Deepening Conversations between Ritual Studies and Pagan Studies


  • Michelle Mueller Graduate Theological Union



Ritual Studies, Pagan Studies, ritual theory, rites of passage


Imagine a room with a desk and bookshelves. On the shelves are books by Mircea Eliade, Starhawk, Catherine Bell, Victor Turner, Robert Graves, Margot Adler, and maybe a few Tarot and oracle decks. The desk supports a messy stack of papers, a drained eco-friendly reusable Starbucks mug, and a printed manuscript with notes. This is a typical home office of a contemporary Pagan practitioner, whose career may vary from education, software engineering, to a government agency or social services, and so on. The short of the matter is that many scholarly books on ritual theory are integrated into the library collections and knowledge set of Pagan practitioners (part of the canon if you will). Important works in ritual studies are warmly incorporated into a modern religious community’s sense of identity and their understanding of the history and practice of religion. In this article, author lifts up the natural, existing connections between Pagan studies and ritual studies and argues that Pagan studies scholars can and ought to deepen the conversations by drawing on other methodologies from ritual studies and sharing their discoveries with the field of ritual theory. Author accomplishes this with a broad overview of Pagan studies and ritual theory, with especial reference to rites of passage, and a sample analysis using liturgical theology of a coming of age ritual for an adolescent male from Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions.

Author Biography

Michelle Mueller, Graduate Theological Union

Michelle Mueller is a doctoral student in Cultural and Historical Studies of Religions at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif. Mueller teaches as adjunct faculty for Cherry Hill Seminary and other institutions.


Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America. New York: Penguin Compass, 1986.

Anderson, Victor and Cora. The Heart of the Initiate: Feri Lessons. San Francisco: Marion Street Press, 2012.

Bado-Fralick, Nikki. Coming to the Edge of the Circle: A Wiccan Initiation Ritual. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

——. “Mapping the Wiccan Ritual Landscape: Circles of Transformation.” Folklore Forum 33:1/2 (2002):, 45–65.

Bell, Catherine. Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

——. Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Berger, Helen, Evan A. Leach, and Leigh S. Shaffer. Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States. Columbia: University of South Carolina, 2003.

Blain, Jenny, Douglas Ezzy, and Graham Harvey. Researching Paganisms. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2004.

Bradley, Marion Zimmer. Mists of Avalon. New York: Random House, 2001.

Campanelli, Pauline. Pagan Rites of Passage. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1998.

Christ, Carol P. Laughter of Aphrodite: Reflections on a Journey to the Goddess. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987.

Clifton, Chas S. Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2006.

Clifton, Chas S., and Graham Harvey, eds. The Paganism Reader. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Clifton, Chas S. Witchcraft Today, Book One: The Modern Craft Movement. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1992.

Davy, Barbara Jane. Introduction to Pagan Studies. Lanham, MD: Altamira Press, 2006.

Eliade, Mircea. Rites and Symbols of Initiation. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.

Eller, Cynthia. Living in the Lap of the Goddess: The Feminist Spirituality Movement in America. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995.

Faraone, Christopher and David Dodd, eds. Initiation in Ancient Greek Rituals and Narratives: New Critical Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Frazer, James George. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1955 [1890–1915].

Gardner, Gerald. Witchcraft Today. Thame England: I-H-O Books, 1999. First published 1954 by Rider & Company.

Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York, NY: Perseus Book Group, 1973.

Graves, Robert. The White Goddess. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975. First published in 1948 by Faber and Faber.

Griffin, Wendy. “The Embodied Goddess: Feminist Witchcraft and Female Divinity.” Sociology of Religion 56, no. 1 (1955): 35–48.

Griffin Lozano, Wendy and Tanice G. Foltz. “Into the Darkness: An Ethnographic Study of Witchcraft and Death.” Qualitative Sociology 13.3 (1990): 211-34.

Grimes, Ronald L. The Craft of Ritual Studies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. Kindle edition.

——. Deeply Into the Bone: Re-Inventing Rites of Passage. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

Hardman, Charlotte, and Graham Harvey, eds. Paganism Today. London: Thorsons, 1996.

Heinlein, Robert. A Stranger in A Strange Land. New York: Ace Books, 2003. First published in 1961.

Hutton, Ronald. Triumph of the Moon. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Jennings, Theodore W., Jr. “Ritual Studies and Liturgical Theology: An Invitation to Dialogue.” Journal of Ritual Studies 1, no. 1 (1987): 35–55.

Johnston, Sarah Iles. Ancient Greek Divination. Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008.

——. Restless Dead: Encounters Between the Living and the Dead in Ancient Greece. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013.

——., ed. Ancient Religions. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap, 2007.

Kelleher, Margaret Mary. “Ritual Studies and the Eucharist: Paying Attention to Performance.” In Eucharist Toward the Third Millennium, edited by Gerard Austin et al., 51–64. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1997.

Kelly, Aidan A. Crafting the Art of Magic: A History of Modern Witchcraft 1939–1964. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1991.

Klein, Kenny. Fairy Tale Rituals: Engage Dark, Eerie & Erotic Power Familiar Stories. Woodbury, Minn.: Llewellyn, 2001.

Luhrmann, Tanya M. Persuasions of the Witch's Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989.

Marler, Joan. “The Life and Work of Marija Gimbutas.” Lecture presented at the Sonoma County Pagan Network Monthly Gathering, Santa Rosa, California, January 20, 2012.

Mitchell, Nathan D. “New Directions in Ritual Research.” In Liturgy and the Social Sciences, 63–93. Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1999.

Mueller, Michelle. “Gender and the Gods: Queer Challenges for Wicca and Feminist Neo-Paganism.” Paper presented at the annual meeting for the American Academy of Religion Western Region, Los Angeles, California, March 7-9, 2014.

——. “Kore in Conflict: Feminist Neo-Pagans Look the Other Way as the God Rapes the Goddess.” B.A. Thesis, Haverford College, 2005.

Prothero, Stephen. God Is Not One. New York: Harper One, 2010.

Salomonsen, Jone. Enchanted Feminism. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Slater, Herman, ed. A Book of Pagan Rituals. York Beach, Me: Samuel Weiser, 1978. First published in 1974.

——., ed. Pagan Rituals III: Outer Court Training Coven. New York: Magickal Childe Publishing, Inc., 1989.

Starhawk. Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex, and Politics. Boston: Beacon Press, 1997.

——. The Spiral Dance. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.

Starhawk, Diane Baker, and Anne Hill. Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions. New York: Bantam Books, 1998.

Turner, Victor. The Ritual Process; Structure and Anti-Structure. Chicago: Aldine, 1969.

Van Gennep, Arnold. The Rites of Passage. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960.



How to Cite

Mueller, M. (2015). Deepening Conversations between Ritual Studies and Pagan Studies. Pomegranate, 16(1), 5–23.



Opinion Piece