Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves

Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community

Sarah M. Pike
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 1
Pages: 314
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pph58
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  • Book Info
    Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves
    Book Description:

    Recent decades have seen a revival of paganism, and every summer people gather across the United States to celebrate this increasingly popular religion. Sarah Pike's engrossing ethnography is the outcome of five years attending neo-pagan festivals, interviewing participants, and sometimes taking part in their ceremonies.Earthly Bodies, Magical Selvesincorporates her personal experience and insightful scholarly work concerning ritual, sacred space, self-identity, and narrative. The result is a compelling portrait of this frequently misunderstood religious movement. Neo-paganism began emerging as a new religious movement in the late 1960s. In addition to bringing together followers for self-exploration and participation in group rituals, festivals might offer workshops on subjects such as astrology, tarot, mythology, herbal lore, and African drumming. But while they provide a sense of community for followers, Neo-Pagan festivals often provoke criticism from a variety of sources-among them conservative Christians, Native Americans, New Age spokespersons, and media representatives covering stories of rumored "Satanism" or "witchcraft."Earthly Bodies, Magical Selvesexplores larger issues in the United States regarding the postmodern self, utopian communities, cultural improvisation, and contemporary spirituality. Pike's accessible writing style and her nonsensationalistic approach do much to demystify neo-paganism and its followers.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92380-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xxiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxv-xxvi)
  6. INTRODUCTION: We Cast Our Circles Where the Earth Mother Meets the Sky Father
    (pp. 1-10)

    The carved sign on the driveway reads “Lothlorien.” This nature sanctuary amid the wooded hills and valleys of southern Indiana, a site for many Neopagan festivals, takes its name from J.R.R. Tolkien’sLord of the Rings,a popular book among Neopagans.¹ In his fantasy masterpiece, Tolkien named the enchanted land of the wise and ancient elves Lothlorien. On first encountering a Lothlorien festival in full swing, it seemed that Neopagan festivals were a feast for the senses.

    My first foray into the world of festivals was in May 1991, when I attended ELFest, an annual spring festival sponsored by the...

  7. CHAPTER ONE Driving into Faerie: Place Myths and Neopagan Festivals
    (pp. 11-40)

    During several years attending festivals, I found that Neopagans everywhere describe their festival experiences in much the same way. Each festival has unique features, but Neopagans approach all festivals as opportunities to participate in a community of others who share some of their religious beliefs and practices. In later chapters I discuss in detail distinct characteristics of particular festivals. Here, however, I explore similar ways in which the festivals—Starwood, ELFest, Wild Magick Gathering, Summerhawk, Rites of Spring, Spiral, Lumensgate, and Pagan Spirit Gathering—are imagined as places of contrast with the rest of the world.

    During ELFest 1991, I...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Shrines of Flame and Silence: Mapping the Festival Site
    (pp. 41-86)

    A group of mourning festival goers moves in a procession away from the festival field and descends a steep hill into the woods named “Faerie” on the map of Lothlorien. They follow a winding path past tiny shrines of crystals and roughly carved god and goddess figurines nestled in the roots of trees and enter Faerie through an arch of bound tree branches. They gather in a grove of maple trees, some of which have been recently felled. One of the group paints tar on a tree where a large branch has been cut off. Some of them place crystals...

  9. CHAPTER THREE The Great Evil That Is in Your Backyard: Festival Neighbors and Satanism Rumors
    (pp. 87-122)

    “Satanic Rites Held at Yellowwood Forest” reads the headline news story about a Neopagan festival in southern Indiana. “Festival neighbors and local churches fear that festival bonfires and drumming are signs of satanic sacrifice.”¹ Neighbors with “overactive imaginations” (as Neopagans put it) spread rumors of festival goers who engage in “blood letting and other acts of horror.”² For conservative Christians who fear festivals in their midst, Neopaganism is a close-to-home example of Satan’s resistance to the armies of God. But Neopagans see themselves as a misunderstood religious minority, with a “history of suppression and abuse” by “hysterical fundies” and law...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Blood That Matters: Neopagan Borrowing
    (pp. 123-154)

    At Pagan Spirit Gathering, the priestess asks hundreds of ritual participants to address their “own” deities. “Artemis!” “Kali!” “Ogun!” “Isis!” “Pan!” and “Great Spirit!” are called out from the circle of participants, as they summon their adopted gods and goddesses. At the end of the ritual, figures clothed in deerskin and feathers or masks and capes dance through the firelight and dark shadows of the woods chanting, “We are the old people, we are the new people, we are the same people, stronger than before.” At festivals, Neopagans celebrate the identities they have borrowed from ancient or non-Christian religions, such...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Children of the Devil or Gifted in Magic? The Work of Memory in Neopagan Narrative
    (pp. 155-181)

    Festivals are an arena for self-creation as well as a space for making community, a space within which festival goers define themselves in relation to the others they encounter at festivals. But the festival self is put together and expressed outside of the festival setting as well. Neopagans’ festival experiences are shaped by their pasts, and their presence at festivals is part of the larger story of their lives. When festival goers tell each other how they came to be at a festival, how they came to adopt a certain name and the ritual practices of a particular culture, or...

  12. CHAPTER SIX Serious Playing with the Self: Gender and Eroticism at the Festival Fire
    (pp. 182-218)

    “Late Saturday night is reserved for our now legendary Bonfire. Picture, if you will, hundreds of us, throbbing drums, moon and stars, whirling around a fire the size of a small house,” reads the Starwood festival program.¹ When I attended Starwood 1992, I watched festival goers dressed in dark, ankle-length capes or gauze gowns, adorned with feathers and jewelry and holding fluorescent wands, candles, and sparklers, proceed through the festival field toward the bonfire site. Dancers perform around the fire as it is carefully lit, the flames spreading slowly at first and then blazing to the accompaniment of drumming and...

  13. Conclusions: The Circle Is Open but Never Broken
    (pp. 219-226)

    Throughout this study I have raised issues concerning the creation of new selves within Neopagan festival communities, and I have argued that the most important problems of self-invention emerge at boundaries.¹ Questions about self-identity are most troubling and conflicted during boundary work because drawing boundaries necessitates defining one space against another, one community against neighboring communities, and the self in relation to ancient or marginalized cultures. At the boundaries, endless possibilities seem to exist, but so do their limits. Dancing oneself into a trance state at the festival fire or borrowing deities from an array of different cultures can open...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 227-258)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 259-272)
  16. Index
    (pp. 273-288)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-289)