Dennis Carpenter (1954- ) Prominent American Pagan scholar and, with his wife, Selena Fox, co-director of Circle Sanctuary in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin. Since the mid-1990s, Dennis Carpenter has served as a leading academic Pagan spokesperson, participating in interdisciplinary and interfaith networking and dialogue around the world.
Carpenter was born on January 16, 1954, in Hillsboro, Wisconsin, a farming community in southwestern Wiscon- sin, not far from his present home at Circle. He was raised on a dairy farm in a Protestant family and spent a great deal of time in childhood outdoors, learning to appreciate nature. A pivotal experience of finding the spiritual dimensions of nature came in high school, when he participated in the “Endu Club” (Endu was short for “Endurance”), a church-sponsored activity for boys featuring outdoors adventures.
Carpenter attended the University of Wisconsin, graduating in 1977 with a bachelor's degree in psychology, and earning his master's degree in psychology in 1979. He began his career as a school psychologist. For five years he lived in a cabin by a lake, deepening his rapport with nature.
In the early 1980s, friends introduced Carpenter to a UW professor of philosophy who had Pagan interests and was involved with Circle, which had already been formed by Fox. He recommended books to Carpenter, and interested him in attending some Circle events. The first came in 1982, when Carpenter attended a program sponsored by Circle featuring Starhawk. In 1983, he attended Circle's annual Pagan Spirit Gathering, followed by involvement in more of Circle's activities.
In 1984, Carpenter moved to Circle and became a publications editor, a position he continues to hold. He and Fox were married in 1986 in a two-part Pagan handfasting ceremony.
In the first part, they were legally married in a ceremony at the June new moon, attended by family and a few friends. Margot Adler officiated. The second part was a large ceremony at Circle's Pagan Spirit Gathering — again with Adler officiating — held in Eagle Cave, Wisconsin's largest onyx cave.
Around this time, Carpenter became interested in pursuing more academic work. Through his interests in humanistic and transpersonal psychologies, he met Stanley Krippner, a psychologist at the Saybrook Institute in San Francisco, California, who has long been involved in research into parapsychology, healing and altered states of consciousness. Carpenter enrolled in a doctoral program at Saybrook in 1988, focusing his academic work on Paganism, which was attracting the attention of scholars. He was nominated for “Best Essay of the Year” in 1992 and 1993 at Saybrook, and in 1993 received the Parker Scholarship for research.
In 1994 he was awarded a Ph.D. with distinction in psychology, Saybrook's highest graduate honour. His dissertation concerned the nature of Pagans' experiences with the Divine, how those experiences impacted life, and especially how they influenced ecological views and actions.
Carpenter is an author of essays and articles on various aspects of Paganism. With Fox, he participates in conferences, seminars and symposia, presenting papers and workshops. He views his role as helping to articulate the Pagan worldview, explore the relationship between humankind and nature, and build international bridges of understanding. Paganism remains too diverse to espouse a unified message, and so Carpenter focuses on the ripple effects of Paganism: how people change when they understand divine immanence and a reverence for nature.
In addition to his editorial functions at Circle, Carpenter oversees administrative affairs and groundskeeping.