Wicca and Paganism Text

Paul Harvey

Here's an offbeat choice for a course text: Chas S. Clifton, Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America (AltaMira Press, 2007). From the book's website:

The history of any religious movement can get murky. But the history of American Paganism--with so many invented lineages, so many solitary practitioners, so much resistance to staid definition, so much hiddenness--is especially hard to decipher. But here in Her Hidden Children Chas Clifton tells many never-before-told stories of the origins of Paganism and Wicca in the United States. The people, publications, and organizations that allowed Paganism and Wicca to set roots down in American soil and become "nature religion" are revealed in delicious detail. With a timeline, glossary, and photos of important figures,Her Hidden Children is compelling and important for any student of Paganism or American Religion.

Sean McCloud, author of Divine Hierarchies, has reviewed the book for H-AMSTDY. He writes:

In seven chapters, Clifton utilizes primary source books and magazines, personal interviews, and secondary scholarly works to produce a historical narrative of Wicca's (particularly) and Paganism's (secondarily) modern births and transformations. Though not explicitly fronted in his book, Clifton's narrative suggests a persuasive three-part historical periodization. First, in the 1950s and 1960s, the American movement reflected its debt to English occultism by presenting itself as an ancient mystery craft of the British Isles. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Wicca's American branch came to view itself as an earth-based "nature religion." The decade of the 1970s saw the influential rise of American feminist Wicca, which combined with the new nature religion identity and moved back across the Atlantic to shape British Wicca and Paganism. In this manner, the small occult tradition became the rapidly growing new religious movement.

The history of alternative religious traditions is booming, including the new book by Molly McGarry on Spiritualism recently noted here on the blog, and encapsulated as well in Catharine Albanese's synthesis on America's metaphysical religions and Leigh Schmidt's recent work on American spiritualities. I wonder if this bespeaks something of a response to, or even backlash to, the dominant evangelical synthesis that has been so influential in American religious history in the last generation?


John G. Turner said…
It certainly does, in my reading. I was just reading Albanese's introduction to A Republic of Mind and Spirit, in which she specifically -- channelling Jon Butler for some assistance -- critiques this evangelical synthesis. Butler has been critiquing the evangelical synthesis (in which evangelicalism and revivalism form a "consensus" narrative of US Religious History) for some time -- Albanese expands that critique.
rjc said…
Given Albanese's work, among others', I don't think it makes sense any longer to call this stuff "alternative" religious traditions. Nature religion, metaphysical religions, etc., seem always to have been as central as evangelicalism to American religious practice, if not to "official" narratives of American religious history.
Anonymous said…
I have often wondered if we've overcooked the predominance of activist Xy in our national history. However, the best place to explore this may actually be in people who have remained irreligious or minimally religious. People who are into alternative religions are often folks who have indeed been shaped by at least the perception of Xn influence in the culture.

Alternative religionists are almost by definition outside the mainstream of society (and I say that with respect, not condescension). For example, many Wiccans around here are deeply into alternative political preferences. One of the main Wiccans in my city (a guy who was very kind to me, BTW, when our church was vandalized by pseudo-pagan punks), has a bumper sticker which reads "Get your hands of my guns." It seems to me that neo-pagans often have the oddest mixtures of far left and far right politics. I suppose many of them would be thrilled by a Paul-Gravel presidential ticket.:)
Anonymous said…
BTW, neo-pagans also have very unique views on male and female indentities. People often assume they're strong feminists, but I have found that their views are not so easily categorized.
Kelly J. Baker said…

Mattias Gardell has a fascinating book on far right pagans, in which he debunks the stereotype of all in this category as liberal. The book is called _Gods of the Blood_, and he interviews white supremacist pagans.
Anonymous said…
Thank you very much for the recommendation. I'll check it out.
B-Kelly said…
The topic of Wicca and Paganism presented itself to me recently. I was looking for a store that sold leather for a craft project, when I drove past strip mall store called Star Crafts. When I passed the mirrored front windows and entered the store I was startled to find an exotic array of crystals, herbs, books, and other arcana. The women inside were extremely helpful when I explained my mistake. In our short discussion I admitted my lack of knowledge about Wicca. The cashier filled me in on the highlights in a few minutes, but as I drove on I pondered the relationship between Wicca and mainline religion in America. Is this an example of Diana Eck's pluralistic America, or has the "Old Religion" had a longer history in our Nation?

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