Thursday, January 07, 2010

New Year Greetings from Cherry Hill Seminary

Greetings! We here at CHS hope your holidays were filled with the warmth of shared times with loved ones.

As I move into my year as president of the Board of CHS, I am mindful of the big shoes I have to fill after the year headed by Druid Kirk Thomas. Kirk has helped us become more steady and ready for further growth. During his term, CHS has grown in revenue (although not yet nearly enough to really roll), staff, faculty, offerings, and, most important, enrollment. Kirk worked closely with Executive Director Holli Emore and the Board throughout the year, and I think the results are truly encouraging.

The past year has seen the introduction of CHS’ Master of Divinity and Master of Pagan Studies programs, now numbering nearly 20 matriculated students. Meanwhile, four Board members have taken the course required for CHS to apply to the DETC (Distance Education and Training Council) for accreditation.

In August, after months of hard collaboration, our administrative staff published a comprehensive Student Handbook.

Judy Harrow, who has been such a strong supporter and active participant in helping to shape CHS, retired this year to tend to her health. We were sorry to see her go, and remain ever grateful for her tremendous contributions. Judy continues to assist us at times and will be teaching two short courses this Spring semester. (Judy and I joined the folks at CHS at the same time.) We have named our library, created under the direction of Caroline Dechert, the Judy Harrow Virtual Library created under the direction of Caroline Dechert.

We continue to work with the New Alexandrian Library, a project of Assembly of the Sacred Wheel in Delaware, on establishing our bricks-and-mortar library. (Having a library of a certain size is one of the requirements for accreditation.)

CHS has for some years had a strong presence at the American Academy of Religion (AAR). CHS faculty, students and Board members have been active as presenters and moderators, as they were this year in Montreal.

This year we are joined by two new Board members: Richard L. Hall, CPA, CMA, and Gretchen Faulk. Ryk, who regularly attends EarthSpirit events in Massachusetts, lives in Salem, Virginia, where he has been active in, among other things, wildlife rescue. He has taken over as Treasurer from the capable but overburdened Diane Edgecomb, freeing her to attend to other matters such as applying for grants for CHS. Gretchen, a Dianic Witch and Thelemite who works in the field of cancer research, lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she is well-known in the Pagan community there. I welcome them with open arms and look forward to the benefits of their contributions.

In 2010, I anticipate expanding our Board membership to 16. CHS’ Board, unlike some, is a working board; we who serve on it are collaborating in the creative process of nurturing and bringing to maturity a seminary born in Vermont in 2001.

A few words about my personal involvement: I have been involved with CHS in various capacities, beginning as faculty, for several years. Over the course of that time CHS has grown and changed in unexpected ways. Since our students and potential students expressed a strong desire for a master’s program and eventual accreditation, we had to shift gears a bit in order to design programs that would meet the criteria of accrediting bodies. We have chosen DETC as being the most appropriate accrediting institution for our Web-based school. In the long run, we also plan to gain accreditation by the ATS (Association of Theological Schools).

I have had mixed feelings about adapting Pagan ways to the type of professional training expected in mainstream culture. My concerns have been satisfied by the implementation of the PCELL (Pagan Continuing Education for Lifelong Learning), a compliment to the Master’s Program serving Pagans who are not seeking a degree but who wish to take courses for personal enrichment and more general community service. We are ever mindful of not compromising the unique characteristics of Paganism as we develop the seminary.

So far, my experience on the Board, as well as in other capacities at CHS, has been rewarding. Although we are diverse and many of us have, shall we say, strong personalities, we have always been able to keep the mission of CHS foremost above any personal issues. This speaks to maturity and depth, and bodes well for the future of the seminary and Pagan culture.

I wish for the seminary at large, and for myself, to remain open to discussion, ideas, suggestions, and the thinking of our students and the Pagan public. To that end, I invite you to subscribe to our newsletter, join our FaceBook community, help us publicize our courses and other events, send us your ideas, and, most importantly, consider fiscal sponsorship. Our fundraising committee has designed several clever options for your coven, grove, nest, hearth, church, circle, family or other group (or individual) to sponsor CHS. Contact Holli Emore for details. CHS is our seminary. We design it in harmony with our Pagan culture and values.

We begin the decade with several goals, not all of which have yet been articulated. But one is establishing an endowment fund. Ryk and Holli will be providing more information about this over the next few months. Meanwhile, you help us to keep tuition low and run more efficiently by your regular contributions to the annual fund, plus purchases from our student bookstore, Scrip program, and occasional gift items (like the Yule ornament, and soon to be announced cookbook and auto sticker).

One last thing: you may know me as Macha NightMare. I’m still Macha, but in recent years I’ve returned to using my birth name, and I suspect you’ll agree that Aline O’Brien may open more doors as I represent Cherry Hill Seminary in the mainstream professional world of education, interfaith activities, and fundraising.

Yours in changing culture,

Aline O’Brien

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Paganism and the Academy: A Brief Overview of Pagans at the AAR

The American Academy of Religion (AAR) celebrated 100 years at its Annual Meeting in Montreal in November. For four days scholars and theologians gathered to present papers, serve on panels and attend plenary addresses, films, concerts, walking tours, and concerts.

People who study Pagans and Paganism, as well as some who practice one or another form of Paganism, comprised a portion of the presenters and attendees. For about 12 years a Contemporary Pagan Studies group has been establishing its presence and credibility, organized by Chas Clifton, Michael York, Wendy Griffin, Kat McEachern and others. Thanks to them, Contemporary Pagan Studies is now an official Group within the AAR. (Areas of study begin as Consultancies. When they have attracted greater interest, they progress to become a Group. Fully established areas are called Sections.)

This year’s offerings in the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group and Indigenous Religious Traditions Group (combined) began on Saturday afternoon with a session on the theme of “Common Ground/Differences: Pagan and Indigenous Studies in Religion.” Suzanne Owen of Leeds Trinity spoke on “Indigenous Religious Expression? Mi’kmaq Tradition and British Druidry,” followed by “Houses for the Holy? A Reconstructionist Debate among Modern Norse Pagans,” by Michael F. Strmiska of Orange County Community College in Middletown, NY, then “The Goddess and the Virgin: Examining the Role of Statue Devotion in Western Europe,” by Amy Whitehead of The Open University in the UK. Ms. Whitehead compared the devotional practices of the Virgin of Alcala in Spain with those of a contemporary goddess temple in England. One scheduled presenter did not appear. Jace Weaver of the University of Georgia then responded to the three papers.

“Idolatry” was the theme of the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group session on Sunday morning. Graham Harvey of The Open University spoke on “Materiality and Spirituality Aren’t Opposites (Necessarily): Paganism and Objects,” followed by Bron Taylor of the University of Florida on “Terrapolitan Earth Religion or Ecototalitarianism? Assessing the Peril and Promise of Nature Religion in Environmental Governance,” and “Idolatry, Ecology, and the Sacred as Tangible” by Michael York of the Academy for Cultural and Educational Studies, London.

The third and final session of the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group addressed the theme “The Book and the Practice: The Relationship between Literature and Contemporary Paganism.” Four papers were read. Chas S. Clifton of Colorado State University, Pueblo, called his talk “Before Stranger: Twentieth Century Paganism as a Literary Response to Texts.” Christine Kraemer of Cherry Hill Seminary spoke on “Contemporary Paganism, Utopian Reading Communities, and Sacred Nonmonogamy: The Religions Impact of Heinlein and Starhawk’s Fiction,” followed by “Journeys Upstream and Encounters Across Time: Reading the Pagan and Indigenous through Cinema,” by Adrian Ivakhiv of the University of Vermont, and “Open Source Religions Versus Citationality: The Function of Literature in Contemporary Pagan Praxis,” by Megan Goodwin of the University of North Carolina. While all presenters put forth good data and analyses, I found Dr. Kraemer’s paper to be exceptionally informative, insightful and polished.

In addition, Pagan scholars contributed papers to other related Sections, most notably the Ritual Studies Group (“The Denial of Ritual”) and New Religious Movements, but also in the Death, Dying, and Beyond Consultation (“American Funerary Practices Since the 1960s”), Comparative Studies in Religion Section (“Trees, Goddesses, and Conflict in Myth and Theology”), Bioethics and Religion Group and Religion and Ecology Group (combined) (“Frankenfood, Bridges, and Hazards: An Interdisciplinary Exploration of Social Justice and Sustainability in a Global Context”), Religion, Media, and Culture Group and Ritual Studies Group (“Exploring Ritual in Contemporary Media and Culture,” with one paper entitled “Performing Religion in Virtual Worlds: A Contested Field”), and Religion and Ecology Group (“Exploring Ecological Discourse in Global Contexts: Tensions and Tropes Rooted in Local Soils,” including papers on “Elephant Tails and a Mother’s Good Deeds: Local Expressions of Mother Earth Inspire Engaged Buddhism in Southeast Asia,” “Religion, Ecology, and Globalization (Colonialism, Imperialism, Population, Pronatalism, Political Holism, and Food),” and “Grow Bees Grow: Of the Sacred and of Human Affinity with Bees”).

A dean, a department chair, a Board member, and several faculty members from Cherry Hill Seminary attended sessions on many topics, from those on distance learning, a field in which Cherry Hill Seminary is in the vanguard, to those on Religion and Politics; Ethics; Science, Technology, and Religion; Music and Religion (“Oxum and Yansan: Candombl√© Trickster Archetypal Models for Female Drummers,” “Scriptures, Soundtracks, and the Acrobatic Self: Reception and Use of the Music of U2 in the Contemporary Process of Identity Formation”); Religion, Medicines, and Healing; Queer Theory and LGBT Studies in Religion; and many others.

I attended on behalf of Cherry Hill Seminary and as an interfaith representative of the Covenant of the Goddess. I’ve managed to make it to most of the past 12 annual meetings and I really enjoy the stimulation, not to mention the opportunity to become acquainted with the best of Pagan scholars. (I took notes at some of the presentations I attended and plan to share my impressions in more detail in subsequent posts.)

Note: This piece previously published at

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Celebrating Art

This year past I celebrate three artist friends. Corby and I join a small group of middle-aged Pagans and Paganish folk for a convivial evening at Brigit House in Berkeley to ring in new years. Our custom is to spend some time sharing our creative endeavors of the year past. Corby showed slides of the many wildflowers he communes with in the Marin hills.

Joanie Mitchell showed her delicate batiks, as well as some line drawings and water colors she did while serving as artist-in-residence at a local Renaissance Faire.

Co-host Tom Lux has taken his fine photography into the digital age. He had with him a mounted print of an incredible shot of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, with the S-curve in in while it's being rebuilt after the 1989 earthquake. (Tom has purchased a domain name; website anticipated.)

Lauren Raine, mentioned here frequently, wasn't with us in Berkeley on New Year's Eve, but a photo taken by Tom of a priestess dancing in one of Lauren's goddess masks hangs in the room where we partied. While artist-in-residence at the Henry Luce III Center for the Arts and Religion at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC this past Fall semester, Lauren completed this stunning installation, part of her Hands of Spiderwoman work.

I tip my pointy black hat to Joanie, Tom, and Lauren!

Happy New Year, everyone!