Witch at Large: Ruminations from a Grey Perspective

Seeing Paganism in terms of being a movement, explorations of our history, societal context, comparisons to other religious movements, and general Pagan culture.

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Claremont Pagan Studies Conference -- II

Day Two, Session Five, was a panel on Bringing Pagan Sensibilities into Classroom Pedagogy, and featured Zayn Kassam, Jennifer Rycenga, and Dorothea Kahena Viale. 

Jennifer Rycenga's talk, "Richard Jeffries and F.C. Happold: The Presumption of Nature's Naïveté," introduced us to the work of English nature writer and mystic Richard Jeffries.  She quoted some beautiful passages of his soul's awakening from The Story of My Heart. available online at Project Gutenberg.

Dorothea Kahena Viale described her current teaching innovations at Cal Poly-Pomona using art, movement, and rhythm in "Drumming, Dancing, Masks and Circles in the Academic Classroom"

The next panel was on the Pagan History Project, an idea that arose out of last year's conference.  Armando Marino (Murtagh anDoile) initiated this project, and he and I have discussed it in interim -- I did not attend the conference last year -- with a plan to join our resources for the enrichment of the effort.  Tagh emerges from NECTW in New England while I emerged only a few years later on the West Coast.

In Tagh's talk, "Reconsidering Magic and Witchcraft in America Before Gardner: Grandmother Stories Reconsidered, or 'Don't Throw out the Baby with the Bathwater," he spoke of the emergence of Craft in the 1950s, its flowering in the 1960s; how groups adopted such things as working in circles, watchtowers, and a divine dyad to give themselves some sort of legitimacy; and how they became progressively more secretive.  The people he spoke of were Lady Gwynne/Gwen Thompson (Phyllis Healey, d. 1986), her grandmother Ariana Porter, and the influences of Spiritualist Emma Hardinge Britten, folklorist Charles Godfrey Leland, anthropologist Margaret Murray, James George Frazer, and Aleister Crowley.  He cites the appearance of The Rede after Doreen Valiente in 1964, and also the research of Robert Mathiesen.

Sabina introduced each speaker and moderated this panel.  When it came time for my presentation, "Elders and Oldsters, Ancestors and Teachers," she gave such a glowing introduction I was stunned and surprised, especially by the applause the followed, even before I spoke.  This provided me the perfect opportunity to preface my talk by telling why and how I happened to be there that weekend.  I said I'd been invited by some of the organizers, and helped in the effort to get there, because, as they told me, they sympathized with how rootless I'd been feeling since cutting myself off from my long-time community and they wanted me to know that they, too, were one of my communities, and that they appreciated and loved me.  I was deeply touched.  You can see why this weekend was restorative and healing for me.

Sam Webster followed with "Theurgy and the Ancient Origins of Today's Pagan Religion," in which he spoke of Iamblicus, Agrippa, and the Golden Dawn; theurgy = possession, channeling, drawing down, aspecting, from the Chaldean Oracles; anagogy = ascending into "the one"; solar worship = ascending into the light); and photogogia = bathing in the light.

With all of these presentations, information I wanted to note was coming fast and furious, thus what I was able to capture is frustratingly limited.  Also, many presenters had more slides in their Power Points that time allowed, so they were forced to omit stuff and they rushed the slides along faster than note-taking could accommodate.

Part III to follow shortly.


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Aline O’Brien (M. Macha NightMare), Witch at Large, has circled with people of diverse Pagan paths throughout the U.S., and in Canada and Brazil.  Author of Witchcraft and the Web (2001) and Pagan Pride (2004), and co-author, with Starhawk, of The Pagan Book of Living and Dying (1997), Macha has also contributed to anthologies, periodicals, textbooks, and encyclopedias.  A member of the American Academy of Religion, the Marin Interfaith Council, and the Nature Religion Scholars Network, Macha also serves as a national interfaith representative for the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and on the Advisory Board of the Sacred Dying Foundation.  Having spent the last eleven years developing and teaching at Cherry Hill Seminary, the first and only seminary serving the Neopagan community, Macha now serves on its Board of Directors. An all-round Pagan webweaver, she speaks on behalf of Paganism to news media and academic researchers, and lectures at colleges, universities and seminaries. www.machanightmare.com


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