Desktop version

Home arrow Sociology arrow Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism, and Modern Paganism


Introduction. “We Are the Weavers, We Are the Web”: Cosmopolitan Entanglements in Modern Paganism

Kathryn Rountree

A chant well known to modern Pagans includes the refrain: “We are the weavers, we are the web,” which speaks to the creative agency, connectedness and constructedness involved in this growing group of new religions. Yet, the development of modern Paganisms has not taken place in a social or political vacuum, and their proliferation has proceeded at the same time as, and partly influenced by, such factors as globalization, ubiquitous Internet use, the ever-mounting environmental crisis, increased human mobility, a postcolonial revaluing of indigenous religions, new political configurations, along with some other local and global processes. A burgeoning of cosmopolitanism and various nationalisms has significantly influenced the weaving of diverse Paganisms.

At first glance, the concepts of cosmopolitanism and nationalism seem far apart, suggesting contrasting strategies for formulating identities. Insofar as both are interested in relationships between self and other, self and nation, individual self and global community, and the local-global

K. Rountree (*)

Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand © The Author(s) 2017

K. Rountree (ed.), Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism, and Modern Paganism, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-56200-5_1

nexus, however, cosmopolitanism and nationalism offer a novel and fascinating lens through which to examine modern Pagan and Native Faith groups, because they, too, are engaged in negotiating these relationships. The recent “turn” of interest in cosmopolitanism across the social sciences tends to explore it in terms of the social consequences of globalization, especially since the 1990s, focusing on “post-national dynamics and interconnections that play out in everyday life” (Turner et al. 2014: 84). This perspective not only separates the cosmopolitan from a concern with the national, but also renders it chronologically subsequent. Given that to be cosmopolitan (from the Greek kosmopolites) is to be literally “a citizen of the world,” scholars often see cosmopolitanism as the antithesis of nationalism or any form of categorical othering which essentializes group identity and closes off individuals from one another (Rapport and Amit 2012: xv). And yet, as Robert Schreiter (2011: 26) points out, while “globalization on the one hand homogenizes the world, wiping out local difference,” on the other, it “provokes the resistance of the local, thereby re-invigorating the local. This creates a dialectic between the global and the local.” The chapters in this volume explore this dialectic and the complex, tangled relationship between the two as authors probe the interplay of, and tensions between, concerns about nationalism, the local, the indigenous, the transnational and globalization in Pagan and Native Faith practitioners’ creation of identities and allegiances in diverse ethnographic settings.

Nationalism and cosmopolitanism have long individual and joined histories, but their particular conjunction in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is new due to the rapid and dramatic geopolitical, sociopolitical and technological developments producing unparalleled global connectivity and mobility during this period. Ulrich Beck (2009: xi), in his Foreword to Cosmopolitanism in Practice, defines “cosmopoli- tanization” as “the erosion of clear borders separating markets, states, civilizations, cultures, and the life-worlds of common people, which ... implies the involuntary confrontation with the alien other all over the globe.” Amidst all this boundary-blurring and intermingling, old notions of “we” and “they,” “ours” and “theirs,” are challenged, and the significance of the nation-state as an influential identity-marker waxes or wanes in the lives of individuals, either without their conscious awareness or perhaps as a politically driven project precisely to counteract cosmopolitanization. Huon Wardle (2010: 387) goes further,1 saying that the recent anthropological interest in cosmopolitanism emerged “not only at the birth of the internet, but also at the moment when [not only ‘the nation,’ but also]

‘society’ as a normative determining force behind individual action lost most of its former credibility.” Amidst the contemporary drive toward individuation, however, new forms of sociality have emerged, most notably through virtual communities and networks, which are integral to many people’s daily lives.

Inevitably and increasingly, even individuals and groups that do not embrace a cosmopolitan identity, and that reject cosmopolitanism as a moral ideal (cf. Nowicka and Rovisco 2009: 2), experience a growing sense of living in “one world.” Moreover, as the chapters in this volume show, they become, to some extent, unwitting—even if unwilling—cosmopolitans. This is far from saying that national, cultural, ethnic or local characteristics have become unimportant or unrecognizable in individuals’ or groups’ beliefs and practices—or in their forms of sociality—subordinated to a global melting pot in which cultural or local distinctiveness and its provenance have disappeared. But it is to say that the way in which ideas, practices, identities and social relationships are now put together and put into practice, and the sources drawn upon, cannot be taken for granted in the way they once might have been, and that constellations of ideas, practices, identities and social relationships now change faster in less predictable ways.

Nationalism and cosmopolitanism are multivalent terms, and context is everything in understanding their operation. As Scott Simpson points out in Chap. 4 of this volume, in many countries, “nationalism” is associated with conservatism and right-wing politics, but in Central and Eastern Europe, it can have other associations, including with the politics of liberation and egalitarianism. Here, as Adrian Ivakhiv explains, “blood” and “tradition”—and ultimately nationality and nation-state—are rooted in a specific territory, an idea with precursors in European and Soviet thought. The nature-society relation is not structured in the way it is by most Anglo- Americans: humans are not seen as “distinct from nature, but as culturally or ethnically ‘rooted’ within the natural world” (2009: 214), a natural world which is geoculturally specific. This worldview inevitably informs Pagans’ ideas and practices in Central and Eastern Europe. Pagans more widely also seek to undo the nature-society dualism and anthropocentric ordering of humans’ relationships with other-than-humans (Harvey 2005), but for most there is not a tight connection between nature, cultural or ethnic roots, and nation-state. Intimacy with nature tends to be primarily a cherished philosophical and moral tenet and an everyday embodied experience of being in the place where one lives. Before going into further detail about the ways in which particular worldviews influence local Paganisms, let us introduce modern Paganism more generally.

Paganism has become a flourishing global religious phenomenon in recent decades.2 In a world where cultural, ethnic and religious pluralism are now pervasive—if not universal—social realities, Pagans use a variety of strategies to craft and recraft their paths and identities, which take a plethora of forms. While these are diverse and dynamic, there are some shared characteristics within the Pagan phenomenon globally: an emphasis on attunement with nature and the sacralization of human relationships with all other beings, the valorization of ancient and pre-Christian religions (and, to a variable extent, cultures), and a tendency toward polytheistic cosmologies. Some Pagans take up universalist traditions such as Wicca or some version of modern Pagan Witchcraft, Druidry, Goddess spirituality or Western shamanism, drawing on eclectic, ancient and contemporary cultural sources—or they may simply identify more generically as “Pagan.” These paths are found worldwide and their ideologies incorporate no special allegiance to the nation-state; indeed, they may have no interest in it, or be critical of it. It is easy to see Pagans in universalist traditions as cosmopolitan “citizens of the world,” and Wiccans, in particular, enshrine the value they place on personal freedom, and hence individual uniqueness and difference, in the Wiccan Rede: “Do what you will but harm none.”

Other individuals and groups focus on reconstructing the ancestral, pre-Christian religion of a particular ethnic group, nation or geographic area and are motivated partly or largely by nationalism and/or ethnic politics—particularly, but not only, in Central and Eastern Europe. They may be chary of cosmopolitan processes which seem to serve the erosion of cultural boundaries and weakening of cultural distinctiveness, and their emergence in post-Soviet contexts from the late 1980s may be seen as part of “a wave of re-nationalization and re-ethnification” (Beck 2009: xi). Their efforts at reviving or reconstructing pre-Christian religions have been interpreted as responses to concerns about foreign colonizing ideologies, globalization and crises in ethnic identity (Ivakhiv 2009; Strmiska 2005; Shnirelman 2002; Alisauskiene and Schroder 2012; Gardell 2003).

Both cosmopolitanism and nationalism incorporate utopian ideals. Whether Pagans seem to, or claim to, incline more toward one or the other—toward dissolving or reinforcing sociocultural boundaries—they do so for strategic reasons as part of an identity project and expression of values, as part of forging for themselves a positive, empowering identity in the world as they understand and experience it. Yet, discursive positioning and actual practice do not necessarily coincide. I think it can be argued that where Pagans or Native Faith followers espouse and articulate nationalist ideals, there is evidence that they are, almost unavoidably today, cosmopolitans in practice. As Mariya Lesiv shows in Chap. 5, Ukrainian Pagans may articulate anticosmopolitan sentiments, but they are informed by “global cultural flows” (Appadurai 1990) like Pagans everywhere.

These two different orientations (the universalist and nationalist) have come to be seen in Pagan scholarship, following Michael Strmiska (2005), as existing on a continuum with “eclectic” Pagans at one end and “reconstructionist” groups at the other. For the latter, the term “Pagan” is often problematic because it is Christian-derived, and Christianity is seen as the religion of the foreigner, colonizer or invader. Their preferred terms are “Native Faith,” “indigenous faith,” “traditional religion,” “ethnic religion,” “reconstructionist” or, more likely, the name of a specific local group or tradition. For reconstructionists, ethnic identity and a demonstrable lineage are what proffer authenticity, sacred authority, power and meaning to their modern religious practice. Eclectic Pagans sometimes mistrust reconstructionists’ emphasis on ethnicity, their cultural fundamentalism, ardent nationalism and—in some cases—xenophobia. Eclectics themselves, on the other hand, may be accused of indiscriminately appropriating the decontextualized practices of indigenous and ancient peoples, treating them as a vast religious and cultural smorgasbord from which they feel entitled to pick and choose for their own consumption (see Fisk, Chap. 2, this volume; Strmiska 2005; Blain 2001; Mumm 2002; Wallis 2003).

The categories “eclectic” and “reconstructionist,” as applied to Pagans and Native Faith followers, align loosely with the concepts of cosmopolitanism and nationalism, respectively. But just as cosmopolitanism and nationalism are not the contrasting concepts they may first appear to be, neither are eclectic and reconstructionist approaches to modern Paganism entirely separate nor contradictory (and we should recall that Strmiska proposed a continuum rather than two mutually exclusive categories). Many Pagans and followers of Native Faiths combine both approaches. For example, they may indigenize a universalist tradition and inject it with local cultural or seasonal content, include elements borrowed from global sources in their reconstruction of an indigenous religion or Native Faith, interweave aspects of multiple Pagan and non-Pagan traditions (such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Vodou and even Christianity), or combine any of these processes with conscious, deliberate innovation or invention.

Whatever their inclination, all modern Paganisms incorporate a good deal of creativity. This is required to fill the gaps that cannot be filled by research into old Pagan religions, to create a workable practice for the modern world and simply to enjoy creative experimentation and expression. It is not only reconstructionist Pagans who tend to “traditionalize” their modern religious path by frequent reference to “the ancestors,” ancient religions and indigenous or tribal religions. Eclectic Pagans do this too. Antiquity and indigeneity per se tend to be seen as lending authenticity—they evoke people and time periods which emblemize modern Pagan ideals, such as the honoring of all life and living a relatively simple, sustainable, peaceful life in harmony with nature.

Thus, reconstructionist and eclectic Pagans cannot be neatly separated. Those tending toward one or other orientation often flourish, as individuals and groups, alongside one another in a single country—comfort- ably or uncomfortably—as they do, for example, in Denmark, Sweden, Greece, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Germany, Israel, Russia, the United States and Britain. All Pagans, as individuals or groups, create paths that in some way, to some extent, inevitably reflect local cultural, social, political, religious and historical realities. Yet, like everyone else, Pagans live in a globalized, Internet-saturated world, where social networks have everywhere spilt over older cultural and geographical borders, and the global circulation of people, goods and knowledge has reached unprecedented levels. Irrespective of the extent to which a modern Pagan person, group or tradition proclaims a nationalistic, indigenous or local orientation, it is almost impossible today for a cosmopolitan sensibility not to influence their thinking and practice in some way. Most Pagans live in metropolitan environments, use the Internet for research and making interpersonal connections, and thus participate in supranational networks. No matter how strongly a group or tradition asserts its uniqueness, in every society being Pagan represents an alternative religious identity, and in that sense (at least) Pagans share—and know they share—a universal alterity (c.f. Josephides 2010: 392), not infrequently coupled with local discrimination in the society they inhabit.

Although Pagans are invariably cosmopolitan to a greater or lesser extent through their participation in global cultural flows of ideas, people and artifacts (books, art, music, chants and invocations, magical objects, symbols and ritual tools), they are most certainly not cosmopolitan in the classical sense of transcending the local (c.f. Delugan 2010). As already noted, attunement with nature is critical for Pagans of all stripes, and this is true not only in an abstract, mystical, idealistic sense, but also in a material, embodied, locally en-placed sense. Nowicka and Rovisco (2009: 6) argue that cosmopolitanism “as a set of practices and identity outlooks is not to be seen as predicated on the transcendence of the particularistic and parochial ties, which are often associated to non-cosmopolitan feelings and dispositions.” As Rapport and Amit (2012) emphasize, however cosmopolitan an individual’s orientation is, all individuals live local lives. This is abundantly true for Pagans. Even for geographically dispersed, eclectic traditions such as Wicca, Druidry, Goddess spirituality and Western shamanism, the local landscape, seasons and sacred places are deeply valued and integral to a localized Pagan practice (see chapters by Ezzy and Sanson). For reconstructionist traditions, such as Russian Rodnoverie (Shizhenskii and Aitamurto, Chap. 6), Ukrainian RUNVira (Lesiv, Chap. 7) and Polish Rodzimowierstwo (Simpson, Chap. 4), the local or indigenous culture, history and politics are fundamentally connected to a local landscape and ethnic heritage. In these instances, while cultural fundamentalism plays a central role in Pagans’ discourse and identity construction, a cautious cosmopolitanism can still be found, and Mark-Anthony Falzon’s (2009: 37) argument that for cosmopolitans “there is no necessary contradiction between [the importance of] ethnicity and ‘world citizenship’” is apt.

Hence, modern Pagans and Native Faith followers typically confound the dualisms that tend to be associated with discussions of cosmopolitanism and nationalism as they interweave cosmopolitan and noncosmopolitan threads in the construction of their religious paths and author complex identities as members of local communities and, frequently, global networks. Even where identity is claimed to be constructed only with regard to an indigenous community or local, ethnically uniform group, Victor Shnirelman (Chap. 5) shows that nonlocal and nonin digenous sources have had an (perhaps unacknowledged) influence. Simpson (Chap. 4), too, shows that “native” can be a very flexible term: because “nativeness” is so desirable and important in Native Faith, elements which other people might deem “foreign” or “from outside” may be taken into the expansive “native” embrace of Polish Rodzimowierstwo. Here, “nativeness” works on a sliding scale, attributed according to context and practitioners’ needs, and is always a work in progress.

Some traditions which trace connections to a particular ancient religion and territory—such as Heathenism (Snook, Horrell and Horton, Chap. 3) and Canaanite Reconstructionism (Feraro, Chap. 8)—have ardent diasporas far from, respectively, northern Europe and Israel. Indeed, those in the diaspora, who perhaps have more self-conscious identity-work to do, may be more ardent about their connection with an “authentic” ancient religion, and committed to an ethnic and cultural essentialism, than those who live in the original homeland of the ancient religion. By far, the largest number of modern followers of the Canaanite gods and goddesses lives not in Israel but in the United States. According to her blog profile, American Tess Dawson “is the principal force behind Natib Qadish,” a “modern polytheistic religion that venerates the ancient deities of Canaan and strives to understand the ancient cultural context and religious practices in which these deities were honoured” (http://tessdawson. Dawson, who has authored two books on modern Canaanite religion, describes the community she leads as “Near Eastern historic-rooted, revivalist, and reconstructionist” (

Thus, discourses about indigeneity, with appeals to birth-right and ancestry, can become separated from discourses of the local, and discourses of the local become separated from discourses about nationalism. The national and indigenous are not always aligned either, as in cases where indigenous people’s claims regarding heritage, language, land, culture, politics and traditional religion do not sit well with the goals and claims of nation-states, especially where there is a history of colonialism. Despite the far-from-perfect alignment between the indigenous, local and national, all three may figure significantly in Pagans’ discourse. As Jennifer Snook, Thad Horrell and Kristen Horton show in Chap. 3, for American Heathens, who revere the Gods and spirits of the ancient Germanic tribes, indigeneity, the local and nationalism are separate but important concepts which remain vigorously and contentiously “in play” in the consciousness of practitioners. And just as Polish Pagans arguably stretch the notion of “nativeness,” so some American Heathens contest and stretch the meaning of “indigenous religion,” disregarding histories of colonialism.

Thomas Biolsi (2005: 249) uses the term “indigenous cosmopolitanism” to refer to the expanding participation of indigenous peoples in diverse social, economic and cultural worlds. This term applies well to indigenous shamans who are increasingly open to sharing knowledge with each other via multiethnic and cosmopolitan endeavors such as online social networking, international festivals, workshops, conferences and ecological projects. A number are also sharing their knowledge with nonindigenous people who wish to learn from them, including Pagans, who subsequently seek to pursue these “indigenous” practices in their own home settings, which may be far from the practices’ original geographic, social, cultural and indigenous backgrounds (Sanson, Chap. 11; Rountree, Chap. 12). In such cases, the “local” and “indigenous,” while remaining valorized, become uncoupled, multivalent terms, and the politics of nationalism have little or no place. The essence of modern shamans’ worldview is the oneness of the world and respectful acknowledgment of the interdependence of all forms of existence. Their focus is the individual and the global community: the deepening spirituality and holistic health and wellbeing of each person, the healing and survival of the planet, and the vital, mutually dependent relationship between the two. Like Nowicka and Rovisco’s “moral cosmopolitans,” they believe that “all human beings ought to be morally committed to an essential humanity above and beyond the reality of one’s particularistic attachments,” including to a particular nation (2009: 3). This is not to say, though, that they eschew local connections and communities.

The chapters in this volume explore the culturally inflected nature of Pagan diversity—the conditions producing local uniqueness and the diverse ways in which globally circulating ideas and practices are downloaded into local contexts as a result of Pagans and Native Faith practitioners occupying “glocal” spaces. Most chapters draw on ethnographic research conducted with particular groups in a particular country (though they should not be taken as a comprehensive overview of Paganism in that country, because in every case there are a variety of Pagan traditions present). The country contexts include the United States, South Africa, Israel, Russia (two chapters), Ukraine, Poland, Malta, New Zealand and Australia. The contributing authors show how modern Pagans and Native Faith followers negotiate local/global tensions, revealing the protean quality of Pagans’ subjectivities, which are to varying degrees cosmopolitan, yet “rooted” firmly in the local (c.f. Appiah 2006). Their case studies demonstrate the importance of the “situated rather than the universal subject” (Pollock et al. 2000: 586) when trying to understand modern cosmopolitans.

At the outset of this project, the volume’s contributors were invited to address the following questions:

• As Paganism spreads and morphs in the globalized world, how important are discourses of indigeneity and “the local” for Pagans? How do local sociocultural, political and religious contexts, histories, landscapes and natural environments influence the construction of local Paganisms?

  • • How do Pagans situate themselves in global socioreligious networks? To what degree does cosmopolitanism play out—or not play out—in the context of individuals’ and groups’ situated subjectivities?
  • • What are the relationships and tensions between discourses of nationalism and cosmopolitanism; the local and the global; retrieval of tradition, eclecticism and invention?

It has been illuminating and fascinating to see how each author has responded to these questions—where each has found theoretical purchase—in the light of their research with local Pagan communities. Dale Wallace’s chapter on modern Pagan Witches in South Africa drives home the critical importance of the national, political-historical context when attempting to understand the fraught entanglement of cosmopolitanism and nationalism in the postapartheid state. She examines how modern Pagans’ identity politics is impacted by the gulf between local “traditional” African meanings of witchcraft and modern Eurocentric Wiccan meanings of witchcraft. As one might have predicted, authors dealing with communities in Central and Eastern Europe have focussed on tensions between nationalism and cosmopolitanism. In countries where nationalism is not a particular or overriding preoccupation of the population at large or of Pagans, such as New Zealand and Australia,3 authors have stressed the cosmopolitan nature of local Paganism and not discussed nationalism at all. In Australasia, on the geographical outskirts of the original hubs of modern Paganism (the United Kingdom and the United States), and far from the plethora of distinctive Paganisms and Native Faiths which have sprung up throughout Europe, Pagans are more concerned with adapting imported universalist traditions and honoring local landscapes.

Anna Fisk’s chapter is the only one which does not deal with a geographically specific community. Rather, Fisk considers modern Pagan ani- mists’ engagement with indigenous animists’ traditions and weighs up the claim that a Pagan co-option of the term “animist” risks various kinds of cultural imperialism. Her approach is not to adjudicate regarding the rightness or wrongness of Pagan animists’ identity claims. She sees adopting an animist cosmology as a positive move in the current environmental crisis, but concludes that contemporary Pagans “must not appropriate the enchanted worldviews of indigenous peoples, either as salvific symbols or in the pretense that they are the same as we are.”

It seems to me that one of the problems between people identifying as Pagan “new animists” and those accusing such people of cultural appropriation from indigenous peoples is that the two groups are talking past each other, each group understanding “animism” differently and operating within its own understanding. Modern Pagan ani- mists, on the whole, focus on a religious or spiritual understanding of what “animism” means, and on that basis claim to resemble indigenous animists: their spiritual understandings, cosmology and some of their practices are broadly like those of indigenous animists (noting, however, that all indigenous animisms are culturally unique in their detail). Those concerned about cultural appropriation, on the other hand, do not separate spiritual understandings and cosmology from the political history of colonization and broader sociocultural identities and life experiences of indigenous animists. They feel justified in this because indigenous animists themselves do not draw boundaries and distinctions between religious ideas and other aspects of cultural identity and life. From this holistic perspective, one could perceive a gulf between the new animists, who typically hail from societies which have colonized indigenous animists, and indigenous animists, who have typically been colonized. Fisk offers a solution whereby politically conscious Pagans understand and do not try to erase the differences between their “new animism” and the diverse animisms of indigenous peoples, and actively engage with the responsibilities which attend the adoption of this religious identity.

Jennifer Snook, Thad Horrell and Kristen Horton also focus on issues to do with indigeneity, but in the case of their research with American Heathens, claims to indigeneity are being made by people who look to the religio-cultural traditions of Northern Europe, whom they see as their ancestors. Heathens are varied, and there are ongoing virulent debates among them about who qualifies as Heathen. Like cosmopolitans more widely, they acknowledge and may celebrate cultural and religious diversity, and have been swept up in the tide of globalization. But in reaction against cosmopolitan and homogenizing global forces, and against Heathenry’s reputation for harboring white supremacists, a portion of the community is increasingly framing Heathenry as a “tribal faith,” claiming theirs is a unique, indigenous, ethnic identity which is just as valid, authentic and worthy of protection as that of any other indigenous people. In doing so, they deny that the meaning of “indigenous” necessarily includes having been subjected to colonization, and ignore the privileges associated with their white settler status in the United States.

What constitutes indigeneity or “nativeness” is a preoccupation of the four chapters on Central and Eastern European Paganisms. Scott

Simpson explores the meanings of “native” to followers of the Polish Native Faith, Rodzimowierstwo. The concept of nativeness is central to this faith, but far from being dogmatic about including only culturally indigenous elements, most practitioners of Rodzimowierstwo are flexible and expansive in their determination of what passes as native. It can be applied to religious elements adopted and indigenized from “foreign” or “external” sources. Things can become native, and the authenticity of religious practices does not derive only from their antiquity. As a result of religious innovation, new elements may be embraced as authentic if the innovation seems “naturally” home-grown from native origins. Thus, nativeness is a dynamic process of becoming and is mobilized differently in different contexts. Simpson explores nativeness in Rodzimowierstwo constructions of identity in relation to Polish society at large, to the dominant religion of Roman Catholicism, and to other Slavic Native Faith groups. While scholars tend to refer to groups like Rodzimowierstwo as “reconstructionists,” Simpson says that practitioners reject this term because it implies that the original tradition has been destroyed. In their view, Rodzimowierstwo is the continuation of a living tradition; they prefer to see their activities as reform, repair, restoration and return.

There are synergies between Polish Native Faith practitioners and modern Russian Pagans with regard to the malleability of the concept of “native.” Victor Shnirelman describes the Pagan landscape in Russia as highly complex and diverse. Russian Pagans generally articulate a strong discursive focus on ethnos and ancestors, while at the same time—hard pressed in their research efforts to unearth an “authentic” Russian reli- gion—they co-opt an expansive range of what might well be seen as “foreign” and often distant sources and influences. While the creative and eclectic techniques they use to construct a contemporary Russian Paganism may seem at odds with a discourse favoring the indigenous, Russian Pagans maneuver around the paradox by redefining—and considerably stretching—what constitutes the indigenous in relation to Russia’s past. Another paradox Shnirelman explores is the simultaneous shunning and co-opting of Christian and Biblical elements in order to configure a narrative which establishes Russia’s preeminent role in the birthing of all the world’s religious traditions.

Roman Shizhenskii and Kaarina Aitamurto, who also write about Russian Pagans, in particular followers of the Rodnoverie Slavic tradition, are less inclined than other scholars of Russian Paganism to stress the importance of nationalism—at least statist nationalism. While Rodnoverie developed out of the nationalistic movements and milieu of the 1970s and 1980s, and nationalism is still a prominent feature, Rodnovers’ relationship with nationalism has recently become more problematic: there has been a lessening of extreme nationalism in mainstream Rodnoverie, and issues related to nationalism have caused heated divisions in the community. Drawing on the results of a survey conducted during a large Russian Pagan festival in 2014, Shizhenskii and Aitamurto document the beginnings of a shift among some community members toward a more cosmopolitan identity as members of a global Pagan community. While still patriotic, their allegiance is to the land and local area. As with the Polish Rodzimowierstwo, there is a growing emphasis on Native Faith as a spiritual tradition rather than a vehicle for nationalism.

Focussing on the context of the contemporary Ukraine-Russia crisis, Mariya Lesiv shows that cosmopolitanism and nationalism, far from being at opposite poles, are entangled in perpetual tension. The more pressing the perceived threats of cosmopolitanism and blurring of cultural and territorial boundaries, the more ardent the nationalism. The two Ukrainian Pagan groups Lesiv describes, RUNVira and Ancestral Fire, are both strongly nationalistic, but disagree fervently on where to draw the boundaries between “us” and “others,” or “brothers” and “enemies.” For RUNVira, indigeneity is about being Ukrainian; for Ancestral Fire, the pan-Slavic identity is what counts. While both groups reject the universal- ist forces connected with cosmopolitanism, seeing them as detrimental to their (differently constituted notions of) indigenous identity, Ukrainian Pagans and the construction of their various paths are demonstrably affected by global cultural flows of people and information. Identity politics are at the heart of contemporary Paganism in Ukraine, integral to its formation, its followers’ lives, its leaders’ pasts, its raison d’etre and, probably, its foreseeable future.

In Israel, Paganism apparently has nothing to do with any kind of nationalism, and most Israeli Pagans construct eclectic spiritual paths drawing on universalist traditions such as Wicca, Druidry, Goddess Spirituality, shamanism and Asatru, making use of the Internet, Anglo-American Pagan literature, and their own creative interweaving and invention. This is not to say that the local landscape and local cultural and religious heritages are unimportant, and, as Shai Feraro intriguingly shows, for some Israeli Pagans—the very small number who identify as Canaanite

Reconstructionists—they have become the main focus. It is unthinkable, of course, that invoking the ancient Canaanite religion would ever be part of an Israeli nation-building agenda because of the fundamental inseparability of Jewish religion and the state of Israel, and in any case, Israeli Pagans have no interest in resurrecting an ancient religion to build a nationalistic political platform. Feraro identifies signs, however, that the wider Israeli Pagan community is showing an increasing interest in the ancient religious heritage of the land where they live, excavating through millennia of the world’s most powerful monotheistic religions, and recovering indigenous goddesses and gods they feel are theirs. The voices of these modern worshippers of Asherah, El, Anat and Ba’al, scant though they may currently be, are compelling.

The three chapters about Pagan communities in the southern hemisphere reveal communities looking in two directions: outward toward the northern hemisphere whence, like most Israeli Pagans, they have inherited so many of their ideas and practices (especially from Anglo- American derived traditions), and inward toward the particular local places they inhabit. Dale Wallace explains how, in the wake of apartheid, South Africa set about constructing a new identity as a united nation, embracing an African postcolonial nationalism based on cosmopolitan values and principles. She describes the complex and heated contestation of the terms witch and witchcraft in this context, wherein modern Pagan Witches occupy two quite different positions, but fit easily into neither. On one hand, they may be seen as a subaltern, misunderstood religious minority whose Witch identity renders them vulnerable because of the pejorative meanings traditionally associated with witchcraft in Africa and in Christianity. On the other hand, they may be seen as a white—therefore privileged—Eurocentric group which shares the wider white South African colonial view that traditional African witchcraft beliefs amount to pretense and superstition, a view rejected by the black majority amidst a postcolonial revaluing of African customary beliefs, traditions, laws and cultural property. Wallace unravels the intricacies of Pagans’ entangled positions and the complexities of their identity work and discursive positioning, whereby they reject both the colonial construction of “paganism,” and also the traditional African construction of “witchcraft.”

Doug Ezzy’s chapter addresses the tensions Australian Pagans experience between seeking authenticity by replicating the practices established by Wicca’s respected founding grandfathers and grandmothers in the United Kingdom, and claiming an authenticity grounded in attentive listening to the earth beneath their feet and the turning of the local seasons, which are very different from those half a world away. Ezzy traces a local southern hemisphere shift from straightforward importation and reproduction of British Pagan practices, to inverting northern hemisphere festival dates and circle-casting traditions, and finally to a more fluid, adaptive, en-placed and cosmopolitan approach to Pagan practice, which involves local human and other-than-human participants. The trickiness of the Pagan Wheel of the Year dates for southern hemisphere Pagans has always been pertinent for me, too, another Antipodean, and is especially so right now as I draft the introduction to this book at the end of October. Each year, at this time, hundreds of witches, ghosts, ghouls and goblins dash about my neighborhood with their Hallowe’en goodie-bags during a long, warm spring evening. Simultaneously, the women’s Goddess group with whom I celebrate the Wheel of the Year celebrates the earth’s greening by leaping the Beltane fire in a garden fragrant with flowers and ripening strawberries. My New Zealand Pagan friends become frustrated by the “wrong” celebration of Hallowe’en (Samhain) at the end of October, not to mention the commercialized, secular appropriation of this religious festival. As Ezzy points out, however, while the local season and landscape ask for one kind of ritual celebration (of springtime in this case), it is worth remembering that a great number of Antipodean Pagans have Celtic ancestors who once celebrated Samhain at the end of October.

The New Zealand neo-shamans that Dawne Sanson describes include indigenous (Maori) and nonindigenous people who combine local and global sources to create a cosmopolitan, yet uniquely local, brand of modern shamanism rooted in the landscape and cultural history of New Zealand. The scene Sanson describes is one corner of a tapestry of twenty-first-century global shamanism in which indigenous shamans are not (any longer) victims of cultural appropriation but active agents, “eclectic bricoleurs” who disseminate traditional sacred knowledge, synthesize it with global indigenous and nonindigenous knowledges, and create new shamanic forms which they believe the world urgently needs. Where once Maori ethnicity was regarded essential for legitimate access to traditional knowledge, today, spiritual and past-life connections between Maori and non-Maori shaman-healers are being used to forge close, productive relationships.4 Thus, boundaries between different indigenous peoples, and between indigenous and nonindigenous people, are now regarded by some influential Maori shamanic healers as less important than the global community’s need for sacred healing and spiritual knowledge. The cosmopolitan space inhabited by these shamans has become a bridge between self and other, community and humanity, the unique and the universal (c.f. Rapport and Amit 2012).

This represents a dramatic shift in indigenous identity politics since the early 1990s, when I was conducting fieldwork on Goddess spirituality in New Zealand. At that time, cultural appropriation was a fraught and troubling issue nationally, and Pagans (who were almost all not Maori) were acutely concerned about fully respecting Maori spiritual and cultural traditions and Maori ownership of them, but fearful of being seen to appropriate these traditions. They therefore seldom incorporated Maori aspects into rituals, apart from acknowledging Maori ancestors and spirits associated with particular places in the landscape, and mentioning well known Maori goddesses connected with the elements (e.g. Mahuika with fire and Papatuanuku with earth). Sanson attributes the shift in attitudes to the Maori cultural renaissance of the late twentieth century and postcolonial sociopolitical developments in New Zealand which have brought into being new articulations of power and agency, and have been positive for Maori in many spheres of life.

Ananta Giri (2006: 1278) says that the revival of cosmopolitanism “reflects an urge to go beyond the postmodern and multi-cultural imprisonment in difference and realize our common humanity.” In these terms, modern shamans are cosmopolitans par excellence (although it must be acknowledged that they do not all embrace a “Pagan” identity). Indigeneity and cultural distinctiveness are alive and well for shamans, but today they are frequently used as a bridge between people and conduit for sharing, rather than as boundary markers and grounds for division. My research with shamans in Malta turned up different strands of shamanism, loosely interwoven at the local level with equally strong, if not stronger in some cases, connections globally. The notion of indigeneity as a harbinger of authenticity is sometimes tethered to the local, and sometimes not—sha- mans in Malta invoke indigenous Native American shamanism, an ancient (historically unknown) indigenous Maltese shamanism, and, occasionally, past-life experiences as indigenous shamans from a society distant in time and place from the one they currently inhabit. Thoroughgoing cosmopolitans, they are mobile participants in supranational networks, engage productively with difference, and proclaim a strong sense of living in “one world.” The politics of nationalism have no part in their endeavors;

the need for a global environmental ethics and concerted environmental action, on the other hand, is vital.

While I have argued in this introduction that all modern Pagans are inevitably cosmopolitans irrespective of their discursive stand, clearly this does not mean they all embrace being “a citizen of the world” or even “a member of the human family” (c.f. Giri 2006: 1278). In one sense, such terms draw too large a circle for some Pagans and Native Faith followers to accept. But in another sense, these terms are too restricted in their anthropocentric reference to human citizens in a human family. What more Pagans might embrace more happily—given their overarching principle of “kinship with nature”—is membership of an vast multispecies community encompassing all human and nonhuman beings in a dynamic web of mutual connectedness, including not only human and other-than-human persons in the material world (such as nonhuman animals, trees, rocks and rivers), but also spirit beings, elementals, ancestors and deities.


  • 1. In this argument, Wardle is following Marilyn Strathern (1996).
  • 2. Over the years, there have been attempts to put local and global figures on numbers of Pagans. The 2011 census figure for total Pagans in England and Wales was 78,566 (Lewis 2012: 132). In 2008 an American Religious Identification Survey was carried out by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York; the number of total Pagans was 711,000 (rounded to the nearest thousand). The figure represents a statistical extrapolation based on a survey of 50,000 people in the United States (Lewis 2012: 133). The Canadian census in 2011 recorded a total of 26,495 Pagans (e-mail from Shai Feraro to New Religious Movements Scholars group, September 28, 2013). In the 2006 New Zealand census, the total was 7122, and in the 2011 Australian census, the figure was 32,083 (Lewis 2012: 134-5). The above total figures of Pagans are variously broken down into the various traditions (Pagan, Wicca, Druidism, Witchcraft, Heathen, Pantheism and so on).
  • 3. New Zealanders and Australians are, however, patriotic—witness, for example, ANZAC Day commemorations or any rugby test match played by the All Blacks or Wallabies (especially against each other!)—but neither country has recently experienced the kinds of social and political upheavals experienced by post-Soviet societies.
  • 4. Waldron and Newton (2012: 67) similarly describe reciprocal borrowing between indigenous and nonindigenous Australians, pointing out that “cultural appropriation goes two ways; some indigenous people have drawn upon New Age ideology,” and “there is a continuum of behaviors and attitudes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.”


Alisauskiene, M., & Schroder, I. (Eds.). (2012). Religious diversity in post-Soviet society: Ethnographies of Catholic hegemony and the new pluralism in Lithuania. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate.

Appadurai, A. (1990). Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy. Public Culture, 2(2), 1-24.

Appiah, K. (2006). Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a world of strangers. New York: W.W. Norton.

Beck, U. (2009). Foreword. In M. Nowicka & M. Rovisco (Eds.), Cosmopolitanism in practice (pp. xi-xiii). Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate.

Biolsi, T. (2005). Imagined geographies: Sovereignty, indigenous space and American Indian struggle. American Ethnologist, 32(2), 239-259.

Blain, J. (2001). Nine worlds of Seid-magic: Ecstasy and Neo-Shamanism in North European Paganism. London: Routledge.

Delugan, R. M. (2010). Indigeneity across borders: Hemispheric migrations and cosmopolitan encounters. American Ethnologist, 37(1), 83-97.

Falzon, M.-A. (2009). Ethic groups unbound: A case study of the social organization of cosmopolitanism. In M. Nowicka & M. Rovisco (Eds.), Cosmopolitanism in practice (pp. 37-50). Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate.

Gardell, M. (2003). Gods of the blood: The Pagan revival and white separatism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Giri, A. K. (2006). Cosmopolitanism and beyond: Towards a multiverse of transformations. Development and Change, 37(6), 1277-1292.

Harvey, G. (2005). Animism: Respecting the living world. New York: Columbia University Press.

Ivakhiv, A. (2009). Nature and ethnicity in East European Paganism: An environmental ethic ofthe religious right? In B. Davy (Ed.), Paganism: Critical concepts in religious studies, Ecology (Vol. 2, pp. 213-242). London: Routledge. Josephides, L. (2010). Cosmopolitanism as the existential condition of humanity. Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale, 18(4), 389-395.

Lewis, J. R. (2012). The Pagan explosion revisited: A statistical postmortem on the teen witch fad. The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, 14(1), 128-139.

Mumm, S. (2002). Aspirational Indians: North American indigenous religions and the New Age. In J. Pearson (Ed.), Belief beyond boundaries: Wicca, Celtic spirituality and the New Age (pp. 103-132). Bath, UK: Open University/ Ashgate.

Nowicka, M., & Rovisco, M. (2009). Introduction: Making sense of cosmopolitanism. In M. Nowicka & M. Rovisco (Eds.), Cosmopolitanism in practice (pp. 1-16). Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate.

Pollock, S., Bhabha, H., Breckenridge, C., & Chakrabarty, D. (2000). Cosmopolitanisms. Public Culture, 12, 577-589.

Rapport, N., & Amit, V. (2012). Prologue: The book’s structure. In V. Amit & N. Rapport (Eds.), Community, cosmopolitanism and the problem of human commonality (pp. xi-xvi). London: Pluto Press.

Schreiter, R. (2011). Cosmopolitanism, hybrid identities, and religion. Exchange, 40, 19-34.

Shnirelman, V. (2002). ‘Christians! Go home’: A revival of neo-paganism between the Baltic sea and Transcaucasia (an overview). Journal of Contemporary Religion, 17(2), 197-211.

Strathern, M. (1996). The concept of society is theoretically obsolete—for the motion. In T. Ingold (Ed.), Key debates in anthropology (pp. 50-55). London: Routledge.

Strmiska, M. (Ed.). (2005). Modern Paganism in world cultures: Comparative perspectives (pp. 1-53). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Turner, B., Halse, C., & Sriprakash, A. (2014). Cosmopolitanism: Religion and kinship among young people in South-Western Sydney. Journal of Sociology, 50(2), 83-98.

Waldron, D., & Newton, J. (2012). Rethinking appropriation of the indigenous: A critique of the romanticist approach. Nova Religio: The Journal ofAlternative and Emergent Religions, 16(2), 64-85.

Wallis, R. (2003). Shamans/Neo-Shamans: Ecstasy, alternative archaeologies, and contemporary Pagans. London: Routledge.

Wardle, H. (2010). Introduction. A cosmopolitan anthropology? Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale, 18(4), 381-388.

Found a mistake? Please highlight the word and press Shift + Enter  
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >