Paganism integrates into modern culture, battling stereotypes

Marissa Nall

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With the guidance of guest lecturer Vivianne Crowley of Kings College in London, students explored the evolution of paganism throughout history to its modern-day practices and beliefs.

Crowley, author of the book “Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Age,” identified as Wiccan, and spoke in the USU Theater about paganism, from the first images of Madonna characters to contemporary shamanic ritual and natural religion.

“From an intellectual spirituality standpoint, it’s quite an interesting subject. While I’m not a follower of it, I think it really touches everyone in some way, whether they believe it or not because it represents the interconnectedness of us and nature in such a holistic way,” said Stephen Updyke, an anthropology major who attended the event.

Crowley gave examples of recent integration of paganism into modern culture, including the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, which featured a depiction of a phoenix and a cauldron, and the recitation of a Druid prayer.

“For modern witchcraft to be honored in this way shows a kind of mainstreaming in British culture, at least. This kind of spirituality is part of the underlying spectrum that makes up Britain today,” Crowley said. “But that doesn’t mean paganism is totally accepted.”

In their questions after the lecture, students addressed subjects like the class distinctions among pagans, the personal nature of the various labels within it and the struggle many pagans have faced with stereotyping.

“As with any stereotyping of the constructed ‘other,’ it’s most relevant to those that are in that group,” Updyke said. “I’ve followed these kinds of things my whole life; always kind of accepting minority religions and philosophies. So I’m surprised to see it progress this far.”

Others were able to relate it to their own religious experiences, despite not practicing modern paganism.

“It was interesting to hear about the negative responses people get because I think everybody gets some negative responses about their religion so I think everybody can relate,” said Jacque Sanchez, a psychology major who attended as part of her anthropology class.

Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Kimberly Kirner, said that the lecture underscored some of her own experiences with the various sects of the religion.

“We have a growing trend of Reconstructionist and I think one part of that is differentiating from Wicca and other forms that have been diluted by the media,” said Kirner. “A lot of that depends on the person though.”

Paganism is highly based on the individual, depending on their needs and how they interpret the teachings, and a large portion of pagans identify as eclectic, rather than conforming to one set of beliefs, according to Kirner.

“It’s taking a lot of bits and pieces and then creatively running with it. And there’s no restraint on that because there’s no centralized authority,” said Kirner.