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Elves, Spirits, and Aliens: Superhuman Entities in New Religions

Monday 18 April 2016
Lipsius Building
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


19.30. Welcome

19.35. Kateryna Zorya | Tolkien Spirituality in the former Soviet Union

19.55. Discussion

20.10. Hella de Jong | Crystal Skulls: From Myth to Movement

20.30. Discussion

20.45. Break

21.05. Maria van Daalen | Balance as Strength: Spirits in Haitian Vodou

21.30. Discussion

21.50. The discussion continues in a nearby pub

The symposium is hosted by the Leiden Centre for the Study of Religion (LUCSoR). It is part of the courses New Religions and Spirituality: A Growing Phenomenon within the BA programme in Religious Studies, but open to all.

Please contact Markus A. Davidsen for more information.

Kateryna Zorya

Tolkien Spirituality in the former Soviet Union

Abstract: We find Tolkien spirituality in both the Anglophone West and in the former Soviet Union, but while both milieus draw on the same works by J.R.R. Tolkien, they do so in strikingly different ways. The difference in approach has to do with differences in the populations’ religious and social backgrounds. In the former Soviet Union, Tolkien spirituality has been shaped by a combination of government-supported atheism and countercultural Christianity, as well as a search for a respite from poverty in New Age spiritual truths, informal social networks, and games that require little or no money to play. These factors shaped post-Soviet Tolkien spirituality into a milieu that holds beliefs about the reincarnation of elves on Earth, and of the possibility of contacting another spiritual world. An important ritual practice is the channeling of elven lords from Tolkien’s literary mythology in order to learn about elven ethics or to explore a new gender identity.

Bio: Zorya is a research master student at the Western Esotericism programme at the University of Amsterdam. She is Ukrainian and is currently researching post-Soviet Tolkien-based spirituality and its relation to the Live Action Role Play and occult milieus in the former Soviet Union.

Hella de Jong

Crystal Skulls: From Myth to Movement

Abstract: In this presentation we will look at the central narrative of a young religious movement: the crystal skull movement. Over the course of its history, this movement has put forward several extraordinary claims about crystal skulls, including that some of them have been planted on earth by aliens, and that one can use them to channel alien spiritual entities. We will track down the different elements of the crystal skull myth throughout history to their various sources, and try to find out why exactly these elements gravitated towards each other to form a new and comprehensive myth. By reviewing the process of mythmaking we will be able to identify the key moments when the story was enriched to allow it to speak to a larger audience and to progress from being just another eccentric story to becoming a viable source of religious behaviour.

Bio: De Jong finished her MA in the Study of Religion (cum laude) in 2015 with a thesis on the Crystal Skull Movement.

Maria van Daalen

Balance as Strength: Spirits in Haitian Vodou

Abstract: Haitian Vodou is a new religious movement in the Netherlands, but in the Caribbean it is more than 200 years old, and the tradition can be traced further back to its three main roots: (West-)African, European, and indigenous Taino. Haitian Vodou is organised in Sosyete’s, along ‘lineages’. Being part of a Sosyete means being ‘fanmi’, family: you have a Mama, a Papa, grandparents, brothers and sisters, godparents, and sometimes kids – all with family rights and obligations. The spirits (‘Loa/Lwa’) are intermediaries between God and the human, on a level with Saints and Holy Angels, but more intimate: Loa are considered to be part of one’s (extended) soul, and a continuous help and assistance in keeping the balance in this world. Dances, songs, rhythms, and colors are means to communicate with the Loa.

Bio: Van Daalen (b. 1950), a well-known Dutch poet, is the first (and only) Manbo Asogwe – high priestess in Haitian Vodou – in the Netherlands. Van Daalen has published poetry, stories, and essays, translated mediaeval Dutch poetry, taught Dutch and Creative Writing, and coordinated/organised literature festivals. She holds an MA in Dutch literature and linguistics.

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