Contemporary Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Europe

Colonialist and Nationalist Impulses

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Kathryn Rountree
  • New York, NY: 
    Berghahn Books
    , April
     326 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Contemporary Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Europe, edited by Kathryn Rountree (Massey University), provides a wealth of case studies and fresh perspectives on the spread of these contemporary spiritualities across the continent. Originally published in hardcover in 2015, it is now available in a more accessible paperback version, bringing together scholars of religion, anthropology, folklore, and cultural psychology in order to consider the ways in which contemporary Paganisms and Native Faith movements across Europe are being shaped by the opposing forces of globalism and locality. This fascinating phenomenon is relevant to the religious field, but it is markedly more visible when it comes to new religions where changes occur with far greater speed and potency. Rountree provides a sound theoretical introduction that neatly ties the volume's diverse contributions together, arguing that the concepts of "universalism and particularism, indigeneity and nationalism … tradition and innovation … modernity and anti-modernity" (2) constantly intersect and collide within the relevant groups. However, even die-hard proponents of certain Native Faith movements who try to counter processes of globalization and view ethnicity and soil as crucial for spirituality are affected by the global sharing of knowledge and practices via the internet. 

The first three chapters that follow the introduction tackle the Scandinavian scene. Siv Ellen Kraft surveys the recent rise of Sami neo-shamanism in Norway, which is influenced both by broader, local expressions of Sami revivalism and the globally-minded “Core Shamanism” of Michael Harner and the New Age movement. She claims that Strimska's 2005 designation of “eclectic” and “reconstructionist” forms of Paganism cannot accurately describe the intricate intersections between the globalist and local pulls, in the case of Sami neo-shamanism, which she denotes as a form of “indigenous spirituality.” Matthew H. Amster's chapter on reconstruction and eclecticism in Danish Ásatrú similarly argues that Strimska's model does not correspond neatly to the Danish scene. Amster describes the motives behind the forming of Nordisk Tingsfællig (NTF), whose founders broke away from the larger Forn Siðr—Ásatrú and Vanatrú Association in Denmark—due to their desire to distance themselves from issues of ethnicity and nationalism that are viewed as central to reconstructionist forms of Paganism. At the same time the NTF was constructing rituals that stem from sources that are perceived to be more historically authentic and accurate in comparison with the alleged Wiccan and eclectic influence on “mainstream” Danish Ásatrú. According to Fredrik Gregorius’s chapter, practitioners of Heathenism in Sweden face similar challenges. Gregorius shows how Swedish Heathens embrace secular values while interpreting them as stemming from Old Norse religion, and—utilizing the rhetoric of multiculturalism—present themselves as a minority religion in Sweden while simultaneously capturing the “essence” of its cultural heritage.

Ásatrú maintains a presence in the Czech Republic as well—one path among many in the Czech Pagan scene that also contains Wiccans, eclectic witches, and Druids. Kamila Velkoborská's chapter focuses on a group known as the Brotherhood of Wolves (Brotherjus Wulfe) that splintered from Czech Ásatrú in 1998 and combines Germanic elements—specifically, the image of Fenris, the Great Wolf of the Eddas—with the breeding of Czechoslovakian wolfdogs. They connect the worship of the wolf with a shamanic hunter-gatherer “golden age” from which one can gain deep animistic insights relevant to contemporary society. Eleanor Peers’s chapter explores the shamanic revival in the Republic of Sakha, located in northeastern Siberia. Peers states that contemporary forms of Sakha shamanism maintain characteristics that are not found in the European contexts—pre-Soviet Sakha traditions that survived both Christianization and Soviet-era repression, intermixed with experiences of Soviet modernization and contemporary national revival context. This is exemplified by the introduction of the Soviet practice of delivering an authoritative lecture into contemporary Sakha shamanic practice and the pressure to cooperate with local authorities in folklore festivals that may aim to relieve the discontent produced by their subordination to the centralizing federal government. Adherents of the Maausulised Native Faith movement make up the largest and fastest-growing non-Christian denomination in Estonia. Ergo-Hart Västrik's chapter demonstrates the ways in which this movement is present in the public media by its spokespersons and provides readers with a wider historical and cultural background for the emergence of Maausk (including that of earlier attempts to create an Estonian pagan religion) and its relationship with local nationalistic discourse. Tamás Szilágyi then explores the contemporary Pagan scene in Hungary, including its characteristics, sources of influence, and myth-making tendencies. Szilágyi then provides a case study centering on the Yotengrit group, which characterize itself as a revival of local pre-Christian faith and achieved popularity during the early 2000s. 

With the final six chapters the anthology turns its gaze towards more familiar and influential paths within the Pagan milieu—such as Wicca, Witchcraft, Druidry, and Goddess spirituality—but centers on locales that have been under-researched until recently in comparison with contemporary Paganism in Britain and the United States. Thus, Victoria Hegner's contribution highlights the complexities and challenges encountered by contemporary Witches in cosmopolitan Berlin who seek to incorporate Germanic or Norse deities and the Teutonic alphabet into their craft at the risk of being branded neo-Nazis. Jenny Butler's piece explores the Pagan scene in Ireland and the ways in which it is being shaped by questions of identity, nationalism, Irish culture, and geography, forming a local Celtic Wicca. Leon A. van Gulik's chapter similarly focuses on local expression of Wicca in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, British Alexandrian Wicca transformed into a predominantly Flemish path called Greencraft, which draws inspiration from both Celtic mythology and a pan-European universalism that builds on Robert Graves's Tree Calendar and R. J. Stewart's Tree of Life-Tarot correspondence. 

Anne Fedele then analyses Goddess spirituality in Catholic Spain and Portugal. She focuses on the problems encountered during transplantation attempts of the Glastonbury-based Goddess Conference package in the Iberian peninsula in order to claim that “Anglo traditions” seeking acceptance by Spanish and Portuguese Pagans need to take into account and adapt to these countries’ Catholic background. In another chapter that centers on expressions of contemporary Paganism in a Catholic stronghold, Francesca Ciancimino Howell argues that while many Pagan traditions have been introduced to Italy during recent decades by English-speaking visitors, Italian sources, both ancient and modern, have played an important part in the rise of these traditions in Britain and the United States. The final chapter in this volume is written by its editor, Kathryn Rountree, who explores the Maltese Pagan community and its combination of global and indigenous influences as well as its attitude towards Catholic Christianity. 

In summation, Contemporary Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Europe is an important and much–anticipated volume that helps us understand how contemporary Paganisms and Native Faith movements develop and spread across the globe in postmodernity. It will hopefully be followed by additional anthologies that will explore these new forms of religiosity from changing perspectives.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Shai Feraro is a historian interested primarily in contemporary forms of spirituality in the West, as well as in aspects of British and American cultural, intellectual, feminist and transatlantic history.

Date of Review: 
August 19, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Kathryn Rountree is Professor of Anthropology at Massey University. She has published on contemporary Paganism in Malta and New Zealand, feminist spirituality, animism, shamanism, pilgrimage, the contestation of sacred sites and, more broadly, between religion and science. Her books include Embracing the Witch and the Goddess: Feminist Ritual-makers in New Zealand (Routledge, 2004), Crafting Contemporary Pagan Identities in a Catholic Society (Ashgate, 2010), the edited volume Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism and Modern Paganism (Palgrave, 2017) and the co-edited Archaeology of Spiritualities (Springer, 2012).


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