Accepted Paper:

Whose past is it? Urban witchcraft and the negotiation of a "pagan heritage" within and of the city of Berlin  


Victoria Hegner (Göttingen University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores the ways Neopagan witches in Berlin “reclaim” and thus construct a “pagan heritage” within the urban realm. Their notion of heritage is contested by dominant theologies and German historical self understand. Yet, it intensely relates to Berlin`s staged urban culture of liberalism.

Paper long abstract:

Based on ethnographic research the paper focuses on Neopagan witches in Berlin (Germany) and the highly complex way they make use of pre-Christian pantheons and symbols, (i.e. the Teutonic Alphabet), in their spiritual/religious practice and thus aim to "reclaim" an ancient "pagan heritage" within and of the city of Berlin. "Pagan Heritage", as it is conceptionalized by modern witches is bound to territory and grounded in a holistic experience of an immanent divine power. It is seen as rooted in a "matriarchal past" and in that it represents an ancient forerunner of modern feminism. Not only do those ideas on "heritage" challenge dominant theologies, (mainly Christian, Jewish, Islamic). Out of the collective remembrance of the Nazi-time, the use of supposedly geographically related - "Germanic" - symbols carries notion of dangerous nationalism.

Through thick description of rituals within the urban realm as well as by closely analyzing the recent controversity raised by some Neopagan witches over the locale of the House of One - a future common prayer house for Christians, Moslems and Jews in (East)Berlin`s city center -it will be shown how the witches "navigate" through the different political as well religious contestations and thereby "excavate" a peculiar pagan past of Berlin. Not only that, in trying to "popularize" (Knoblauch) the latter by staging rituals as joyful "events", welcoming people from "all" walks of live, they turn it into a "heritage" that is part of Berlin`s ascribed and staged political as well cultural liberalism.

Panel Reli002
The heritagization of religious and spiritual practices: the effects of grassroots and top-down policies (SIEF Ethnology of Religion Working Group)