Pagan Community Notes: The Pomegranate, Ronald Hutton, Witch School, and More!

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 15, 2013 — 36 Comments

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Pagan Studies Journal The Pomegranate Releases New Issue: At his blog, editor Chas Clifton announces that issue 13.2 of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies is now available online. There are number of interesting pieces, including two free review articles, one from Tamara Ingels on shamanic artist Joska Soos, and one from historian Ronald Hutton entitled: “Revisionism and Counter-Revisionism in Pagan History.”

Good Hutton Pic

Ronald Hutton

“During the past few years, a series of heated arguments have broken out among Pagans across the Western world, but much more particularly in North America and Australia, about the historical context of modern Paganism. This has been provoked by extensive scholarly revision of the traditional portrait of that context, which has caused dismay and anger among some Pagans. Their reactions have in turn produced similar emotions among some of their co-religionists and professional scholars (the two groups often overlapping). This review essay is intended to clarify the issues that are being debated; to examine the potential for Pagans to write their own history; to look at points at which the arguments may have provided useful historical insights; and to suggest a likely outcome for the controversy.”

I can already hear the partisans regarding Hutton preparing their talking points, but I do hope everyone reads the article first, as Hutton attempts to explore the recent trends of revisionism and counter-revisionism in Pagan history, notes places where he has changed his thinking, and suggests a way forward for all parties. He also, if I may indulge my ego for a moment, name-drops The Wild Hunt.

For those not terribly invested in the ongoing debates regarding Hutton’s work, let me urge you to subscribe to The Pomegranate, as subscribers also get access to fascinating articles like: “Robert Cochrane and the Gardnerian Craft: Feuds, Secrets and Mysteries in Contemporary British Witchcraft” by Ethan Doyle White,  “The Heart of Thelema: Morality, Amorality, and Immorality in Aleister Crowley’s Thelemic Cult” by Mogg Morgan, and more. This is the beating heart of Pagan Studies, and we should treasure the work they do.

Witch School International Welcomes New Leadership: Popular online learning hub Witch School International has named a new leadership team. The new team includes  Lindsay Irvin, Director of Operations, David Moore, President of Tarot College, and Chief Technician Mike Ferrell will become Witch School’s new CEO. Outgoing CEO Ed Hubbard praised Ferrell’s skills, and said that “he has a deep understanding of how the Internet works, as well as working with global members. He will also be able to implement the move into other forms of interface such as tablet and mobile. WSI, Inc. is facing a wonderful future; Michael is the individual who will lead that effort.” In addition, Rev. Don Lewis announced that he was stepping down as Chancellor  of Witch School, though he will still take an active role in developing content for Witch School in the years ahead.

Witch School circa 2007, Rev. Don Lewis is in the center, and incoming WSI CEO is second from the right.

Witch School circa 2007, Rev. Don Lewis is in the center, and incoming WSI CEO Mike Ferrell is second from the right.

“Some people are asking if I will still be Chancellor of Witch School. The answer to this is no. This last year has necessitated many changes, and I have found that I cannot effectively be Chancellor of both Witch School and Chancellor of the Correllian Tradition. Witch School is independent of the Tradition with widely different duties best handled by Michael and Lindsay. I will however continue to be highly involved with Witch School. I will be continuing to provide content for Witch School, Tarot College, and Magick TV, and I am very happy in that role. In particular I have spent much of the last year working on the long-anticipated Correllian video lessons which will be making their debut soon, and which I feel will be a revolutionary development in their way. I am also working on a variety of other instructional materials for the future.”

As for Hubbard, who with the Rev. Don Lewis helped shape Witch School, he will, quote, “act as a support consultant, to ease the changeover to new leadership.” He will also remain active in the Pagans Tonight Radio Network. We wish them the best of luck during this time of change and transition.

Pictures from Patrick McCollum’s India Trip: For those of you who enjoyed my article about Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum participating in the Kumbh Mela, the Patrick McCollum Foundation has started to post photos of his experiences there.

Patrick McCollum participates in a blessing at the Sangam.

Patrick McCollum participates in a blessing at the Sangam.

Patrick McCollum and H. H. Puja Swami Saraswati set an example on how to restore the beauty of the sacred Ganges River by personally mucking trash.

Patrick McCollum and H. H. Puja Swami Saraswati set an example on how to restore the beauty of the sacred Ganges River by personally mucking trash.

“We must be the example of what we want to see.  If we want our brothers and sisters to honor our planet, we cannot walk on flower petals and drink milk and honey.  We must instead choose the filthiest example of what we want to change and get down in the mud and clean it up.”Patrick McCollum, in a statement to Indian press about mucking trash in the Ganges River.

For more updates stay tuned to the Patrick McCollum Foundation blog and Facebook page.

In Other Community News: 

  • Coru Cathubodua Priesthood and Solar Cross Temple are hosting a devotional blood drive at this year’s PantheaCon in San Jose. Quote: “Every three seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood. The Coru Priesthood and Solar Cross are hosting this blood drive as an act of kinship, hospitality and devotion to our community and to the Morrigan, Celtic Goddess of sovereignty, prophecy, and battle. We encourage all people to donate the gift of life, whether in the name of your own deities, the Morrigan or without devotional intent.” Interested parties should register, here, and use the sponsor code “PCon.” More here.
  • The excellent Invocatio blog announces that the Network for the Study of Esotericism in Antiquity (NSEA) has launched their new website, Quote: “The website is designed as a one-stop resource for pretty much every thing you might want to study in antiquity. (Seriously, the amount of things we have collected in one place is massive!) Even more, it is hoped that through the contributions of others working in the field the website will continue to grow.”
  • CAORANN, Celts Against Oppression, Racism, and Neo-Nazism, have issued an official statement of solidarity with the Idle No More movement. They also counsel non-Native/Indigenous/First Nations peoples against appropriation or hijacking the movement from its primary focus. Quote: “We urge our members and supporters of CAORANN to support Idle No More if their conscience leads them to do so. But we ask that non-Natives attend Idle No More events to support the Indigenous people, and to follow their guidance – to be there in solidarity, not to try to lead, and to listen more than they speak. We stress that this is a movement led by Indigenous women, and we are committed to making sure that remains the case.”
  • Ethan Doyle White at Albion Calling has posted the most recent interview with Pagan Studies scholars, this time with Caroline Tully. Quote: “Most Pagan Studies scholars seem to be in disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, religious studies, theology, history and archaeology. I didn’t go to university in order to be a Pagan Studies scholar specifically, but to study ancient pagan religions and to compare them with modern Paganism.”

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • I wish that professor Hutton was more of an objective Historian rather than a polemicist. It has been discovered that he has misrepresented the authorities he was relying upon, occasionally misunderstood them, as well as refusing to legitimize the wealth of data from Continental Europe concerning the survival of Paganism since antiquity into the identity we consider to be “The Witch” figure. I was personally offended to discover how much he was omitting in his “Pagan Religions” concerning Celtic Studies (which I was already very familiar with before reading his early 1990s-polemic) that was already established within the Celtic Studies disciplines, such as the Sovereignty-Goddess motif. Rather, he treated the Irish deities as non-existant and based his conclusions on nothing else other than his own opinion, which he does throughout all his works. It’s either his way or no way, and my fellow Pagan kinsmen believe him, accepting him at his word!

    • Gareth Redford

      I am not your kin.

    • Northern_Light_27

      Hmm. Take the word of an accredited scholar, or the word of one of the most well-known Pagan trolls on the internet… yeah, that’s a toughie.

      • At least I don’t hide behind anonymity and have the courage of my convictions, not to mention the evidence to back up my statements.

      • RevEllen

        I don’t consider Wade a troll. I rather enjoy his pointed and intelligent responses. I don’t always agree with him, but he makes me want to investigate more on my own to make up my own mind. To me a troll is one who disagrees with everything just to get a reaction. That is not Wade.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      It isn’t like he is the only historian to say such things.

      It is fairly well accepted, over here, that no pagan religion survived unbroken from antiquity to the modern day. Sure, customs and lore may have been passed down the generations, but nothing as coherent as a complete pre-Christian religion can be conclusively shown to have survived intact.

      Personally, I don’t see the big deal. Every religion was new, once. Time does not create authenticity, after all.

      • If you accept and read only Hutton, of course one *could* say that no Pagan religion ever survived. But, if one also interjects the qualifier of “unbroken” then not even Hinduisim or other native religions could qualify! There are several scholars that have proven otherwise, but I can name only a few off the top of my head: Profs. Eva Pocs, Carlo Ginzburg, Claude Lecouteux, David Lederer, Emma Wilby, Gabor Klaniczey, G.W. Bowersock (Hutton utterly ignores the first chapter in his “Hellenism in Late Antiquity” wher he proves that Paganism survived exceptionally late and it wasn’t even on the wane in several districts of the Greco-Roman world), Gustav Henningsen, and Jean Seznec, to name a very few.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          I didn’t say no Pagan religion ever survived, I said that the theory is an accepted one and no evidence to the contrary has conclusively been given.

          Also, I was talking specifically about English/British history. I can’t comment on other areas.

          • And, that is precisely a bit of contention that I have with Pagans from the US and the UK: they usually do not have easy access to academic material and Witchcraft scholars studies from Continental Europe even when it has been translated into English. I wish they did, however. I would also recommend looking into the Calusari, which is a European pagan witch-cult much like the Bendandanti, but they are almost certainly of Pagan origin.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            It is the ‘almost’ that is the stumbling block. It removes the claim of ‘conclusive’ that scholars seek.

            Further, how much of an impact and influence has the Calusari had on modern Pagan traditions?

          • There is no clear-cut distinction between the survival of “a religion” and the survival of component beliefs and practices associated with “a religion” or possibly, and more broadly, with a “religious tradition”.

            In fact, no religion, as has been pointed out umpteen times, ever “survives” in the sophistic sense of remaining unchanged through the centuries.

            It can even be argued that in terms of both beliefs and practices, far more connects modern Pagans with our spiritual ancestors of two thousand years ago than connects modern day Christians with the unoriginal and unremarkable Jewish Rabbi Jesus and his small band of Jewish followers. In the past it has been claimed that such a comparison fails because there is no “historical continuity” between ancient and modern Paganism, but that claim has now been decisively repudiated (regardless of how many people are ignorant of that fact, or refuse to acknowledge it).

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I am more one of those ‘who cares if there is no unbroken lineage’ types.

        • Scott

          Wade: “if one also interjects the qualifier of “unbroken” then not even Hinduisim or other native religions could qualify!”

          Wade, could you please expand on your reasoning here? I’m not certain that I follow you.

    • Scott

      Wade: “refusing to legitimize the wealth of data from Continental Europe
      concerning the survival of Paganism since antiquity into the identity we
      consider to be “The Witch” figure.”

      From Hutton’s article:

      “On the whole, since 1970 Continental scholars have been much more ready to find ancient roots for aspects of witchcraft tradition than those from English-speaking nations, who have preferred to concentrate on beliefs and trials in their contemporary context, of gender and class relations and intellectual and political systems.(5) Both approaches have their merits, and there needs to be a greater combination of them, but even in default of one there has been no clash between the two different schools of scholarship, which have tended to proceed instead in parallel.” (pp. 229-230)

      “5. Prominent in the Continental approach have been Carlo Ginzburg, Gustav Henningsen, Éva Pócs, and Wolfgang Behringer; in the Anglo–American one, James Sharpe, Diane Purkiss, Stuart Clark, Brian Levack, Malcolm Gaskill, Lyndal Roper, Robin Briggs, and Julian Goodare and his Scottish team.” (footnote on p. 229)

      That whole paragraph, in fact, explicitly affirms exactly the line of reasoning that you argue that Hutton has “refused to legitimize.”

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    The Hutton piece is twofold: One statement in his ongoing exchange with Whitmore, in which I have not the slightest interest because you can’t learn anything in this kind of back-and-forth from reading just one thing from one side. And a serious effort to acknowledge real connection between Wicca and ancient Paganisms and does not think Wicca was made up out of whole cloth; that was nice to read.

  • Nyktipolos

    It’s good to see more pagan groups arguing for solidarity with Idle No More, but also more importantly calling for pagans to NOT co-opt Idle No More for pagan interests.

  • It’s good to see that the discussion on Pagan history, at least for those who are keeping up, has moved well beyond the position (which Hutton now not only completely rejects but emphatically disowns) that “the paganism of today has virtually nothing in common with that of the past except the name,”

    Today, anyone who wants to be taken seriously must acknowledge the religious continuity between ancient and modern Paganism. Fortunately, there is still plenty to discuss and disagree about. That Hutton chooses to emphasize these disagreements is actually rather unfortunate. He could be playing a far more constructive role.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      There is a difference between continuity and reconstruction.

    • I entirely agree.

    • Scott

      AP: “Today, anyone who wants to be taken seriously must acknowledge the religious continuity between ancient and modern Paganism.”

      How do you reconcile that with the following statements from Hutton’s article?

      “No evidence was found in Europe of a self-conscious Pagan religion surviving the formal conversion of a state to Christianity. A large number of meticulously researched local studies of the early modern witch trials found no solid evidence that its members had been practitioners of such a religion, or indeed of any other organised one consciously opposed to the established Christian faith.” (p. 227)

      “Forms of it [Paganism] can certainly claim an initiatory line, and an unbroken transmission from antiquity of texts and attitudes which had a strongly counter-cultural tinge and often endured official disapproval, but this is through the medium of ceremonial magic, which was not a separate religion in itself. Rather, it was a tradition of practical and operative workings, which often preserved and sometimes enhanced Pagan elements, but combined these when they were present with some from other faiths, above all Judaism and Christianity.” (p. 232)

      Or maybe you’re using “religious continuity” in some manner that is not immediately apparent to me which is not inconsistent with these statements, in which case I would appreciate a clarification.

      • There is in fact a great deal of evidence of a “self-conscious” Pagan religious movement, and even multiple such movements, during the Renaissance. And these self-conscious Renaissance Pagans are the true spiritual ancestors of modern Paganism.

        One such Pagan movement was centered in Mistra in the Peloponnese. George Gemistos Plethon was the most prominent member of this self-conscious Pagan movement, although he was probably in no sense its leader and certainly not its founder (that is to say, as important as Plethon was to the “Pagan scene”, if you will, of Mistra, this scene did not owe its existence to him, and the historical evidence for its existence does not hinge on Plethon).

        There was also an underground Pagan movement in Rome, among whose most prominent members were the famous Academic “conspirators” imprisoned in 1468. That at least some of the members of the Roman Academy were self-conscious Pagans is demonstrated by inscriptions they left behind in the Catacombs, discovered centuries later by Giovanni Battista de Rossi (in 1852). Had those inscriptions been found while the Academicians were being held at Castel St. Angelo, they would have all ended up on the scaffold.

        There is also a great deal of evidence that the Platonic Academy in Florence was another hotbed of self-conscious Paganism. For one thing, openly declared its for Plethon after Plethon had been exposed as an apostate. And Marsilio Ficino, the head of the Academy until his death in 1499, was described as a “Pagan” [Latin paganus] in a biography written just six years after Ficino’s death (this was a semi-official biography, since it was produced at the behest of Francesco Cattani da Diacceto, who was “the most faithful disciple of Ficino and his successor in the teaching of Platonic doctrine”, according to Eugenio Garin and Giorgio A. Pinton in their History of Italian Philosophy, p. 379).

        At least some Renaissance scholars are beginning to acknowledge that there was such a thing as “Platonic Paganism” during the Renaissance, and this is really not news to anyone who has been paying attention. See, for example, John Monfasani’s now almost 20 year old paper ‘ ‘Platonic paganism in the fifteenth century’.

        The figure of Plethon deserves one final mention. Anyone during the Renaissance who voiced strong admiration for Plethon must be (and was at the time) suspected of strong Paganizing tendencies. This would include not only such colorful and important figures as Sigismondo Malatesta and Leon Battista Alberti, but even Cardinal Bessarion (who had studied under Plethon in Mistra and who was apparently deeply devoted to his teacher).

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Interesting. Now, can their lineage be traced back to Pre-Christian times or, indeed, forwards to now?

          The reason I ask is that most systems either self define as modern (conceived in the contemporary age) or reconstructionist (conceived in the modern age, using historical evidence as a model.)

          • One would first have to define the term “lineage” with sufficient precision so that one could give a yes/no answer. So far as I know, no one has ever done that.

            Nicholas Campion has argued, in his books on the history of Astrology, that Hermeticism forms a continuous religious tradition connecting modern Esotericists back to classical antiquity and beyond. Campion’s approach to this actually parallels Hutton’s in many ways.

            But can we demand of Ficino & Co. that which we do not demand of the Protestants? Certainly the great “reformers” Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc, had no such “lineage”. They proudly proclaimed that the Church as it existed at the time was an instrument of Satan, and had not been the true Church for many centuries. And they did not merely reject the Church in words, but attacked it quite violently.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I don’t demand anything of Ficino & Co. that I do not demand of any other denomination.

            What I ask is whether any claims can be shown to connect them with either historic or contemporary paganism.

            As to the term ‘lineage’, that is easy to define, in the context I use it:
            Is there an unbroken tradition of venerating/acknowledging the gods of Europe from the historic time of their ‘supremacy’ to the modern time?

            Even the Protestants can make that claim with supporting evidence.

            I will, however, say again that I do not care if a religious path has historic pedigree or not. All it requires is honesty, sincerity and integrity.

          • Ficino was obviously constrained in what he could say openly, or commit to writing–as was everyone who lived during this time. Nevertheless we know for a fact that Ficino devoted himself to the study and practice of Hermeticism. One practice in particular was the singing of the Orphic hymns, and there could hardly be a more explicit way of “venerating/acknowledging” the Gods of antiquity (although not limited to “Europe”).

          • Scott

            Except that Ficino’s Christianity is pervasive and insistent, to the point that even Siniossoglou, who is hardly shy about identifying Platonic philosophers as Pagans, speaks of his “Christian Platonism” (p. 45), and says of him and the other Renaissance Platonists that “[t]heir Platonism has an apologetic aspect” (p. 419). You can’t have it both ways: if you’re going to argue that Plethon’s apparent Paganism must be taken at face value against the attempts of some scholars to “rehabilitate” him, then you should grant Ficino the same courtesy, even if it weakens your argument.

          • Siniossoglou’s Christianizing gloss of Ficino is one of the many defects in his work.

            And I do not argue that “Plethon’s apparent Paganism must be taken at face value” at all. Rather I argue that Plethon, minus the “Laws”, appears just as Christian as Ficino & Co–and yet we know that Plethon was no Christian at all. The obvious conclusion is that the “pervasive and insistent” Christianity of Ficino and company is not convincing at all.

            And, besides, even without Plethon we know that every single profession of Christianity from Ficino was made under duress, as is the case for everyone who lived at that time and place. The fact is that this requires us to distrust all such professions, just as much as we should distrust professions of adherence to Marxism-Leninism coming from those living under a Communist dictatorship. This is nothing more than common sense, and also common decency.

            Ficino was a Pagan, and his hand-picked successor as the head of the Florentine Academy openly declared this when, in the biography of Ficino that was produced under his direction, Ficino is explicitly identified as a self-conscious opponent of Christianity who wished to restore the ancient Pagan religion of the Greco-Roman world.

            But Corsi’s biography does something quite clever, and also quite revealing for those who have eyes to see. Corsi states that Ficino was a Pagan as a young man, but then relented and became a Christian only in his 40s. This proves that the idea of Pagans walking around in Florence in the mid-to-late 1400s was something that people could and did conceive of at the time. It also specifically states that Ficino was one of these Pagans. However, using one of the oldest, and most obvious, literary tropes in the book, Corsi has his cake and eats it, too, by proclaiming Ficino both a Pagan and a Christian, in that order.

            This means that the man who was selected by Cosimo de Medici to found and head the Platonic Academy at Florence, arguably ground zero of the Renaissance as a whole, was a Pagan at the time, or at least was openly identified as such by those whom Ficino himself had entrusted with carrying on his philosophical teachings.

          • Scott

            “And, besides, even without Plethon we know that every single profession
            of Christianity from Ficino was made under duress, as is the case for
            everyone who lived at that time and place. The fact is that this
            requires us to distrust all such professions, just as much as we should
            distrust professions of adherence to Marxism-Leninism coming from those
            living under a Communist dictatorship. This is nothing more than common
            sense, and also common decency.”

            And conveniently non-falsifiable, which makes it worthless as a rubric for examining historical evidence.

        • Scott

          For those following along at home, Monfasani’s paper was first published in *Reconsidering the Renaissance: Papers from the Twenty-First Annual Conference*, ed. Mario di Cesare (Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, v. 93, 1992), and was reprinted in Monfasani’s collection *Byzantine scholars in Renaissance Italy :
          Cardinal Bessarion and other émigrés* (Variorum, 1995).

          AP, I note that Monfasani also writes here:

          “In sum, scholarship has yet to discover anyone whom we can describe as a pagan follower of Pletho in the sense of adhering to Pletho’s specific pagan creed. But that is a disturbing conclusion only if we assume that Pletho actively sought converts to his polytheistic vision. For in spite of all his admirers, friends, and pupils, I doubt that Pletho ever initiated anyone fully into his polytheistic teachings or that he ever gave more than a small number of adherents even a glimpse of it.” (*Reconsidering the Renaissance*, p. 59)

          This follows a section in which he’s examined the writings of Pletho’s friends and associates and found that there’s no evidence that any of them were Pagans – in fact, many of them explicitly affirm their Christianity. You could, of course, argue that they were simply disguising their “true” affiliations to avoid persecution and death, and you could even be right, but that’s conjectural. I find it difficult to understand, if that’s the case, how you could cite Pletho as part of a Pagan “movement”. I can find mention of him heading up a school in Mystras where he allegedly advocated openly for Paganism, but these are all Internet mentions, none of which provide a citation to support this. Can you recommend additional scholarship which supports your case?

          • For more on Plethon as part of a broader movement, as opposed to merely being a Pagan lone-wolf, see especially the work of both Anthony Kaldellis and Niketas Siniossoglou on the history of underground Paganism in Byzantium. Most improtant is Siniossolgou’s 2011 book “Radical Platonism in Byzantium”.

            There is also the book “Mistra, Byzantine Capital of the Peloponnese” by Steven Runciman (1980), where Runciman wrote “it seems certain that there was a neo-paganist cell at Mistra which he [Plethon] dominated and encouraged.”

            Christopher Livanos devotes about two pages to the Pagan scene in Mistra in his paper “Monotheists, Dualists, and Pagans”, which appeared in the 2010 collection “The Byzantine World”. Livanos wrote “The very final years of the Byzantine empire witnessed a genuine but small resurgence of Paganism in the circle of George Gemisthos Plethon of Mistra.”

            Even Wouter Hanegraaf, who is very uncomfortable with the idea of Pagans and Paganism during the Renaissance, admits that what Plethon “had in mind” was “nothing less than a revival of Hellenistic paganism in deliberate opposition to Christianity.” Hanegraaf is eager to assure his readers that despite his best efforts, Plethon failed in his Pagan evangelizing, but I do not find his assertion to that effect in any way convincing. See his 2009 paper “The Pagan Who Came From the East: George Gemistos Plethon and Platonic Orientalism.”

          • Scott

            *Radical Platonism in Byzantium* is fascinating, and I’m looking forward to having more leisure to dig into it this weekend. I think there’s a very important point to be made with respect to Plethon, though, which has thus far been omitted from the discussion: when Siniossolgou defines Plethon as a “pagan Platonist,” what he means is that Plethon was a “philosophical Hellenist.” “In its ancient and modern manifestations paganism as philosophical Hellenism presupposes as underlying intellectual set of ideas antagonistic to the Judeo-Christian one, which managed to transcend the defeat of cultic paganism in late antiquity” (p. 15). This set of ideas includes epistemic optimism, a pagan ontology in which The One/The Good is humanly knowable via reason rather than transcendently ineffable, a multi-causalist metaphysical model that emphasizes determinism/fate rather than free will, and political utopianism (p. 18). Siniossolgou says clearly and repeatedly that the philosophical paganism that he’s discussing with respect to Plethon and his forebears is divorced from any “cultic” or “ritual” paganism – in fact, all of the references to “paganism, ritual” in the index link to passages where the author is making this distinction. For example: “This attempt to marginalize Plethon’s ideas rests on a false basis: that Plethon’s paganism consisted in belief in many gods or in ritual paganism.” (p. 38)

            I don’t at this point want to get into the question of whether this is an appropriate definition of Paganism from a history-of-religions standpoint. I *do* want to point out that from the perspective of modern Pagan identity, which arguably begins not with a philosophical perspective but with a set of ritual practices (the rites of modern Wicca) and which consistently refers back to the *practices* of our pre-Christian pagan forebears for inspiration, purely philosophical exemplars of Paganism may not be terribly convincing *to modern Pagans* as “missing links” between those forebears and our current traditions.

        • Scott

          I’ve been reading the pieces on your blog about the 1468 arrests and the inscriptions discovered by de Rossi. I don’t see how the material you present can possibly be construed as evidence for a pagan movement among the Academy. The fact that “neopaganism” was among the charges levelled at the conspirators demonstrates absolutely nothing about their practices; the full list was “republicanism, irreligion, heresy, neopaganism, and sodomy,” which sounds like the authorities are simply throwing things at the wall in the hope that something sticks. You mention that they were acquitted, so presumably the evidence on any of these charges must have been equivocal at least.

          With respect to the catacomb inscriptions: the work that you cite is not by de Rossi, but by his student Lanciani, writing nearly 40 years after the discovery that he describes. He provides the text of a single inscription, which gives a list of names, none of which correspond to the “heathen names” assigned to the alleged conspirators, and mentions one Pomponius as “pontifex maximus.” This was of course a religious office in ancient Rome, but it’s also the official Latin title of the Pope, and given the addition reference to the named men as “the delight of the Roman dissolute women” it seems far more likely that we’re looking at an irreverent satire rather than a record of someone serving as the titular priest of a secret pagan cult. Lanciani mentions this possibility as well: “it is difficult to determine whether we have to deal with a more or less
          absurd pedantry, or with a solemn apostasy from the Christian faith by a
          handful of dissolute conspirators.” Your statement that the inscriptions in question could have led to the deaths of the conspirators seems suspect, given that Lanciani indicates that the date on the inscription is 1475, a good seven years after the conspirators’ arrest, and could therefore not have been brought as evidence against them.

          For those interested in reading along, AP’s posts under discussion can be found at:

          • First of all, in my blog I mention both de Rossi and Lanciani, and I make it clear that the inscriptions were discovered by de Rossi, but that the systematic study and cataloging of the inscriptions was done by Lanciani.

            Second of all, as you noted, the alleged conspirators were all eventually released due to lack of evidence, and, at least as importantly, due to the intervention of powerful allies including especially Cardinal Bessarion, who was perhaps Plethon’s most devoted disciple. But what if the inscriptions proclaiming Leto as “Pontifex Maximus”, etc, had been discovered at the time? Everyone, including especially the Academicians themselves, knew exactly how it would look, and that it would lead to their condemnation and execution as apostates. It is true that no one can say precisely what the Academicians truest, innermost intentions were, but if they were simply “playing at” being Pagan apostates, then they fully realized that they were playing a very dangerous game. And we have no reason to insist that they any less sincere in their admiration of ancient Pagan religiosity than they were in their preference for ancient Pagan Republicanism to Christian Theocracy, or in their preference for ancient Pagan libertinism to Christian hypocrisy and puritanism.

            Alternative explanations can always be concocted. There is no way to prove with absolute certainty the religious convictions of people alive today (as the fascinating case of the crypto-Catholicism of Tony Blair demonstrates rather dramatically), let alone those who lived many centuries ago. I absolutely do not claim that there is any such thing as “proof” of underground Paganism during the Renaissance. My arguments are, rather, against those who have claimed to prove the opposite. However, I think it is perfectly reasonable to believe that there was underground Paganism during the Renaissance, and that there is plenty of evidence for it.

          • Scott

            The problem, AP, is that your alleged evidence does not in fact serve that function. You have yet to demonstrate why the inscription reported by Lanciani should be regarded as evidence of an underground Pagan cult in preference to any alternative explanation (especially in light of the obvious Catholic connotations of the title “Pontifex Maximus” at that date), that there is good evidence that the Academicians were in fact practicing Pagans rather than simply political subversives who were accused of being so (and the fact that Bessarion was a disciple of Plethon is not enough to prove that he shared his teacher’s Paganism – there is certainly plenty of precedent for devoutly Christian students of pagan philosophers in antiquity), or that there is even a shred of reason to connect the one to the other apart from the location (Rome) and a vague temporal coincidence (and one that, based on the single dated inscription cited, runs in the wrong direction for your argument; if there are other specific inscriptions provided by Lanciani that support your assertion, one wonders why you have not produced them as evidence). I simply think you’re making too much of too little here.

    • GearoidMacConfhiaclaigh

      No. I refuse that continuity, in any direct sense, happened.

      I don’t know your qualifications, though I like how you griped about not getting a link to your blog (scholarly papers don’t generally link to blogs, just a note. Not to mention it can be considered improper to do so, from a privacy standpoint). But I’m a historian, and I reject that assertion entirely. Evidence for a direct connection is VERY scant, I’m aware of none that would lead me to overturn the evidence against it.

      Especially in the area I’m most comfortable discussing, Great Britain. The last sympathetic reference in any manner I’ve run across was in the Vita of Saint Winwaloe (circa 900 CE), and I’ve as of yet been unable to track down a copy of the actual Vita to see the narrative myself, instead of second hand descriptions.

  • In his Pomegranate article, Hutton refers to “the argument staged upon a few blogs during the course of 2011 and 2012 over the meaning of the word ‘witch'”. But he provides no clue as to what the “few blogs” are that he is referring to. Serious scholarly publications in respected academic journals always include proper citations. That is because real scholarship does not rely on “just-so” story telling, but always provides the reader with sufficient information to independently verify anything that is attributed to a source.

    Had the Pomegranate done their job and required Hutton to provide proper citations, he would have specifically mentioned my blog, (and possibly others – although I am not personally aware of any other blogs that he might be referring to, and I would be very interested to hear of them, if they exist). And if he had done that, then it would be possible for readers to see for themselves what it is that Hutton claims to be responding to, at quite some length, in this section of his article.