New Project! Psychology and Modern Paganism (Part 1)


Photo by Dan Farrell on Unsplash

I was 16 years old, wearing a broomstick skirt, a peasant blouse, and a clear quartz crystal, a paperback on Celtic myth and magick open in front of me. I had gathered what materials I could from around the house and tried to summon Cerridwen (I know — the youthful audacity!). I don’t think I actually conjured anything that year beyond strange looks from my peers. My time as a Wiccan was short-lived and I eventually went on to take comparative religion courses alongside my psychology and pre-med education, and eventually declare myself either agnostic or atheist.

Fast-forward 20+ years, and I am a psychology professor sitting in my living room as my 15-year-old daughter and her friends read their birth charts and talk about tarot. I’d lost my Rider-Waite Tarot deck long ago, but there was something comforting and familiar as one of the young women read my birth chart (I’m a proud Sagittarius but apparently something in one of my houses caused her to exclaim “oh, poor baby”). Not long after, I found myself exploring a local crystal, jewelry, and incense store in our tiny downtown, picking up a Lapis Lazuli tower and a blue chalcedony necklace.

In the ebb and flow of spiritual practice, what is making this another time of increased interest in supernatural and spiritual things? In particular, why are many people turning to old, nature-centered practices and Pagan rituals from around the world and to ideas rooted in the New Age movement of the last century? Am I right to believe there is an increase, as I notice teens turning to tarot and astrology, moms selling essential oils, crystals being sold everywhere from small shops to etsy to Target? I believe that many of us are feeling a sense of powerlessness and concern about the future and our world, and I know others are out there writing about this, in both popular media and scientific journals. I decided to take a deep dive into exploring these questions.

But I have decided to take a slightly different approach than some. No surveys and questionnaires. I look forward to reading what other scholars have found in their survey data analyses. Not from the position of someone who is already a believer and practitioner of some form of Paganism and is in a better position to teach it to the world. Instead, I am going to explore it from two directions simultaneously: from outside, through reading everything I can about the psychological aspects of Modern Paganism, and from the inside, learning and practicing some elements myself and recording my own feeling, thoughts, and insights.

I will be sharing pieces of this journey here, such as an article that I find particularly informative or a reaction to trying out a practice or ritual. Eventually, I hope to put the whole process and what I learn from it together into one work, although where that will be shared remains to be seen.