Are Presented in High School World Religions Courses in Canada”; “Devotions of Attachment and Detachment & the Myriad Divinities of Jainism”; ”When Hanuman Became a Jain: The Miraculous Story of Babosa”; “Deities, Bodhisattvas, and Buddhas: Nontheism in a Theocratic Universe.” 

For so many reasons these kinds of discussions interest me.  My fascination with Hinduism relates to my interest in having Pagans define who we are, as different religious paths and as a movement, which to my mind is similar to the diversity of people who fall under the general term “Hindu.”  Also because I have been devoted to Kali Ma for all of my Pagan life.  Further, because concepts of polytheism and monotheism (as in “we all come from the one” or “after all, we all worship the one god” – well, no, we don’t).

★    International Society for Science and Religion:  Emergence and Complexity in Science and Religion.”… “current research on the religious and philosophical significance of scientific work on questions of emergence and complexity in cosmic and biological evolution.”  As one of those kinds of Pagans who holds scientific inquiry in high regard, mainly because scientific facts are more easily defended, can be replicated, are less likely to be colored by our personal filters, I’m constantly pondering the concordance of scientific fact with religious proclamations.

★    Psychology, Culture, and Religion Group: “Panel Discussion of Lucy Bregman’s The Ecology of Spirituality: Practice and Virtues in a Post-Religious Age.”  I have no idea who Lucy Bregman is, and I suspect she’s coming from an Abrahamic perspective; nonetheless, the topic of ecology and spirituality in an age of secularity interests me.  Now that I’ve looked her up, I can see that I’d be interested in her perspectives on death and dying and on mysticism.  I’m a bit familiar with one speaker, Kelly Bulkley, have heard him speak at a local independent bookstore, and because he does dream research and is also a homie (GTU in Berkeley), and Dr. Bregman was there to respond.

★    Women’s Caucus Brown Bag Luncheon: Ecofeminism and Earth Healing, which included, among others, “What Is Ecofeminism? Memorable Ideas in an Ongoing Conversation (1972-present)”; “Indian Women and Jainism: Toward an Ecofeminist Perspective”; and “Spiritual and Transformative Connections: Women’s Stories of Ecofeminist Activism and Artistic Expression.”  I’ve been working on a 90-minute presentation on “Mother Nature Speaks” for a webinar on ecofeminism for the Emergent Studies Institute.

★    Religion and Ecology Workshop:  Religious Environmentalism and Environmental Activism.”  This was an afternoon-long workshop, at an extra charge, examining the fusion of religion and politics and politics in religious environmentalism,” considering people of “established faiths and of eclectic spirituality … engaged in environmental activism for explicitly religious or spiritual reasons.”  Well, this is many of us Pagans, isn’t it?  The workshop claimed to look at case studies, such as “civil disobedience by religious leaders over Keystone XL, interfaith reforestation efforts in Southern Africa, indigenous resistance to fracking,” progressive movements for democracy, racial and gender equality, workers’ rights, et al.  Obviously this session was one where I could have learned and shared.

Alas, I was wiped and didn’t feel really settled because I’d be changing my lodging on Saturday, so Megory and I arranged to rendezvous at our room and find a place to get a light meal.  As I was trekking my way back to our hotel, I encountered a man waving to me across the plaza.  It turned out to be Steve Wehmeyer, who’d only just arrived.  Proceeding from a big hug, we started an animated conversation.  I told him I was on my way to meet with Megory, so he walked me back to the hotel and we sat in the lobby for quite a while having a great talk.  He said some things to me that caused me to reflect upon my identity and place in the world of Pagandom.  I’m grateful for that.

Chas Clifton had told me earlier in the day that the likely gathering spot for us Pagan scholars – presuming to apply this term to myself merely because of the nature of the gathering – would be in the New Religious Movements (NRM) suite.  We referred to it as “The Pomegranate party” because so many connected with The Pom were likely to attend.  I told Steve when and where and off he went to enjoy the party, while Megory and I sought a restaurant and retired early.  Well, not too early, since this was also an opportunity for Megory and I to visit, which we did.

[1]  In the intervening 15 years, it seems that The Biodiversity Project in Madison has changed its name to Bluestem Communications.

[2]  Something I wrote when I returned:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hit Piece in Sheep’s Clothing


One Saturday when I was chatting with the Native American chaplain who sponsors our Wiccan circle at San Quentin, he handed me a book.  He’d received it from the Jewish chaplain who’d been our previous sponsor.  Wicca’s Charm: Understanding the Spiritual Hunger Behind the Rise of Modern Witchcraft and Pagan Spirituality, by Catherine Edwards Sanders.  I said I was unfamiliar with the author and had not heard anything about it, although I generally keep half an eye open for newer Pagan publications.

He casually mentioned that according to this book, and according to the chaplain who gave it to him, ostensibly for the small library we keep in the Wiccan storage locker along with our ritual supplies, Wicca was for women and had little relevance here in an all-male prison.  Not that he thought that, but that the book made that case.  He gave it to me to take home.  Book slut that I am, I took it, thinking that with all the reading material stacked around my house awaiting my attention, it would be very low priority.

As I was straightening up around the house today, I decided to make these stacks a little shorter and try to find some shelf space for the books that were lower priority on my reading list. I picked up this book and began to page through it.  First I noticed some underlining on this text:

Ironically, neo-Paganism appeals to people because it doesn’t seem to be very commercialized.  One Pagan woman told me, “People are turning to Paganism for many reasons.  The main ones are they are tried of the judgmental hypocrisy of commercialized religions and want the freedom Paganism gives.”  But as we can see at the local bookstore, on the Internet, or on our TV sets, Wiccan is far from uncommercialized…

Then the author goes on to mention Z Budapest’s kids camps that cost $325

…for four days of horseback riding, archery, swimming, and canoeing, as well as lessons in alchemy, the creating of their own magic tools, and identification of magic rocks and crystals.

Well, I ask you: where else can one find food, lodging, planned programs, and other amenities for $325 for four days?  Regardless of who’s teaching what, at the very least it costs producers money to rent facilities and feed people.

So I thought, “Gee, she’s talking about us.  Or at least about people I’m likely to know.”  So I scanned a few more pages, only to arrive at one that said:

Much like Christian preachers, neo-Pagans have joined the speaker’s [sic] circuit.  M. Macha Nightmare [sic] offers two lectures, based on her book The Pagan Book of Living and Dying, titled “Meeting Death and Grieving Loss” and “Healing Ourselves and Healing Our Community.”  The cost for both talks is $75 to $125 per person.  [Emphasis mine.]…

Are you kidding me?  First of all, those two titles the author references are to workshops, not lectures.  I don’t lecture much.  My strength, as anyone who’s ever attended one of these presentations can attest, is in getting people to think about topics that aren’t much discussed in daily conversation and get them talking.

More importantly, however, is that I’ve never gotten even close to charging that kind of money.  I’ve occasionally arrived for workshops when not one solitary soul showed up.  Hardly commercially viable, plus empty houses keep me humble.

Based on just these few quotes, I know that the rest of the book cannot be accurate and truthful.  The book is a hit piece, pure and simple. 

I note in the author’s minibio on the cover that she writes for The Washington Times, so that should tell us how biased she is.  The Times is owned by News World Communications, an international media conglomerate associated with the Unification Church.  Rev. Sun Yung Moon says that the paper is responsible to let the American people know about God” and “will become the instrument in spreading the truth about God to the world.”  Need I say more?