Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America

Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America

Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America

Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America


Reveals how the disciplines of anthropology and folklore were fundamental to the early development of Neo-Paganism and the revival of witchcraft. The author examines the roots that this religious movement has in a Western spiritual tradition of mysticism disavowed by the Enlightenment.


In February of 1995, at the first Pantheacon, a conference of Pagans and academics in San Jose, California, I attended my first Reclaiming ritual and had my first powerfully affecting ritual experience in a Neo-Pagan context. Pantheacon 1995 became a turning point in my field research; the ritual was for me the beginning of a new understanding of the movement I was studying. In my field notes, I attempted to capture the intensity of the experience I had.

Field notes, February 17, 1995

The ritual starts late, like most Pagan events. About a hundred people are gathered in a large conference ballroom in a San Jose hotel; chairs are arranged all around the walls and people sit, some uneasily, some talking in groups, some laughing or gossiping. Starhawk, a plump, middle-aged woman in a loose print dress, leggings, and incongruous red ankle socks, stands near the room’s center, where a pile of scarves has been placed. She tests the sound system, confers with others, finally begins to call the rag-tag assembly to order and explain the purpose of the ritual: to find what is most sacred to us, what we most deeply value.

She begins by asking us to imagine that we are trees rooted in the soil, our roots reaching deep into the earth’s molten core, our branches drawing down the moon’s shining light, cool silvery energy meeting hot, fiery energy in our beings. When we are all grounded and centered, the quarters are called, and then she calls the goddess as Brigid and the God as the greening god, the Green Man, “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower” (Thomas, 1957:10), calling him through redwood, oak, artichoke, zucchini, and garlic into our midst—“Greening god, redwood god; / Greening god, artichoke god …”—while she drums and we sway and dance. Some take up scarves from the center and dance around us, waving them. One smiling young man comes toward me waving a scarf and we dance awhile, twirling and twisting to the drumming and chants. Finally our voices reach a crescendo and then fall silent.

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