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Contemporary Paganisms: Leadership, Legitimation and New Forms

Panel Chair: Milda Alisauskiene | Thursday, August 27, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

Contemporary paganism is religious phenomenon to be found in a majority of modern societies. In attracting scholarly interest, various networks of scholars of paganism have been established. This session organized by the Contemporary Paganisms and Alternative Spiritualities in Europe (CPASE) network has invited scholars from various academic backgrounds (psychology, sociology, anthropology) to contribute theoretical and empirical insights about recent developments within paganisms. The contributions to this session comprise interdisciplinary theoretical and empirical insights into various levels of contemporary paganisms. These include discussion of the individual processes of self-justification of Wiccans, analysis of the pagan elements within contemporary tomb piligrimage, research into the shifts within the activities of the pagan Romuva community and the relations of various pagan communities to the state.

Leon van Gulik

Contexts of discovery as contexts of justification: Negotiating historical, psychological and biographical narratives in Wicca

As expressive individualist adherents of a countercultural new religious movement, Wiccans find themselves forced to come up with well-founded arguments to legitimize both the enterprise, and their involvement. They originally held the belief that their religion was a remnant of a pre-Christian pan-European fertility cult, which went underground during the early modern period of the witch hunts. However, historical research has firmly established that such a cult never existed. The waning of this paradigm of origin coincides with an increased interest among Wiccans in psychological explanations of the religious psyche as put forward by G. C. Jung. In my paper I will discuss this process, while also giving attention how one’s biography, when used as a means of self-justification, may rely on both collective histories and the Jungian notion of a shared psychological ancestry.

Michael York

Pagan Elements of Contemporary Tomb Pilgrimage

Much of contemporary Western paganism is involved with localising the sacred as well as honouring it in specific locality. While the time-honoured practice of visiting sacred places for purposes of holiness or healing has persisted into the present, a modern transformation has occurred that has given rise to contemporary sociological understandings of a pilgrimage-religious tourism continuum. Certainly religious tourism differs from medieval pilgrimage inasmuch as the use of and/or visitation to sacred place by contemporary pagans operates through changed understandings of what constitutes the physical embodiment of sacredness. One remaining area that offers a pilgrimage-type of locus for contemporary spiritual tourism is the cemetery or resting place of the dead. Vernacular behavior of this kind I will argue is a pagan legacy that persists whether religious affiliation has become more officially Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc. or even as a religiosity that is stripped to secular humanistic fundamentals.

Milda Alisauskiene

Ancient Baltic Faith Community Romuva: From Cultural Movement to Religious Community

The paper discusses the shifts of Ancient Baltic Faith Community Romuva identity since its establishment as a countercultural movement in the late 1960s until the formation of the religious community as it is nowadays. According to data from the Lithuanian national census in 2001 and 2011 the number of adherents of Ancient Baltic Faith Community increased four times. What social and political factors influenced this increase? What is the place and role of paganism in contemporary society of Lithuania and its public life? These questions will be approached with the help of analysis of social research data both qualitative and quantitave which allows to conclude that paganism is positively valued religious minority although it is rarely considered to be a religion. The attempts to become a so called “traditional” religious community in 2001 located this community in the religious field of Lithuanian society that is dominated by the Roman Catholic Church. This event together with election of the leader of the community Krivis Jonas Trinkūnas in 2002 might be considered a symbolic boundary in the community life within the construction of its identity on the religious background.

Essi Mäkelä

Registering Liquid Religiosity – Case Study: Finland

The Finnish law states that the credentials for registering a religious community are a creed, sacred writings, or a well-established sacred basis for religious practice. This presentation discusses the process of registration from the point of view of pagan religious communities. As case studies I use the disqualified application of the Finnish Free Wicca Society and the later registered case of Karhun Kansa, a Fenno religious community. I will discuss the perceptions these groups have had on the processes. The law is vague on defining religion: it leaves more room for interpretation for the communities but also for the legislative board. Not only religious but also political and societal feelings are aroused in the process of registering groups practising fairly unknown individualistic spiritualities. The presentation will discuss why the process of registration is begun and how these communities react to the bureaucracy and opinions of the legislative boards.


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