Magliocco, Sabina 1959-

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Magliocco, Sabina 1959-


Born December 30, 1959, in Topeka, KS; daughter of E. Bruno and Maria Teresa Magliocco; married Uli Schamiloglu, May 21, 1988 (divorced, March, 1995). Education: Brown University, B.A., 1980; Indiana University, M.A., 1983, Ph.D., 1988. Hobbies and other interests: Animal welfare and wildlife rehabilitation, bluegrass and traditional music, and gardening.


Office—Department of Anthropology, California State University, Northridge, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge, CA 91330-8244. E-mail—[email protected]


University of Wisconsin, Madison, visiting assistant professor, 1990-94; University of California, Los Angeles, visiting assistant professor, 1994; University of California, Santa Barbara, visiting assistant professor, 1995; University of California, Berkeley, visiting assistant professor, 1995-96; California State University, Northridge (CSUN), assistant professor of anthropology, beginning 1997, became professor and chair of department. Faculty advisor, CSUN Cat People. Member of board of directors, Monroe County Animal Control Commission, Bloomington, IN, 1983-89; president of board of directors, Monroe County Humane Association, Bloomington, IN, 1984-85.


Modern Language Association, American Anthropological Association, American Folklore Society (convenor of Italian section, 1996; secretary-treasurer, Italian section, 1993-96; honorary fellow), Society for Anthropology of Europe, Society for Humanistic Anthropology.


Fulbright-Hays doctoral research grant, 1986; Fulbright postdoctoral grant, 1989; Hewlett Award, University of Wisconsin, 1990; Chicago Folklore Prize, 1994; Guggenheim fellow, 1996; National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, 2001-02.


The Two Madonnas: The Politics of Festival in a Sardinian Community, P. Lang (New York, NY), 1993, 2nd edition, Waveland Press (Long Grove, IL), 2006.

Neo-pagan Sacred Art and Altars: Making Things Whole, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 2001.

Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-paganism in America, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia, PA), 2004.

(With John Bishop) Oss Tales & Oss Oss Wee Oss Redux: Beltane in Berkeley (film), Media Generation Productions, 2007.

Contributor of articles to books, including Studies in Italian American Folklore, edited by Luisa Del Giudice, Utah State University Press, 1993; Magical Religions and Modern Witchcraft, edited by James Lewis, SUNY Press, 1996; and A Taste of American Place, edited by Barbara G. Shortridge and James R. Shortridge, Rowman & Littlefield, 1998. Contributor to periodicals, including Ethnologies. Editor, Western Folklore.


California State University, Northridge anthropology professor Sabina Magliocco is the author of several books on European folk rituals and the culture of neo-pagans. Neo-pagan Sacred Art and Altars: Making Things Whole and Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-paganism in America both deal with the issue of religious nonconformity today and the ways in which practicing pagans construct their spiritual lives. "Briefly, neo-paganism … attempts to heal the chasm arising from science and rampant consumerism that now divides humankind and nature and the genders from each other," explained Celia S. McClinton in her PopMatters review of Neo-pagan Sacred Art and Altars. "At one and the same time both inventive and backward-looking," wrote Sarah M. Pike in a Journal of the Royal AnthropologicalInstitute review of Witching Culture, "Neo-pagans create new rituals out of the materials they find at hand: a Vodou priestess who lives on the other side of town, British witchcraft books of the 1940s, Grimm Brothers fairy tales, Sir James Frazer's Golden Bough and above all, their own imaginations and experiences."

Modern neo-pagans can trace their immediate origins back to experimentalists working in Britain in the 1930s and 1940s, but in Witching Culture Magliocco explains that they prefer to understand their worship as a continuation of "a religion that has always been part of human experience," noted Michael F. Brown, writing for the journal Natural History. "They also voice a bewildering array of more specific identities—as druids, Wiccans, witches, practitioners of ‘the Craft,’ or worshipers of ‘the Goddess.’ … They draw on an equally diverse set of cultural traditions: Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Greco-Roman, Nordic, and occasionally African or Native American." Magliocco points out that most of "today's Pagans and Witches are well informed about these historical issues," explained Folklore contributor Jacqueline Simpson, "and accept that their two crucial sacred narratives—of their Paleolithic origins, and of immense persecutions in the Burning Times—are powerfully emotional myths rather than historical facts."

Magliocco's study of neo-paganism required that she undergo initiation into a coven—in her case the Coven Trismegiston, a group of neo-pagans centered in Berkeley, California. She was required to swear an oath of silence about the group's rituals and, according to Brown, found ways to use the group's rituals to access her own spirituality. Still, despite predictable questions about the author's objectivity, ventured Brown, Magliocco "is open about her attachments and willing to comment dispassionately on aspects of Neopaganism."

The centers of neo-pagan worship, Magliocco reveals in Neo-pagan Sacred Art and Altars, lie in the altar and the costume, the joint subjects of her book. "Magliocco presents the altar as the place where the physical world meets something more abstract to negotiate a form of accommodation," McClinton explained. "She distinguishes between the ‘working altar,’ the product of private imagination sequestered somewhere in a residence, and ‘the communal altar.’" Costuming can include not only the clothes worn but also jewelry, masks, and tattooing. All these things go into creating a spiritual experience that is highly personal and individualistic. The author also links neo-pagan practices with historical trends in religion, including the Romantic desire to unify humans with the natural world and the tendency of new religions to proliferate in the United States—a tendency that goes back at least to the Shakers, Mormons, and utopian communists of the nineteenth century. "Magliocco … brings to the topic the perspective of the folklorist," declared McClinton. "Her credentials are superlative."

Magliocco told CA: "When I was small, I was often sent to spend summers in Italy with my relatives, while my parents stayed on in the United States. I began writing letters to my mother in which I described my various activities, and often added serial stories of my own invention—one involved a family of rabbits. That is how my writing habit got started. But certainly the fact that I grew up in a household full of books, and that both my parents read to me extensively, greatly contributed to my interest in writing. My father would read me nonfiction books about nature and animals, while my mother read me mythology, fairy tales, and fiction. Those contrasting sets of interests—the scientific and the humanistic—are still reflected in my work.

"I have been strongly influenced by reflexive ethnography in the disciplines of Folkloristics and Anthropology, and by feminist writers such as Lila Abu-Lughod, Ruth Behar, Kirin Narayan and Elaine Lawless, as well as by Renato Rosaldo and Paul Stoller. There are a number of colleagues whose work has strongly influenced my thinking: among the most important are Regina Bendix's work on authenticity and Ronald Hutton's work on modern Pagan religions. The popular writer who has most influenced me is Ursula K. LeGuin. As the daughter of anthropologist A.L. Kroeber, she draws sharp, detailed and believable portraits of other cultures, whether real or imagined. Her writing is vivid, terse, and powerful; certain phrases of hers resound in my mind so strongly that I carry them with me always. I aspire to write as vividly as she does, to draw readers into my narrative so they identify with the people I describe and imagine themselves in the field sites I depict.

"I usually have a pretty good idea of what I want to say when I sit down to write—a sort of mental outline. But as a musician, I am a very auditory person, and I actually hear the words I want to write in my mind before I type them out. When things are going well, I hear whole paragraphs in succession: the writing just pours out of me onto the page as though I were channeling, rather than composing. Still, it doesn't always happen that way. Writing requires discipline, and there are days when I spend hours staring at the computer screen, struggling to express myself and feeling dissatisfied with what I have written. And as a bilingual, I sometimes struggle to find the right word in the right language to express a particular idea. Good writing takes time and reflection. I like to say that writing is like spaghetti sauce: it benefits from simmering on the stove long enough for the flavors to come together.

"It is always surprising to me when people contact me to tell me they have been influenced by what I write. Writing is such an act of faith: I write about things that interest me passionately, but have no idea whether anyone else will feel the same way. Discovering that others connect with what I have written is magical.

"Witching Culture is probably my most important work to date; it also represents the fullest development of my reflexive style. The Two Madonnas encapsulates memories of my years in Sardinia, which was a very happy time in my life. And I loved interviewing artists and working with material culture in Neo-Pagan Sacred Art and Altars because I felt like I was indulging my fetish for beautiful things.

"First and foremost I hope my books will educate people about subjects they may not have known much about. I write in part to dispel prejudice and help people connect with other people's humanity at an emotional level as well as an intellectual one. If my books and other writings encourage others to become more creative, to explore some area or point of view they had not previously considered, or to write something that builds upon and surpasses my own contribution, it is the greatest compliment I can hope for."



Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, March 1, 2005, J.B. Wolford, review of Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-paganism in America, p. 1271.

Folklore, August 1, 2005, Jacqueline Simpson, review of Witching Culture, p. 238.

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, March 1, 2006, Sarah M. Pike, review of Witching Culture, p. 241.

Natural History, November 1, 2004, Michael F. Brown, "American Spirits: The Neopagan and New Age Movements Have Now Been Put under the Microscope of Anthropology," p. 46.

Western Folklore, September 22, 2006, Bill Ellis, review of Witching Culture, p. 469.


BBC Web site, (August 16, 2008), author profile.

California State University—Northridge Web site, (August 16, 2008), author profile.

PopMatters, (August 16, 2008), Celia S. McClinton, review of Neo-pagan Sacred Art and Altars: Making Things Whole.