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Interdisciplinary Paganism?

This post was written by Elysia
on March 8, 2010 | Comments (3)

Last month I was able to attend two wonderful conferences: PantheaCon and ConVocation. Now, I don’t know about you, dear reader, but these events get me high as a kite. And by that, I mean spiritually and mentally high – not a drug or alcohol high. That’s one of the reasons Pagans love going to festivals. It’s such a great chance to reconnect, learn, and let your spirit soar. It leaves you with warm fuzzies for days afterwards.

At both conferences I came away with a major theme in my brain, and in this post I’d like to share with you the meaning of PantheaCon for me this year: reconnecting the tribes. PantheaCon’s official theme was “Back to Basics” this time but I think there’s a different way to frame that. It’s not about learning the basics all over again – it’s about advanced practitioners regrouping and retracing their steps with other advanced practitioners who have walked another path. Comparing notes. Exchanging information. Engaging in discussion.

An example of one such discussion: Taylor and Lupa hosted an Immanion Author Panel  titled simply “What Next?” In it, the conversation quickly turned to why there are so few advanced books, and how people develop on their paths in the absence of such upper level books. Many of the folks on the panel said they were looking for more specific information than what was available at the time (in the case of Lupa, for example, on animal magic and totemism; for Erynn Laurie, authentic Celtic practices; for Tony Mierzwicki, authentic Greco-Egyptian magic; etc.) and, not finding what they were looking for, had to devote years of research and experimentation to inform themselves. Of course this always ends with them writing the book they wish had been available when they first started out.

This is a topic that was already on my mind before PantheaCon, and my opinion is that everyone starts at point A; some move on to point B; and then a few, because of divine intervention or their guides or their own tastes and proclivities and lifestyle, shoot off onto an ultra-individualistic tangent. (This is not point C, but more like point N – an infinite number of individual paths are out there, just waiting to be claimed.)

The bright and motivated authors on stage were definitely part of that last group, and in my opinion, any one of them would have forged their own paths even if their books had been available to them at the time – simply because for some people, the journey and the process of discovery is a major part of how they both learn and integrate new material into their own lives. They may not even trust what is printed in books and need to experience things for themselves to progress. Not everyone is like this of course; many people are content to stay at point A or point B, to read books about topics that interest them and learn from others, rather than striking out and pioneering new territory on their own. Or they find their own ground but then keep it to themselves as their own custom-made, tailor-fit practice.

The problem with forging new territory and then writing books about it is that, in some cases, it has become so personal by that point that fewer people can either relate to it or are even interested in it in the first place. This is the main reason Llewellyn doesn’t do many very advanced, nichey books; for Immanion authors, it’s fine to sell hundreds of books whereas at Llewellyn we need to sell thousands to break even. So now there are tons of micro-presses that print their own materials for these ultra-individualistic paths and niches. In addition to Immanion Press, for example, Raven Kaldera publishes advanced Norse shamanistic books through his own Asphodel Press; Neos Alexandria publishes the Bibliotheca Alexandrina book series on the Greek deities; David Rankine and Sorita D’Este run Avalonia Books for advanced witchcraft and magic materials, and so on and so on.

angel langBy contrast, when I acquire advanced books for Llewellyn, I try to ensure they are not overly nichey in topic; what makes them advanced is the sheer amount of serious research poured into them; how seriously the topics are taken; and the advanced skills that are taught within their pages. For example, The Angelical Language volumes 1 & 2 are books that can be used by any serious magician interested in Enochian magic (or any linguists interested in created languages); yet they are definitely advanced because Aaron Leitch has been working on them for years and so have I! (I first got his manuscripts in 2006, the editor started editing the books last October, and finally last week we sent them to the printer. They are May releases.) What he has achieved truly constitutes a huge step forward in Enochian studies. Similarly, another forthcoming book, The Dictionary of Demons by Michelle Belanger (the book is not yet listed on our website), is possibly the most-templeresearched book on the demons named in medieval European grimoires that has ever been or will ever be written. Yet it’s accessible to anyone, no matter where their interest in demons leans – invoking them or exorcising them. And Christopher Penczak’s very advanced books on witchcraft, The Living Temple of Witchcraft volumes 1 & 2 teach advanced skills, but are accessible to a very broad range of Pagan and Wiccan High Priests and Priestesses. (I’m biased of course, but I think these books could be used by future elders of virtually any path.) I could name plenty of other books in this vein, as well as the occasional books we publish that truly are nichey.

In my opinion, what really needs to happen in the Pagan community is for everyone to reconnect their separate threads. Come back from the long journeys to inner space and compare notes with others. Like: this is what’s working for me on a higher level with Odin, what is happening with you and Osiris, or with you and dreamwork, or with you and group dynamics? There is a need for this upper level cross-pollination so that people can go back to their own traditions and try something new, perhaps learn a new technique, or perhaps see the pervasive similarities that crop up and attempt to address them. Perhaps they’ll learn how better to deal with politics and in-fighting, power struggles and other issues within their own traditions when they see how others have dealt with it. Perhaps they’ll get a new idea of where they stand and what the next step is in their own path.

When I was later flying back to Minnesota after PantheaCon I bought a Scientific American magazine to “ground” myself after the intense immersion in spiritual realms over the weekend. And it turns out there is a similar dynamic to be seen in the scientific community: individuals specialize in extremely tiny niches and from that point onward seem to have no clue of what is going on in other disciplines around them. They may have infighting amongst themselves, but rarely look outside of their own discipline. For example, one article in the magazine enthusiastically spoke of an imagined future in which advanced biotechnology could allow us to design new living systems, like microbes that could produce non-biodegradable plastic building materials. This, in a scientific magazine! As if we needed more non-biodegradable plastics on the planet! What rock is this guy living under? Meanwhile the next article was about saving the environment from pollutants (such as plastic). A pro-plastic article followed by anti-plastic one? And yes, that’s the answer, it’s exactly that. The Scientific American is a multi-disciplinary magazine covering several branches of science. In reading a magazine like this, the unbridled enthusiasm about plastic in one article can be held in check by other scientists with differing viewpoints. While it would certainly be exciting to derive plastic from non-petroleum sources, there is still the problem of plastic itself. We do need plastic for a variety of reasons, but the counterpoints would urge us to slow down, inspect the alternatives, come together to form a better plastic (or better uses of plastic) so that we don’t kill the oceans entirely. (In other words, scrap the idea about a microbe that produces plastic – create one that eats the plastic that is currently degrading all aquatic life in the Pacific.)

Just as there must be cross-disciplinary meetings in science so that effective communication actually takes place between different branches, we need cross-disciplinary meetings in Paganism. This is one of the best reasons for attending PantheaCon, in my opinion. It allows us to cross-pollinate. Compare notes. Bring together the tribes. Engage in interdisciplinary Paganism.

So those are my thoughts after PantheaCon. Please feel free to comment – do you agree, disagree? Do you ever return to point A or point B with people who have ventured on to other paths and compare notes with them? Do you always find new points of view and nuggets of wisdom when you go to big Pagan meet-ups and festivals? How can we bring all these separate individuals back into some kind of umbrella to reconnect, especially once they’ve all found their own paths of value?

Reader Comments

Written By Tony Mierzwicki
on March 8th, 2010 @ 4:06 pm

Hi Elysia,

Thanks for this thought provoking post.

It certainly is true that for advanced specialized texts there is a market apart from those who people who wish to embrace these texts in their entirety. Authentic reconstructionist material gets snapped up by teaching covens wishing to explore different pantheons. However, the people who really reap the benefits of advanced specialized texts are the many eclectic solitaries who have so much more material to pick and choose from in crafting their personal paths than was available just a few decades ago.

The many small publishing companies out there are performing a wonderful service in bringing in so many spiritual modalities to the attention of the public – one area which is really taking off is Fam-Trad and folk magick [such as that coming out through Pendraig Publishing]. Perhaps in the future mainstream publishers will be looking at blendings of these new and newly discovered spiritual modalities? Until then, this really is an exciting time to be eclectic.

I really like your idea of cross-disciplinary meetings in Paganism. Recent events have made it obvious that it is very important for pagans to come under the one umbrella so as to be a force to be reckoned with, as we stand to lose what few rights we have . Focusing on our similarities, rather than our differences, is an excellent way to start.


Written By Deborah Blake
on March 8th, 2010 @ 9:01 pm

I agree whole-heartedly (and I use that term on purpose). I came away from Pcon with much the same theme. And I’ve been an advocate for years of inclusiveness rather than excluding (my paganism is better than your paganism). Well said–and so mote it be!

Written By Susan Amashell
on March 19th, 2010 @ 1:44 pm

I just want to say it is refreshing to see this article. I found it searching for material on Sorita d’Este and David Rankine whose work I respect very highly and follow closely, I am excited to see them mentioned in this article as it deserves recognition.

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