Monday, January 18, 2010

The Next Two Classes

I have, in light of my recent clarification of purpose, decided to pin down exactly what I'll be teaching in my Fall semester class at Rice. The first class—I haven't quite decided a name for it yet— will be a course detailing the Neo-Pagan movement in modern religious practice; its origins, texts, traditions, and issues with interpretation, etc. I think that I will require The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho as the only required text, because it has such an interesting way of approaching the individual's transformation, and also puts its finger on what is dissatisfying for some people about Christianity. I will structure the class mostly on the book Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler, as she addresses almost every aspect of the Neo-Pagan movement. I hope I can find a pagan group in Houston that I can take the students to, to witness what a ritual is like (this will be in the late summer/fall). If you live in Houston, and are willing to let a group of students witness a coven meeting, I would appreciate an email! Anyway, we will devote probably a third of the semester to Wicca, as it is the most prolific of the modern traditions, and then we will move on to Family Traditions, Reconstructionists, and other practices, as well as essential points in its history (such as the Witch's Councils). We will not refer to Neo-paganism as a mere "cult," but examine it as  a viable, growing, and spiritually satisfying religious practice that is steadily growing in America and Europe.

I think I should note, in order to avoid bias accusations, that 1.) I am not Neo-pagan, and 2.) my own personal knowledge lies solely within the European realm, that is, I cannot claim to know the religious traditions of the Native Americans or the Latin American tribes, although I will certainly be researching these in order to provide richer information to my students. Thank you for your suggestions and encouraging words.

And, for my next class (one that is much clearer in purpose, thank God), I will be teaching a class about Theology and Magic in popular British fantasy novels. This was, oddly enough, thought up after the suggestion of my Latin classmates, who urged me to use my love for Harry Potter to a more constructive end than babbling on about how much better it was than the Twilight shit—I'm sorry, series. So, after a long thought, I decided to address a broader and more detailed scope: "Deep Magic: Magic and Religion in English Fantastical Literature," which will draw from Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Prydain, The Circle of Magic, His Dark Materials, and The Dark is Rising sequence. Ambitious, no? These books were such an integral part of my childhood (and, I admit, adulthood) and I remember always wondering how the magic in these books "worked," especially the Deep Magic in C.S. Lewis' books. That always sent a chill down my spine, and it set me wondering how Lewis' Christianity could fit with this conception in his highly allegorical books.

Anyway, I'm excited, and I always welcome suggestions. Unless they have to do with Twilight. Please, don't insult the above books by throwing in that hateful waste of paper.

Always, etc.,
Ross Arlen


  1. Paulo Coelho here, you were in my Google Alerts. Thanks for the comments on The Witch - BTW not a very easy book to read

  2. Thank you, Mr. Coelho! That book really touched me, and I found the narrative style to be incredibly engaging. Your work is magnificent, as I'm sure you've been told.