Mystic South PAPERS 2019

Pagan and Polytheist Educational Research Symposium

We are honored that the following academic presenters will be offering their PAPERS research at this year’s Mystic South. Your 2019 registration grants you access to each of these presentations. Be sure to register soon!

For a full schedule of events, times, and dates, click this link to download our PDF. PLEASE NOTE that our schedule is subject to change. Check at registration to make sure you have the most up-to-date version of the schedule.

All PAPERS presentations will be held in the Conference Room, located downstairs. They are colored GREEN in the PDF. If you are looking for workshop & ritual descriptions (BLACK and RED in the PDF), click this link. If you’re looking for Headliner Presentations (in PURPLE in the PDF), click this link.

TITLE: Re-stacking the Deck: A Contemporary Analysis of the role of Christian privilege on Pagan, Heathen, and Polytheist practices in the 21st Century

PRESENTER: Dr. Carla-Elaine Johnson

ABSTRACT: This paper is an analysis on the effects of religious privilege, and specifically privilege granted to Christianity and its adherents. Despite its lack of an officially designated state religion, the United States of America maintains cultural, social, and political foothold with monotheism, specifically Christianity. The common phrase “Judeo-Christian” is frequently used to describe the religious background of the United States by many political and social leaders. In the southern United States, Christianity is the only public option for religious expression. Federal holidays, popular sayings, music, entertainment, social status, and employment are heavily influenced by the acceptance and understated preference for the monotheistic practice of Christianity in this country. For Pagan, Heathen, Polytheist, and other non-Christian, non-monotheist adherents, Christian privilege presents a social, financial, religious, and familial cost that the social and religious dominant Christian does not have to consider. Drawing upon Peggy McIntosh and the classic 1989 article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” and other analyses of cultural privilege, this paper analyzes the power and unearned advantage that Christians have in the 21st century United States that Pagan, Heathen,and Polytheists do not have. The financial, social, and familial costs of not fitting into the larger Christian-oriented society in particular make the continued ability to freely practice the faith on one’s choice, as guaranteed by the United States Constitution uniquely challenging. The effect of such popular monotheistic representation adulterates the understanding of freedom of religion, and by extension, an appreciation of the role non-Christians hold in shaping contemporary U.S. society. This paper analyzes these effects and explores possible methods to re-stack the deck in favor of non-Christians.

Research methodology for this paper includes secondary analysis through academic journal articles and archival study, primary analysis through two surveys, and follow-up interviews with survey participants.

Research Importance:
For the community as a whole, there are few studies about the impact of Christian privilege on just the Pagan, Heathen, and Polytheist communities. Most of the studies currently focus on just Christian privilege and religious freedoms for college students, or religious freedom in the workplace;however, nearly all of these studies do not specify or include numbers or information for Pagan, Heathen, Polytheist, and other earth-based tradition practitioners. Some focus on race, on specific Christian-Muslim and Christian-Jewish intolerance. This research will help start the much needed search for methods for the modern Pagan/Heathen/Polytheist practitioner to address the ingrained Christian privilege in contemporary American society.

Note: This paper has an accompanying workshop, entitled “Surviving and Thriving as Pagan, Heathen, or Polytheist in a Christian Society” for those who want a large discussion.

BIO: Dr. Carla-Elaine Johnson is a faculty member in the English Department at Saint Paul College, in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She holds a doctoral degree (Ph.D.) in Russian literature from The Ohio State University, a master’s degree (M.A.) in Russian literature and a Certificate of Advanced Study in Russian Translation from the State University of New York (Albany), and a master’s degree (M.F.A.) in English – Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota. Her publications are in the area of memoir, essay, and poetry. Her academic research interests include spiritual memoir, the graphic novel, literary translation, images of motherhood in literature, religious expression in literature, and the intersection of aging, death, and spirituality in contemporary religious expression. Her current work is the first in a series on the portrayal of Pagan religious deities in popular culture.

Title: Constellated Ministry: Supporting Pagans in an Era of Fluid Spirituality

Presenter: Holli Emore

Abstract: Multiple religious identities characterize an increasing number of individuals and families, including Pagans, who have always held essential contradictions between belief, practice and daily living in a primarily monotheistic mainstream culture. Spiritual fluidity and multiplicity may also reflect the times in which we live, times in which migration is frequent and extensive, blending cultures in ways unforeseen by most of our pagan ancestors. Spiritually-fluid persons share many key traits with contemporary Pagans: primacy of personal experience, mistrust of authority and authoritarian structures, rejection of dogma, and location of nature as immanence. While Pagans have struggled to define themselves without conforming to assumptions by the dominant Christian culture, they continue to be challenged to meet human needs with compassion and professional preparation. Ministry, whatever its cultural origins, remains an indispensable component of religion and spirituality. Westerners are accustomed to models of ministry in the form of an individual ordained by a religious body who carries out the work of compassion and teaching in a defined geographic space for a mono-religious population. Such models leave us unprepared for the reality of the “spiritual but not religious SBNR’s,” the “nones,” multifaith and interfaith families, and individuals who themselves claim multiple religious identities. Traditional models of ministry imply an “in” or “out” status of religious membership; one either follows the defined religion of the group and its minister or one no longer belongs to the group. Constellated ministry does not concern itself with belonging so much as with caring. This paper moves forward the exploration of new ways of serving spiritual communities effectively, non-exclusively, and with sensitivity to the flux of the human spirit.

Bio: Holli S. Emore is Executive Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, and also President of Emore Development Resources consulting firm for nonprofits. A native of North Carolina, Holli is twice a past president of the Central Carolina Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals in Columbia, SC, where she has lived since 1986. As a former senior consultant for Holliman Associates, Inc., of Harrisburg, PA, she provided capital campaign services throughout the country. Emore has also provided fund development consulting for Tidwell & Associates, Inc., of Columbia, SC, and Health Dimensions Group of Minneapolis, MN. Committed to building interfaith relationships, both locally and globally, Holli serves on the Board of Directors of Interfaith Partners of South Carolina. She volunteers as Disaster Spiritual Care Regional Lead (S.C.) for the American Red Cross. She often teaches public groups about the rapidly-growing Pagan religions, has served as a regional resource for law enforcement, victim services, criminal justice classes and others since 2004, and is a resource person for the Lady Liberty League. Holli is the founder and priestess of Temple Osireion, a Pagan tradition which draws its inspiration from the religions of ancient Egypt. She founded and coordinated the original Pagan Round Table, and is a co-host of the monthly Midlands Interfaith Meetup, both in South Carolina. You may find Holli’s 2012 book, Pool of Lotus, on Amazon or Lulu. She is proud to have been present in July 2015 when the Battle Flag of the Confederacy was removed permanently from the S.C. State House grounds.

Title: Feminine Divinity: The Orisha as the Ideals of Female Gender Identity in Cuba

Presenter: Humberto Perez

Abstract: When humans are born, they are typically born as either male or female. In today’s day and age ones physical sex doesn’t always determine the gender that individual will identify with later in life. An often over looked component of gender identity however is that of religion. What role do religious beliefs play in the formation of a gender identity? The obvious answer is that it plays an important role, particularly in conservative religious movements which hold that the physical sex of a person determines the gender they should identify with. But how exactly does it do so? According to some scholars, the deities of the religion offer a template by which the practitioners can model themselves after. This could certainly hold true for men in the Abrahamic religions, but what of the women in these faiths? With no female deity to speak of, how then are women to understand the role they are to play within society? How do they form a healthy sense of self-respect and effective gender identity? And are there religious movements that do offer women a role model of sorts within the pantheon of that religion? The answer to these questions could lie with scholars such as Luce Irigaray, who offers useful framework for understanding the development of a female identity, and Santeria, a religion with a rich mythology filled with female deities of all sorts of characteristics. Irigaray works off a foundation of psychoanalytic psychology and uses that to critique not only modern philosophy but psychoanalytic theory as well. Her work could provide a useful theoretical framework for understanding the role of Santeria in the formation of female identity in Cuba.

Title: Navigating the Book of Shadows: Understanding the Gardnerian Book of Shadows

Presenter: Humberto Perez

Abstract: The sacred texts of many religious traditions server as a vehicle by which to transmit the myths and beliefs that are at the heart of the religion. The Bible, the Torah, and others contain a number of stories which serve as a moral compass for the followers of the tradition. The Gardnerian Book of Shadows contains no such stories. Instead, this sacred text serves as an instruction manual for proper ritual practice and performance in the Wiccan tradition. Gardner himself did not seem overly concerned with establishing a mythos for the religion, valuing instead to focus on correct ritual etiquette. In a time where his contemporaries were using ritual as a way to reenact myth, Gardner embraced ritual practice as the central component to his religion. As a result, most Wiccans look to different cultures and religious traditions across the globe to fulfill their need for an established mythos. Many Wiccan traditions in modern times incorporate reenactment into their ritual practice in contrast to the intent of the religions founder. It would appear that establishing a set of myths that correspond to the ritual being performed allows some to connect with the practice that is absent in the original Book of Shadows.

Bio: Humberto Perez, MA is an Adjunct Professor at Florida International University where he graduated with a Master’s in Religious Studies and a Bachelor’s in Psychology. His main areas for research and teaching  are New Religious Movements, Witchcraft and Neopaganism, Santeria, and Psychology of Religion. He examines the history of these religious traditions to understand the meaning and contexts of religious identity formation, the psychology behind religious conversion, and the interaction between ritual practice and the religious community it serves. Mr. Perez is interested in understanding the psychological motivations behind religious conversion and takes a phenomenological approach to the study of ritual belief and practice. He is also interested in the intersection of the sacred and the profane in Wicca and other magically oriented religions, particularly in the development of ethical systems and influences from other religious traditions. As a faculty member at Florida International University, Mr. Perez is able to combine his interests in religious studies and psychology to mentor students in both disciplines.

Title: Druid or Witch: An examination of interpersonal consequences of self-identification

Presenter: Dr. Manny Tejeda-Moreno

Abstract: Druidism and Witchcraft share substantial theological alignment. While they each express both praxis and dogma in diverse denominations and embrace many different polytheistic traditions and expressions of deity, they are far more similar to one another than dissimilar from each other. In general, Druidry has been more tolerant of broad organization than faiths more associated with the Witchcraft tradition such as Wicca. It is also broadly the case that Druidry has been more involved in corroborative strategies for understanding and, in that sense, more concerned with the rational and evidentiary elements of understanding the world. For example, the major Druid group in the United States Ár nDraíocht Féin openly affirms a “cautious Technophilia” that includes acceptance of the positive aspects of science. Covenant of the Goddess, arguably the largest organization of Wiccans and Witches in the United States (and possibly world-wide) only recently adopted a science statement at their meeting in 2018. Furthermore, psychosocial understanding of social deviance terms of self-identification has important social consequences. The term “druid” is less socially-charged in US society than the term “witch” and one would expect differential social outcomes based on self-description and affiliation. These contextual nouns of self-description have important consequences on social acceptance and interaction. The current research explores whether self-identification as either a druid or a witch results in different experiences in social satisfaction, spirituality, and belief. The current research also examines whether there is a psychology precursor involved in the selection of either term. Preliminary findings suggest that affiliative self-description is an important factor in paranormal belief, social victimization and spirituality.

Bio: Dr. Manny Tejeda-Moreno received his AB in Psychology and Computer Science, MS in Educational and Psychological Sciences, and PhD in Business Administration with concentrations in Organizational Behavior and Research Methods from the University of Miami in Coral Gables, FL. He is currently Professor of Management and Psychology at the Andreas School of Business and has served in multiple roles at various institutions including Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and clinical trials statistician. His research interests focus has been on leader behaviors and their impact on followers, as well as spirituality, inclusivity and social justice. Dr. Tejeda-Moreno continues to work on scholarly contributions in psychometrics and applied statistics with specific focus on analysis of covariance structures and random regression.

Title: Navigating the Ethical Entanglements of Pagan Leadership

Presenter: Katelyn Willis

Abstract: What is the purpose of Pagan leadership? What are the pitfalls and challenges that Pagan leaders face in serving their communities, and how do we address them? In this presentation, I examine the theological basis for Pagan ethics, explore the professional role of Pagan leadership, and propose a basic model of ethical leadership that prepares leaders to deal with the ethical challenges involved in being a ritual leader, pastoral caregiver, and member of the Pagan community.

Bio: Katelyn Willis received a Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics and Religious Studies from Rice University, a Master of Divinity from Yale University, and a Master of Theology from Emory University. She currently writes about religious experience, using her background in cognitive linguistics, non-Western epistemology, and ritual studies to analyze the way embodied experiences inform and shape religious practice. She currently manages a Facebook page for trans and queer pagans titled Rebuilding the Tower, and supports her work through Patreon.

Title: The Song of the Churn

Presenter: Byron Ballard

Abstract: As an independent scholar and folklorist, my abiding passion and my work consists in writing, talking about and teaching traditional mountain folkways, including herbal healing and folk magic. My recent research has been an exploration of the survivals of border Scots techniques as they pertain to the southern highlands of Appalachia, where this group came to be called the Scots-Irish. My research in the Alexander Carmichael Collection at the University of Edinburgh brought me face to face with charms and superstitions that I learned from family members and neighbors as I was growing up more than fifty years ago in western North Carolina. I am working with singer and WNC native Alicia Corbin to research and record a series of traditional women’s work songs that also include elements of these charms. This paper will outline the progress of this project, review the source materials utilized and share the next steps, which include recording some of these survivals of Scottish folkways as they came to be practiced in the Great Smoky Mountains. The title of the paper comes from an old churning song “Come, Butter, Come”, that was popular on southern Appalachian farmsteads and can also be found in Carmichael’s comprehensive, Carmina Gadelica, Carmichael’s rich collection of prayers, charms and incantations gathered 19th century Scotland.

Bio: Byron Ballard – Bio forthcoming

Title: Hekate: Goddess of Our Time

Presenter: Cyndi Brannen

Abstract: Hekate has emerged from the mists of time to become a major force in the pagan/occult/witch worlds and in the academic study of her. Why is this? In this one hour workshop, the long road that led to the rise of Hekate today will be discussed along with the reasons for why she has returned. Today Hekate is being redefined as a Goddess of Our Time.

Bio: Cyndi Brannen – Bio forthcoming

Title: Polytheistic Orientation of Identity

Presenter: Theanos Thrax

Abstract: This paper returns to the exploration of THEISTIC ORIENTATION, with an expanded emphasis from earlier works on the subject of POLYTHEISTIC ORIENTATION OF IDENTITY. “Theistic orientation” refers to the manner in which a person’s self-identity is influenced or defined with respect to relationship, or absence of relationship, with fundamental paradigms of religious regard for theistic agencies (e.g. gods and/or deities). Identity orientation is the manner in which an individual’s self-identity is configured and drawn together, expressing certain key elements, considerations, and features of self, such as sexual orientation, gender orientation, or even broadly political orientation. While each person possesses a unique composition of self-identity, there are certain foundations expected to be present in each. Some of these identity characteristics may be unnamed due to commonality with majority socio-cultural exposure of the era. The methods of exploring and studying identity orientation are relatively new within academic disciplines, and their development is ongoing over the last half-century. Very few efforts have as yet been made with this specific topic in preceding decades, and yet — as with sexual identity and gender identity — theistic orientation is a thing which all persons possess, even if ontologically unexplored or unnamed because of its perceived conformation to hegemonic social norms. Theistic orientation is distinct from religious appeal, affiliation, membership, practice, or culture background, just as sexual orientation is distinct from conventions of courtship, sexual practices, marriage, or gender; one’s theistic orientation does not necessarily inform or define their religion, religious practices, or religious affiliations. Continuing from, and expanding on the topic’s existing scholarship, this paper aims to demonstrate that polytheistic orientation is a recognizable orientation of the theistic identity elements within self-identity, and that its further exploration and illumination presents as vital contribution across multi-disciplinary bounds, and is especially salient to the advancement and understandings of theistic minority and marginalized demographics. Additional content will include errata (corrections and additions to the existing core study) and a look at ongoing work to be more thoroughly explored in later contributions.

Bio: Theanos Thrax – Bio forthcoming

Title: Language in Devotional and Occult Relations

Presenter: Anomalous Thracian & Jameson Hoscyns

Abstract: Languages are the fabric of relationship, from occult or devotional, to divine or profane. This paper explores the use of ancient, liturgical, modern, and constructed languages in devotional or occult practices, and foundational ways of living-and-relating. Whether as an act of religious devotion itself, or as a vehicle for the establishment of holy space and ritual purity, the authentic use of languages reflects a fundamental connectiveness to the gods, spirits, and ancestors of our traditions.

Bio: Anomalous Tracian is a recovering former child prodigy, hailing from the woods of New England. He serves as a full-time priest and professional spirit-worker in a polytheistic and animist religion, in which a Temple tradition and a sanctuary of serpents, the Ophidiarium, are maintained. He is the father of a seven-year-old African raven, the primary steward of the 28 Miracles of Sabazios, and finds time to train and work with a pack of ancient giant-breed Livestock Guardian Dogs. As a writer, teacher, scholastic provocateur and rogue ontologist, his work is primarily focused on issues of Polytheist identity, human rights, and the reverent restoration of meaning. His academic work draws from the fields of psychology, sociology, religious studies, with an emphasis on inter-disciplinary work relevant to critically relevant contemporary analysis, intervention, application, and resolution. He has previously worked in prison chaplaincy, conflict resolution/mediation services, experimental recording arts, and as an independent mental health consultant. He is rumored to survive solely on a diet of meat, whiskey, Haitian rhum, and aggressively dark cigars.

Bio: Jameson Hoscyns – Bio Forthcoming

Title: Old Gods, New Words: Neologisms in Pagan Theological Discourse

Presenter: Jameson Hoscyns

Abstract: Language variation in religious communities is highly understudied. This is especially true of the American Pagan community, currently in the process of English language theological lexication. As such, American Pagandom offers an opportunity to observe the trends and choices made within the development of English neologisms. A corpus analysis was done on 134 articles by 25 authors of diverse demography from the website to analyze and sort neologisms. These were manually categorized according to category of neologism method. Common trends seen in internet news media and informal usage toward the use of blending and compounding were underrepresented in the corpus. Instead, authors preferred to reborrow words from original source languages or to intentionally coin terms in another language for the purpose of borrowing into English. Although neologisms represented only a small number of the total words used and did not have wide usage across specific religious traditions, clear trends in formation exist within the development of neologisms in theological discourse by the American Pagan community.

Bio: Jameson Hoscyns – Bio forthcoming

Title: Stay In and Come Out of the Broom Closet: An Inquiry Into Pagan Identity Management

Presenter: Holly Brown

Abstract: To be a Pagan in a Judeo-Christian society is to hold, in some important ways, different fundamental beliefs and practices than the typical norms of this society. In this thesis, I seek to understand how Pagans’ navigate this social terrain – more specifically, how they perceive and experience others who do not subscribe to their historically unique creed and rituals. What factors influence a person’s decision to either disclose or hide his or her Pagan identity from others? Do these factors change depending on the context, such as in family or work settings? What are the resulting outcomes of either decision and how do those outcomes impact their lives and emotional well-being? Additionally, I am curious to see what other themes emerge from speaking to participants. Is it possible that stigma surrounding Paganism creates a sense of empowerment for Pagans? Do Pagans find empowerment by walking out of what they playfully call “the broom closet” and closing the door behind them? To address this topic, I will be comparing the experiences of those who are still in the broom closet and those who are currently out. This project will employ a qualitative study that uses a phenomenological approach to explore the question of how Pagans navigate their stigmatized identity. This qualitative study will be conducted through informal semi-structured conversational interviews. Due to the limited amount of academic research that is available surrounding Paganism and lived experiences within the broom closet, two preliminary interviews will be conducted to help inform the creation of the interview guide for subsequent interviews. One will be conducted with a Pagan who is in the broom closet in some capacity, and another to be conducted with one who is currently out. Since Pagans often conceal their identity, identifying participants may be difficult without having someone to offer a referral. Due to this, non-random snowball sampling will be used to identify study participants. Recruitment flyers will also be advertised and distributed at various Pagan events and spaces as well as electronically distributed online through Facebook and a popular Pagan website,, that is intended for finding Pagan practitioners and events within one’s local area. This sample intends to include a total of 12 self-identifying Pagans, some being in the broom closet, some being out, and some perhaps somewhere in between. Data collection will soon be underway.

Bio: Holly Brown – Bio forthcoming

Title: Characterizing magic as a quantum effect: how to optimize the influence of consciousness on unknown outcomes

Presenter: Edward Rickey

Abstract: It is well known from physics that the observer of a quantum mechanical (QM) event can influence the outcome of that event. Utilizing the definition of magic as provided by chaos magic, I propose an experimental apparatus and protocol to test the effect different subjects and magical training have on a fully random quantum system. The protocol is a double blind type, and the apparatus can be built and run on off-the shelf components and software. The goal is to test whether magic is a way of influencing probabilities in fully random QM events, and if such an influence can be optimized in an objective, non-anecdotal way. The presentation will include an introduction to basic quantum indeterminacy, the Schrodinger equation and operators, magical theory, random versus pseudorandom events, and the requirements of double blind to remove any influence from those administering the protocol.

Bio: Edward Rickey – Bio forthcoming

Title: Reconstructing the Fragments: A narrative-organic inquiry into the stories of women who joined a goddess temple

Presenter: Shelly Nixon

Abstract: This transdisciplinary inquiry is a personal and academic inquiry into Goddess Spirituality in contemporary society. It focuses on the stories of women who joined a Goddess Temple in the Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina. The central inquiry question is: What are the motivations and lived experiences of women who are drawn to Goddess Spirituality and who choose to join a Goddess Temple? Organic inquiry and narrative inquiry will be employed in order to collect the stories of these women, and the women’s narratives, or tellings, will be analyzed using The Listening Guide (Gilligan, C. & et al., 2006). These will be contextualized within the broader literature of Goddess Spirituality, thealogy, and ecofeminism. Key Words: thealogy, ecofeminism, Goddess Spirituality, organic inquiry, feminist witchcraft, Neopaganism, narrative inquiry

Bio: Shelly Nixon – Originally from Flint, Michigan, Shelly Nixon holds a B.S. in chemistry and an M.L.S. in Women and Gender Studies from Eastern Michigan University and an M.L.A. in Liberal Arts from the University of North Carolina at Asheville. She is currently an educator with Asheville City Schools and a doctoral candidate (Ph.D.) in the Transformative Studies program at the California Institute of Integral Studies. You can read her other work at her Academia.Edu page as well as her author page on

Title: The Witches of Horror

Presenter: Heather Greene

Abstract: Witches are a staple of the modern American Horror film from the 1969 classic Rosemary’s Baby to the contemporary Netflix show The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. However, witches weren’t always at the center of the American Horror narrative. When and why did that change? Film historian and author Heather Greene will be sharing the history of the American horror witch from her early beginnings in silent film. Within the context of politics, religion, America’s changing cultural dynamics and a bit of feminist theory, we will examine America’s love affair with the horror witch from the goth teens to seductive vamps to cloaked crones in the woods.

Bio: Heather Greene – Bio forthcoming.

All that’s missing is you! Be sure to register today so that you can enjoy each of these PAPERS. Your registration includes access to all PAPERS, headliner presentations, workshops, rituals, and evening entertainment.

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