Saturday, 18 April 2020

From David Bowie to UKIP: My 2019 Roundup

The past year has been a busy one, during which I completed my PhD on the archaeological and historical evidence for the religious uses of watery places in early medieval England. It is hoped that this research will see publication in the coming years, alongside other smaller projects that I have been undertaking on the early medieval period and its reception in subsequent centuries.

2019 also saw the publication of my second book, an edited volume put together with the Israeli historian and scholar of religion Shai Feraro (who I interviewed here back in 2014). The volume is titled Magic and Witchery in the Modern West: Celebrating the Twentieth Anniversary of ‘The Triumph of the Moon’. As its title suggests, it has been put out in honour of The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, Professor Ronald Hutton’s ground-breaking work on Wiccan history that first appeared in 1999 (but which has just been re-released in a newly revised edition by Oxford University Press). Hutton has been kind enough to produce an afterword to the edited volume, which also contains chapters on modern witchcraft and related topics by Feraro, Hugh B. Urban, Helen Cornish, Jenny Butler, Sabina Magliocco, Sarah M. Pike, Léon A. van Gulik, Manon Hedenborg White, and Chas S. Clifton. My own contribution, “Navigating the Crooked Path: Andrew D. Chumbley and the Sabbatic Craft,” represents the first scholarly biography of Chumbley, an influential figure in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century occult scene and one of the foremost figures in the “Traditional Witchcraft” milieu. The book has been published by Palgrave Macmillan as part of their series on Palgrave Historical Studies in Witchcraft and Magic. Like many academic volumes, it isn’t exactly cheap, but those interested in buying a copy can keep an eye out for the publisher’s next sale.

I have also had two of my articles published in peer-reviewed journals over the past year. One of these, titled ““One Magical Movement from Kether to Malkuth”: Occultism in the Work of David Bowie,” has appeared in volume seven of Correspondences: Journal for the Study of Esotericism, an excellent open-access publication that allows anyone to read its online contents for free. The article offers the first scholarly appraisal of how Bowie drew upon forms of occultism in creating his music. As a Bowie fan, I have long been interested in this side of his oeuvre, a topic that clearly intrigues many others given the considerable amount of online speculation about it. A conference held in the summer of 2018 at Goldsmiths, University of London, “Decadence, Magic(k) and the Occult,” permitted me the opportunity to delve deeper into this subject, resulting in the Correspondences article.

The second of these two articles explores another theme that interests me, the intersections of religion, heritage, and politics. Specifically, the article focuses on the contrasting attitudes toward Christianity and Islam within the UK Independence Party (UKIP), the right-wing group whose successes at the ballot box paved the way for Brexit. Titled “Christianity, Islam, and the UK Independence Party: Religion and British Identity in the Discourse of Right-Wing Populists,” the article appears in the sixty-first volume of the Journal of Church and State, published by Oxford University Press.

I have also continued my work as a book reviewer for various journals, including Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture, and the American Academy of Religion’s Reading Religion website, on whose editorial board I continue to sit. For the latter I have reviewed books on fairies, early medieval rituals, the material evidence for counter-witchcraft, and the paranormal in popular culture over the course of 2019. All of these are available online for free, for anyone who might take an interest in such topics.

Friday, 21 December 2018

From Antinous to Traditional Witchcraft: My 2018 Roundup

Following on from my roundup of 2017 publications, I thought it time to take stock of the past year and provide a brief overview of my scholarly output over the past twelve months. With such a profusion of academic journals existing and new monographs and edited volumes appearing all the time, it can be difficult to keep up with the specific topics of one’s interest, let alone research in one’s broader field. It is certainly the case that my recent research will not be of interest to everyone, but I hope that this quick round-up might alert interested persons to certain publications of mine which might otherwise pass them by.
Two of the articles that I have had published this year have explored the boundaries between the modern Pagan milieu on the one hand and the modern Satanic and Luciferian milieu on the other. Too often these are seen as completely separate phenomena, often by practitioners with vested interests in policing their taxonomic boundaries in certain ways. In “Between the Devil and the Old Gods: Exploring the Intersection between the Pagan and Satanic Milieus,” published in the Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review, I tried to tackle this issue head on, providing three case studies that illustrate how modern religious groups can mix and match elements and strategies from both milieus. This argument will not, of course, surprise many specialists in these fields, but I thought it important to provide a specific and focused examination of this issue given that nobody had done so before.
The second article is a more refined exploration of a particular sector of the contemporary occult scene: “Traditional Witchcraft”. This is a term that has become increasingly popular among Pagans and Luciferians since the early 1990s, and has attracted commentary both from many occultists and from scholars observing the subject, among them Ronald Hutton, Helen Cornish, and myself. In “The Creation of “Traditional Witchcraft”: Pagans, Luciferians, and the Quest for Esoteric Legitimacy,” published in Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism, I provide the first full-length academic discussion of this increasingly popular term and why it has proliferated in recent decades.
My work on the modern Pagan veneration of the god Antinous – the deified boyfriend of the Roman Emperor Hadrian – has continued with a new article discussing several issues raised by the movement’s use of archaeological and historical material: “Archaeology, Historicity, and Homosexuality in the New Cultus of Antinous: Perceptions of the Past in a Contemporary Pagan Religion.” Modern Paganism brings to the fore interesting questions regarding present-day people and their relationship with the past and I hope that this article encourages others to begin thinking more about these issues as well as contributing to greater dialogues between those who study modern Paganism, reception studies, ancient history, and archaeology.  The article stems from work done for the 2014 ‘New Antiquities’ conference held at the Free University of Berlin and has appeared in a special issue of the International Journal for the Study of New Religions. It is also appearing in an edited volume arising from the conference, New Antiquities: Transformations of Ancient Religion in the New Age and Beyond, that Equinox are bringing out imminently.

Those looking for an introduction to the modern Antinous movement might be interested in the article of mine which appeared in Nova Religio back in 2016 (here), or the entry on the topic which I was asked to write for The World Religions and Spirituality Project (here). This useful website has been set up to provide overviews of a wide range of religious groups and individuals, and unlike most academic publications, access is entirely free. This year I also wrote the project’s entry on a related form of ‘Queer Paganism’, a Wiccan tradition known as The Minoan Brotherhood (here). Formulated for gay and bisexual men, the Brotherhood were founded in the 1970s and draw much of their imagery from the archaeological evidence from Bronze Age Crete.
I’ve also remained active as a book reviewer for Nova Religio, Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture, and the Reading Religion website, on whose editorial board I presently sit. Published by the American Academy of Religion, Reading Religion is a fantastic free resource that anyone could (and should) read. Over the past year I’ve reviewed books on neoshamanism, early modern witchcraft, Spiritualism, and the Crossbones ritualists for the site. I’ve also dipped into reviewing exhibitions again, in this instance the British Library’s exhibit on magic for the Material Religion journal.
2019 looks set to be a big year for me. I have several new publications scheduled to appear, including a co-edited volume, and will also be rounding off my PhD research into popular religious practices in Anglo-Saxon England. What happens then… who knows what the Fates have in store!

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Two Calls for Papers for special editions of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies

Those with a keen interest in the academic study of modern Paganism should be very familiar with The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, the foremost (and indeed, only) peer-reviewed scholarly journal devoted to the field. Always on the lookout for new submissions, The Pomegranate has recently issued a number of CfPs for special themed issues, each edited by a particular editor:

 The Impact of Traditionalism on Contemporary Magical Communities

Traditionalism is a philosophical school which has significantly impacted religious communities and political movements in the twentieth and twenty first centuries, yet it remains virtually unknown among scholars and the general public.  Yet when Steve Bannon cited Réne Guénon and Julius Evola as key influences in formulating his political positions, this inspired new interest in the history and ideas informing the growing Alt Right. However, both Guénon and Evola have been known within Pagan and occult communities for decades as esoteric theorists. Overall, the tenets of Traditionalism, which include Perennialism, the cultivation of an initiated elite, the notion of cyclical time, a past golden age and anti-modern sentiments, have increasingly impacted Pagan and occult communities, as some of these ideas are complementary to Pagan and occult aesthetics, values and practices.

This special volume of The Pomegranate would feature articles examining the ways in which Traditionalism has influenced Pagan and occult subcultures.  Topics could include:

·       Traditionalism and Pagan or esoteric publishing.

·       The intersection of Traditionalist ideas with Pagan values and ethics.

·       Neofolk music. 

·       Traditionalism and Polytheism, Reconstructionism and Heathenry.

·       Pagan and occult themes in Traditionalist theory.

·       The impact of Traditionalist debates in various orders, such as the O.T.O.

·       The impact of Traditionalism on historic individuals relevant to Paganism, for example W.B. Yeats or Kathleen Raine.

Please note that while papers may reflect the impact of Traditionalism on the Alt Right or New Right in relationship to these topics, that we would like to ensure that we focus on relevant philosophies and frameworks explicitly inspired by Traditionalism.

 If you would like to contribute to this issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies edited by Amy Hale, please submit an abstract of 300-500 words to by April 1, 2019.  Final Submissions of 5000-8000 words will be due August 1, 2019.

 Digital Pagan and Occult Practice

Potential topics may include, but are not limited to Pagan and/or Occult intersections with mobile technologies, game design, programming, hacking, social bots, trolls, sock puppets; spellcasting in OSNs (on-line social networks); on-line covens; software as spell crafting; virtual familiars, fetches, and spirit homes; blogging and Craft community ; digital spaces and virtual collectives of marginalized witches; young Millennial and GenZ Pagans in on-line spaces; Pagan generational gaps and the ‘digital divide’; digital chaos magick, both historic and contemporary; ritual magick in virtual spaces or with digital tools; challenges in the ‘Nature vs. Technology’ binary.

What is the current interplay between digital technologies and Pagan and Occult practice? Many deliberately distance their Craft from new media technologies, seeing screen-based mediation as antithetical to a nature-based practice.  Yet many Millennial and GenZ Pagans and Occultists embrace these new tools. While earlier generations of Pagans used sites like to find fellow practitioners, the rapid development of commerical on-line social networks, such as Facebook, present new avenues for Pagans and Occultists to pursue community.

 Digital spaces have created myriad new tools and opportunities for magickal practice, from Phantasmaphile’s WitchEmojis to the mass binding spell on President Donald Trump. Online magickal practices, tools, and actions leverage the power of vast social networks, making normally hidden and secretive acts highly public — sometimes as a side-effect, sometimes deliberately. Millennial and GenZ Pagans appear to use sites such as Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Reddit, and Twitter for their practice in a radically different way from older users. But is this actually the case? And if it is, are Millennial and GenZ beliefs and practices also different? Indeed, numerous blog posts on Patheos - Pagan have consider this question, with discussions ranging from ‘validity’ to a consideration of how digital natives adopt new technologies for magical practices. But are these new trends in on-line magical practice also new religions? Do Millennial and GenZ Pagans and Occultists have a different relationship to the gods and spirits and, if so, is this because of digital technology? Is there really an on-line schism between GenZ magical practitioners and older generations, or does it just appear that way on Instagram?

But these publicly available and searchable Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr feeds are only the most forward facing manifestations of Digital Paganism. What of ‘back end’ digital magick? On-line social networks are rich with (or polluted by, depending on your perspective) social bots, trolls, and sock puppets, which are software and account behaviors used to skew the appearance of popularity and therefore algorithmic rankings. Chaos magicians used software code in their operations from the 1990s onwards, yet there has been little written about this practice since the explosion of social media technologies in the last decade. MySpace, which is arguably the first widely adopted social media platform, come out in 2006; the first iPhone in 2007; the incredibly rapid development and adoption of these information technologies is astounding. It seems obvious that Pagan programmers would adopt these new technologies towards their practices, but where are they? What are they doing, and why has this become so hidden, even as so-called “aesthetic witchcraft” has become so popular? There are certainly Pagans and Occultists building divination and astrology apps, but are they also discrete apps as spells? Or are their spells entirely backend? How do digital technologies (including OSNs, video games, mobile apps, AR, and VR, and other forms) present new ways for Pagans and Occultists to Know, to Will, to Dare, and to Be Silent? What are the roles of gender, race, age, class, and global location in the adoption and manipulation of digital media technologies for the pursuit of Hidden Knowledge?

And if there is a generational schism growing between GenZ and older generations of magickal practitioners, what might this mean for the future of Paganism in an increasingly networked and connected global society?

If you are interested in contributing to this special issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies Please, email an abstract (200 – 400 words) to Heather D. Freeman ( Heather D. Freeman is Professor of Art – Digital Media at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Director/Producer of the feature documentary Familiar Shapes: The Story of Social Bots, Early Modern Witches, and How Information Technologies Reveal Them.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Folkish Heathenry and Modern Satanism: My 2017 Publications

2017 was a busy year for me as my PhD research continued apace, and unfortunately several other projects, such as this blog, fell by the wayside somewhat. However, I was able to get a few academic publications out reflect the increasing diversification of my research interests and which may interest some of those reading this blog.

The Journal of Religion in Europe published my article on “Northern Gods for Northern Folk: Racial Identity and Right-Wing Ideology among Britain’s Folkish Heathens,” itself based on a presentation given at the “Generation Hex: The Politics of Contemporary Paganism” conference held at Cambridge University in September 2015. This article was the first sustained exploration of Folkish Heathenry in Britain to be published in an academic form and hopefully offers a useful complement both to Mattias Gardell’s excellent work on Folkish Heathenry in the United States and to Robert Wallis and Jenny Blain’s research into Universalist Heathenry in Britain. I also hope that it serves as a timely reminder that although in the popular imagination modern Paganism is often stereotyped as a left-wing, ‘hippy-esque’ phenomenon, there are also modern Pagan groups of a decidedly right-wing and ethno-nationalist bent. The only way for scholars to really get to grips with modern Paganism as a contemporary milieu is to recognise this diversity of perspectives. This was my first publication to deal explicitly with the intersections of ‘religion’ and ‘politics’, a theme that I intend to pursue in further depth over coming years.

The second publication of note that I produced last year was a review essay put together for Correspondences: An Online Journal for the Academic Study of Western Esotericism, the excellent open-access journal put together by Aren Roukema, Jimmy Elwing, and (as book review editor) Egil Asprem. The review is titled “Sympathy for the Devil: A Review of Recent Publications in the Study of Satanism” and provides an overview of three good publications on the subject that have appeared in recent years. Moreover, after reviewing these tomes it also offers my own thoughts on the development of the field and some of the terminological and taxonomic issues it has thrown up.

In addition, I’ve also had the privilege of reading and reviewing a range of books for such journals as the Religious Studies Review, Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, and Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture. I’ve also brought out a couple of reviews for the Reading Religion website (of Kaarina Aitamurto’s Paganism, Traditionalism, Nationalism and Christopher Bader et al’s Paranormal America). Anyone unfamiliar with this site, which is run by the American Academy of Religion (AAR), should definitely check it out. Unlike most journals, Reading Religion makes its reviews of the latest publications in the study of religion freely available for all to read. It’s a brilliant idea which will hopefully help to make scholarly research access to a far broader audience outside of the so-called ivory tower. I have recently had the honour of having been invited to join the site’s editorial board, which is an exciting prospect. Hopefully, 2018 will prove to be as interesting and as productive.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

My Religious Studies Project Podcast and the ensuing debates

Back in June this year, Dr. Damon Lycourinos interviewed me for a podcast that has just appeared on the website of the Religious Studies Project (RSP), a fantastic site that brings together insights from a wide range of scholars studying religion. In this podcast, I offer “A Critical Introduction to the History, Beliefs, and Practices of Wiccans,” a new religious movement to which I have devoted a significant amount of scholarly attention over the past decade (and on the subject of which I have published a range of research articles and a recent book). The podcast is freely accessible and downloadable here, so I hope that you enjoy it!

The RSP has also published two written responses to my podcast interview, one from the independent scholar Race Mochridhe (here) and the other from the Reverend Dr. Patricia ‘Iolana (here). Mochridhe is a Traditionalist and ‘Iolana a Pagan and thus the pair offer significant insights into my work from their own perspectives, which obviously differ from my own secular approach. Both commentators raise some interesting issues, although I also think that they have misunderstood my arguments and theoretical approach to some extent, so I have tried to set the record straight in the Comments section. Still, its great to see a debate developing.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

The Pomegranate, Nova Religio, and Material Religion: My recent publications on the study of modern Paganism

The past few weeks have witnessed the publication of a number of my research articles (and a book review) in several peer-reviewed journals, all of which I hope will be of interest to those active within the field currently known as “Pagan studies.” They reflect my increasing diversification away from the study of modern Pagan Witchcraft and toward the study of other expressions of modern Pagan religiosity.

The first, and perhaps the most important, of these articles is titled “Theoretical, Terminological, and Taxonomic Trouble in the Academic Study of Contemporary Paganism: A Case for Reform,” and appears in the latest issue (volume 18, no 1) of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies. It outlines my concerns about the state of the field as it currently exists, and then provides some suggestions for how these problems might be dealt with; one of my major suggestions is that we should cease talking about “Pagan studies” and instead embrace “the academic study of modern Paganism.” The article caught the eye of the scholar of esotericism Egil Asprem, who kindly posted about it in a very positive manner over at his blog, Heterodoxology (here). This post subsequently resulted in an interesting debate in the blog’s comment section which contained contributions from the prominent scholar of esotericism Wouter Hanegraaff and from the scholars of Paganism Chas S. Clifton and Amy Hale.

The second article of mine to have been recently published is titled “The New Cultus of Antinous: Hadrian’s Deified Lover and Contemporary Queer Paganism.” Appearing in Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions volume 20, issue 1, this article outlines some research that I carried out into the Pagan new religious movement that has grown up in veneration of Antinous, the male lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian who was deified upon drowning in the Nile. Far less theoretically oriented than my Pomegranate paper, this article instead seeks to document a new religious community that has largely sprung up only in the last fifteen years and which thus far has evaded any sustained academic attention. Particularly interesting is that the modern veneration of Antinous represents a form of ‘Queer Paganism,’ with the majority of its practitioners being gay men who revere Antinous as “the gay god.”

My third article is on the topic of “Old Stones, New Rites: Contemporary Pagan Interactions with the Medway Megaliths,” published in Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief volume 12, issue 3. Those familiar with my work will be aware of my longstanding interest in the ways that modern Pagan and other religious communities interpret and make use of archaeological material (see for instance here and here), and this article takes that approach further by examining how the Medway Megaliths of Kent have been utilised by the area’s Pagan community. In particular I have examined how different Pagan groups approach these prominent landscape features; for certain Heathens, these are places that symbolically cement a connection to their ancestors of the blood, whereas for Druids, they cement a connection to their ancestors of the land.

For those perhaps more interested in my work on modern witchcraft and Wicca (on the subject of which I wrote my recent book, Wicca: History, Belief, and Community in Modern Pagan Witchcraft), I have also published a book review of Philip Heselton’s recent biography, Doreen Valiente: Witch, again in the latest issue of The Pomegranate. Unlike the other works cited here, this one is available to read and download for free, either from the Pomegranate website (here) or my own account (here).

My first book, Wicca: History, Belief, and Community in Modern Pagan Witchcraft, is out now
from Sussex Academic Press. It represents the first (and so far only) academically-oriented
introduction to this modern Pagan religion.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Pagan Studies, Medieval Magic, and Satanic Ritual Abuse: A Summary of Some Recent London Conferences on the Study of Esotericism and Paganism

The past month has borne witness to a number of academic workshops and conferences here in London which I suspect would be of interest to a great many of those involved in the academic study of contemporary Paganism and esotericism. Given that for most of my colleagues in these fields, particularly those living in North America and Australia, a quick trip over to Britain just isn’t feasible, here I’ll provide a brief overview of these events coupled with some of my own personal reflections on them, with the hope that doing so will help to ensure that scholars of these fields will be able to gain a better appreciation of some of the work currently being undertaken in my own little corner of the world.

Social anthropologist Jonathan Woolley talked about
methodological approaches to the study of Paganism
The first of these events was “Researching Pagans and Paganism”, held in the basement of Treadwell’s bookshop in Bloomsbury on Monday 20th June. This evening workshop consisted of two talks on the subject of how best to conduct research into contemporary Paganism(s), the first from social anthropologist Jonathan Woolley, a doctoral student at Cambridge University, and the latter from Douglas Ezzy, a sociologist from the University of Tasmania currently visiting Europe. While I cannot recall all of the details of their respective arguments, their talks dealt with such issues as how to define Paganism, the insider/outsider debate, and how to respond to the concerns raised in Markus Altena Davidsen’s 2012 critique of Pagan studies (many of these issues will be dealt with in an article of mine in the forthcoming issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, an unpublished draft of which Woolley was kind enough to cite in his talk). The two talks were followed by a panel discussion between Woolley, Ezzy, and the audience of approximately twenty attendees, most of whom were members of the Pagan community – among them a number of prominent names – but also a few of those active in the academic study of contemporary Paganism too, such as myself and Kavita Maya, a doctoral candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies. This was the first British event devoted to the academic study of Paganism since last summer’s “Generation Hex: The Politics of Contemporary Paganism” conference at Cambridge (which was co-organised by Woolley and Maya alongside Elizabeth Cruse), and hopefully reflects growing activity among the coterie of scholars of Paganism presently active within the United Kingdom. Certainly, it has been good to have a public academic discussion of the methodological and theoretical issues facing this field take place here in the UK, given that in recent years such discussions have been largely restrained to the Pagan Studies Session of the American Academy of Religions annual conference.

The upturned pentagram is the most common symbol of Satanism
Treadwell’s was subsequently involved in co-organising “UK Satanic Abuse Scare, 25 Years On”, an evening conference on the Satanic ritual abuse (SRA) hysteria that hit Britain in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Held at the London School of Economics (LSE) on Tuesday 5th July, the event was produced in conjunction with INFORM, a charity based at the LSE that is dedicated to promoting accurate knowledge about new religious movements and other alternative and/or controversial spiritual groups. The conference was divided into two halves, the first comprising academic and scholarly approaches to the subject, the second devoted to the voices of Pagan practitioners who were negatively impacted by the moral panic. Kicking off the event was a talk by the anthropologist Jean La Fontaine, whose influential (yet at times controversial) research in the early 1990s demonstrated that there was no evidence for a widespread conspiracy of Satanists involved in the ritualised abuse and murder of children (as a number of evangelical Christian groups and media outlets were then claiming). This was followed by INFORM’s Sarah Harvey and Amanda Van Eck, who delved into the charity’s archives to look at how the British public’s response to contemporary Paganism and occultism has shifted since the group’s founding in 1988, paying particular attention to the concerns generated by the SRA panic. Next up was the journalist Rosie Waterhouse of City University London, whose own research during the early 1990s helped to demonstrate and publicise the lack of hard evidence behind most accusations of SRA. She outlined her own experiences and work on the subject, also drawing parallels between the SRA panic of the late 80s/early 90s and the way in which some journalists have reported on the allegations of sexual abuse directed at various celebrities in recent years. After a brief break, the conference continued with an interesting talk from Prudence Jones, the former President of the Pagan Federation, and then Phil Hine, the former editor of Pagan News, who each described their own experiences as prominent figures within the British Pagan community during the time of the hysteria.

The event was obviously dealing with a very sensitive and contentious subject matter, and one on which many people have strong and vocal opinions. However, one thing that I thought notable about the event was that the speakers invited all fell very much on one side of the debate (i.e. they were those who strongly believe that accounts of SRA are all, or virtually all, unsubstantiated and untrue, the product of a moral panic). There are of course others who have contested this approach and argued that – while an international conspiracy of child molesting and murdering Satanists is unlikely – some of those claiming to have been the victims of ritualised abuse are accurately relating events that they have experienced. Moreover, since the late 1990s, a number of Pagans and/or occultists have been arrested and convicted of sexually abusing minors: prominent examples include Robin Angus Fletcher in Australia, Colin Batley in Wales, Redvers Barnard in Greater Manchester, and Peter Petrauske in Cornwall. Clearly, sexual abuse affects the Pagan and occult communities in much the same way that it affects many other religious and indeed secular communities. Moreover, in certain instances (in particular that of Fletcher) that abuse is carried out in a manner that religious studies scholars could perhaps categorise as being “ritualised”, with perpetrators seeking to legitimise their actions by reference to their religious beliefs. This is clearly a different phenomenon from the idea of a massive Satanic conspiracy involving mass molestations and murders, but it muddies the waters and makes the entire issue more difficult to explore, particularly in a dispassionate manner.

The Warburg Institute. Photograph by Philafrenzy, Wikimedia
Two days later, on Thursday 7th July, the Warburg Institute played host to “Magical Traditions and Medieval Religions of the Book”, a one-day workshop organised by UCL’s Sophie Page on behalf of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE). The event was designed primarily for MA and PhD students, and included a session on doctoral and early career advice (special thanks must go out to Egil Asprem and Liana Saif for their recommendations on how to secure post-doctoral funding, something of particular concern to me). However, the event also contained lectures from a number of guest speakers, including Siam Bhayro from Exeter University on his research into the Jewish Aramaic inscriptions on the so-called ‘magic bowls’ of late antique Mesopotamia, Saif on the place of magic in Medieval Islam, and Adelina Angusheva-Tihanov from the University of Manchester on Slavic amulet books from the Balkans. This was then followed by a keynote from Jean-Patrice Boudet of the University of Orleans, in which he spoke on the different ways in which magical traditions were approached in Medieval Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It was great to see how well attended the event was, particularly given that this was ESSWE’s first event to be held in London. The first of many, perhaps?

Despite being a major global hub and home to some of the world’s foremost universities, London has arguably lagged behind many other parts of the Western world when it comes to the academic study of contemporary Paganism and esotericism. Over the past few decades, the study of Western esotericism has begun to blossom in much of continental Europe while the study of Paganism has advanced in the United States, but Britain – perhaps because of its weaker institutional framework for the study of religion than many other Western nations – hasn’t quite kept up. I’m really hoping that the events which we have seen in London this summer, alongside the Cambridge conference last year, reflect that that is changing. Britain, and indeed London itself, has played a crucial role in the development of many Pagan and occult traditions, from Wicca and Druidry to Thelema and the New Age movement, and so it is only apt that this nation and this city also comes to be seen as an important centre for the study of these fascinating phenomena.