Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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An Open Letter to William G. Dever

Dear Dr. Dever,

Firstly, a word of thanks and appreciation for your work over the years, and in particular for Did God Have A Wife? To speak only for myself, the book has shaped my own thought and understanding of my ancestral traditions, and for this you have my deep and lasting gratitude.

Anent Wife, though, I would like to point out to you an irony which I suspect has heretofore escaped your attention. To this not-altogether-objective reader, it is striking how closely your denunciations of the excesses of contemporary Goddess worship and feminist spirituality—which is, in fact, modern folk religion—resemble the Deuteronomic and Priestly hostility toward the folk religion of their own time. I find it curious that, from the position of your own academic orthodoxy, your sympathy for folk—and in particular, women’s—religion apparently extends to ancient women, but not to your contemporaries. Plus ça change….

 It may interest you to know that your writings are, as I write this, both inspiring and influencing the development and direction of the very movements that you denounce. One wonders what the eventual outcome may be.

Savoring the irony,

Steven W. Posch


William G. Dever is Professor Emeritus of Archeology and Anthropology at the University of Arizona. His book Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Eerdmans 2005) examines the evidence for the worship of the Hebrew Goddess Ashera. (Short answer to the title question: Yes. My friend and colleague Stephanie Fox, however, suggests that “The real operative question here is: Does Ashera have a Husband?”)






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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ Monday, 24 February 2014

    Thanks for that Steven. I knew Dever quoted me in his book from a student, but I did not know he treated the Goddess movement negatively. Did she fail to notice that? Can you give us some examples? This is as you say, par for the course from patriarchal and Christian-hegemonic academia, but I had hoped for the better.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 25 February 2014

    Dever's comments about contemporary Goddess worship mostly consist of snippy little asides; they certainly don't amount to a considered critique. I've returned the book to the library (my overall estimate: worth reading, but not worth buying), so I can't provide any specifics at the moment, but they'll be forthcoming in the future.

    Having followed Dever's work over the years (Bronze Age Syro-Palestine is my field), I have to say that I actually rather like him. I'd hesitate to attribute any real malevolent intent here; it strikes me as being more a case of intellectual disconnect.

    And even if he does hate us, his work still furthers what we do. Bwa ha ha.

  • Mariah Sheehy
    Mariah Sheehy Monday, 24 February 2014

    That's a shame. Though there are certainly valid critiques to be made of Goddess/feminist spirituality, I think it best if they were made internally. "Did God Have a Wife" has been on my (long) reading list for a long time, though I did read The Hebrew Goddess by Raphael Patai during college and that was excellent.

    Also have you read/do you have an opinion about In the Wake of the Goddesses by Tikva Frymer-Kensky? In it she makes claims that the rise of monotheism led to better status for women. I haven't read it, but I took a gander once and she seemed to be responding to feminists who were "straying" into Goddess worship.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 25 February 2014

    My thoroughly un-nuanced reading of Frymer-Kensky is that she's an ideologue with a monotheist ax to grind, whose work is academically outdated; no one in the field still talks seriously about "fertility cults" or "cultic prostitutes" any more.

    Personally, I have no stake in claiming that pre-monotheist cultures were perfect. My impression is that all worldviews carry their own inherent inequities, injustices, and flaws, our own included. I'm not averse to listening to outsider critique, but like you I feel there's more to be learned from a healthy and vigorous internal critique. A culture incapable of internal critique is ultimately an unsustainable culture. Ah, if only we could learn to keep it from deteriorating into the personal!

  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ Thursday, 27 February 2014

    I completely agree with your comments on Frymer-Kensky. I would have called her an apologist for the superiority of Hebrew monotheism. Sadly, she is still being quoted in the field of Religious Studies and her overall view is still widely held, I fear.

    I think the idea that some of us do not find Hebrew monotheism to be superior in every way sticks in the craw of many scholars and incites attacks of Goddess feminism or other forms of contemporary paganism. Dever's snippiness could be a way of currying favor with his colleagues.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Thursday, 27 February 2014

    I've long been mystified by academia's general disinterest in the new pagan religions. As a historian of religion myself, I would think that a worldwide movement of several million people with a notable presence in media and popular culture would be eminently worthy of study (especially considering how many dissertations and articles were churned out on new religions like Hare Krishna, which never seriously engaged more than a few thousand people). So far as I can tell, the overwhelming majority of academic study of the new paganisms is being done by pagan academics themselves: Tim Hutton, Sabina Magliocco, Murphy Pizza, Adrian Ivakhiv, not to mention yourself. Currently, thank Goddess, we're seeing the rise of a non-academic new pagan historiography, noteworthy among which was Michael Lloyd's [i]Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan [/i](2012), which is really the first history of a local pagan community.

    Some day academia will figure out that we're worthy of study. When they do, they'll find that we've already done most of the work ourselves.

    “Department of Pagan Studies.” May we live to see it.

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