Unleash the Hounds! (Link Roundup)

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 26, 2013 — 27 Comments

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • The debate over the “persecution”, or lack thereof, of early Christians has been gathering strength at least since 1956, when historian Geoffrey de Ste. Croix coined the term “voluntary martyrdom” and posited that many early Christians actually engaged in criminal acts of violence with the conscious intention of making “martyrs” of themselves.

    The truth is that not only did ancient Pagans not persecute Christianity, but the atmosphere of religious tolerance, and the peace and prosperity of Pagan Rome, made it possible for Christian “evangelists” to travel unmolested from one end of the known world to the other, spreading their message of hate-filled intolerance and childish superstition.

    The even bigger myth about early Christians is that they were a bunch of egalitarian vegetarian pacifist feminist anarchists do-gooders, and that their rise to power was actually a net gain for “social justice” and “progress”. Many modern Pagans, including supposed Pagan “scholars”, actually still peddle some version of that myth, sadly.

    • Deborah Bender

      Early Christianity did, IMHO, make a major contribution to the moral advancement of western civilization, one which is taken for granted by modern pagans. They criminalized infanticide.

      Infanticide was abhorred by the Jews (which is where Christianity got its outlook on the issue) but exposure of unwanted infants was an accepted, legal, and common practice in Helllenic civilization. Not all the babies died; some may have been adopted by strangers while others were enslaved. Philosophers warned against having sex with slaves because you ran the risk of committing incest with your own son or daughter. When Christianity became the state religion of Rome, it outlawed the INFANTICIDE.

      Another moral contribution for which Christianity deserves some credit is charitable organizations. Organized private charity (as opposed to patronage, mutual aid societies, and government handouts to the poor) was absent from Mediterranean and European society until Christianity made it a virtue. Again, Christian concern for the sick and needy was inherited from Judaism, which got it from the Hebrew prophets.

      Pagan and heathen cultures on the whole promote virtue and honor rather than compassion. Open-handedness is a virtue for leaders; concern for the weak and needy simply because they are weak and needy is not expected of anybody. We all understand that an industrialized country organized on a purely Pagan or Heathen religious basis would look rather different from the UK and the USA; IMO not all the differences would be improvements. Probably the best existing model of such a country is Japan.

      Whether the triumph for Christianity was a net gain or a net loss for social justice is a complicated question on which people may differ. There are so many considerations and unknowns involved. If not Christianity, what would have been the predominant religion or religions of fifth century Rome? Not Classical paganism; it was a declining though not a spent force. Not Judaism; it was quite popular in the Roman Empire, but not popular enough to dominate. Not Mithraism, which excluded women. Islam, which came a bit later, was a spin off of Judaism and Christianity, in the same way that Buddhism spun off from the Hindu religion. Once one is aware of the problems Roman civilization faced, it’s difficult to know what the road not taken was, and whether it could have been much better than the road we traveled.

      Like a great many humanists, I think most of what is good about western civilization resulted from the sometimes uneasy melding of classical paganism and the Judeo-Christian culture complex, both of which have shortcomings and strengths.

      Some of the pagan reconstructionist groups are attempting to learn and internalize the value systems that their religions and cultures had prior to Christian influence, and that is a project well worth doing. Wicca, IMO, is not a purely pagan religion but a product of mid twentieth century Anglo-American culture approximately as Hutton says, and as such, has an ethical outlook and moral values of decidedly mixed origins, including some influence from Eastern religions.

      • Deborah Bender

        Caps at the end of second paragraph was a typo. I wish the software here allowed editing after one posts.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          It does, for me.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I think that, when you talk ethics, there is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’, merely ‘agree’ and ‘disagree’.

        • Deborah Bender

          I don’t think that. I think that one has to look into what social functions are performed by the ethics of a particular society. Something that looks bad may be necessary or even have a good result in the context of the entire social system. A military organization and a kindergarten do not operate optimally under the same set of rules. Nevertheless, I hold to some core values that I believe are universal, and I judge societies according to their success in fostering those values.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I am a very strong believer in moral relativity. As such, I feel it is quite wrong to judge a society by criteria other than its own.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I do not believe in universal morals because, from the evidence, not exist. I do have my own moral standards, but I do not for a moment think they are universal; they are mine. However, I am prepared to judge another culture, just not to pretend that the standards by which I do so are universal.

          • Deborah Bender

            If by universal you mean universally accepted, of course they aren’t.

            Some ethicists do posit the existence of universally true ethical or moral standards that aren’t directly based on the authority of a deity. The one that occurs to me is that progress in ethical understanding can be traced by the size of the group one feels obligated to treat as “Us” rather than “Them”. I used to believe this, but I think it fails to take into account the demands that different kinds of economies make on collective survival. One can be personally altruistic, but being altruistic about actions that endanger the survival of one’s group is traitorous.

            Warrior societies by their nature have different standards for how we behave toward Us and how we treat Them, at least when They are not protected by the rules of formal hospitality. Peaceful agricultural societies can make some accommodations to considering the welfare of outsiders, if they wish. But:

            Societies whose economic base is fixed will have utterly different values from societies within an expanding economy. In the former, allocation of wealth and resources is zero sum; more for me means less for you. Inequality cannot be remedied without somebody losing out, and most of the moral efforts of the culture will be devoted to convincing people that it is their duty to stick to the place they were born into and take satisfaction from perfect performance of their inherited duties. Thus you get glorification of things like suttee.

            Which the British, with their imperial Christian morality, put a stop to.

            Western-style individualism and liberal values in general are only supportable, IMHO, if there is at least potentially enough wealth to go around.

            There is mutual contempt and disbelief between very traditional kinship based societies such as Afghan tribes and California liberals; “I couldn’t live like that”. My upbringing, abetted by education and reading a lot of science fiction, gives me a toe in both camps. Perhaps for you as well since we might be members of the same tribe.

            Sorry for going on at such length. I’m a Sagittarius and this kind of question is in my wheelhouse.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I’m not a California liberal; I’m an Oberlin liberal which is, if anything, an ever more tribal tribe. I once believed in progress, including moral progress, when I was a Humanist. Becoming Pagan in a conversion experience forced me (after I settled down a bit) to look at Humanism more critically, and now I see it as a linear extrapolation of monotheism without the inconvenient bother of a God. Yet many of its values have been deeply ingrained in me, and I am forced to embrace them as my values.
            I accept the postmodernist position that there is no universal value set (as my inept typing interfered with me expressing in my earlier post) but I decline to go all the way with the postmodernist tribe in taking that as an excuse not to act under the goad of outrage — ie, I reject their covert universalization of moral paralysis. I go so far as to praise the British for ending suttee and would cheerfully force my negative opinion about clitoridectomy upon those who practice it — but not in the name of a universalizeable Enlightenment or Feminism of Humanism but because they offend me deeply.
            In the current faceoff between the Enlightenment and Islamism I know which side I’m on and further believe that survival of any civilization demands that some subset of Enlightenment values must become at least universally observed, if not believed. I just don’t kid myself about what I’m proposing. I will even acknowledge that controlling climate change needs essentially universal support if our species is to survive, but again I don’t kid myself.
            You and I are members of the same tribe in that I am Jewish on my father’s side. My grandfather, a cantor, gave me my first experience of living-room religion, wherefore I took the first word of his first prayer every Hannukah as half of my craft name. Shalom.

          • Baruch

            The final “of” in my second paragraph above should be “or.” I spell quite well; it’s my typing that sux.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            There is, I think, only one of my morals I would happily force on the whole world.

            The respect of borders and boundaries. They can do whatever they want in their land, but they respect my borders. As soon as that respect is lost, I favour a scorched earth policy.

          • Deborah Bender

            Well said. I think we are in agreement.

      • Deborah Bender: “Pagan and heathen cultures on the whole promote virtue and honor rather than compassion.”

        Both the concept and the very word “compassion” are Pagan in their origins. The Christians borrowed them from the Pagan philosophical traditions of the Greco-Roman world.

        As for infanticide, the great Christian Emperor Constantius murdered every male child in his family upon ascending to the throne, except for one. The great Christian saint Lactantius harshly criticized Constantius for failing to murder that one child, because he grew up to be the Emperor Julian.

        Lactantius is often cited as one of those wonderful early Church “fathers” who condemned infanticide, and yet he explicitly supported it when it came to the murder of a child he viewed as a potential threat to his religion.

        Another Church “father” often cited as a high-minded opponent of infanticide is Tertullian, “the father of Western theology.” Tertullian was, even by the Christians’ standards of his day, an especially virulent antisemite whose writings helped to fix in the Christian mind for centuries to come the image of the Jews as “Christ-killers.”

        So if you don’t mind, I will not be accepting any moral advice from the likes of Lactantius and Tertullian.

        • Deborah Bender

          I’ll accept one of your points, on the origin of the word compassion.
          Thank you.

          i believe you are intelligent enough to know that Emperor Constantius’ behavior is irrelevant to this discussion. Both pagan and Christian emperors murdered their relatives; it’s common and even routine behavior for dynastic rulers. That doesn’t mean that those cultures condone murder as a general practice for ordinary people. Infanticide was more than condoned in pagan lands under Greek, Hellenistic and Roman law. It was legal, openly practiced, and socially acceptable. Christianity made infanticide illegal and socially unacceptable.

          Your attempt to refute my point about infanticide actually supports it, since you seem to think it was morally wrong for Constantius to kill his offspring. A pagan Roman would have said he was within his rights as paterfamilias.

          You are telling a Jewess that the early Church fathers were anti-semites? Teach your grandmother to suck eggs. This is another irrelevancy. I explicitly did not assert that Christianity on the whole was a moral advance over paganism. I said that it was an advance in two areas, infant murder and organized charity. You fhave not refuted the first and you ignored the second.

          Someone with a Roman name ought to be ashamed to have such a pathetic command of rhetoric.

          Up until now, I’ve been engaging in discussion with you. However, your latest post shows either you are incapable of putting together a logical argument or you are simply a ranter, so I’m done with you.

          • It wasn’t Constantius so much as Lactantius that I was drawing attention to. Lactantius was not an Emperor, he was one of the wonderful Christian leaders who were supposedly on a moral campaign to rid the world of infanticide. But as I pointed out, it turns out that he was in favor of infanticide if the circumstances were right.

            And I happen to believe that the vicious antisemitism of the early Church fathers is highly relevant to judging their overall morality, which, in turn, is directly relevant to the claim that the rise to power of the church represented “a major contribution to the moral advancement of western civilization.”

            Christians have always had a morbid fixation on infants and fetuses. This has nothing to do with morality and everything to do with the benighted soul-harvesting mentality that lies at the core of their “religion”.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          During the Middle Ages a woman who had a baby she couldn’t keep alive would often leave it at a church. This, however, was a crapshoot; the church usually couldn’t keep them alive, either. Some of the survivors are enshrined in your phone book; the name “Esposito” (exposed) commemorates an ancestor who survived.
          So infanticide actually extended, in a hit or miss fashion, Into Christian culture.

      • cernowain greenman

        When Pagans were in charge, the Christians were in favor of “leaving a child to the elements” (which was the method of these infanticides), because they would take the child, baptize her/him and raise up another Christian. Ie, Christians saw it as a means of “evangelism”. But when the Christians took over, they put an end to it lest any other faith take advantage of abandoned children and keep them from being Christian.

        • Deborah Bender

          If true, a good point. I find it plausible since there are documented cases up to the present time of Christians abducting non-Christian children in order to baptise them. Do you have a source?

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    “If you have clean drinking water coming out of your faucet, that is privilege.” Damn straight, Thorn! Unitarian Universalism explored this topic some 15 years ago, springboarding from an essay titled, “The Invisible Knapsack of White Privilege.” For example, I can answer the door in an old T-shirt with a beer in my hand without fear of reinforcing a stereotype about my race. I can be confident children who look like mine will be found in illustrations of kids’ books at school. Ruffled a few feathers, all of which imho therefore needed ruffling. It should be interesting to see how this plays in Paganism — eg, are Wiccans privileged among Pagans by being mentioned in the Armed Forces chaplains’ handbook as a bona fide religion?
    The bigger a seller Moss’s book is, the more of a splash it will make on the Christian Rignt. That’s where the persecution myth is deeply entrenched. (Wonder what Faux News will say?)

  • ambermoone

    I’ve been reading a pretty good book called, “God against the gods”, which also explores the idea of martyrdom myths. It was written by Jonathan Krisch. Worth a read for anyone who is interested in the topic.

  • We need to go to Youtube and show Ms. Moss some appreciation. She’s getting lambasted in the comments. And no, I don’t think most Christians will confront the lack of veracity in their narratives. Regardless of whether it’s true or not, admitting that early Christians were not systematically persecuted is akin to them suddenly deciding Jesus was not real. In fact it might even be more contrary to their world view. It would send them through a loop.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Ironically, I find it is more likely that Christians (than Pagans) talk about how many witches were killed in the medieval period (known, somewhat erroneously, as the ‘Burning Times’), when the numbers have usually been grossly over estimated and also that most were unlikely ‘witches’ at all, but rather unpopular Christians.

      • Can you expound on that a bit?

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          A lot of Pagans, nowadays, acknowledge that the persecution of ‘witches’ in the later medieval period was not quite as severe as some figures have stated (I have heard claims for more ‘witches’ killed during the ‘burning times’ than Jews in the holocaust).

          It is usually non Pagans (people that habitually identify as Christian) that make the hyperbolic claims of the massacre of ‘witches’. They also imply that the victims of the persecution were actual witches, rather than the more likely scenario of Christians who were ‘outed’ as witches by enemies (those who had a personal grudge or simply wanted their property.)

          • There are a number of things that should be kept in mind when comparing the Witch Hunts to the Holocaust. Here are four.

            1. As far as the numbers go, the Nazis were only able to murder so many Jews, Gypsies, etc, because they employed the latest industrial technology, including computer technology, to do it.

            2. Also, the early modern Witch Hunts were much more intimate and personal than the Holocaust. Accused Witches were tried one at a time, or in small groups, in their own communities, and then their neighbors stood by and watched as they were murdered right in front of them. The Nazis rounded up Jews (albeit often with the assistance of their neighbors) and then carted them off to be murdered more or less in secret (people were aware, to some extent, of what was going on — but very few people actually witnessed the killings first hand).

            3. Officially, the Nazis always denied that they were killing Jews. Which shows that they recognized at least the perceived immorality of what they were doing. Christians during the Witch Hunts, however, bragged about killing Witches, and many prominent Christians claimed that too little was being done to fully implement the Biblical injunction “thou shalt not suffer a Witch to live.” And some prominent Christians, including John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, harshly criticized the end of the Witch Hunts and openly called for starting them up again.

            4. The most intense period of the Witch Hunts extended over a period slightly longer than the reign of terror in the American South known as Jim Crow, during which “only” about 5,000 people were murdered in documented incidents of “lynching”. Therefore even the most conservative estimates for the death toll during the Witch Hunts paints early modern Christianity as an order of magnitude more murderous than the Ku Klux Klan.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I wasn’t comparing the Witch Hunts to the Holocaust. I said I had met those who had. (Personally, I do not think the two are comparable at all.)