Two Interviews of Note: Ben Whitmore & Arthur Hinds

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 8, 2011 — 127 Comments

I wanted to point out a couple of recent Pagan-themed interviews that I think are worth checking out. The first is with Ben Whitmore, author of the book “Trials of the Moon: Reopening the Case for Historical Witchcraft,” conducted by Star Foster at Patheos. This self-pubished study/critique of Ronald Hutton’s “Triumph of the Moon” has generated quite a bit of notice, and respectable amount of criticism from Pagan academics, so this opportunity for Whitmore to make his case seems very appropriate.

“At first, I hoped it would make Triumph a more useful resource for pagans and Wiccans. As I started talking with others about what I was doing, though, I discovered that Triumph had become something of a cult, and I risked getting a dressing-down for even questioning it. A fairly typical response was condescension followed by condemnation, and being told that I obviously hadn’t read Hutton very carefully, and only fluff-bunnies still cling to the old myths. Pointing out that I wasn’t clinging to the old myths didn’t seem to make any difference. In fact, “Wicca” seemed to be turning into some sort of derisive joke, with “Ronald Hutton” as the punch line. Some people were quite vicious about it. I started to feel that my critique might help restore some dignity to the Craft, and turn Triumph back into just a book; a book with no greater claim to infallibility than any other.”

Whitmore also notes recent criticisms of his work by Peg Aloi (who is currently working on a longer-form criticism for Pagan academic journal The Pomegranate) and Chas Clifton, saying they make “a big fuss about me not being an academic,” and accused him of “being too lazy to write a proper critique.” One academic in Whitmore’s corner is Max Dashu, who recently penned a lengthy and glowing review of “Trials.” Then again, one could argue that Dashu isn’t exactly a fan of Hutton’s work to begin with, making her positively predisposed to a Hutton critique. In any case, it seems that this renewed debate isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.

The second interview I wanted to bring your attention to is with musician Arthur Hinds, a member of the popular Celtic-American folk rock band Emerald Rose, and a longtime fixture on the Pagan festival circuit. Laura LaVoie from The Juggler interviews Arthur about being an “out” Pagan musician in honor of International Pagan Coming Out Day (May 2nd, 2011).

“The idea of a formalized pagan coming out day I think I has two edges. First of all, I hope that, for many people, it may give them strength or the moment to speak of who they are. I also hope that they have the wisdom not to speak it where it doesn’t belong. I do not believe in rubbing it in people’s faces anymore that I enjoy having another faith splashed in mine. I also hope that eventually the purpose for the day will simply fade away entirely and Pagans need not feel imprisoned by the secrecy they fear is necessary.”

Hinds is planning to release a new single “about the path of being Pagan” on May 2nd in honor of IPCOD. For more about Arthur Hinds’ work, check out his 2008 solo album “Poetry of Wonder”. Arthur is an extremely talented individual, and a friend, and I’m extremely pleased to see him throw his support behind this new effort. Be sure to read the entire interview!

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Riverbend

    For whatever it may be worth: there's a lovely new introductory video up at the OBOD site at <a href="http://www.druidry.org” target=”_blank”>www.druidry.org that features Hutton at the end (his voice comes in at about 6:30 and he appears a couple of times between then and the end) in which it's very clear that he is in fact very pro-Pagan. The question I think is the extent to which he's made a good case for his conclusions in his historical research, not whether or not he's somehow against us by disagreeing with the things many of us believe.

    • Peg Aloi

      He is not only pro-Pagan, he is a practicing pagan. I'd have thought this was widely known by now.

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

        Yes, Ronald Hutton is a Pagan. And Alan Keyes is an African American. And Phyllis Schlafly is a woman. And Ronald Reagan was a union activist.

        • Peg Aloi

          And you're a wordsmith.

          • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat_C_B

            And you're kind.

      • Riverbend

        I had heard that he was, yes, but rumors do fly after all…was lovely to see him up there with the sword in those great stripey pants. :)

    • Crystal7431

      That's a very nice video. My problem with Hutton, or the reason I always saw him as anti-Pagan, was less the points he was making but rather the derisive language he used. I have no problem with anyone challenging Pagan mythology but I wish he had been more objective while doing it. It makes him come across as if he had a major chip on his shoulder. I learned quite a bit from Hutton but I still find his tone exceedingly arrogant. I'd like to get my hands on Mr.Whittmore's book and do a case by case or perhaps rather point by point study of the two.

      • Riverbend

        I suspect it's more the dry/academic tone he uses most of the time (being a formal historian and all) that puts people off as much as anything, although he does seem to have some of that British dry-sense-of-humor thing going on as well. Being "objective" doesn't mean "not having an opinion"–it means "doing your best to accurately analyze the data you have without your preconceived notions getting in the way." I appreciate the hell out of the work he's done–it's an extraordinary effort to do that kind of research–and for me it only heightens the respect I have for all of us to learn so much detail about the roots of contemporary paganism. Other researchers will no doubt find other data and/or analyze it in different ways–that's how research works.

        • Crystal7431

          No, Neitzche (in selected texts) is dry. Hutton is arrogant.

  • Alex Pendragon

    Remember, it was mainstream "scholorship" that gave us the Western "Hero" General George Armstrong Custer, which celebrated Andrew Jackson, which taught us about "cowboys and indians" as being savages versus heroic white pioneers, and in MY particular upbringing, taught us kids in Mississippi that Jefferson Davis was a true American hero who stood against them damn yankees. Also, as one who was baptized and raised by good Catholic folk as suggested by my birth certificate (I was a foster kid), I was taught that if the Pope said it, it was a fact, no "scholorship" needed.

    I'll take my history " lessons" with a grain of salt, thank you very much, including a history written by Christians that suggests my pagan ancestors never really existed, or were morally inferior.

    • Cathryn Bauer

      Alex, WILD APPLAUSE! This kind of critical thinking is essential to bloody anything IMO, but especially whenyou are claiming to be talking about history as opposed to mythology or wishful thinking. I got a degree in history at the time when the philosophy of history study was coming into discussion. In a nutshell, this involved asking a lot of questions about who was writing the history, in what cultural context, and from what perspective. This helped form my policy of looking at historical accounts as well as those of today's news through a filter of "Maybe."

      FWIW, I actually connected with my first boyfriend because he expressed some similar thoughts as yours way back in ninth grade. Some of us weren't totally assimilated , even in 1970 >wg<.

    • Jonathan

      Yes, very good point. Academic scholarship has always had an adversarial relationship with social movements. Why should we expect that to turn around now?

  • http://newenglandfolklore.blogspot.com/ Peter M

    While there are some flaws in Hutton's Triumph of the Moon, I don't think they detract from his overall explanation of where Wicca came from. For me, whether Gaia was worshipped as a goddess or just acknowledged as an abstraction doesn't change Hutton's argument about the social matrix that produced Gerald Gardner and Wicca. I find it convincing.

    I think Hutton too easily dismisses Ginzburg's work on the Benandanti and other practices that seem to be shamanic, but I don't think those practices had any influence on early Wicca, which was more ceremonial than shamanic. You can find the Benandanti mentioned in later witchcraft books like Nigel Jackson's Call of the Horned Piper (a favorite!), but he very clearly states he got the information from Ginzburg.

    Pagan ideas and practices have survived for centuries, but it seems like the ones that influenced Wicca and the modern pagan revival survived mostly through books, not through an organized body of people passing lore and rituals down orally through the generations. Groups like the Sami, the Mari, the Livonian werewolves, the Calusari etc. didn't influence Gardner or Wicca. For me, that's OK. The ideas and their effectiveness are what's important, not their age or how they were passed down.

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

      Peter M.: "While there are some flaws in Hutton's Triumph of the Moon, I don't think they detract from his overall explanation of where Wicca came from."

      Hutton himself has openly admitted that his overall explanation of where Wicca came from, as presented in Triumph, is wrong in its central claim: that there is no genuine religious continuity between modern Paganism and ancient Paganism. See Hutton's later Witches, Druids and King Arthur, in which he makes this admission, but then attempts to explain it away.

      That Paganism has survived through written sources is certainly true. But these Pagan writings have also been read and discussed and put into practice throughout European history. That, after all, is what they are for. Obviously. It is also why they have been feared so much by the Church.

  • Scott

    Apuleius: "Hutton himself has openly admitted that his overall explanation of where Wicca came from, as presented in Triumph, is wrong in its central claim: that there is no genuine religious continuity between modern Paganism and ancient Paganism. See Hutton's later Witches, Druids and King Arthur, in which he makes this admission, but then attempts to explain it away.

    I still think you're misreading Hutton's claim in WDKA: there is a significant difference between stating that modern paganism is most similar to late Roman theurgical magic (compared to, for example, indigenous Northern European paganism or Greco-Roman popular pagan cult), which appears to be his argument, and stating that there is direct transmission of consciously pagan practice between the two, which is the argument that would contradict his position in Triumph. If you can cite his words directly that indicate that his argument is actually the latter, please do so. Hutton has himself revisited this subject in print several times since the publication of Triumph (WDKA is one place; I've mentioned and linked to others in up-thread discussions), and at no time has he recanted his conclusion from Triumph; to the contrary, he has affirmed that conclusion while broadening the field of discussion to address other points of similarity between ancient traditions and modern traditions. (Note that I said similarity, not continuity.)

    My reading of your arguments here is that you disagree with Hutton that transmission of consciously pagan practice should be the standard for calling something a "pagan religious survival." I would have more sympathy for your viewpoint if you would say so directly, rather than trying to put words in Hutton's mouth to make it seem as though he's come around to your view.

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

      First of all, Hutton's understanding of "late Roman theurgical magic" is, well, there is simply no charitable way of describing it. It is completely based on his own very selective use of secondary and tertiary sources. His whole argument hinges on proving that this "late Roman theurgical magic" is completely unrelated to the traditional and/or popular polytheistic Paganism of not just the Greeks and the Romans, but of all the peoples of the ancient oikoumene, comprising Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Hutton absolutely fails to do this.

      Hutton names a number of specific individuals as exemplars of what he calls the "new kind of ancient religion". These names are borrowed uncritically from the work of other contemporary scholars who have themselves backtracked significantly since then. But if one looks at primary sources, one finds that each of those named by Hutton was, without any reservation, a traditional polytheist. In many cases they also voice belief in a plethora of Daemons, as well as Goddesses and Gods. In many cases they also show that they hold ancient Pagan institutions, especially Oracles, in the highest regard.

      • Scott

        Yes, I read your blog post on the matter. I fail to see how your citation of the use of polytheistic language by these individuals defeats Hutton's argument, since he is obviously aware of it: he mentions that both Themistus and Salutius speak of the traditional gods under the umbrella of a single highest god (WDKA p. 89), and specifies that both Julian and Proclus drew the traditional deities and their worship under a monotheistic framework (pp. 91-92). I note also that a recent publication says of Celsus that "although he accepted the current Platonic view that a single god should be regarded as the guiding force of the universe, and was thus in a philosophical sense a pagan monotheist, [he] also took it to be axiomatic that the order of the world depended on a multiplicity of diverse cults." (Mitchell and Van Neuffelen, eds., *One God: Pagan monotheism in the Roman Empire*, 2010, p. 9). The question would thus seem to be a little more complex than your presentation suggests.

        • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

          What you and Hutton fail to see, Scott, is that neither Themistius, nor Sallustius, nor Julian, nor Proclus, nor Celsus (nor any other person ever identified as a "Pagan monotheist") ever say anything that is in any way shape or form more "monotheistic" than similar things that can be found in Homer, Hesiod and Pindar.

          Eleven years after the book that Hutton primarily relies upon in WDKA concerning "Pagan monotheism", Pagan Monotheism in Late Antiquity, was published, a conference was held at Exeter University on the topic of Pagan Monotheism. Here is a quote from the website publicizing the conference: "The term monotheism is a modern one (16th century) and is traditionally used for strictly monotheistic religions like Judaism, Christianity or Islam. It is certainly wrong to understand pagan monotheism in the same terms as these religions."

          The contact person listed on the website is Dr Peter van Nuffelen, the co-editor, along with Stephen Mitchell, of the 2010 book that you are citing, Scott.

          • Scott

            Again, I fail to see how quoting Van Nuffelen here actually helps you. First, that quote indicates that to whatever degree we can speak of pagan monotheism, we should not understand it in the same terms as the "pure" monotheism of the Abrahamic faiths. This does not change the fact that the individuals cited in WDKA are recorded as embracing a position that is apparently substantially closer to monotheism than to traditionally-conceived polytheism. If your contention is that this is not in fact substantively different from the views of Homer, Hesiod, and Pindar, the correct way to make that case would be to cite language from those individuals which supports that assertion, which you have not done.

            Second, the alleged movement toward monotheism is only one aspect of Hutton's contention that a new type of paganism was appearing in late antiquity; demonstrating continuity of "pagan monotheism" language across antiquity is therefore necessary but not sufficient to defeat his argument.

          • Scott

            Moreover, with respect to your "where the sidewalk ends" interpretation of Hutton, I note that you do not actually quote him asserting that "while we can trace modern Paganism back to late antiquity, once we get there we can go no further," as you put it. That's because Hutton never makes that argument. It is patently obvious that the "new paganism" that Hutton is describing arose from the cultural matrix of its time, which certainly includes traditional polytheism. The problem is that you want to assert that if modern paganism is similar to Hutton's "new paganism," and the "new paganism" arose directly from traditional polytheism, then modern paganism is a direct descendent of traditional polytheism, and Hutton was in fact wrong in Triumph and is trying to have it both ways in WDKA. The way I read Hutton's argument is that there is still no evidence of direct descent of practice between the "new paganism" and modern paganism, and so his assertions on that score stand. Once again, we're back to arguing over what constitutes "direct descent."

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

            Scott: "I note that you do not actually quote him asserting that "while we can trace modern Paganism back to late antiquity, once we get there we can go no further," as you put it. That's because Hutton never makes that argument."

            One cannot have it both ways. Hutton admits that modern Paganism can be traced back to a "new kind of ancient religion" that existed in late antiquity. Either (A) it is admitted that this late antique Paganism (where Wicca has its roots) can be traced back further still, or (B) it is claimed that this ancient progenitor of Wicca arises suddenly and abruptly in late antiquity, representing a clean break from traditional polytheistic religion practiced by Hellenes, Romans, etc.

            If A, then this amounts to a resounding vindication of Wicca as The Old Religion.

            If B, then this amounts to the claim that, in my wording: "while we can trace modern Paganism back to late antiquity, once we get there we can go no further."

          • Scott

            What Hutton actually said was "certain types of ancient religion which far more closely resembled Paganism" (WDKA, p. 87). There is a substantial difference between "closely resembled," which indicates similarity without requiring kinship and which is consistent with Hutton's other statements, and "traced back," which suggests a direct line of descent and which contradicts his stated position in Triumph, WDKA, and his various publications in between. Hutton spends the next chapter, "Paganism in the Missing Centuries," detailing incidents in which the writings of the Neoplatonists and other late antique pagans surfaced in the context of medieval and Renaissance Christianity, leading to their incorporation into the ceremonial magic of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, where Gardner would have encountered them. None of these incidents meets Hutton's standard for a historical claim of "survival of a pagan religious tradition." I see nothing contradictory about his various statements.

          • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat_C_B

            Scott, you write: "There is a substantial difference between 'closely resembled,' which indicates similarity without requiring kinship and which is consistent with Hutton's other statements, and 'traced back,' which suggests a direct line of descent and which contradicts his stated position in Triumph, WDKA, and his various publications in between… I see nothing contradictory about his various statements. "

            I agree, and I think that this point is actually so clear to a careful reader that it is difficult for me to see disagreement on this point as anything but disingenuous. I'm not saying that's necessarily the case, but my imagination fails to understand what is left to dispute.

            *shrug*

            Not that that's an especially useful observation, but it seemed worthwhile to let you know someone, at least, is still reading, and has made it this far. (In fact, I'm finding your writing wonderfully lucid, and I'm very much appreciating the time you've put into the thread.)

          • Scott

            Thanks, Cat! I'm fairly confident that Ben is still reading, since the discussion of Hutton is obviously pretty important to him, but it's good to know that there's at least one additional person. =)

            Hutton's standard for "pagan survivals" is pretty high, and obviously there are quite a few people who would argue that it's too high. There's a good conversation to be had there. Personally, I would very much like to see us reflect more carefully on the ways that we relate to surviving traditions that arguably incorporate non- or pre-Christian elements. But Hutton's standard is what it is, and so far as I can tell, he has deployed it consistently.

          • http://xkcd.com/285 Eran Rathan

            The biggest issue that I have with the whole 'pagan monotheism' debate is, wouldn't it be far more proper to label them as either 'pagan monolaters' or 'henotheists' ? (if we're still talking about Celsus, Julian, et al.)

          • Scott

            One God (cited more completely upthread) has some discussion about this; the upshot is that none of the terms currently in use appear to be satisfactory for the phenomenon (or range of phenomena) under discussion.

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

            Henotheism describes a very common religious pattern found widely among polytheistic cultures. In fact, henotheism only makes sense in a polytheistic context. It is completely nonsensical to speak of a "henotheistic monotheist" (so the term "henotheistic polytheist" is redundant). The same is true, though less emphatically, in the case of monolatry.

            There are in fact few, actual instances of "Pagan monolatry", whereas cases of "Pagan henotheism" are nearly, or completely, impossible to distinguish from whatever non-henotheistic polytheism might look like.

            However, claimed sightings of "Pagan monotheism" are for the most part unrelated to monolatry or henotheism. Rather they usually come down to one of three things:
            (1) failure to understand the way that polytheists speak and write.
            (2) failure to understand the fact that pantheism is completely compatible with polytheism, but almost as completely incompatible with monotheism.
            (3) failure to understand that what is true of pantheism above is also true for monism.

          • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat_C_B

            Points 2 and 3 strike me as very important misunderstandings, and I agree that they are pretty frustratingly common. Thanks for giving voice to this, Ap.

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

            I'm always very relieved to find someone who readily agrees that polytheism, pantheism and monism are not all mutually exclusive, or who at least (I don't want to put words in your mouth), agrees that they shouldn't be automatically assumed to be mutually exclusive!

          • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat_C_B

            And then if we add animism to the mix, it's perfectly possible to find pantheism, animism, monism, and nontheism in the same place.

            A thousand plus years of monotheistic hegemony have given us a stiflingly narrow imagination around matters of theology. I long to see Pagans, at least, widen our perceptions.

            Again, thank you.

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

            I'm not sure about nontheism, but I do think that is a very productive area to look at more closely. Eastern (I'm thinking of India and China in particular) spiritual traditions seem to be able to comfortably accomodate nontheism. But this sometimes leads to claims that such traditions are nontheistic, which is going too far, I think.

            And as far as "animism" goes, I definitely agree! The thing I like about "animism" is that this seems to be the fall-back position for modern religion scholars when they have no idea of what other category to put something in, especially if people are following something that appears to be very old and mostly an oral tradition.

            And thanks to you, too! This is a very interesting little side discussion. But its a subject that I think has some real significance.

          • Aline O'Brien

            I'm still reading, when I can work up the energy to get into it, and I, too, appreciate Scott's comments.

            As to Pagan monotheism, I do observe many Dianics whom I would consider to be monotheists, worshipping Yahweh in drag.

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

            On Resemblances (for Cat, Scott and anyone else who is still reading):

            Resemblance, obviously, is symptomatic of relatedness. Not proof, but certainly evidence. This point is so clear to a careful thinker that it is difficult for me to see how anyone could overlook it.

            And where there is evidence, one looks more closely. And if one looks more closely at the similarities between modern Paganism and ancient Paganism one does find, in the words of Ronald Hutton, that ancient Paganism "has certainly influenced" and has "certain linear connections with" modern Paganism.

            Also, "direct line of descent" is both a straw man and a red herring. This term has no actual definition anywhere in the literature of the history of religions. It is arbitrarily applied at whim without ever being examined, much less defined. People act as if "everyone knows" what it means, but as in many such cases the truth is that no one knows what "direct line of descent" means. (Well, that's not really true. I know what it means: bupkis.)

            And Scott, that is game, set and match, I'm afraid. If you want to pursue this further you really need to start reframing your presentation to explain why you disagree with Ronald Hutton.

          • Scott

            Since at this point you've reframed your argument to the extent that it's apparently identical to Hutton's in WDKA, I'm content to let the matter lie. I'm still not convinced that you've actually demonstrated that Hutton's WDKA arguments represent a "backpedaling" from his earlier positions, nor that his position is "extremist" or "anti-Pagan," but I doubt there's much to be gained by our continuing to bicker over the topic.

            And for those stalwarts still reading: if you've not already done so, I highly recommend that you read Hutton's work for yourself (including his responses to his critics, which I think are essential for understanding the continuity of his arguments) and form your own opinion. And by all means, check out Ben's work (to bring us back to the OMG!original topic here) and form your own opinions on it as well!

  • Adon

    Any Pagan with the slightest mystical experience and minimal knowledge of the writings and the rituals of the ancients will feel deeply connected to our Pagan ancestors in way that the academics with agendas like Hutton may never understand.
    Whether academically accepted or not, today's Pagans have in common with the 2nd century A.D Pagans a lot more than today's Christians have in common with the Galilean cult of the 2nd century.

    It's true that we did lose a lot of practical knowledge after the monotheists came, but IMHO Paganism have always continued in both the seen and the unseen part of our world. The direct personal initiation is a very important thing but thinking that the unbroken line of initiation is what defines the continuity of pagan religions indicates a serious lack of understanding of what paganism really is.

    • http://www.goodgame.org.nz Ben Whitmore

      As the author of this controversial book, I'm pleased to see so many people here raising concerns that I actually share, and that I think I have anticipated in my book. For instance, I don't actually argue that Wicca is descended from folk-magic or folk-paganism. I don't claim that Gardner was unimpeachable. I don't attempt to resurrect the Murray thesis.
      Nor do I ultimately state that Hutton is wrong about there being no survivals of European paganism and no link between paganism and witchcraft. This particular issue, which many have commented on here, comes down to a question of definitions. We have the terms "paganism", "survival", "religion" and "witchcraft" (some of which Hutton gives his definitions for, some of which we can only guess at), and I feel that the definitions he has chosen lead to a very incomplete view of the actual history of paganism and magic in Europe. To take Hutton literally, pagan survivals into the Christian era are actually impossible, because he defines "paganism" temporally as the religions of ancient Europe (while capitalised "Paganism" is the modern reconstructed Neopaganism — leaving a massive unbridgeable void between the two [Triumph p. xii]). I believe better and more revealing definitions could have been brought into play, and I think that more sophistication needs to be brought to the thorny questions of what constitutes paganism and what constitutes survival. Not in an attempt to cast every bit of folk practice as 'pagan survival', but to better understand how things have persisted, changed and left traces throughout history.

      Really, my view of the history of Wicca itself doesn't differ that much from Hutton's. My concerns more revolve around his characterisations of ancient paganism, medieval folk beliefs and early-modern witchcraft, which I believe are built upon numerous errors and oversights, and result in a quite misleading picture of history.

      I hope those who have just started reading my book will persevere, and discover that I have not been entirely unsophisticated in my arguments and conclusions. You may even find that I agree with you!

      • Finnchuill

        Hutton and historians of his bent define religion in a big church/big temple way that excludes a lot of practices that most contemporary pagans consider religious. So the Fen Dwellers in early modern England left offerings for a spirt of the swamps; well, a lot of us consider such a practice religious–and do similar things. Many practices of the Fairy Faith in Ireland a hundred years ago, or even more recently, are such that many Neopagans would consider religious. I could go on and on. For those with Huttons' worldview religion is something one can only have one of, so if those people identified as Catholic, then he will exclude them. Yet today in Asia and other parts of the world many people don't feel religion is exclusive and practice a blend of several.

        I am amazed at how Hutton has tried to sweep aside all of the vast evidence of pagan survivals documented in Carlo Ginzburg's works, and Ginzburg being one of the preeminent historians of our time. Hutton's firewall has been shown to be shot full of holes.

        I enjoyed your book!

  • Pagan Puff Pieces

    Looking through some of the links, the word "manslplained" comes to mind.

  • Star Foster

    Arthur and his lovely wife Kathryn totally rock. Good interview.

    Gods willing and the creek don't rise Patheos will be offering Don Frew's 1998 critique for download tomorrow since it is no longer available online. My thanks to Don for letting us host that!

  • Crystal7431

    Lol! That's a new one on me.

  • Aline O'Brien

    LOL. Love the word mansplained. Mansplaining gave rise to Second Wave Feminism, in my life.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    "I also hope that they have the wisdom not to speak it where it doesn’t belong."

    True, that.

  • Peg Aloi

    I never made a fuss about Whitmore not being an academic; I noted that this is evident in his failure to observe neutrality in his critical approach. Not the same thing at all, really.
    I wonder what would have happened if Whitmore had submitted any of his work to the Pomegranate for peer review; I doubt it would have been rejected out of hand. To say the "path to peer review" was "closed" to him is kind of presumptuous, seeing as he never attempted to submit it for such review.
    I don't think the Pomegranate would refuse anyone's writing simply on the basis of their being an academic or not. They've published several of my reviews and I only have an MFA in creative writing: not a degree that is considered to be very rigorous or academic. I didn't learn to do proper research in graduate school, either; I'm basically self-taught in this kind of writing. So is Whitmore, and he should not misconstrue criticisms of his work as being elitist condemnations of his lack of academic credentials. It is the lack of scholarly rigor that is the problem. And this skill-set is available to anyone who has the aptitude to understand how it works and who, more importantly in the case of Mr. Whitmore, decides to utilize it.

  • Star Foster

    I had to look it up on Urban Dictionary myself. Not only do I know mansplainers I think I may have been guilty of mansplaining myself from time to time!

  • Sara

    "I never made a fuss about Whitmore not being an academic; I noted that this is evident in his failure to observe neutrality in his critical approach."

    I disagree with that assessment; I don't think Whitmore is any less neutral than Hutton is, who has unkind things to say about several people. I also think that it's a backhanded way of making a fuss. Also, I don't know about your MFA, but for mine I had to take lit hours with the PhDs and defend a thesis with an academic introduction.

  • Riverbend

    I'm with you about halfway on this one–I'm on the verge of getting my PhD in sociology, and I'm largely self-taught myself since I've never had the luck to have a proper advisor or mentor. Having someone formally train you (ie, just plain explain how such things are done) can be an important part of acquiring the skill set you discussed–getting the degree isn't just an official stamp of approval, it's an acknowledgment of the training you've hopefully received that you will then presumably apply to future work.

  • Wendy

    Peer review also usually occurs whenever one submits a manuscript to an academic publisher, not just the Pom. The publisher will send it out to "experts in the field" for a review and publishing recommendation. As "Trials" is self published, either it was not submitted for academic publishing all together or it was rejected. In the latter case, it usually means either that the book does not contain enough original material to make it marketable or that the peer review found the scholarship lacking.
    Having said that, I need to add that I have not read Whitmore's book.

  • Mark Warner

    I think it might be inappropriate to expect neutrality in what, however it may have originally been intended, became a work with a definite point to make.

    "I started to feel that my critique might help restore some dignity to the Craft, and turn Triumph back into just a book; a book with no greater claim to infallibility than any other."

    By this statement, Whitmore shows that his work had become biased. The question, then, should be about the effectiveness of his argument. and the veracity of his supporting facts.

  • http://aleqgrai.livejournal.com aleqgrai

    I have to concur with Peg Aloi's stance and having read the before and after versions of the pamphlet concerned I have posted my thoughts: http://aleqgrai.livejournal.com/43419.html for anyone who can be bothered.

  • Peg Aloi

    Neutrality isn't a way of referring to people in a positive or negative way; it has to do with being able to assess your sources and express your ideas without having the biases of your own personal belief system enter into it. This is particularly important for academics who are also practicing pagans.

  • Star Foster

    I have to say I'm a bit dismayed at how some are portraying this as a "Witch War" rather than an ongoing conversation regarding our history. We keep peeling back layers and digging deeper and I for one am grateful that people are still "mining this rock".

  • Sara

    Well, Hutton also fails that test, IMO. He and Davies both tend to reveal certain biases in their work, notably anti-feminist ones, sometimes to the point of contradicting themselves in order to cut down the work of a scholar they disagree with. I'm thinking of Davies' insistence that Ehrenreich and English's premise that the persecution of witches had to do with economic competition between doctors and midwives was ludicrous "because" most cunning folk were men, even though in the same breath he acknowledges that most of the people prosecuted as witches were women. Whitmore's criticism of the way that Hutton just ignores or misrepresents the work of Continental scholars he disagrees with is dead on.

  • Pagan Puff Pieces

    I'm sorry for misspelling it, then! Internet search's second guessing comes in handy sometimes.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    Ben Whitmore has provided a great service to the Pagan community by reopening this whole area of discussion. I would encourage people to not focus on meta-discussions ("what he said, what she said, and what tone they took when they said it"), especially if you haven't yet bothered to read any of what Whitmore has actually written, much of which is freely available in pdf form at his website: http://www.goodgame.org.nz/trialsofthemoon.html

    But really you should of course buy the book!

    The simple fact is that the vast majority of Pagans still believe that our modern traditions are deeply rooted in the ancient past. That will never change, because it is part of the essence of Paganism, which is, after all, a religion about connections and connectedness, including our connections with our ancestors, especially those who fought and resisted Christianization century after century and who preserved as much as could be preserved — for us.

  • http://culture.pagannewswirecollective.com/ Scott Schulz

    I thoroughly agree with you, Star. I like Triumph, but the controversy around Whitmore's work just makes me want to read Trials for myself. Even after Hutton's work it was clear that Fam Trads exist and antedate Wicca by at least several generations. The question has always been what evidence exists, for what, and how shall we interpret that evidence given that you cannot prove a negative? It is a continuing process, a conversation, as you say.

  • Crystal7431

    Ditto, and reading Whittmore's comments on blogs and his mode of expression, he doesn't have any personal animosity against Hutton, he just feels he's made some errors. He even comes to Hutton's defense in some of the comments I've read. Without animosity, you don't have much of a witch war.

  • Scott

    I've read through a good portion of Whitmore's work, and am planning to do so again in parallel with Hutton's book, to examine his critique of Hutton in its native element, as it were. It seems to me, though, that a substantial part of the debate around this issue is a matter of where one draws the line as to what constitutes a "pagan survival." The arguments and conclusions are very different if your standard is a self-consciously non-Christian religious tradition perpetuated through generations by initiation, as opposed to, for example, recurring examples of visionary-shamanic practice strongly influenced by at-least-thinly-Christianized folk beliefs (see, for example, Emma Wilby's reseach on Isobel Gowdie's trial records and their context); so is the ability to generate a testable hypothesis.

  • http://vermillionrush.wordpress.com Vermillion

    While I'm still really iffy on the whole Pagan coming out day thing, major kudos to those who have made the commitment and I'm excited for new Arthur Hinds music!

    I got nothing to say re: Whitmore as I haven't read his book OR Hutton's (been putting it off for ages) so I don't feel proper tossing in my two cents. Glad to see there's some healthy (?) discussion and criticism though.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    Scott: "It seems to me, though, that a substantial part of the debate around this issue is a matter of where one draws the line as to what constitutes a "pagan survival."

    The problem is, though, that Hutton, and especially his fans, rely heavily on straw man arguments that project onto others extreme positions that admit no subtlety. Gerald Gardner, for his part, explicitly and repeatedly acknowledged the incompleteness of what had survived, and the need for filling in gaps. He also, again explicitly and repeatedly, acknowledged the heterogeneous nature of the survivals. The same is true of Charles Godfrey Leland, who first coined the English phrase "The Old Religion."

    Hutton has systematically campaigned for the extreme position that there is no connection whatsoever between ancient and modern Paganism "other than the name", while at the same time hedging his bets in his footnotes.

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat_C_B

    "The arguments and conclusions are very different if your standard is a self-consciously non-Christian religious tradition perpetuated through generations by initiation, as opposed to, for example, recurring examples of visionary-shamanic practice strongly influenced by at-least-thinly-Christianized folk beliefs."

    Yes, Precisely.

    Syncretism is probably how pagan folk beliefs and religious beliefs did survive in most of Western Europe–mixing and mingling with a dominant Christian stream. And certainly, a good many of us in the modern era have done our best to tease those elements out again, and put them to work in a "self-consciously non-Christian religious tradition" once more.

    But I know that I, at least, would not consider that to be an unbroken Pagan religious tradition–any more than I would an invalid one.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    I think a strong case can be made for ascribing various biases to Hutton. In my personal opinion the most important of all is what clearly amounts to an anti-Pagan bias (because of the way he apes so many common anti-Pagan tropes from Christian apologetics, both ancient and modern).

    But it is far more important to show where Hutton is simply and objectively wrong (regardless of how or why he managed to get there). This is a sufficiently Herculean project all on its own.

  • Peg Aloi

    Have you read Ehrenreich and English's book? Because it's full of conjecture and poorly-researched assumptions offered up as historical facts.

  • Scott

    I'm not certain that's an accurate characterization. Even in the beginning stages of my review of Whitmore's work, I'm seeing suggestions that he attributes to Hutton more extreme positions than the ones Hutton is actually taking: for example, Hutton cites the work of a variety of witchcraft scholars whose work refuted the Murrayite thesis of organized pagan religious survivals, but Whitmore portrays this as a misuse of their work to claim that there were no survivals of pagan practices in the folk traditions, which is a much stronger claim. On page 5, he states as one of Hutton's most "pivotal" arguments that "by the time of the witch-trials there was no pagan-ism still surviving in Europe to be construed as witchcraft, and thus accused ‘witches' could not have been pagans.". Yet inexplicably, he fails to cite any passage in the text in support of this claim! If this is such an important argument, surely it appears in a citeable passage. Likewise, Whitmore states that Hutton claims that there was "never an Earth Mother goddess in Mesopotamia, Anatolia, or Greece" (p. 3), but cites as support a passage in Hutton where he is discussing the nineteenth-century origins of the Goddess-monotheism theory, which is hardly the same thing. I'm not prepared to say that Hutton is always right, but my initial impression is that Whitmore's critique may in turn contain some serious flaws.

  • Peg Aloi

    Are you kidding me? Gardner tried to pass off his (admittedly brilliant) plagiarized pastiche of writings as a "found document" of mysterious origin! He's been shown to have lied about nearly every aspect of his early involvement with witchcraft. Pity, really, since he might have just been straightforward about inventing it all out of whole cloth (and the writings or Crowley, et al) and it might have been just as impressive.

  • Jonathan

    Exactly! Hutton has argued against a stereotype, against an over-generalization.

    But a close reading of Frazer, Murray, Gardner, etc, reveals that their arguments don't actually stray all that far from Carlo Ginzburg's respected modern theory of a "shamanic substratum".

    Often when a new theory becomes popularized, grandiose statements will be made, more for polemic rather than descriptive reasons. Hutton's disciples fail to distinguish between insight and propaganda.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    Which Ronald Hutton are you talking about, Scott?

    The Ronald Hutton who said, "the paganism of today has virtually nothing in common with that of the past except the name"?

    Or the Ronald Hutton who hectored Margot Adler and Vivianne Crowley for "hedging" because, (1) in Adler's case she was only willing to say that "the notion of the Old Religion should not be treated as literal truth," while continuing to maintain that there still "might be some truth in it", and (2) in Crowley's case she acknowledged criticisms of Margaret Murray but at the same time dared to suggest that these criticisms "could themselves be flawed."? [Triumph, pp. 376-377]

    Or the Ronald Hutton who said that "in the 1990's there broke a tidal wave of accumulating research which swept away not only any possibility of doubt regarding the lack of correlation between paganism and early modern witchcraft, but virtually the whole set of assumptions upon which both the original concept of the Old Religion and its later, evolved, American feminist version had been based."? [p. 377]

  • http://www.goodgame.org.nz Ben Whitmore

    Regarding the misuse of witchcraft scholars' work, Hutton isn't just calling them as witnesses against the Murray thesis; he's using them to state that "those tried were not pagans", that "the people tried for witchcraft in Early Modern Europe were not practitioners of a surviving pagan religion" and that there was a complete "lack of correlation between paganism and early modern witchcraft" (these quotes are provided with citations in my book).
    My statement on page 5 introduces and summarises Hutton's several statements which are quoted and cited in the paragraphs that follow. I felt that an extra footnote here was unnecessary when detailed quotations and citations follow straight after — and there are already nearly 300 footnotes in my book — but perhaps this may confuse the reader.
    You mention the statement on p. 3 of my book regarding the lack of Earth Mother goddesses in Mesopotamia, Anatolia and Greece. Hutton's passage, with surrounding context, reads as follows: "it was a German classicist, Eduard Gerhard, who in 1849 advanced the novel suggestion that behind the various goddesses of historic Greece stood a single great one, representing Mother Earth and venerated before history began. As the century wore on, other German, and French, classicists […] began to adopt this idea, drawing support for it from the assumption that the cultures of Anatolia and Mesopotamia were older than, and in some measure ancestral to, those of Greece. Those cultures did contain some figures of powerful goddesses, identified with motherhood or with the earth (though never with both)." (Hutton 1999 pp. 35-36)
    I admit that Hutton's phrase "Those cultures…" doesn't make it clear whether he includes Greece in that last statement, but I read his use of the word "novel" as dismissive (as I explain in a footnote to page 20), and I also have his explicit statement from Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles that the Greek Gaia was only a philosophical abstraction, never a goddess to be worshipped (see pp. 21-22 of my book, and Hutton 1991 p. 316). So I feel safe in my interpretation of him.
    He's definitely discussing ancient religion in these cases, not just 19th-century theories.

    I hope this helps clarify things for you.

  • Peg Aloi

    Scott, I just wanted to say I have appreciated your thoughtful comments in this discussion. Especially given the argumentative responses you've had to deal with. But we do expect this from Apuleius, who seems to have an inordinate amount of time on his hands. Why he's not writing his own books with this time is anybody's guess.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chelsea-Rose/1008131810 Chelsea Rose

    "In fact, “Wicca” seemed to be turning into some sort of derisive joke, with “Ronald Hutton” as the punch line."

    I thought "Silver Ravenwolf" was the punch line. But then again I don't bother with anything "Wicca" anymore so maybe I'm a bit out of the loop.

    And Emerald Rose is a great band, btw.

  • harmonyfb

    I don't think Whitmore is any less neutral than Hutton is, who has unkind things to say about several people.

    Like his snide remarks about Sibyl Leek's lack of formal education in Triumph, for example.

  • Scott

    Clearly you have a grudge against Hutton, especially given the content of your downstream post. I'm not interested in indulging your grudge; I'm interested in evaluating Whitmore's critique on an academic level. I still think that he, and you, are making significantly stronger claims for Hutton's positions than the text actually warrants (and yes, I'm taking your quotes above into account), but I don't think there's anything for either of us to gain by continuing to discuss it here.

  • Cathryn Bauer

    Thank you, Arthur Hinds. This approach has worked for me for a very long time.

  • Crystal7431

    I'm giving you two thumbs up for the link ; )

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat_C_B

    Hutton's "biases" appear to me to be on the side of Occam's Razor: confronted with the extraordinary claim that a secret religious cult managed to come down through centuries essentially unbroken despite the apparent hegemony of Christianity in the places in Europe where the survival of the cult supposedly occurred, he looks for extraordinary proof and does not find it.

    This of course does not prove no such survival occurred: absence of proof is not proof of absence. However, his skepticism is in keeping with the demands of academic rigor.

    I personally think he leans a bit far into his skepticism in a number of areas. His book Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles leans over backward, I think, in not drawing even reasonable conclusions from the archeological evidence that remains from that period. Admittedly, that's better than leaping head-first into speculation, a la Marija Gimbutas in her later works, but there are at least a few more reasonable conclusions to be drawn there than he cares to contemplate.

    Nor does he consider the separate questions of possible cultic/folkloric survival of non-religious witchcraft in much depth, nor of possible surivals (religious or not) in the United States, nor–most significantly– the implications of Carlo Ginzburg's Night Battles nor (a bit less seriously) Ecstasies, both of which are highly suggestive of a possible historic route of survivals into at least the Renaissance period. However, since he confines the core of his work to the British Isles, and examining claims of surviving pagan religious Witchcraft there specifically, it's hard to fault him too deeply for that; that was outside of his subject area.

    It is not the job of a scholar to rule out all possibilities, or to examine subjects globally in all possible permutations. He confined himself to the work of a scholar. Is that a form of bias? Well, yes. Which is why there is employment for poets and priests–let alone scholars who can make it their business to address questions that were not even asked by any one researcher's body of work.

    I think a weak case can be made for ascribing biases to Hutton. (And I have often heard it made passionately, if not convincingly, here.)

    I'm waiting for a scholar to look over the same area of inquiry and come to some equally unbiased but opposing conclusions. I've been waiting for a while… thus far, I haven't found him. (Yes, there's Ginzburg, and I love his work… but, as I mentioned, it is outside Hutton's area of study–and my own area of greatest interest, alas.)

    I would be thrilled if Whitmore were that scholar. However, none of the excerpts I've read to date give me any optimism on that score.

  • Star Foster

    My impression of Hutton is that he must have been extremely frustrated. My own intuition is that he did find evidence, but if you can't publish your evidence it doesn't exist academically. Just one of the problems of studying a tradition that is oathbound. His book is full of "false leads" but I wonder how many of those were truly false and how many were simply people unwilling to publish. For Hutton to say "I have seen certain secret things" only places him in the same position as Gardner when writing about the Craft. But that's just conjecture on my part.

    I'm very thankful Hutton wrote Triumph and I appreciate the work he continues to do in the field of Paganism. However, he is one man, and this is a large complex field. I think critiquing Hutton is a little bit like complaining that Columbus didn't find China. Maybe he didn't reach the final destination (if there is one) but he pointed the way.

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat_C_B

    @Scott: Regarding Fam Trad survivals:

    Is it clear? I have not, myself, encountered any convincing evidence of that… though I've encountered any number of people (including some I love dearly) who have been convinced.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    Scott: "I still think that he, and you, are making significantly stronger claims for Hutton's positions than the text actually warrants …"

    Scott, I provided numerous direct quotes from Hutton proving conclusively that he promotes an extremist position.

    The issue of "extremist positions" has to do with the kind of master narrative that more specific and detailed arguments are marshalled to support. By themselves, things like theories about Mesopotamian Great Goddesses, or critiques of Margaret Murray's work do not constitute taking an "extreme position".

    Hutton's master narrative is that, using his own phrasing: a tidal wave of research has swept away any possibility of a correlation between modern Paganism and ancient Paganism. No one can point to anything approaching this in terms of extremism coming from Ben Whitmore.

    It is also highly relevant to note that after making his "swept away" declaration in Triumph of the Moon, Hutton was forced to eat it for dinner in Witches, Druids and King Arthur, all the while claiming that he was, nevertheless, still right and had been all along!

  • Leea

    Apuleius-thank you for the comments re: Hutton's comments in "Witches, Druids and King Arthur". I had not read Triumph, but had read Ben's thesis as linked here on TWH…then bought W,D,and KA..and I had been wondering if I completely did not understand any of the controversy, because Hutton seemed to be making all kinds of connections between ancient and modern practices..thanks for assuring me that I'm not completely "losing it" (yet)…

  • Scott

    First, your "master narrative" is a misquote of Hutton, which is odd since you provided the correct quote upthread: "the lack of correlation between paganism and *early modern witchcraft*." That's a very different statement from the one you just provided, and I would argue one that's much less controversial, unless you actually subscribe to the Murray thesis.

  • Scott

    Second, I understand that it might be more fun for you to continue to produce a provocative twenty-year-old quote from Hutton out of context ("the paganism of today has virtually nothing in common with that of the past except the name" comes from his 1991 work The pagan religions of the ancient British Isles, and should be understood in the context of rejecting any close correlations between *native British* paganism and modern pagan witchcraft, which I think is still a true statement), but it would be more honest to address the fact that Hutton has himself revisited that statement in print to expand on its meaning and his views: see, for example, his response to Donald Frew's critique (Folklore v 111 no 1 p. 109, or see Frew's post on Patheos for a free version).

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat_C_B

    Ap, you're quoting out of context for most dramatic effect, and no one familiar with Hutton's work in any depth will find you convincing.

  • Scott

    Hi Ben-

    Thanks for your comments. I don't want to hijack Jason's blog for an extended scholarly discussion, so I'm sending a request via Witchvox for an email address where I can send you my reply. Looking forward to a productive conversation!

    Cheers,
    Scott

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    Hutton's convolutions in Witches, Druids and King Arthur are truly mind bending. In Triumph he argued that Wicca is wholly and completely a modern phenomenon. In Witches Druids and King Arthur he insists that that is still true, but we are to now believe that modernity began 2000 years ago!

    But the most bizarre aspect of Hutton's argument in W,D & KA is that he insists that the history of modern Paganism goes back 2000 years and then magically stops. I call this the "where the sidewalk ends" theory of Pagan history, aka, the the Huttonian "Here Be Dragons" Paradigm.

  • Riverbend

    Indeed they are a great band…was playing "Chocolate Frog" for my 7yr old just a couple of days ago. :)

  • Scott

    I've only had the chance for a cursory look at the relevant essay in Witches, Druids, and King Arthur, but given that the works of the late-classical "pagan monotheists" that he seems to be discussing were available to the scholars and occultists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which provided ample evidence for them to be an influence on Gardner, pointing out their resemblance to modern witchcraft does not contradict the idea that there were no direct links of transmission across centuries between pre-Christian paganism and pagan witchcraft.

  • Scott

    I note that Hutton addresses this question very explicitly in his response to Jani Farrell-Roberts' critique of his work, which was published in The Cauldron and is currently available as a scanned image (of rather unfortunately small size!) at http://www.sparks-of-light.org/Murray%20and%20the…. His arguments are along similar lines to mine, although much more detailed.

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat_C_B

    Very nice. Thanks for the link. (I do wish it was easier to read!)

  • Nonsuch

    I just started reading Trials of the Moon. It seems to be a religiously motivated critique. The author appears to not like the direction that the pagan community has taken since Triumph of the Moon was published (less literal?). Perhaps some are expecting Hutton to be infallible rather than expressing his ideas at a point in time?

    Many aboriginal people don't know the practices of their grandparents and I live in an area where the conversion to Christianity happened in the 20th century. How the heck would Europeans have retained pagan religion for over 1000 years? Doesn't make any sense to even though this idea is very appealing to my mythopoetic sensibility.

    There are lots of historians writing on witchcraft and occults traditions not just Ronald Hutton. So far I haven't found any historians who claim that folk magic practices are survivals of pagan religions from the bronze and stone ages as some mythopoetic writers do. My own grandmother was a folk magic practitioner, was devoutly Christian and read the bible every day.

    However, the two streams of writing are separate, one is scriptural or poetic in nature, for the believers, and the other is scholarship. Personally, I enjoy both and don't try to pit one against the other. They are apples and oranges.

    So many pagan recommended reading lists combine the two streams of writing without educating the readers as to the difference.

  • Peg Aloi

    Thanks, Cat. I'm assuming by the time the Pom review appears this brouhaha will all be a distant memory.

  • Jonathan

    This is the essay where Hutton traces the witch-panic of early modern Europe to pre-Christian belief systems. He maintains that pagan beliefs still had such a firm grip on the European mind so as to cause such mass violence and insanity, but without any actual practice of those belief systems having survived. He even seems to place equal blame on trial victims as he does on those scholars and inquisitors who gave intentional publicity to the craze.

  • Peg Aloi

    Those are very good points, Nonsuch. The main problem I've had from the beginning of this whole debate has been that so many people trying to involve themselves in the discussion don't actually seem to understand there is a distinction between these different kinds of writing, and that one form is not necessarily superior to another; but they are DIFFERENT.

    As well, many people reading Hutton don't seem to know what it is; they try to compare it to other books on paganism that are not scholarly works of historical research, and there disappointment and confusion arise. The accusations of "arrogance" are pure jealousy, IMHO. Some people are brilliant, and work very hard, and are good at what they do. We should learn to be more appreciative of such individuals and their work, not deride them for being effete elitists.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    Nonsuch: "So far I haven't found any historians who claim that folk magic practices are survivals of pagan religions from the bronze and stone ages as some mythopoetic writers do."

    This is an excellent example of the kind of straw man argument that Hutton's fans are so fond of. Gerald Gardner himself stated up front in Witchcraft Today that: "At one time I believed the whole cult was directly descended from the Northern European culture of the Stone Age, uninfluenced by anything else; but I now think that it was influenced by the Greek and Roman mysteries which originally may have come from Egypt."

    Ronald Hutton is now firmly on the record as concurring with Gardner about the influence of ancient Greco-Roman Paganism on Wicca.

  • http://xkcd.com/285 Eran Rathan

    Nonsuch wrote:
    How the heck would Europeans have retained pagan religion for over 1000 years?

    Ask the Sami and the Mari – you fight, you remember, you teach, and you do not ever give up.

  • Nick_Ritter

    "How the heck would Europeans have retained pagan religion for over 1000 years? Doesn't make any sense to even though this idea is very appealing to my mythopoetic sensibility."

    Except that we have evidence that some Europeans did just that. Jakob Grimm, writing in the mid-19th century, mentions a recent case of a German farmer sacrificing oxen to "Donner' (i.e. Donar, Thor) for good crops. Singing songs to Wode / Wauden etc. (i.e Wodan, Odin) at Harvest time was common practice in northern Germany until the end of the 19th century. Georges Dumézil in "Gods of the Ancient Northmen" mentions Norwegian fishers thanking Njör (i.e. Njord) for good fishing in about the same time period. Mircea Eliade mentiones that in the late 19th century, there was a cult of "St. Demetra" close to Eleusis that seems to have been a continuation of the cult of Demeter. These are only a few of the examples one can find, and it's worth mentioning that these practices are coming from areas that were "Christian" enough to set out to convert other less-Christianized peoples, of whom there were still some by the beginning of the 20th century.

    Christianity was a heavy blow to native religions in Europe, but it wasn't a final one. Paganism declined through the Reformation, Industrialization and the subsequent urbanization, and most of the last vestiges were probably wiped out by the first World War, at least on the Continent, at least in Western Europe. Pagan survivals over a period longer than 1,000 years isn't as far-fetched an idea as you might think. The Christian-triumphalist historical narrative of Christianity sweeping away whatever came before is one that deserves to be questioned, and can be questioned in a scholarly fashion, resorting to evidence as opposed to just wishful thinking. In this case, your "mythopoetic sensibility" is closer to the mark than you think.

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat_C_B

    I think it makes sense for Pagans to be cautious about assuming self-publication means either a lack of originality or scholarship, however. It's worth bearing in mind that when The Pomegranate started up, it, like many Pagan zines, was essentially itself self-published. And Pagans as a group are too small a market for our more in-depth material to be interesting commercially–or, in the case of, for instance, devotional literature, academically.

    I agree that it's a yellow light around a publication, but particularly for our material, I'd hate to see it presumed that self-published work is inferior. I don't think that's always the case.

  • Peg Aloi

    You say that as if these are the only two people on the planet to have drawn this conclusion.

  • Scott

    I think that's reading too much into those positions. Gardner's words, interpreted as written, indicate that he now believes that Wicca was directly descended from the Stone Age culture of Northern Europe *and also* influenced by Greco-Roman-Egyptian mysteries (hence his use of "uninfluenced" in describing his former position). There's no denial of direct Northern European descent anywhere in that sentence. That appears to be substantially different from Hutton's position, which is that there is no direct line of descent from indigenous Northern European paganism, and that modern pagan witchcraft is *most similar to* late Roman theurgical magic. (I'm still reading his writings on that subject, but he does not seem to endorse a direct line of transmission of practice there either. There were plenty of opportunities for Gardner to absorb theurgical ideas through the ceremonial magicians of his time, who would have had access to the writings of the late Roman theurgists.)

  • Scott

    Not actually having to do it for a thousand years also helps: the serious push to Christianize the Mari didn't come until the 16th century, and not until the 18th century for the Sami. I'm not trying to belittle their admirable work at cultural preservation, but time depth is a significant variable.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    moi: "Ronald Hutton is now firmly on the record as concurring with Gardner about the influence of ancient Greco-Roman Paganism on Wicca."

    Peg Aloi: "You say that as if these are the only two people on the planet to have drawn this conclusion."

    Not at all. In fact, this is merely what nearly everyone has always known to be true. Everyone knows that the pre-Christian religious traditions of Northern Europe (as well as Western Europe, Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, Northern Africa, the Middle East …) never simply vanished. Everyone knows that forms of High and Low (and much In Between) Magic have been practiced throughout European history (very often, but certainly not always, by Catholic Priests). And everyone knows that those magical practices (and the magical beliefs that go along with them) do have "a distinguished and very long pedigree" going back to traditions that were ancient long before Jesus proclaimed himself to be The Only Way. Everyone also knows that Astrology, Alchemy and Hermeticism have something very closely approaching "continuous" histories. Etc. etc. etc.

    What people disagree about is how these pieces fit together. And the only disagreement is over the degree and nature and mode of the survival of Paganism. That it has survived is a fact. That modern Pagans share a very large body of both beliefs and practices with ancient Pagans is a fact. That we can point to various routes by which these beliefs and practices managed to survive is also a fact.

  • http://xkcd.com/285 Eran Rathan

    Fair enough – Look at how hard it has been for Native Americans to keep/reclaim their histories after only 3 to 5 hundred years of pressure.

  • Scott

    Apuleius: What people disagree about is how these pieces fit together. And the only disagreement is over the degree and nature and mode of the survival of Paganism. That it has survived is a fact. That modern Pagans share a very large body of both beliefs and practices with ancient Pagans is a fact. That we can point to various routes by which these beliefs and practices managed to survive is also a fact.

    If your use of the capital letter on 'Paganism' is meant to indicate a self-consciously pagan religion, then no, I don't think that's an undisputed fact at all. Quite the opposite, actually.

  • Scott

    Nick: Certainly no one denies that there are surviving pre-Christian elements in European folk traditions. The question is whether they should be considered survivals of "pagan religion" if the people who kept those traditions considered themselves to be good Christians. A slightly different but relevant example: in the 18th century, the Welsh took to Methodism with great zeal, but a large number of the Catholic festival practices which were banned by the new orthodoxy moved into private homes as folk practices. Should we then consider the Welsh of that period to be Catholic?

    Your citation of Grimm is intriguing, but I can't seem to find any mention of that incident after a quick Google search. Can you provide a more complete citation?

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    In all cases where conversion and conquest occur side-by-side, there are four important principles that must be born in mind.

    (1) People who have been conquered can and do continue to live in largely the same way they did before being conquered.

    (2) People who are converted by force are not truly converted in fact, but merely give the outer appearance of conversion.

    (3) The more people resist conversion, the more likely it is that their religious traditions will live on clandestinely long after the Christians declare victory.

    (4) "Nations which go down fighting rise again, those who surrender tamely are finished." Winston Churchill.

  • http://xkcd.com/285 Eran Rathan

    One could add to that, given the highly syncretic nature of most ethnic religions, the merger with Christianity or Islam, while diluting the original religions, would be largely incapable of eradicating it – look at the number of various harvest festivals and traditions that exist to this day as remnants of those original ethnic religions.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    Syncretism is an extremely important point, and an increasing number of scholars now speak openly of Pagan/Christian syncretism during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The thing to be on the lookout for, though, is the tendency to insist that there exists a creature called "Syncretic Christianity", which is still purely Christian, and in which all originally non-Christian elements have been thoroughly Christianized. This phenomenon does not, in fact, exist, but if it did it would not be an example of syncretism at all, but rather of "Borg style assimilation". (If bits and pieces of a destroyed Pagan temple are used as decorations of a Christian church, that is not syncretism.)

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    Scott: "your 'master narrative' is a misquote of Hutton"

    My characterization (it was not a quote) of Hutton's master narrative is completely accurate. In both Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles and Witches, Druids and King Arthur Hutton explicitly endorses the claim that "the paganism of today has virtually nothing in common with the paganism of the past, except the name".

  • Nick_Ritter

    Unfortunately, due to some rather severe time constraints involving a 60+ hour workweek (not that I'm complaining), I don't have a lot of time to look up the citation. It should be in Grimm's Teutonic Mythology, Vol. 1, probably in either: Ch. II; God, Ch. III, Worship; or Ch. VIII, Donar, Thunar (Thôrr). I know you can search the text at http://www.northvegr.org/, if that helps.

    "The question is whether they should be considered survivals of "pagan religion" if the people who kept those traditions considered themselves to be good Christians."

    An interesting question, which I have to answer with a question: Should the standards of religious survival be understood in the same way for primarily creed-based religions (like Christianity) and religions that put more emphasis on ritual acts (as seems to have been the case with pre-Christian European religions)?

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    Scott: "The question is whether they should be considered survivals of "pagan religion" if the people who kept those traditions considered themselves to be good Christians."

    What precisely people "consider" themselves to be is not always that clear. This is especially the case when it is a crime punishable by death to "consider" oneself as anything other than a "good Christian". Under such circumstances (that is, the circumstances that have pertained throughout most of the history of the Christian religion), a profession of faith in Christianity is as worthless as the "data" that one would collect by asking people their opinions on politics in North Korea.

    And then we also have contemporary examples like Huichol Indians who most certainly "consider themselves to be good Christians", but who also have managed to preserve their ancient religious traditions, including regular ingestion of peyote. Is that "Christian peyote" they are taking? A great many practitioners of Vodou also consider themselves to be good Christians, and Timothy Knab has written a fascinating account of Nahua Indians who are devout Catholics but who also have a "continuous tradition" of religious/magical beliefs and practices going back to precontact Aztec culture.

    The problem is that Christians tend to look at religious identity with the ghoulish perspective of a "soul collector". To the Christian mentality it's all about checking off a little box next to your name signifying that your soul now belongs (exclusively, of course) to Jebus. This completely obscures the complexities and realities of religious identity, as the quote from Scott at the top of this post well illustrates.

  • Nonsuch

    Recently I was reading a historian of early Christianity who talked about how the Catholic mass likely evolved from pagan ceremonies. One entertaining thought is that Christianity is pagan too!

    I spent five years studying with a Russian Orthodox icon master. His other students were all Christians of various denominations: orthodox, Greek and Russian, Catholic, protestant, etc. Had to keep my head down and my mouth shut for much of the very entertaining conversation. (I'm not and never have considered myself a Christian and was there to learn the painting technique and use symbols for mystical representation.)

    What was really fun was painting water spirits into the river Jordan in the scene of Christ's baptism. I asked why water spirits were in this traditional orthodox image. Received a very ambiguous reply. There are many examples of imagery like this in orthodox Christian iconography.

    Christianity like Paganism is and was diverse, varies from location to location and over time. Some Christians wouldn't and don't recognize that what each other practice as Christianity. My mother doesn't believe my Mormon cousin is Christian even though she thinks she is.

    My dreams have been full of occult and pagan imagery as long as I can remember. One of my friends is from a Sami/Icelandic/German background, she married in a Christian chapel. So I'm not sure what she is, but I don't believe she would describe herself as pagan and I wouldn't try to tell her she was on the basis of her ethnic background.

    Her identity is for her to claim or not.

  • Scott

    That's very helpful, Nick. Thanks!

    And that's a very good question. Somewhere else on this thread I mentioned a book called One God, which is a collection of recent writings by classicists around the contested "pagan monotheism" idea. I'm still reading and digesting that work, but one of the essayists points out that the "polytheist vs. monotheist" binary for late antiquity is probably too simplistic, and has been historically used as a stand-in for a whole host of issues around religion that were being actively negotiated during that time, including questions of creed and intentional adoption of a religious identity. There may be some useful discussion fodder in there for that question, if you're interested. I'm also mindful of Hutton's argument (from a rebuttal that I also linked on one of my replies) that "[t]o assume automatically, however, that people who identified with other religions can be regarded as belonging to one's own, is more than bad history, it is bad manners." (The Cauldron, 2003, p. 14)

  • Scott

    Found it, I think: Teutonic Mythology v. 1, pp. 175-176 (Ch. VIII; I got the text from Google Books). The peasant in question appears to be a 17th century Estonian rather than a 19th century German, if I've got the right passage.

    (I'm a librarian – hunting down citations is practically an autonomic reflex!)

  • Aline O'Brien

    "Should the standards of religious survival be understood in the same way for primarily creed-based religions (like Christianity) and religions that put more emphasis on ritual acts (as seems to have been the case with pre-Christian European religions)?"

    Thanks for this, Nick. This gives me more insight into my colleagues in the interfaith movement.

    Thanks also to Scott for "in the 18th century, the Welsh took to Methodism with great zeal, but a large number of the Catholic festival practices which were banned by the new orthodoxy moved into private homes as folk practices. Should we then consider the Welsh of that period to be Catholic?"

    One could say the same for the pre-Xtian Irish and their many folks traditions and holidays.

    As a descendant of a long line of very conservative Methodist ministers who were also prominent in the temperance movement on my maternal side, and immigrant Irish Catholic peasants on the paternal, I'm fascinated by these discussions. The fact that I've emerged as a Pagan (as in syncretic contemporary American Paganism) seems entirely Right. :-)

  • Scott

    And to answer your question with yet another question: how do we negotiate those standards in mixed situations, which is the dilemma that confronts us when considering the question of pagan survivals in a Christian culture? Ben Whitmore brings up the example of Vodou and Santeria in his criticism of Hutton, which are very interesting to consider as parallels, but which also present a drastically different evidentiary chain than European folk traditions. Much to think about here.

  • Scott

    Thanks, Peg! In fairness, given the amount of virtual ink I've spilled here over the past few days, one could certainly put the same question to me!

  • Scott

    Good points here. I've not studied Native religions at any depth, but I would imagine that if peyote ingestion is framed in a strongly Christian sacramental context, then one might make the argument that it's "Christian peyote.". The Afro-diasporic faiths are fascinating cases, and certainly deserve a more nuanced approach than is often deployed by both Pagans and Christians. Speaking of nuance, your characterization of the Christian approach to religious identity seems to me to exhibit precisely the lack of nuance that you deplore in others.

  • Nick_Ritter

    Admittedly, that weakens my case a bit, the Balts and Finnic peoples being among the last in Europe to be converted. I think the point still stands, though, that religious survival over a millenium is possible, especially if one sees the syncretic nature of European "folk-belief" precisely as a survival mechanism.

  • Peg Aloi

    The reason neutrality is important is that Whitmore is critiquing a work of historical research. Historians and academics are expected to maintain a critical objectivity in their work. When you're talking about pagans who are also academics, neutrality becomes important as it refers to the specific beliefs, practices or traditions of an individual scholar. Just as a scholar of comparative religion must display an understanding of and open-minded attitude towards all other religions, a pagan academic must accept that there are diverse beliefs and practices within modern paganism, and that their own individual beliefs or practices cannot and should not color their critical approach to the material. It doesn't mean a pagan scholar can't have his or her own unique approach to their spirituality; but they can't allow their spiritual beliefs or practices to define or bias their approach. For example: a Gardnerian scholar cannot allow his/her own beliefs as a goddess worshipper to determine his/her understanding of how one defines modern paganism or witchcraft, because some modern pagans and witches are non-deists.

    Whitmore, in my view, does not maintain this neutrality, because he frequently refers to his own specific beliefs and practices. So his approach to critiquing a scholarly historical work is limited, because he can't (or won't, or doesn't understand why he needs to) approach it objectively or neutrally.

    In my view, ALL pagan scholars must maintain this neutrality and objectivity. If they don't, they may be able to write very engaging and erudite books; but they will not be able to write scholarly ones, because such writing, by definition, is not scholarly. That doesn't make it inferior, it just makes it non-scholarly. And so viewing such work on the same level as an academic work is not appropriate.

    Whitmore's book may be very interesting and well written. But it is not, and never will be, the work of a historian. This is not good or bad; it just is. What matters is that everyone wanting to be part of this debate UNDERSTANDS THIS DISTINCTION. (Of course, some people are just debating because they seem to have way too much time on their hands and they pretty much hijack every significant discussion thread on this forum because that's just what they do>)

    I hope this all makes sense. If anyone has questions or wants me to clarify further, please ask.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    The notion of scholarly neutrality is a cultural construct, and a very recent one at that, and, moreover, one that has itself been subjected to quite a bit of academic scrutiny and criticism. Common sense tells us that a person who honestly and openly states their own opinions is actually a more reliable source of information than someone who does not. But the fact is that Hutton leaves the reader in no doubt about his opinions.

    When addressing non-scholars, Hutton and his fans commonly adopt this patronizing strategy of giving smug little potted lectures on how smart people do things. Meh.

  • Scott

    I've noted Hutton's tendency to remark on academic conventions in some of his rebuttals to his critics, but my take on that has generally been that he's doing it to help educate non-academic pagans about the ways in which academics (not "smart people" IMO) frame arguments and critiques. This is especially important because academia has conventions for pointing out places where other scholars are mistaken without implying that said scholars are stupid, lazy, or have hidden agendas. Failure to follow these conventions generates significant ill-will for pagans among academics, and predisposes them to dismiss pagan criticisms *even if* those criticisms are substantive. One could therefore argue that Hutton is actually performing a public service.

    I would agree that scholarly objectivity is a justly-criticized cultural construct. I would also argue that scholarly *neutrality*, defined as the self-conscious attempt to put aside one's personal ideology when assessing evidence and framing arguments, is a worthy goal. No one would argue that Wikipedia's authors are objective, but they self-consciously strive for neutrality; I don't think that it's absurd to expect the same of academics.

  • Peg Aloi

    No, it is not a "cultural construct," whatever that means. And I'd like to see your documentation of the academic scrutiny and criticism you're referring to.

    And I'd also like to see examples of "Hutton and his fans" "addressing non-scholars."

    There are so many vague (yet accusatory) generalizations in your comment that it's very hard to take you seriously anymore.

  • Nonsuch

    Thank you Peg and Scott for your comments.

    "academia has conventions for pointing out places where [they believe] other scholars are mistaken without implying that said scholars are stupid, lazy, or have hidden agendas"

    "Hutton and his fans" (He does write engagingly compared with some of the other material I have slogged through in my studies.)

    I'm not Wiccan and don't care if Wicca is ancient, modern or more likely a creative mixture of ceremonial and folk magic. Both of these streams are ancient, folk magic perhaps being the oldest of the two. I was inspired reading of the creative effort that went into and continues to go into Wiccan practices.

    I try to read as widely as possible and there seem to be far more scholars addressing esoteric subjects than before. Great time to be reading!

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    I'm surprised you're not familiar with the term "cultural construct". For a good introduction to how that concept is being applied in ways that are highly relevant to the history of Paganism, see Patrick Geary's "The Myth of Nations" (and just about anything else by Geary) and also look around for anything written in the last 20 years related to the idea of "ethnogenesis".

    As for scrutiny/criticism of "the myth of scholarly objectivity", if you do a google search on that phrase (with the quotes) the first three hits are actually quite useful:
    1. Michael Thelwell's Black Studies: a Political Perspective, from Autumn 1969 Massachusetts Review
    2. Peer Zumbansen's 20 year retrospective on Günter Frankenberg’s article "Critical Comparisons": Comparative Law’s Coming of Age? Twenty Years after Critical Comparisons, from vol 6, nu.7 (2005) of the German Law Journal.
    3. Petrarch/Sade: Writing the Life by Julie Candler Hayes

    And there were precisely two vague (yet accusatory) generalizations in my comment. But neither one was really all that vague. The first ("Common sense tells us that a person who honestly and openly states their own opinions is actually a more reliable source of information than someone who does not.") was in reference to Hutton. What I was saying is that Whitmore is a more reliable source than Hutton, precisely because Whitmore is more honest and up front about his own point of view.

    Discerning the mysterious (to some at least) meaning of my second generalization I will leave to the individual reader.

  • Jonathan

    But no one is debating Gardner's credibility here. This is a perfect example of the use of a "straw man".

    The protocol is: first wait until someone says the name "Gardner", regardless of the context, and then use it as an opportunity to issue a critique that no one would actually argue with. Thereby, you will have proven that you are capable of making a logical statement, and it creates a false dichotomy of pro-Gardner vs. anti-Gardner, when in fact that is not really the issue at hand. The issue is Hutton's apparent unfamiliarity with the writings of the Wicca's founder.

  • Scott

    Murray argued that medieval witchcraft was an organized pagan religion in resistance to Christianity; eventually she claimed that the nobility of England had for centuries harbored such a cult, which had carried out the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury and a number of English kings. That seems pretty far from Ginzburg's "shamanic substratum." Could you clarify your assertion that those positions are actually closely related?

  • Scott

    The way I read Hutton's argument there is that the apparent tendency of the human mind is to ascribe misfortune to outside agents, either the action of malevolent human magic-workers or of spirits. This belief persisted in Christian Europe despite its contradiction of formal medieval theology, "until Christian theology adapted to it," as Hutton says. Given the global nature of witch beliefs, it seems more logical to ascribe its survival to intrinsic agent-seeking behaviors of human neuroanatomy, though I grant that Hutton doesn't make that argument explicitly. I fail to see anything in his argument that can be construed as "placing equal blame on trial victims" – could you be more specific?

  • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat_C_B

    Actually, Jonathan, though the length of this thread makes it hard to detect, Peg was responding to an assertion of Apuleius' about Gardner, which at least by implication did put forward a defense of his credibility: "Gerald Gardner, for his part, explicitly and repeatedly acknowledged the incompleteness of what had survived, and the need for filling in gaps. He also, again explicitly and repeatedly, acknowledged the heterogeneous nature of the survivals."

    I think Peg is reacting to Apuleuis' point that Hutton's reading of Gardner is without nuance–that Hutton's argument is itself against a straw man, and Gardner was forthcoming about having cobbled together his BoS from a variety of sources.

    I think that I could probably come up with three or four quotes from Gardner that would shore up Apuleius' position, too… but that I'd be reading those quotes with a significant distortion of their meaning, when placed in the context of Gardner's work overall, his interviews with the media, and his interactions with his coveners over time. Peg is correct that Gardner was not above misrepresenting material he knew to be of modern provenance as antique, and Doreen Valiente records at least one such incident involving materials she herself had written for him in her book The Rebirth of Witchcraft.

    How relevant that is to understanding what Hutton is writing about is open to debate… but it doesn't strike me as being off topic. The question we have been discussing her is at least in part, in refuting ancient and unbroken origins for Gardnerian Wicca, was Hutton attacking a straw man, because Gardner represented the origins of his material honestly?

    Questions of Gardner's credibility as a source for the provenance of his tradition's material are not irrelevant.

    (And I have to smile at the notion that Hutton is unfamiliar with Gardner's writing. Or did you have a different "founder" in mind, I wonder? *grin*)

  • Jonathan

    You assume that widely divergent approaches to religious identity is little more than "nuance".