A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States

A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States

by Helen A. Berger
     
 

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A Community of Witches explores the beliefs and practices of Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft-generally known to scholars and practitioners as Wicca. While the words "magic," "witchcraft," and "paganism" evoke images of the distant past and remote cultures, this book shows that Wicca has emerged as part of a new religious movement that reflects the era in which it

Overview

A Community of Witches explores the beliefs and practices of Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft-generally known to scholars and practitioners as Wicca. While the words "magic," "witchcraft," and "paganism" evoke images of the distant past and remote cultures, this book shows that Wicca has emerged as part of a new religious movement that reflects the era in which it developed. Imported to the United States in the later 1960s from the United Kingdom, the religion absorbed into its basic fabric the social concerns of the time: feminism, environmentalism, self-development, alternative spirituality, and mistrust of authority.

Helen A. Berger's ten-year participant observation study of Neo-Pagans and Witches on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States and her collaboration on a national survey of Neo-Pagans form the basis for exploring the practices, structures, and transformation of this nascent religion. Responding to scholars who suggest that Neo-Paganism is merely a pseudo religion or a cultural movement because it lacks central authority and clear boundaries, Berger contends that Neo-Paganism has many of the characteristics that one would expect of a religion born in late modernity: the appropriation of rituals from other cultures, a view of the universe as a cosmic whole, an emphasis on creating and re-creating the self, an intertwining of the personal and the political, and a certain playfulness.

Aided by the Internet, self-published journals, and festivals and other gatherings, today's Neo-Pagans communicate with one another about social issues as well as ritual practices and magical rites. This community of interest-along with the aging of the original participants and the growing number of children born to Neo-Pagan families-is resulting in Neo-Paganism developing some of the marks of a mature and established religion.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Her account challenges those who view Wicca as ephemeral and unorganized. The book is an invaluable theoretical and descriptive account of Wicca."--Sociology of Religion

" …Helen Berger provides a thorough field-based study of contemporary Neo-Paganism and witchcraft which makes a major contribution to the field of modern spirituality."--Library Booknotes

"Berger's in-depth study provides the most concise and systematic presentation to date."--Religious Studies Review

"A graphic and thought-provoking picture of specific Wiccan groups …Assembles a clear and concise description of American Neo-pagan religion and the changes it is undergoing."--Journal of Church and State

" …Helen Berger presents an exciting and important approach to the study of contemporary neopaganism in particular."--The Journal of Religion

Library Journal
Berger (sociology, West Chester Univ.) has spent ten years doing participant-observation research among several inclusive groups (those that include both men and women) of witchcraft and neopagan practitioners in the Northeastern United States. Her fascinating study explores the beliefs and rituals of contemporary neopagans while examining the dynamics of change in this modern religious tradition as many of its early adherents reach middle age. Tracing the development of neopaganism in the United States over the last 30 years, Berger identifies both the wide diversity among witchcraft practitioners and the ideas that most of them share--reverence for nature, a feminist orientation, and a sense of community based on common beliefs. Clear and thorough references and an extensive bibliography round out this well-structured, scholarly work. Valuable for academic collections on new religious movements.--Elizabeth Anne Salt, Courtright Memorial Lib., Westerville, OH
Booknews
As a participant observer and collaborator on a national neo-pagan census, Berger (sociology, West Chester U., PA) studies modern witchcraft or Wicca as a religious movement encompassing spiritual, feminist, environmental, community-building, sexuality and children, and other contemporary concerns. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknew.com)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781611173154
Publisher:
University of South Carolina Press
Publication date:
06/30/2013
Series:
Studies in Comparative Literature
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
168
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)

Meet the Author


Helen A. Berger is an associate professor of sociology at West Chester University in Pennsylvania.

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