'Gods, Wights and Ancestors': The Varieties of Pagan Religious Experience at Ancient Sacred Sites

  • Jennifer Susan Uzzell Durham University
Keywords: paganism, animism, ancient sites, religious experience, numinous


This article explores anomalous experiences reported by people identifying as Pagan, whilst visiting places of ancient religious significance in the UK and the US. It is the result of research conducted through an online survey and through informal interviews. The research seeks to establish the extent to which these experiences conform to William James’ (2016, pp. 380–381)  descriptors of mystical experience as ineffable, noetic, transient and passive. It suggests that while some of the experiences described do conform to the traditional categories, others describe a different sort of experience, possibly arising from a very different world view, which is neither monotheistic nor monist and as such is not concerned with concepts such as transcendence. These experiences are real and meaningful to those who have them but have, to date, been under-represented in research into religious experience. The article concludes that more research is needed into religious experiences within the context of the ‘new animism’. (Harvey, 2006)

Author Biography

Jennifer Susan Uzzell, Durham University

Jennifer Uzzell is a PhD student at Durham University working under the auspices of the Centre for Death and Life Studies and based in the department of Theology and Religion. She is conducting research into death rites among contemporary Druids in the UK.  In addition to her PhD research, which she is conducting on a part time basis, she is also co-owner and director of a funeral home that forms part of a growing movement in the UK towards greater openness, honesty and authenticity in the way funerals are arranged and conducted In this capacity she has helped to re-imagine and design funeral rituals that are relevant to those involved and has provided help and advice with ‘home funerals’. She is also a senior examiner in Religious Studies with a Major awarding body and was a teacher of religious education for many years.


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