Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America (Contemporary Ethnography)

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Find a copy in the library Finding libraries that hold this item Reviews Editorial reviews. Publisher Synopsis "Magliocco impressively corrals the diverse writings and experiences of U. User-contributed reviews Add a review and share your thoughts with other readers. Be the first. Add a review and share your thoughts with other readers. Folklore -- United States. Magliocco offers a detailed historical analysis and examines influences found all the way back to classical traditions. She concludes this analysis by bringing her reader back to the contemporary and offers us insight into how both the fields of anthropology and folklore have helped shape Neo-Paganism into what it has become today.

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Magliocco tells us that without the folklorist's revival into the idea of witchcraft and with them clarifying ideas such as "the concept of witchcraft as a religion of peasant resistance" 46 and the idea "of witchcraft as an ancient pagan fertility cult" 47 , Neo-Paganism would not have the depth it has today. Similarly, the study of ritual and the anthropological study of survivalism have also contributed to the religions of Neo-Paganism.

Survivalism tells of the emphasis placed on "all rites as an expression of fertility and regeneration" Although this is the main idea behind her work, Magliocco also gives the readers highlights of her own ethnography into Neo-Pagan cults throughout America. Since Neo-Paganism isn't an isolated community, Magliocco's field work brought her to many different cults across America.

One particular cult she focuses on, however, is a coven in Berkeley, California. The coven in Berkeley illustrates how easy it was for Magliocco to make the transition into Neo-Pagan cults.

A Look At Neo-Paganism Through Ethnography :: Witches America Neo-Paganism Ethnography

Luhrmann in her Persuasions of the Witches' Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England , in which she focused on both a Wiccan coven and several ceremonial magic orders that were then operating in London. Magliocco became interested in Paganism in the mids, intending to explore "the confluence of ritual, festival, gender and politics — the subject of my earlier research in Italy — in a new context".

Initially she was interested in Paganism as a "folk revival, in issues surrounding the use of folklore from academic sources, cultural appropriation, and the construction of authenticity in the invention of rituals" rather than in any actual spiritual capacity.

Witching Culture Folklore and Neo Paganism in America Contemporary Ethnography

It was at the conference that she took part in a ritual led by members of the Reclaiming Wiccan tradition, later characterizing it as "my first powerfully affecting ritual experience in a Neo-Pagan context". Magliocco had initially intended to conduct a long-term period of fieldwork among a single Pagan group, with a focus on understanding their "dynamics of ritual creation", but ultimately was unable to do this; from through to , she held a series of temporary academic appointments at universities across the United States, preventing her from staying in one area for any lengthy period of time and studying any one particular group there.

It was through Trennan that she was introduced to many other members of the Pagan community, including to a local Gardnerian Wiccan coven. In , she moved into a "small rental house" in the Berkeley Flats along a line of houses that were nicknamed "Witch Row" a fact that she was unaware of at the time , and it was here that she befriended further members of the Pagan community; her neighbors were elders in the Fellowship of the Spiral Path, while another neighboring house was the home of Judy Foster, a founding member of the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn.

A Look At Neo-Paganism Through Ethnography

Several streets away lived Don Frew and Anna Korn, the high priest and high priestess of a Gardnerian group known as the Coven Trismegiston. In her introduction, "The Ethnography of Magic and the Magic of Ethnography", Magliocco discusses how she first became involved with the Pagan movement, and includes extracts from the field notes that she made at the time. Going on to lay out the objectives of the book, Magliocco discusses the history of Wicca , and the influence that early anthropologists like Edward Taylor and James Frazer had on it as a burgeoning movement.


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Proceeding to discuss the pre-existing academic studies of the Pagan movement, she explains her own approach to the subject and how it differs from those of her predecessors, in particular focusing on her own spiritual experiences and altered states of consciousness that she experienced while taking part in Pagan ritual and her insider-outsider perspective on the Pagan movement.

Chapter one, "The Study of Folklore and the Reclamation of Paganism", offers a historical introduction to Contemporary Paganism, looking at its roots in the Classical World of Greece and Rome, and then the successive influences of Neoplatonism , Renaissance magic, the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment. Magliocco then looks at the influence that 18th and 19th century folkloristics and anthropology had on the Romanticists and then Pagan movement, in particular the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau , the Brothers Grimm and Sir James Frazer.

Proceeding to look at this relationship, she highlights the work of Charles Leland , Margaret Murray and Gerald Gardner , who drew from folklore in their own books, all of which heavily influenced modern Paganism. Magliocco argues that Contemporary Paganism can be viewed as a "folk tradition" on two levels; firstly, because it continues to work with and propagate the spiritual traditions of western esotericism , and secondly, because it acts as a form of "resistance culture" in opposition to dominant trends in western culture.

Finally, she borrows the concept of "textual poachers" from the French sociologist Michel de Certeau , arguing that the Pagan community fit this model well, collating elements from a wide variety of sources and composing them into something new, in this case a religious movement. Chapter two, "Boundaries and Borders: Imagining Community", opens with a discussion of how Pagans distinguish themselves from one another and from the wider society around them, before delving into the idea that folklore is vital to Pagan "group formation".

Magliocco goes on to describe the Pagan community, with a particular emphasis on those in the United States, dealing with such subjects as ethnicity, education, gender and sexual orientation.

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Moving on to look at how Pagans forge their own identities, she highlights factors such as costume and use of language, and whether such Pagan coding is explicit, complicit or implicit. Magliocco discusses the various different Pagan traditions, and the community division between those who call themselves "witches" and those who do not. She then rounds off the chapter with a discussion of the anthropological fieldwork that she undertook among the San Francisco Bay Area Pagan community between and , the Coven Trismegiston that she worked with, and the local Gardnerian , Reclaiming and NROOGD traditions that she encountered there.

The third chapter, "Making Magic: Training the Imagination", begins with Magliocco's assertion that the unifying feature of the Pagan movement is the ritual experiences that its practitioners undertake. Devoting the rest of the chapter to an examination of how Pagans "conceive of and practice magic", she argues that they do not do so in order to escape rationality , but rather they adopt a belief in magic in order to reclaim "traditional ways of knowing that privilege the imagination".

Noting that within Paganism, artists are viewed as magicians, she suggests that magic should itself viewed as an art, with both having the goal of bringing about emotional reactions and changes of consciousness. Exploring the various different definitions of "magic" developed within anthropology, Magliocco notes that most contemporary North Americans equate "magic" with superstition and irrational behavior. She then looks at Pagan understandings of magic, highlighting that Pagans typically try to rationalize magic, viewing it as an energy force in an interconnected universe, one that must obey natural laws, rather than as some un-explainable " supernatural " force.

Moving on, Magliocco discusses the Pagan concept of a sacred universe, looking at the veneration of the natural world and the celebration of seasonal Sabbats , and the relevance that that has for Pagan magical beliefs. Exploring Pagan ethics surrounding the practice of magic, in particular the Wiccan Rede and the Law of Threefold Return , Magliocco also studies the manner in which Pagans have re-adopted vernacular magic as a part of their religious practices.

In undertaking her fieldwork, Magliocco discussed whether she took an "outsider" perspective, thereby being objective about those whom she was researching, or whether she had adopted an "insider" perspective, thereby being subjective in her views of Pagans and Paganism. In this position, Magliocco was in agreement with Jone Salomonsen, the feminist theologian and ethnographer who had performed fieldwork among the Reclaiming Witches of San Francisco in order to gain research for her book Enchanted Feminism Engagement is more than participation, and something other than pretending.

To allow oneself to become engaged is to take the ritual seriously.

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It is [being] willing to let the trance induction take you into trance, to be willing to be emotionally moved as is intended by certain ritual elements, and [to] go with what happens. Magliocco also saw herself as an insider because she allowed herself to experience the altered states of consciousness that contemporary Pagan rituals are reported to induce.

As she stated, "I take an experiential approach to the extraordinary experiences" that occur in ritual, and that the "essence of this approach is twofold". The first part of this involved the "conscious, willing, and full participation in ritual experiences intended to induce alternate states of consciousness, and the interpretation of visions and dreams" as different ways of interpreting life.


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The second part of this "mandates that I consider informants' experiences seriously" when they discuss altered states of consciousness. Magliocco highlighted the work of the anthropologists David Young and Jean-Guy Goulet in their Being Changed: The Anthropology of Extraordinary Experience , who had argued that spiritual experiences were relatively common among anthropologists, but that most of those working in the discipline fail to speak publicly about their experiences because of a fear of "ridicule and ostracism" by their peers. Lewis, Lewis described the work as "the best survey to date" of modern Paganism, "particularly if the focus of one's interest is North American Paganism".

In his opinion, Witching Culture "breaks important new ground in Pagan Studies. In fact, I anticipate that in the near future it will come to be regarded as a groundbreaking book—one to which all future studies of Paganism will refer. Ultimately, Lewis remarked that "I can heartily recommend this book as a 'must read' for anyone in this field, whether academic observers or reflective participants. In her review for the Folklore journal, the English folklorist Jacqueline Simpson described Witching Culture as offering a "fascinating analysis" of how U.

Pagans have "adopted and adapted elements of European folk practice to fit the Gardnerian framework of their rituals and spells". Ultimately, she characterised the work as being "a very informative and well-researched study, and a most interesting read".



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