Archives For Trials of the Moon: Reopening the Case for Historical Witchcraft

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note series, more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce 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 lets get started!

Isaac Bonewits Memorial DVD Controversy: Back in August of 2010 Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) held a special memorial service at the Summerland Gathering in Ohio for their founding Archdruid Isaac Bonewits who passed away on August 12th. The memorial service was captured on video, and placed on Youtube so those who couldn’t be there could see it. Since then, the ADF has made a DVD of that video footage available for purchase, a move that has upset Bonewit’s ex-wife Deborah Lipp and their child Arthur.

“You can say, Isaac wanted to give money to ADF and therefore it’s acceptable, or you can say, Isaac placed what was right and proper and honorable before profit, always, and therefore it’s utterly unacceptable. I knew him very well, and I can hear him saying “tacky” quite clearly in my ear, but I recognize the subjectivity of that. In the end, I can only speak to what I feel is right, and respectful, and kind. To commodify the death of a great man is not respectful. To do so at an event where he was being honored is not right. To do so when his only son was at that event was not kind.”

The ADF responded by saying that they are only charging for the DVD “to recoup a fraction of the costs associated with their creation,” and that the DVD was only made so that those without broadband Internet access could see the footage. Lipp responded by calling the production of a DVD “tasteless, disrespectful, undignified, and uncompassionate to those for whom this loss is personal.” Shortly after Lipp’s open letter started circulating Phaedra Bonewits, Isaac’s widow, posted her own thoughts on the matter, her opinions veered sharply from the idea that the ADF were “uncompassionate” in their move to sell a DVD.

“Bottom line, I do not want anyone to think that the opinions of Ms. Lipp, Isaac’s ex wife, represent my feelings, or the sentiments of any other member of Isaac’s family other than those of her son, Arthur Lipp-Bonewits. They are entitled to feel what they feel, but their feelings are not representative of the rest of us. I can’t presume to speak for Isaac, not really. But he did put his legacy in my hands because he loved and trusted me, as I loved and trusted him. Thus, I want to state unequivocally that I do not find the videotaping of the memorial, nor the distribution of the DVDs at nominal cost to be in any way disrespectful or exploitative of his memory. I completely support ADF in this situation, as do his siblings and his own mother.

This is obviously an emotionally intense subject, and I’m only reporting on this now because all parties involved have decided to make public their positions in the matter. I know from firsthand experience that the loss of a loved one is never easy, and the initial months, even years, after their passing can be fraught with unknown obstacles and a unique liminality brought on by grief. To lose someone who was a beloved public figure, who many people feel a sense of connection to, is no doubt even more complex and trying an experience. To paraphrase our nation’s president, I think it’s above my pay-grade to make a judgment call on this situation. It is what it is, a difference of opinion regarding what actions were proper and respectful. I wish all involved every blessing, and would guess that Isaac himself would relish engaging in the question at hand, though we are now all bereft of his direct insight in the matter.

Temple of the River in Minnesota Closes its Doors: Yesterday PNC-Minnesota reported that Temple of the River, an Irish Cottage Temple in NE Minneapolis, was closing its doors and that the religious community sponsoring it, The Old Belief Society, is disbanding. Temple of the River’s priest, Drew Jacob, made waves across the Pagan community recently with an article titled “Why I’m not Pagan.” Cara Schulz of PNC-Minnesota conducted an exclusive interview with Jacob about the move, and what the future holds for its priest.

“To put it simply, it’s not helping enough people change their lives. We have a large community and terrific events, but the Temple isn’t making the impact I want to see it make. As a priest, I’ve witnessed a significant shift in people’s spiritual needs. The needs that Temple of the River was designed to fulfill—a place for community, and accurate knowledge about historic practices—simply aren’t as badly needed now as they were ten years ago.

Instead I see people searching for a way to take charge of their lives. That has to be the priority, because the world is changing, and people feel lost, or stuck. The economy, technology and culture are all shifting. 20th century strategies for life don’t work well anymore, so there are a lot of people out there who aren’t happy with their lives. What I want to teach people is how to change that. How to live boldly and lead a life of victory. I want to empower people.”

Jacob now says he’ll devote his time to the Heroic Life, “a new spirituality for the 21st century” that’s “based on bravery and adventure.” Temple of the River will hold one last event on Midsummer’s Eve, and a final meditation session the week before.

Hutton Responds to Whitmore, Explains His Process: Chas Clifton reports that the The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies has posted a freely accessible article by British historian Ronald Hutton (author of “The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft”) entitled “Writing the History of Witchcraft: A Personal View.” In the piece Hutton discusses the course his work has taken, situates it within a larger body of scholarly work, and proposes three possible futures for the writing and reception of Pagan history by “practitioners outside the academy.” He also directly addresses the book-length critique of his work, “Trials of the Moon: Reopening the Case for Historical Witchcraft,” written by Ben Whitmore.

“It [Trials of the Moon] is devoted entirely to my own work. Although he allows that I have some virtues, at the opening and the end, these concessions seem very hollow in view of everything in between. He sums up the message of Triumph as being that modern Pagan witch-craft is “entirely a new invention, cobbled together by a few eccentrics,” with no link to any earlier form of “Pagan spirituality.” This is of course a travesty of its intended message. The whole purpose of his own bookis to destroy my reputation as an authority upon the history of Paganism and witchcraft, at least among Pagans, and especially belief in the argu-ments of Triumph. He has carried out very little research into primary source material. What he employs instead is a number of secondary texts of varying quality and drawn from a wide span of time. Whenever he finds a passage in these which apparently contradicts me, he proclaims that I am proved wrong. He also examines some of the works from which I have quoted myself and claims that I have misrepresented them. Nobody who believes his assertions can be left with anything other than the impression that I am an unscrupulous and deceitful individual motivated by a concealed hostility to Paganism. Most of the use that I make of source material is passed over in silence: only the apparent faults are highlighted. Where I address properly in later publications matters that he accuses me of neglecting in Triumph, this is taken as confirmation of my earlier guilt rather than a negation of it. By the same tactic, aspects of earlier work of mine to which he takes exception, and which are differently handled in Triumph, are still made to stand as examples of my turpitude. He criticises me for not defining terms like “witchcraft” with absolute precision, but then makes no attempt to do so himself, keeping them as fluid as possible so that they can fit a range of different meanings. He likewise makes no attempt to construct an alternative history of witchcraft and Paganism to my own: his whole purpose is simply to undermine confidence in me, so that—presumably—Pagan witches can go back to believing whatever they did before I wrote. Most of the points on which he tries to fault me are of detail, often trivial, and his hope is clearly that if he can put enough small cuts into my reputation for reliability, then faith in it will leak away.”

There’s much more, so those interested in this debate should download and read the whole thing. I must say that I share Hutton’s dream of a consensual picture of Pagan history based on primary sources, made in conjunction with Pagan writers and outside scholars, rather than “a number of mutually hostile sects, with different versions of history centered on rival writers,” or generational-based “acrimonious division.” Here’s hoping that our future is one of cooperation and collaboration instead of deepening divisions or impassible generational shibboleths. For even more on this topic, The Pomegranate also features a formal review of Whitemore’s book by Peg Aloi, and  Chas Clifton tackles yet another “grandmother story.” For all of my coverage of Whitmore’s work, click here.

Other Community Notes:

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

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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Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note, a series more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce 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 lets get started!

Women and the Changing Face of Paganism: Thorn Coyle’s Elemental Castings podcast has a new installment posted that brings us audio from a panel at the recent Florida Pagan Gathering. Entitled “Women and the Changing Face of Paganism”, the panel brought together Thorn, Margot Adler, Diana Paxson, and Grandmother Elspeth.

“Thorn Coyle hosts a panel on Women and the Changing Face of Paganism at Florida Pagan Gathering. Guests include Margot Adler, Diana Paxson, and Grandmother Elspeth. Topics include the evolution of the Feminist movement, the importance of preserving our history, activism and politics from a Pagan worldview, and gender roles.”

You can download the podcast, here. You can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or RSS. The panel is very much worth a listen, especially considering the concentration of wisdom and experience on hand. While you’re there, you may also want to check out the recording Thorn made of the Pagan Leadership Panel at this year’s Pagan Spirit Gathering (which I moderated).

A Discussion on Pagan Health: While I’m on the topic of Pagan podcasts, be sure to check out the Pagan Centered Podcast this Friday where their guest will be Dr. Kimberly Hedrick of the TriWinds Institute. Dr. Hedrick recently completed a Pagan health survey, the results of which were presented at the annual meeting of The American Public Health Association (APHA) in November.

“The results of the Pagan Health Survey indicated that there are significant differences between Pagan views of physical and mental health, health care treatment options, and health care practitioners and the tenets of biomedicine and treatments available. This is particularly apparent in mental health, where substantial discrepancies in views of mental wellness combined with non-mainstream spiritual practices can lead to patients feeing misunderstood. The overarching holistic worldview, which sees health as an integrative endeavor (both in unifying body, mind, and spirit and in unifying environmental and personal health), can cause dissatisfaction with standard health care options and public health policies and lead to seeking alternative treatments and practitioners.”

Listener interaction is encouraged for this program. You can find instructions on participation, here. You can also e-mail Dave at PCP directly with any questions you’d like to see asked during the show. This work by Dr. Hedrick could really provide data that helps our communities in the long-term, and I’m enthused to see PCP tackling this story.

Mount Franklin Milestone: While several American and UK-organized Pagan events have hit the milestone of operating for 30+ years, Pagan Spirit Gathering in 2010 for instance, Australia is also starting to see its gatherings grow up along with their community. In 2011 the Mount Franklin Annual Pagan Gathering (in central Victoria) hits its 30th anniversary, and they’ve put up a special blog to collect tributes and remembrances in honor of the upcoming occasion.

“For overseas readers Mt Franklin is a small but perfect dormant volcano, with a crater that is totally intact except for a small gap where the entrance road is sited. Inside the crater is a flat area of about five acres, planted out with a variety of native and northern hemisphere trees, including a couple of young but thriving California Redwoods. The whole area has been declared an Arboretum, and the combination of Australian natives and trees from Europe and America serve to make Western Pagans feel right at home.

October is Spring in this part of Australia, and because we enjoy a four season climate here many of our traditional northern plants are heralding the onset of Beltane. At the base of the mountain wild Eglantine Roses are blooming, planted by who knows which homesick settler. On the slopes of the mountain itself a huge and lovely Hawthorn is covered in its white blossom. The bush all around us is filled with blooming eucalypts and masses of brilliant yellow wattles (Acacia to you northern types). Mt Franklin itself is in central Victoria, the most Southerly mainland state in Australia. We have hot, dry summers, cold wet winters and glorious springs and autumns.”

Australia has a diverse and thriving Pagan community, and their role in hosting Pagans from around the world at the recent Parliament of the World’s Religions in 2009, helped remind Pagans that “down under” has a lot to teach and share with us in the Northern Hemisphere. While there are some efforts at outreach, I’d love to see more community-generated journalism from places like Australia and New Zealand in the years to come. Congratulations to Mount Franklin Annual Pagan Gathering on their upcoming milestone.

Reconsidering Hutton: At his Talking About Ritual Magick blog, Frater Barrabbas notes an ongoing debate over the issue of historian Ronald Hutton’s theories concerning historical veracity within modern Witchcraft and Paganism. In the process he discovers Ben Whitmore’s recently self-published critique of Hutton’s history of Wicca, “Triumph of the Moon”, entitled “Trials of the Moon: Reopening the Case for Historical Witchcraft”.

“The ‘creation myths’ of modern witchcraft and Paganism were decisively toppled at the turn of this century in Ronald Hutton’s celebrated book, Triumph of the Moon. But did Hutton topple more than just myths? Are some truths also hidden in the rubble? Did paganism really die out centuries ago? Was witchcraft really no more than a fantasy? Were the Gods of Wicca really born out of the Romantic movement? Did Gerald Gardner lie about his initiation into witchcraft? Ben Whitmore has retraced many of Hutton’s steps, critically evaluating the evidence, and he now suggests that the truth may be quite different and even more fascinating. Drawing on a wealth of scholarly material, Whitmore demonstrates that the field of Pagan history is anything but barren ground — it is rich and fertile, and we have barely begun to cultivate it.”

The result of reading Whitmore’s work has put Frater Barrabbas’ ideas on the matter “in flux”, and he seems convinced that “the case for a historical witchcraft and paganism is anything but closed.” You can read an extremely long excerpt, nearly the entire book, for free, as a pdf download. It should be very interesting to see what comes from this, and what Hutton’s response to Whitmore’s criticisms might be. Will a larger-scale reevaluation of Hutton’s works within modern Paganism happen?

Isaac’s Legacy: In a final note, William Seligman, with the blessings of the family, is engaging in a research project regarding the influence of the recently passed Pagan leader Isaac Bonewits.

“I am working on a research project and I could use your help. I’ve often read that Isaac Bonewits was an important influence on the Neopagan, Druid, and Wiccan communities. I agree with that statement, but exactly how did he affect them? In pursuit of that answer, I’d like to ask those who feel they were influenced by Isaac to send me their stories.”

If you have stories about Isaac and his influence, please share them with Seligman for this project. Contact and format information can be found at the link.

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