Friday, May 20, 2011

Interview with Professor Ronald Hutton of the University of Bristol, United Kingdom

Ronald Hutton is a Professor of History at the University of Bristol in the UK. A leading authority on the history of the British Isles in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Hutton is probably better known amongst Pagans for his writings on topics such as the ritual year in Britain, ancient and medieval paganism and magic, and modern Paganism. A prolific author, Hutton has produced many books of immense interest to Pagans including The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles (Blackwell, 1991), The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain (OUP, 1996), Shamans: Siberian Spirituality and the Western Imagination (Hambledon, 2001), Witches, Druids and King Arthur (Hambledon, 2003), The Druids: A History (Hambledon Continuum, 2007), and Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain (London: Yale University Press, 2009).

The book he is arguably most famous for however, at least amongst modern witches, is The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft (OUP, 1999). This book has been received positively by many leading Pagans, as well as Pagan Studies scholars, amongst whom Hutton is considered to be a trailblazer responsible for making the study of modern Paganism acceptable within academia, thus paving the way for younger scholars to investigate it via disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, religious studies, theology, history and archaeology. Other Pagans have not been so pleased with his work however, and in January of this year – over a decade after the publication of The Triumph of the Moon – a vitriolic war of words erupted on the internet as a result of discussion over a publication by New Zealand Wiccan, Ben Whitmore, called Trials of the Moon.

Professor Hutton, thank you for consenting to this interview. You don’t often give interviews. Why have you agreed to this one?

Because I really like your own scholarship, as expressed in your publications, and because there is currently so much misunderstanding and misinformation being put out about my work in some parts of the Pagan world that I thought it was time to set the record straight about certain things.

You have recently been described as a ‘maverick historian’. Do you think that you are one?

The Wiccan who made that remark never explained what it was supposed to mean, but within the academic world the term carries only negative connotations, of eccentricity, marginality and controversy. My own career has, on the contrary, been remarkably orthodox for a professional scholar, while my work has actually provoked less controversy among my fellow professionals than that of most university-based historians.

So what has that ‘remarkably orthodox career’ actually been (so far)?

I took my degrees at Cambridge and then Oxford, Britain’s oldest and best-known universities, and held a temporary post at Oxford for a couple of years before Bristol University invited me to a permanent one in 1981. Bristol is often reckoned to be the third best in England after Oxford and Cambridge, in terms of the quality of its students, and gave me a freedom to teach new subjects that the older universities could not. In 1988 I was promoted to the middle rank of the British academic profession, of Reader, and in 1996 to the top rank, of Professor: some confusion is created abroad by the fact that in most countries ‘professor’ is a term used for any university teacher, while in the United Kingdom it is reserved for the highest grade. In 1981 I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, the national body of professional historians. In 1994 I was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, the national body of professional archaeologists (who gave me this honour for my book Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles). In 2011 I was elected a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales, for my services to the study of Welsh history and literature. It is very rare for anybody to receive all three honours, and this reflects both the wide range of my interests and the fact that my work is generally accepted by experts in all three fields. In 2009 the government appointed me as the historian on the commission which runs English Heritage, the body which cares for the physical remains of the nation’s past, and in 2010 it made me chair of the committee of experts which advises it on which buildings should be protected as having historic importance. The only unorthodox thing about my career, in fact, has been my interest in modern Paganism.

So are you a Pagan?

I keep my personal religious beliefs a private matter. I am really sorry for the confusion that this may cause, but I have found by trial and error that it is in practice the only sensible course in view of the work that I do.

In that case what is your relationship with Paganism?

It has been long and close. As I mentioned in my book Witches, Druids and King Arthur, I was in fact brought up Pagan, in a modern English tradition which combined a reverence for the natural world with a love of the ancient Greek and Roman classics. I have been acquainted with Wiccan witches since my teens: I learned some things from Alex Sanders in his hey-day, and attended my first Wiccan rite at Halloween 1968. I have never undergone a conversion experience to any religion, and so my relationship with others, such as Christianity, is one of entirely benevolent neutrality. Over the years, I came to build up friendships with more or less all of the leading figures of British Paganism. For example, Doreen Valiente’s respect for me meant that I was one of the few people whom she specified should be invited to her funeral, a gesture which still deeply moves me. 

My attitude to the history of modern Pagan witchcraft has altered with changing knowledge of it. Back in the 1960s I believed, following scholarly orthodoxy, that the witchcraft of the early modern European witch trials was a pagan religion. In 1973 I debated against the historian Norman Cohn (author of Europe’s Inner Demons (1975), the work that accused Margaret Murray of having tampered with her sources to make them conform to her ideas about witchcraft) at Cambridge University, where I defended the historical legitimacy of Charles Godfrey Leland’s ‘witches’ gospel’, Aradia, and was floored by him. After that, as I read more and more of the new research and checked the original records (for England and Scotland) myself, my belief in the idea that witches were members of an ancient pagan religion gradually evaporated.

So, you are not actually hostile to Paganism as some people seem to think?

The story of my life would be inexplicable if that were the case.

Did you write The Triumph of the Moon to demolish the traditional history of Pagan witchcraft?

Absolutely not: I wrote Triumph to fill a vacuum created by the collapse, within Britain, of that traditional history: which is why I do not devote any space in the book to a sustained attack on that history itself. The concept of early modern witchcraft as a surviving pagan religion, which had been scholarly orthodoxy in the mid-twentieth century, began to disappear among professional historians around 1970, along with many other nineteenth-century beliefs. At the same time, many Pagan witches who had worked with founding figures of traditions, such as Gerald Gardner, Alex Sanders and Robert Cochrane, had always expressed doubts regarding the truth of what those founders had claimed about the history of those traditions. By 1990 these two developments had converged to produce a general disbelief in the origin story of modern Paganism among its British leaders. During that year (before I had published anything on Paganism myself) I attended a conference held at Kings College London at which a succession of them declared that its traditional historiography should be regarded as myth and metaphor rather than literal history. As I mention in Triumph of the Moon, this had already also begun to occur in the United States from the 1970s: Isaac Bonewits, Aidan Kelly and Margot Adler all alerted American Pagans, in different ways, to the fact that the traditional account of their historical origins was problematic.

Then The Triumph of the Moon was not some sort of attack from the outside but a contribution to a debate which had already begun inside Pagan witchcraft itself?

That is broadly true, but in Britain the debate was really over by the time that I wrote the book, at least among the Pagan leadership. I wrote the book to suggest a real history for Pagan witchcraft which could be substantiated from the sources, and to rescue it from the accusation that it was an invented modern religion produced by a few cranks on the fringe of society. I showed that it represented instead a distillation of cultural developments which were actually central and very important to modern Britain. Its goddess and god, for example, were the two ancient pagan deity forms most honoured and needed by British writers for about one and a half centuries before the appearance of Wicca. This process, by which certain divine forms suddenly become vivid and important to the human mind at particular points in history, is what is usually termed revelation. Rather than remain regarded as a rather suspect cult on the cultural margins, Wicca could, I argued, be recognised as a worthy religion, of some importance, not least because it was the only one which England has ever given to the world; and one of which it could be proud.

To judge by the reviews that the book received from establishment figures, I generally succeeded in this aim, with positive consequences for the acceptance of Paganism in national life which I have sought to enhance since in my role as an advisor to national bodies. In that role, I have repeatedly played a key part in countering misinformation and misrepresentation regarding Paganism in Britain, especially in the mass media and the educational, judicial, police and caring services. Occasionally, in certain high-profile court cases, this has achieved spectacular, and well-publicised, results. My effectiveness in this regard has depended heavily on my lack of a publicly-professed personal religion, which is the main reason why I keep my religious beliefs, if any, to myself. I have, however, been elected an honorary life member of both the British Pagan Federation and the Council of British Druid Orders in recognition of the practical effects of my work.

I have faced a difficulty, however, in that when my book reached other parts of the world, in which the traditional account of Pagan history was still accepted as orthodoxy and I was not personally known, notably in regions of America and Australasia, it was taken as an attack on that traditional account and not a replacement for it. There was nothing much that I could do about this, as the cultural contexts were so completely different and I had no relationship with the communities concerned.

But why does it look like, to many practitioners, that there is a surviving ancient pagan witch religion? Is it a failure to define witchcraft and therefore recognise it?

There are at least two different reasons. The first is that the view of early modern witchcraft as an ancient pagan religion had been around for one and a half centuries before it was abandoned by professional scholars, so it will take a while completely to disappear. The second is that the figure of the witch is, once redeemed, an extremely attractive one to modern radicals. It represents one of the very few images of independent female power which our society has traditionally bequeathed to us. It also speaks to anybody who has felt marginalised by their community because they are in some way different, and feel that this is because they are essentially special, possessing psychic powers and abilities to recognise elemental truths which most people lack. I myself think that it can be turned around in this way, providing that the process is recognised as a recent reorientation of the witch figure and not a reflection of what most people have always believed.

So what have ‘most people always believed’?

The English word ‘witch’ has always been the equivalent in this language of those used across the world, in many different tongues, for somebody who uses magic to hurt other people. A fear of this sort of person has existed across most of the inhabited world and in all times (though not among all peoples), and given rise in many places to mass persecutions of suspects. The trials of suspected evil magicians held by the ancient Roman republic, long before the birth of Christianity, produced rates of execution surpassing any in the early modern witch persecutions. Witchcraft was not a religion, nor the remnants of one, but a way of blaming somebody else for uncanny misfortune. If witchcraft were the same thing as a pagan religion it would not have been persecuted within pagan societies – in fact they would not have even noticed it, because it simply would have been part of their religion. Between 1400 and 1800 Western Christianity did, however, add something new to the image of witchcraft in that, uniquely, it reclassified it as a rival religion, serving the Christian devil.

Every society across the world which has believed in witches has also believed that they could be opposed by a different kind of specialist who used magic for helpful purposes, although commonly for a fee. This sort of person was traditionally known in English as a ‘cunning’ or ‘wise’ woman or man, though also by many local names. Individual people could move, in the perception of others and perhaps in reality, from one category to the other, but in the early modern trials the percentage of cunning folk who were accused of witchcraft is a very small one, across most of Europe.

The distinction was, however, blurred from the late sixteenth century in England by Protestant evangelists (such as Reginald Scot) who tried to demonise all magic by claiming that cunning or wise folk were also witches, being equally inspired or deluded by the Devil. In the early seventeenth century they coined the term ‘white witch’ in pursuit of this objective. They seem to have had virtually no impact on ordinary people before the very modern period, but in the nineteenth century the expression ‘white witch’ was taken up by folklorists to describe cunning folk, and entered popular parlance in the twentieth. In traditional folk language it is a contradiction in terms.

It seems to me that Pagans I know aspire more to be pagan priests or priestesses rather than what is traditionally defined as a ‘witch’.

Certainly I don’t know any Pagans who would aspire to be the malevolent witches of popular tradition. The difficulty here is that many whom I know do aspire to be both priestesses or priests and witches of a different sort from the traditional: and the distinction is important. To be a priestess or priest can mean simply serving the divine passively, but a witch is more of an independent agent, making a relationship with the supernatural more on her or his own terms and working to change things. Pagans today are commonly trying to do both, but more the second. I think that the term ‘magician’ also fits the latter role just as well as ‘witch’, without the same connotations of fear and suspicion. ‘Witch’ however, also carries today associations of power and glamour, especially for women, so perhaps it is worth carrying on the struggle to redeem the word in popular parlance anyway. I think the choice must be up to individuals, as long as they have a good understanding of where the old prejudice against the words ‘witch’ and ‘witchcraft’ comes from, and how deeply and widely a fear of the witch-figure runs, through many societies which are not Christian.

You seem to be saying that people should be free to behave in ways that are not sanctioned by historical tradition.

That is exactly what I am saying. The past can be changed or rejected by us instead of acting as a tyranny, and historians are here to inform people better about it and not to suggest what anybody then does with it.

As I understand it, historical scholarship currently proposes that while some people accused as witches may have believed that they were harming others by witchcraft, there were not actual societies – or traditions – of witches, despite the fact that people believed that there were? Is that right? And this leads into the aspect of witchcraft studied by Carlo Ginzburg.

You are correct, but the part played by ancient ideas in the formation of early modern witchcraft identities and the inner mental world of early modern witchcraft and magic are two aspects of early modern witchcraft that have been less studied by British and American academic historians than those outside the universities or academics on the Continent. Authors well known to modern pagans such as Carlo Ginzberg and Emma Wilby have worked in this area, but valuable work has also been done by Gustav Henningsen, Lyndal Roper, Philip C. Almond and Thomas Robisheaux which Pagans might follow up.

Many modern pagans take Ginzburg’s work as proof of real societies of witches.

As I have already explained as clearly as I can, in both Triumph and my debate with Jani Farrell-Roberts, neither Carlo nor any other reputable historian since 1980 has argued that the people accused of witchcraft in early modern Europe were practitioners of a surviving pagan religion. What Carlo and many others have acknowledged (as I do) is that medieval and early modern Europeans constructed their world-picture out of materials taken from both Christianity and ancient paganism, making a mixture of both which they believed to be a form of Christianity. Thus there were plenty of pagan elements in the stereotype of witchcraft which they developed: unsurprisingly as ancient pagans had themselves persecuted witches. Sometimes different groups of early modern people disagreed over what was actually permissible, and Christian. The most famous case, and the extreme one, consists of the benandanti of north-eastern Italy, whom Carlo discovered for modern historians. They were a group of people, themselves devout Christians, who believed that their spirits left their sleeping bodies at night to fight witches in order to defend their communities. In the years around 1600, however, they fell foul of the local Catholic Church, which, influenced by new theological thinking, decided that their belief was itself demonically inspired. The benandanti were neither pagans nor witches, but they were motivated by beliefs that were almost certainly pre-Christian. Unfortunately it is difficult to find another group of people in Europe like them. What is much easier is to find beliefs about what witches were supposed to do which were inspired by pre-Christian tradition.

Are you opposed to Ginzburg’s work?

No: rather, I have a different view of the subject which complements his. Carlo and I are friends, with a mutual respect perfected by an international gathering of scholars convened by Harvard University in 2009 to mark the twentieth anniversary of his great book Storia Notturna, translated into English as Ecstasies. I was the British historian invited to the event, and when my turn came to present I acknowledged that Carlo’s use of shamanism, as an interpretative framework for the beliefs that underpinned the early modern witch trials, drew useful attention to linkages and similarities across Europe. I also felt, however, that it obscured major regional differences in ancient conceptions of the supernatural which explained important variations in the trials, such as why it was mainly women who were accused in most places but mainly men in some, why some areas experienced intense witch-hunts and other none, and so forth. Ireland, Scotland and Iceland, for example were all neighbouring societies very similar in structures of economy, society, gender relations and religion, and yet had utterly different experiences. Ireland had very few witch trials, and none among the Gaelic population. Scotland had almost none in the Gaelic areas but one of the most savage rates of execution in Europe in every other region, in which women predominated. Iceland also had an intense witch hunt, of which almost all the victims were male. The solution, I propose, may be found in their ancient traditions. Gaelic areas differed from the European norm in blaming land-spirits (fairies) for misfortune rather than human beings, while Iceland had a genuine tradition of shamanism, in which men were regarded as more magically dangerous than women. This model was accepted by the company at Harvard as viable, with Carlo being especially complimentary. I shall make it the subject of a large book to be written in the next few years.

While there is no decisive evidence to substantiate the existence of Pagan witchcraft before Gardner, many Pagan witches would say that this is because their religion was secret and passed down via oral tradition. What are we to make of claims regarding oral tradition?

I have no interest in contesting the claims of modern Pagans to represent a secretly surviving tradition, as long as the practitioners do not attack me or offer any actual historical evidence for scrutiny. If they do neither, then they are effectively standing outside history and are not the concern of a historian. I regularly read articles by contemporary witches, expounding one system or another which they say has been passed down through their family or their initiatory tradition for centuries, and offering no evidence to support this claim. They are no concern of mine, and it is open to others to believe or disbelieve them as they will. Gerald Gardner’s Wicca was, however, based on specific historical evidence, above all the early modern trials, and academic framework of interpretation of it, which were very much the business of historians.

If modern Pagan witches do not represent a continuation of a religion that survived the Witch Hunts and can be traced back to the pre-Christian era, then what is our lineage?

Most notably in a chapter in a collection entitled Paganism Today, published in 1996, I have taken direct issue with the view generally held by academics that there were no links between ancient and modern paganism at all. In reply I identified no less than four cultural streams which connected the two: ritual magic, cunning craft, folk rites, and (above all) the persistent love affair of Christian culture with the art and literature of the ancient world. All these streams of images and ideas were, certainly, maintained between the early medieval and modern periods by people who were at least nominally Christian, but none the less they were preserved. The great development of the modern age was for them to be filtered back out of general Christian culture and recombined with an active allegiance to pagan deities to produce a revived and viable set of Pagan religions. This essay in Paganism Today was my manifesto for Triumph of the Moon and intended to be read in conjunction with it, which in Britain it certainly often was. Abroad, however, the essay tended to be unknown and the book read outside of its vital context.

Some might wonder how ‘Christian’ those who maintained those four ‘streams’ really were?

They certainly thought that they were Christians, and it requires a very narrow definition of Christianity to declare that they were wrong. The pagan and Christian elements in medieval culture, as indeed in all European culture between 400 and 1900, are so closely woven together, in every aspect of life, that it seems pointless to try to separate them out. Indeed, the most narrow-minded and intolerant of medieval and early modern Christians tended usually to be far more worried by what they thought to be the wrong sort of Christianity, or by Judaism or Islam, than by pagan elements in their world. There is, moreover, a strong positive argument for Pagans in the present day in drawing attention to the massively important and ubiquitous contribution of ancient paganism to mainstream European culture: that they can now claim to be the heirs of a tradition of enduring central relevance to all levels of society even during the period of Christian dominance, rather than to a furtive, marginalised and outlawed one.

So, how do you reply to those who believe that you argue that there is no direct and consistent connection between ancient and modern Paganism?

I can offer no less than three, quite different but equally important, replies. The first is that ever since I first began to write about paganism, in my Pagan Religions book, I have emphasised that there is a direct line of transmission between the ancient and modern kinds, though the medium of ritual magic. This was a clear counter-cultural tradition, in opposition to both pagan and Christian religious norms in Europe, but rooted firmly in the orthodox attitudes to religion and magic taken in ancient Egypt. Not only does it represent a demonstrable continuity, text to text and person to person, across the centuries, but Egyptian magical texts contain the clearest parallels to the beliefs and practices of modern Pagan witchcraft in the ancient world. In Witches, Druids and King Arthur, I went further, to show how astral magic in particular had opened a space for the continued veneration of pagan deities within a broadly Christian framework, which more or less spans the gap between the end of ancient paganism and the appearance of its modern counterpart. I am tempted to speculate that modern Pagans would have recognised the importance of this connection, and been able credibly to claim a direct and unbroken lineage of descent from antiquity, had they not been sidetracked by an error made by academic scholars in the nineteenth century and perpetuated by them into the early and mid twentieth, of identifying the people prosecuted for witchcraft in the early modern period as pagans.

My second reply is that it is ridiculous to declare that no religion has validity unless it can claim unbroken descent from the remote past. Most of the major faiths of the world have undergone periods of reform in which members have jettisoned the norms of those faiths during the recent past to renew them by reference to much older practices. To take the example which has produced the most influential effects in the Western world, Protestant Christianity was founded on the claim that the faith of Christ had been corrupted by medieval Catholicism and that it was necessary to return to its earlier texts for the inspiration to purify and renew it, vaulting over the many centuries between. Pagans today are likewise perfectly entitled both to filter out the elements of paganism preserved in medieval and early modern Christian culture and to return directly to those preserved in the texts and art of the ancient world, to rebuild a paganism suited to the needs of the present. Indeed, the appearance of postmodernism as a major school of philosophy powerfully reinforces this justification, highlighting the way in which the present always appropriates and transplants aspects of the past in order to serve its requirements, and celebrating that process.

My third reply is that I am surprised and dismayed by the heavy emphasis which Pagans who are attempting to reassert an unbroken tradition of pagan witchcraft, of the kind developed by scholars in nineteenth-century universities, place on tradition itself as the main test of authenticity in religion. It seems to relegate to second place, if not to discount altogether, what are usually taken to be the two most important aspects of religious authenticity: the relationship between the adherents of a religion and the deities or spirits whom it honours, and the impact that this makes on a society. If those practising a religious tradition have an overwhelming sense of the genuine in the contacts that they make with their divine beings, then that tradition is a viable one, and those contacts, not claims of initiatory descent or length of practice, are the core of it. It seems to me that in this regard Pagans score very highly. As for impact, Paganism has been in existence in its present form now for over half a century, with precursors going back another hundred and fifty years, and enriched the society around it with images and ideas that make a significant contribution to art, literature and music, while attracting members who are remarkably tolerant, well-adjusted and well-behaved in comparison with some of those belonging to more evangelical and monopolistic belief systems.

Do you think that Triumph of the Moon should be the definitive history of Pagan witchcraft?

I don’t believe in definitive histories: the writing of history is and should be something that is ever changing and developing. Triumph is not a general history of witchcraft or paganism, or even a general history of modern pagan witchcraft. It set out to answer the question of how, if the old-fashioned academic idea of an enduring English witch religion no longer has firm historical foundations, the basic model for modern pagan witchcraft across the world happened to appear in England in the 1940s: why there and why then? I think that I did propose such an answer, based on sufficient primary research. My hope was that it would inspire or provoke others to further original work, and in the case of friends such as Philip Heselton it did. I am disappointed that so few Pagans have as yet tapped into the very rich resources of Victorian and Edwardian literature, folklore collections and legal records, which provide ample, and easily accessible, material for the history of modern Paganism in the period in which it was taking shape. There is also a need for more books or web sites, which make accessible to Pagans the riches of pagan imagery and ideas as developed both in the ancient world and in the Christian centuries, as resources for creative use in the present.

Are you intending to write those?

In order to keep my job, I need to write books for a general audience, with many aspects that appeal especially to my academic colleagues, rather than for Pagans. I do have an article that is designed specifically for them, coming out in the next issue of The Pomegranate journal called “Writing the History of Witchcraft: A Personal View” in which I discuss the history of witchcraft scholarship within the last forty years and the effect it has had on the self-image of modern pagan witches. I situate my own work within this wider scholarship and suggest avenues of further research that could be taken up by both professional historians and pagan practitioners. As part of this process I also provide a section by section reply to Ben Whitmore’s Trials of the Moon. The piece is designated a ‘review article’, which means that it can be read on the Internet free of access and charge. It will provide proper source references to the information that I supply at points in this interview. One of the problems that Pagans encounter in dealing with academic work is that they can gain access to it on the Internet (where it is least commonly found) or (with more difficulty) in books, but few have access to the specialist journals and collections of edited essays in which most professional scholarship is published. My article provides some access to the research aired in these, including my own, of which a lot of Pagans outside of the academy are completely unaware.

In addition, my books will continue to be of interest to Pagan readers. I am writing one at present called Britain’s Pagan Heritage, which is a more detailed and updated version of Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles. Although I put a lot of my own comments into the latter, and recognised the existence of alternative views to those of academic scholars in a manner rare for an academic, that earlier book was mainly a synthesis of the ideas of specialist archaeologists and historians about ancient British and Irish religion, as expressed in the 1980s. That is, of course, why they liked it so much, and why the archaeologists elected me to the Antiquaries as described. The new book is confined to Britain to allow me to go into more detail, and in addition it contains much more original research of my own, tested over the past two decades in a string of essays and conference papers. It covers the current evidence for, and interpretations of, pre-Christian religions in Britain from the Old Stone Age to the triumph of Christianity, and also deals with the question of subsequent pagan survivals.

After that I am going to write a book on the history of witchcraft itself, something that I have never actually done hitherto. Again, I have been working towards this for twenty years, and road-testing its more important arguments in articles and presentations, of which my participation in the Harvard colloquium represented one step.

In addition I continue to support the work of others, both inside and outside the academy. I have sixteen postgraduate students at present, working on such topics as the image of witchcraft in English literature; the history of Hallowe’en; the early modern witch trials; the history of theurgy in Western occultism; and the image of the Goddess in ancient, medieval and modern contexts.

Thank you Professor Hutton, that was fascinating. As usual you have provided a mountain of important and useful information on a contentious subject (at least amongst Pagans) in an inoffensive and educational manner. I'm sure it will prove interesting to readers of this blog and I expect it will contribute to the continuing enhancement of discourse within Paganism.


Peregrin said...

Great interview, Caroline!

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Looking forward to The Pomegranate interview.


Caroline Tully said...

Hi Peregrin! Gosh, I haven't even promoted it yet and already someone (you) has come and seen it. Yay.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

The only terms in any European language that can with certainty be said to always refer to practitioners of malefic magic are those that are derived from the Latin malefecium. All other terms, including witch are ambiguous, and can be (and often have been) used to refer to practitioners of beneficial magic, including (1) healing, (2) the finding of lost objects, (3) divination, and, most especially, (4) the ability to detect and take countermeasures against malefic magic.

Thomas Ady's "Candle in the Dark", first published in 1656, attests to the popular usage of "good Witch" to refer to people who perform all four of the above mentioned varieties of beneficial magic.

C. Margery Kempe said...

Excellent! Great questions, Caroline, and of course, intelligent and thoughtful answers from Hutton. It won't put an end to the fanatics' rants, but then that's why they're fanatics.

Although really you should have a little sound file playing Kylie ;-)

Caroline Tully said...

It was a kind of back and forth collaboration. I'm just glad to help infuse contemporary Pagansim with more food for thought.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

@K.A. Laity
"Fanatics' rants"? I'm sure Professor Hutton doesn't appreciate that kind of trash-talk being injected into the discussion.

Anonymous said...

I move in Pagan Circles in the U.K. Even amongst the barely articulate I have not heard the argument that Modern Pagan Witchcraft is a direct survival of Ancient Paganism for about ten years now. I think that parade has now gone by.

Clare Slaney said...

Kudos, Caroline!

As Anonymous has said, in the UK Pagans gave up on the prehistoric lineage thing a long time ago. But elsewhere maybe not. And it's good to have a current, from-the-horses-mouth reminder of what Hutton actually thinks and says rather than what people would like him to think and say.

SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

"The English word ‘witch’ has always been the equivalent in this language of those used across the world, in many different tongues, for somebody who uses magic to hurt other people."

Hi, are professors required to do research before they make pronouncements these days?

The word primarily meant "FORTUNE-TELLER", y'know, like a Tarot Card Reader, who might also summon up your dead aunt for you if you liked. This is crystal-clear from the beginnings of the term.

Here are the glosses on the original Anglo-Saxon term which evolved into our term "witch", "wicca/wicce", cited from the authorities in the field, Bosworth and Toller (p. 1213) : ariolus, "diviner, seer" ; conjectoris, "soothsayer, interpreter of dreams, diviner, seer" ; pythonibus, "soothsayer who uses a familiar spirit to divine" ; magus, "wise man, astrologer, magician" ; sortilegus, "sooth-sayer, fortune-teller" ; parcarum, related to or speaking for the "Goddesses of Fate" ; necromantia, to "divine or prophecy" concerning a "dead body".

Seven glosses, six of which have direct relations to fortune-telling or prophecy, and the seventh of which, in its astrological meaning, also indicates a form of divination. When that's taken into account, all of them point to "Diviner" as the primary reading.

Since the word is Anglo-Saxon, you might, I don't know, look to Anglo-Saxon culture and roots to understand it, and if you go back, lo and behold, prophecying amongst women was a sacred art amongst the Germanic peoples. Inesse quin etiam sanctum aliquid et providum putant: nec aut consilia earum aspernantur, aut responsa negligunt. "In fact, they believe that a divine and prophetic power belongs to women, so that they neither reject consulting them, nor disregard their responses." et complures alias venerati sunt non adulatione, nec tanquam facerent deas. "And many others they venerate not so much by prostrating before them but actually supposing them to be goddesses". Let's reiterate : a divine power inherent in women connected with prophecy. So holy that women prophets were venerated. Venerated in such a way that not only might they be prostrated before, but actually considered to be a kind of goddess. (I wouldn't claim that this was called "drawing down the moon", but the inherent meaning is certainly damn similar.)

If we look at the glosses added to the word witchcraft in its Anglo-Saxon form, we derive two other terms, veneficio, which another gloss defines as the use of venenum aut herbas, "drugs and herbs", or potion-making, for which reason it could also refer to poisoning, and thus had an ambivalent value (just as drug-manufacturers who put out drugs that kill people get bad reputations, too), and prestigias, illusions, tricks. This suggests some sort of shamanic placebo-work.

The thing is, if you actually start at your sources, and work forward from there, and stay true to their cultural origins, you're likely to get a much more accurate picture of what was going on on the ground.

The image of a witch as primarily a woman whom one consulted about one's fate, who tapped into some kind of spirit or divine power to obtain her answers, sometimes calling up the dead (which from the Eddas was clearly a sacred function in Germanic theology) or looking into the Well of Weird (parcarum), and sometimes distributed potions or herbs well accords with modern notions of the good witch. Divination (in the full sense of the term, calling on the spirits and the divine) with a little herbs thrown in. It matches the glosses, it matches Germanic heathen culture, it's the origin of the concept.

Let's use it right.

SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

"the argument that Modern Pagan Witchcraft is a direct survival of Ancient Paganism".

I'd replace "direct survival" with "evolved transform".

Anonymous said...

This is thee oddest protest against pagenism I have ever heard and trust me you I know it is a protest indeed. What about the Key of Solomen are you saying the book is fake to its claim of where it came from. Many heritages get passed on through complete secrets and we are lucky to hear their stories. Their not liers cause you say so, this view is disturbing.

Cathie said...

Professor Hutton has done something rare indeed: caused me to wish to go back to school. Kudos to you both on the interview. I've learned things I didn't know, and thoroughly enjoyed the process.

Elysia said...

Lovely interview, Caroline. Thanks again!

Black Nyx said...

Thanks so much for posting this Caroline. Your practice and scholarship really inspire me. There's a lot in here to follow-up on.

Thank you!!

Kit Berry said...

Wow - what an amazing interview! I had enormous respect for Prof Hutton before reading this (he very kindly endorsed my books years ago) but now I'm desperate to hear him speak. Paganism needs its eloquent and intellectual spokespersons and it's just a shame that there's still so much in-fighting. We've enough to contend with fighting our corner against bigoted views in society in general, without vitriol within our numbers. This was a great interview, Caroline - thank you.

Barbara Lee said...

Great interview! But then I am a total Ronald Hutton fan! :)

Ann said...

In Brazil, "bruxa" (witch) is a term to an evil woman that practices magic. Witches were killed before christianity, that is obvious, but pagan refuse to see that.
And if witchcraft is Pagan, what about christian witches?

Peg A said...

Wonderful job, Caroline and Ronald! Very edifying and engaging.

I had the great fortune to interview Ronald in person some years ago ay Bristol, and unfortunately my notes were damaged to the point of illegibility before I got back to the States. But that interview was far more general than this one, which includes some very focused and pertinent statements. Very, very pleased to read it here.

Thank you again!

nemetios said...

Very Thanks for posting that, Caroline Tully!

Philip Heselton said...

Ronald has always been very helpful to me in my researches and very willing to provide useful contacts for me. I don't always agree with what he is putting forward and I have, on occasions, argued sufficiently cogently to enable him to change his mind, as he has also done to me. I admire him very much. The interview was very good indeed! Thank you, Caroline!

Diana Rajchel said...

I'm an American practitioner, and I'm quite glad to be rid of the whole "pre-historic" conceit. It doesn't really assist in practices today, and there's a point where the whole thing just gets embarrassing.

This does give me food for thought: I know that Murphy Pizza is working on a localized history of North American Pagans. A broader, national history may well be due, and I would guess Australia might benefit from tracing its own Pagan history and influences, too.

Anonymous said...

great interview, i have read many of his books. i like the way he presents himself . altho he likes to stay neutral for academic reasons , i believe he's pagan . his writings style isn't to stuffy or high brow for a regular non academic to under stand . i have read a few academic historic works that can make your brain hurt. his donot . i too am looking forward to the pomegranite article. Kilm

Caroline Tully said...

Hi there, yes I believe that it is true that in Britain people have tended to dispense with the "direct ancient pagan survival" model of witchcraft, but in other places they haven't and many people have reacted very angrily to suggestions that this is indeed the case. Personally, I think this is one of the biggest hurdles in the popular reception of the history of modern pagan witchcraft. And as for the changing social understanding of the term "witch" Hutton actually explains the situation well in an article called "Anthropological and Historical Approaches to Witchcraft: Potential for New Collaboration?" in The Historical Journal Vol.47, Issue 2. (2004). pp 413-434, particulalry on page 432.

Official Editor & EO said...

Fascinating interview, Caroline. Makes me want to track down and read more of Hutton's books. Thanks so much for offering this.

Leigh Blackmore

Peregrin said...

Again, brilliant interview, Caroline!

As for the pre-historical foundation myth, it still survives. A couple of years back a saw a piece by a Reclaiming initiate, of all people, who presented it as fact. Not too long ago a Perth (Australian) Wiccan forum writer picked up a copy of Murray’s ‘God of the Witches’ and extolled its history.

As the good Prof says, it will take some time to fully undo.

In any case, I think the view (which makes sense to me) that modern Witchcraft embodies a deep modern current of divinity far more legitimizing than any pseudo-Masonic notion of lineage anyway. :)

Cathie said...

I think that it's part of some people's personalities to desperately need that connection to "ancient and unbroken lineage" in order to feel legitimate in their religion, maybe because they do not have a strong enough sense of internal authority to enable them to blaze their own trails in the face of societal doubt or even ridicule.

Pagans are not as prone to this as other more mainstream religions, but in the US there is such a strong current of that need that it doesn't surprise me to find Pagans who have to believe that our way is legitimate because it's old. For them, antiquity alone is enough to confer religious legitimacy.

I believe that people who seek out spiritual experiences rather than a religion are less likely to have that need for conferred legitimacy, because the very process of experiencing spirituality inexorably moves a person out of the past and into the Now. When you are face to face with the Now living and moving in your world at this moment, somehow other people's opinions grow less important, and conferred legitimacy becomes irrelevant.

nwlorax said...


Since the 1970's I have argued that religious societies or organizations (including the most recent manifestation of the Independent Sacramental Movement, whose members by and large regards itself as neo-pagan) have at least three distinct paradigms running at any given time-history, myth and legend. These three, in my opinion, do not need to correspond to one another for a faith to be personally or socially useful or valid.

John W. Morehead said...

A great interview that I hope Christians interested in Pagan studies will consider.

Tim 'ozpagan' Hartridge said...

Great questions Caroline. It's an interesting read that is helped by the questions that make it both a personable interview, as well as an academic discussion.
I'm really interested to know how you conducted the interview. Was it via email, chat or Skype?

SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

I love how history-denying, professor-worshipping syncophants have to invent some psychological reason why people would like to be in touch with authentic history.

The reason I'd like to see the ancient history of pagan witchcraft acknowledged is because I think it's good to acknowledge the truth.

This revisionist crap has had its day and will fall before the truth.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that anyone should feel that Hutton needs to defend himself when his work so clearly speaks for itself if you actually read it. Nevertheless, this was a wonderful interview and I look forward to the Pomegranate article with great interest. This interview is a pertinent reminder of what a scholar and a gentleman Hutton is.

mysticmom said...

Wonderful stuff! Lucid and fascinating. Thank you.

Ben Whitmore said...

Thank-you, Caroline, for giving Professor Hutton the opportunity to express some of his thoughts, particularly regarding his own relationship to Paganism. As the author of Trials of the Moon, I feel some weight of responsibility for the more unpleasant accusations that its publication provoked -- particularly the charge that Hutton somehow seeks to undermine Pagan religion: this is of course the exact opposite of what I believe, as I explicitly state in my book. I live a long way from England, but Hutton's reputation for enthusiasm and generosity towards Pagans has spread far. Although I disagree with Hutton on certain points of historical fact, I have no disagreement with him as a person.
I also know that a small number of people chose to interpret my work as a vindication of the old Wiccan 'creation myths', again, contrary to what I have stated in the book. Philip Heselton, whose work I greatly admire, has been able to trace the likely history of the New Forest coven no earlier than the early 20th century -- only a few decades earlier than Hutton -- and I have not attempted to take it any further back than that.
Much of the fuss and gossip that arose around my book seemed completely disconnected from anything that I had written, either in its substance or its emotional content. I have found this very disconcerting. Neither praise nor condemnation are easy to accept if the person has not even read your work. I'm very pleased that Hutton has had a chance to respond to some of those opinions that were voiced in response to my book, and I agree with much of what he has so eloquently said. Hopefully that can now be laid to rest. I now very much look forward to his response to what _I_ wrote, and I am pleased and gratified that he has seen fit to reply to my claims. As always, my hope is that this debate will encourage more Wiccans, Witches and Pagans to take an active interest in this fascinating area of history.

Kerr Cuhulain said...

Great interview. I have the utmost respect for Prof. Hutton and his work. Triumph of the Moon is a great book! Kerr Cuhulain, Order of Scathach

Brightshadow said...

I used to recommend "Triumph of the Moon" to all the witches and pagans I met, but I quit doing that -- because all of them knew it, and most of them required its perusal of their students.

Those who have difficulties with it, who challenge its thesis or its (utterly orthodox) method, have a simple solution before them: They should write a better book on the subject and disprove Hutton in a scholarly manner. (Good luck! as I'm sure Ronald would say to them, in a far less ironic manner.)

I am delighted at Mr. Whitmore's participation in this discussion, and his willingness to read opposing arguments.

John Brightshadow Yohalem of Enchanté: The Journal for the Urbane Pagan

Bo said...

Splendid stuff.

Anonymous said...

I believe that Hutton, et al., are correct that modern Wicca is not a survival, that is to say, a literal vestige, of pre-Christian paganism. By the way, where is the historical basis for this 'soft polytheism' that modern Wiccans practice? There is zero evidence to be found for any ancient people practicing an indigenous form of religion to have nurtured a belief in one, single, and generic Goddess, along with a consort -- who was a single, generic God. This duotheistic outlook is what Wiccans are referring back to when they speak (endlessly, as it were) of 'the Goddess" and "the God". Ancient people believed in an endless number of divine beings.
However, as to Hutton's idea that the fact that pagan societies persecuted people who were thought on as being 'witches' as providing proof against a notion that witchcraft was an integral part of ancient paganism, consider this: that all this might just be a misguided exercise in semantics. What if we merely phrase things a little differently. What if we say: Sorcery (witchcraft), whether of the humble or more elaborate varieties, had a secure place in the religious practice of pre-Christian Europe. The recorded executions of people in pre-Christian Europe believed to have practiced 'witchcraft' MALEFICALLY represent nothing more than the eternal human wish to retaliate against (and protect oneself against) persons who are trying to do harm to other people, whether by magical means or otherwise. Go read Theocritus' poem 'The Love Spell/Charm' contained in Idyll II, and see that the the woman who's narrating is describing a rite of love magick that is not one shade different in either outlook or practice from what modern Wiccans do, or persons in the Middle Ages would have done, or for that matter any persons in any place or time who attempted to use unseen forces in order to bring back a recalcitrant lover. So was this woman of the Classical Period of ancient Greece practicing 'witchcraft'? Indisputably she was. What else could you possibly call it?

Caroline Tully said...

Hi Tim, yes it was an email interview, however we'd started discussing it back in about January of this year. After I decided on a group of questions based on what I thought were the concerns of [some] Pagans regarding Hutton's work, I emailed him, he got back to me and then we back-and-forthed a bit, refining some of the answers for slant and/or clarity. And this is the result. Most of the interviews I've ever done have been by email, except for the one with Starhawk which was published in Witchcraft Magazine in the mid-to late 2000s, with an extended version in Pagan Times magazine. That was a taped interview because she was actually visiting Australia at the time and staying at someone's house that I knew. My interview with Tobsha Learner, author of 'The Witch of Cologne' was a combination of email and phone, and sometimes I've met with an interviewee first then we've done the interview later via email.

Caroline Tully said...

That's corect Simaetha, in (the very beautiful and interesting) Theocritus' Idyll, that you mention _was_ definately practising witchcraft. The point is that this was _not accepted_ in ancient Greece. What Simaetha did probabaly happend all the time in the ancient world, but attempting to control others through magic was not seen as a good thing. It was performed in secret and at night, it was not Pagan religion which was performed publicly and in the daytime. It was furtive. And I don't think that what Simaetha was doing was the same as what Wiccans do, because of the Wiccan Rede: An it harm none, do what you will. Simaetha was trying to control her lover, many Wiccans I know eschew love magic -personally, I don't. But I'm not a Wiccan Witch. Actually, I have a blog post on ancient Greek magic in the 2007 blog entries on this blog.

Osred said...

Professor Hutton is no doubt a good man, and a good scholar. However (as with most of us mere humans) there are some gaps in his knowledge.

On 30 March 2011 he was interviewed on the ABC radio show "Encounter". During the interview he stated that all forms of modern paganism that we can trace are derived from Wicca.

I wrote to him and pointed out that the modern, organised form of Odinism was pioneered in Australia in the 1930s - by people like Rud Mills and Evelyn Price in Melbourne, and Annie Lennon in Sydney.

Furthermore, people like Mills, Price, Lennon and Les Cahill didn't
just spring up out of nowhere. The Australian "paganist" art movement
of the 1920s had prepared the way for them - and before even that,
there had been earlier modern Odinists in Australia.

I said that perhaps Professor Hutton may wish to consider this before claiming that modern paganism began with Wicca.

To his credit, Professor Hutton responded graciously and professionally. He said, "Thank you very much indeed. Nobody in the British Odinic Rite has told
me this story, or even hinted at it, though I have spoken to a great many of its members. I shall be better informed in future, and am delighted that Australia has played such a key part in an aspect of the religious history
of my own nation."

If more historians were as open-minded as Professor Hutton, and as willing to consider new evidence that was previously unfamiliar to them, our universities would be in a much healthier state.

Caroline Tully said...

Do you think historians are really so closed-minded though? I must say that I don't really know many historians. (I probably know about 4 as acquaintences. I know far more archaeologists however). I think academics in general tend not to engage much with non-academics, or "the public", which I think is a huge shame. I don't think this is because they are snobs, or for some other 'bad' reason, but rather that the demands of academia are such that there often isn't time to communicate one's research outside the range of one's academic peers. I think within archaeology, particulalry British archaeology, there's been a succesful bridging to "the public" through television, although things tend to be so simplifed and often research that is say, 20 years old within archaeology, is presented as having been just discovered. I am all for much more bridging between academics and the public and communication of the results of university-based research. There are many really important subjects that I think people - everyone - should in general know much more about, for example, astronomy. How important is it for humans to understand the place of the Earth within space? The nature of space and the objects and forces within it? Personally I think it's really important.

Caroline Tully said...

But... I guess you are suggesting that academics should be more open to information from "the public"? Well, I'd be the first to agree that within universities is not the only place to acquire knowledge. However, universities do teach you how to think critically, weigh evidence, support statements with evidence etc, and have great access to important material for research, which those without access to universities either cannot get, or have to pay a lot for. Plus there are many senior scholars who are just full of fabulous information - not that they are necessarily accessible to either the university insider or the outsider... but often they are. I think academic resistence to some information derived from "the public" say, especially in regards to religious topics, is because those presenting that information often cannot divorce their own religious belief from the information - take a look at the topic of Biblical archaeology for example. Lay people often harrangue archaeologists about not being religious enough and insulting God's word etc if they say something that contradicts the Bible, so you can understand why these scholars couldn't be bothered dealing with those sorts of people.

Ethan Doyle White said...

Thanks for doing this Caroline, it made for a very interesting read. In many respects it makes me hope that one day, Hutton will sit down and produce an autobiography, something that I believe many in the Pagan and wider esoteric communities will tuck into with relish!

Kelly Weaver said...

Excellent interview! I own most of Mr. Hutton's books and I enjoyed reading every one of them. We need his contributions to the discussion about what is the real history of neo-paganism substantiated with sources.

SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

Yes, but the disadvantage of trying to learn within a university context is that you've got entrenched knowledge there, and pressured, manufactured "consent" which masks important dissent. Since most of the dissent comes from outside of the university context, the snobbery comes in in assuming that that dissent is not as significant or robust or rigorous. Actually, a great deal of important knowledge is generated outside the academy.

And the job of someone with access to materials the outside public does not have access to should be to make that material available so decisions can be made, not make pronouncements and then give us selections edited to fit pre-fab conclusions. Yet anyone who's seriously studied his ouvre knows that the gaps are quite serious, that they distort the overall picture, and they take people who haven't taken the time to study the field in more depth for a ride, who then think the purported viewpoint represents some kind of scholarly consensus. It doesn't.

I don't think Hutton represents careful scholarship. His scholarship isn't careful, there's little that's poetic about him, and definitely nothing visionary. Just about everything that I value in true scholars I find lacking in him, and therefore he is 100% the wrong scholar to be supplying the history of a subaltern movement desperately in need of retouching its authentic history. And that history is there. The fragments all need intertwining. And there are people out there connecting those dots. But the Hutton-idolists, so in thrall with their master, have their ears shut.

SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

"There is zero evidence to be found for any ancient people practicing an indigenous form of religion to have nurtured a belief in one, single, and generic Goddess, along with a consort -- who was a single, generic God. This duotheistic outlook is what Wiccans are referring back to when they speak (endlessly, as it were) of 'the Goddess" and "the God". Ancient people believed in an endless number of divine beings."

Zero evidence? Wow, how about Isis, and her consort Osiris? I could swear that Plotinus has a continual emphasis upon the One, and yet does not lose the Many in the process.

Plus, it is widespread for there to be a primary god and goddess from which all the other deities emerge. A hieros gamos that produces the rest. The spirit forces, often called fairies in Europe, were often ruled over by a king and a queen, a duotheism of sorts.

And you get syncretism of names and functions when people from different cultures share their knowledge, particularly under countercultural situations.

David Griffin said...

Hutton writes:
"neither Carlo nor any other reputable historian since 1980 has argued that the people accused of witchcraft in early modern Europe were practitioners of a surviving pagan religion."

Either this is deliberate disinformation from Hutton, or he is abysmally ignorant regarding contemporary witchcraft scholarship in Italy. As proof positive of the inaccuracy of the above statement by Hutton, see my recent translation of Italain Ethnohistrian, Paolo Portone's article on "Witches Flying Ointment and the Night Flight of Witches linked to my name in this commen.

I am astounded that Hutton continues to ignore contemporary Italian scholarship that runs contrary to his thesis that there are no Pagan susvivals.

David Griffin said...

Hutton writes:
"I regularly read articles by contemporary witches, expounding one system or another which they say has been passed down through their family or their initiatory tradition for centuries, and offering no evidence to support this claim. They are no concern of mine, and it is open to others to believe or disbelieve them as they will."

I am pleased to see that at least here Hutton has decided to quit trying to play anthropologist despite his lack of proper training in the rigors of the ethnographic method. Sadly, he did not show such restraint in Triumph of the Moon, where he frequently cited personal anecdote as though it were historical data.

If Hutton discounts oral tradition, why does he rely so heavily in chapter 20 of Triumph of the Moon?

Moreover, by dismissing the initiated, Hutton cuts himself off of any understanding of the ancient faith, because non-initiates can't keep their mouths shut about ancient truths. Hutton will never find the ancient Pagan path, because he refuses to do what is necessary to gain the actual data. Instead, he is left analyzing only the dregs that the initiatic traditions have rejected.

Note that linked to my name on this comment is my translation of yet another article by Italian ehtnohistorian, Paolo Portone, that provides additional evidence disproving Hutton's claim that no contemporary historian takes the notion of Pagan survival seriously since 1980.

Ben Whitmore said...

On reflection I think my comment above is incomplete and may give a wrong impression of my views. For those who have not read my book, I do not attempt to trace the history of Wicca before the 20th century and I do not believe (nor ever have) the classic forms of the Wiccan "creation myth", as expressed in books like Murray's "God of the Witches" or Gardner's "High Magic's Aid". There is, however, evidence of transmitted magico-religious traditions in modern Britain (and Europe) that, while looking very different to a Murray-esque witch-cult, could seem a lot like 'witchcraft', depending on your definition of the term.
There has been a lot of discussion in this and other blogs regarding "fanatics" who still "rant" about the old myth: how can they continue believing in it, in the face of academic scholarship? I consider this a red herring. There have indeed been a very small number of people who pounced on my book as a vindication of such a myth (having clearly not read it), but the majority of those who have praised my book have been far more sophisticated in their understanding of history. I feel that all this light and heat surrounding what is now a very discredited and marginalised myth only serves to distract from the far more sophisticated, evidence-based debate I and others are trying to hold.
I have been uneasy about the force of some accusations levelled against Hutton -- I feel that such emotional charge tends to derail effective debate, and I find it unpleasant. But I should state, to avoid confusion in light of my previous comment, that some of the people levelling these accusations are extremely good researchers, expert in the history and well-supported by documentary evidence. Apuleius and Siegfried, for instance, in the comments above; and Carla O'Harris, whose fierce words some months ago rocketed this debate to "vitriolic" status. I have great respect for their work and do not wish to appear to discredit them, as much as their "style of engagement" differs from my own.

Kind regards to all.

David Griffin said...

Since I was the cyberspace cowboy who originally called Prof. Hutton a "Maverick" historian ...

And just got called a "Wiccan" in return - which I am NOT ...

I just published a irreverently humorous rebuttal to points raised by Hutton in this interview:

Don't miss:

"Ronald Huton: Pagan God or 'Continuum' Trickster?"

... on The Golden Dawn Blog linked to my name above.

Anonymous said...

Having lived in Wales for a number of years and being an Irish Druid for 33 years, i can state that i have met with witches who have nothing to do with modern wicca with family and regional traditions of unknown pedigree that at least predate Crowley, Gardiner and Sanders. I have also studied with Druids that also have long family traditions [the same is true of Ireland] Hutton denies the existence of both; which tells you how deep he went with his research and shows the limitations of Academic research; you are limited to known texts [And your interpretation of them] and those who are prepared to share.
Most people are unaware that hutton is also behind the 'Pagans for Archeology' website that sets out to undermine all the work done by H.A.D. [Honouring the ancient Dead] and is also involved with Rollo Maughlin's C.O.B.D.O. and the Dolmen Grove, two organisations notorious for cursing and internet backstabbing..
Ultimately, this asks: what is his true Agenda?

Caroline Tully said...

That's right, historians are concerned with documentable evidence. I think Hutton makes that clear in the answer to the interview question on oral tradition. Hutton does discuss oral tradition in his book 'Witches, Druids and King Arthur, on pages 19-23 however, where he says that 'oral tradition' needs to be distinguished from 'oral history' or 'spoken history'. Oral tradition, he says, denotes a body of belief held collectively by a whole society or by groups within it, and apparently passed down by word of mouth, while oral history denotes personal experience, usually of the person making the statement, described directly to a researcher in conversation. Oral history is a category of primary source material as important and viable as any other whereas oral traditions serve more to sanction arrangements in the present rather than to provide a faithful record of previous times. Ethnographic research has shown that memories regarding the past are notoriously inexact, even when they are supposed to be carefully preserved by specialists such as tribal bards and genealogists; the practical limit being only about 120 years. This is the length of time when it ceases to be possible to remember conversations between people who had actually lived through the time being recalled. While traditions concerning even more remote occurrences can sometimes be accurate, they usually aren’t, and require independent corroboration from written records, archaeology or linguistics. --- (Back to me now) Being an archaeologist, I'm not sure if this is a particularly historian stance, or whether this is what folklorists think too. Perhaps a folklorist might like to elaborate on this. Maybe folklorists don't take oral tradition as 'history' but as 'folklore'. I'm not sure. Perhaps this is about the question 'what counts as history'?

Ben Whitmore said...

@David Griffin:
I used the term "maverick historian" in the book. By it I simply meant unorthodox or independent-minded (the dictionary definition), and I explained this in the same sentence by stating that Hutton does not just follow common academic consensus but has "a provocative new take on the history of witchcraft and paganism" (p. 2). I acknowledged that he is well-regarded by a lot of people, so hopefully no-one read the phrase to mean that he was on the margins of academia or was in some way lacking qualification. I simply meant that he draws a lot of conclusions that are sharply at odds with wider consensus in the field (actually several fields): he is either 'breaking new ground' (if you agree with his positions) or he is straying from well-established fact (if you don't). I felt the word 'maverick' was neutral, and didn't specifically connote one or the other.

I hope this clarifies my meaning.

Lee said...

Just to correct Anons comment about Pagans for Archaeology; as one of the people behind the group I can assure you he is NOT behind PFA.

Good interview Caroline. excellent in fact.

Yewtree said...

Yes, it is not true that Ronald Hutton is behind Pagans for Archaeology; I asked him to be a patron and he gracefully declined, on 2 grounds: (1) to preserve his neutrality; (2) because it would imply that he endorses everything we do (even if he doesn't). Also, I founded Pagans for Archaeology, and whilst it so happens that I know Ronald quite well, I do have my own mind, thanks!

On the subject of whether the academy is "closed-minded" - I can assure you that much as the government and corporations (and possibly the VCs of some universities) would like to curtail academic freedom, academics are very keen on preserving it; indeed it is enshrined in the Charters of many universities. I am aware of many academics robustly disagreeing with each other, so there is not some conspiracy to ignore certain types of ideas. There is just, as Caroline has pointed out, a high standard of evidence.

Yewtree said...

Oh and Pagans for Archaeology is not seeking to undermine HAD - actually I regard HAD as the moderates in the reburial debate, as they are only calling for reburial of some remains, not all remains, and are building dialogue with the heritage, archaeology and museum sector. I have had cordial conversations with Emma Restall-Orr on the subject of reburial, and interviewed her on the Pagans for Archaeology blog. The extremists in the reburial debate are CoBDO (West), who want to rebury all remains.

Yewtree said...

Also, there are several internet fora and mailing lists where academics do communicate with non-academics, sharing their ideas and research.

Mableannie said...

Thank you Caroline for making this interview happen- very interesting and as a reader of Prof. Hutton's books I will look forward to the up-coming writings.

As someone who feels a strong connection to our stone age ancestors, I am more than happy to see their sites and way of life etc., as far as we know it, separated from modern Wicca/Paganism because I am not a pagan, and do not want evidenced history mixed up with a psychological need for a religious practice.
Best wishes for your own studies.

David Griffin said...

@ Ben Whitmore
How wierd!

You ALSO called Hutton a "Maveriick historian"?

To be more precise, what I actually called Hutton originally on the Golden Dawn blog was:


This was long before your book came out. With both of us branding Hutton a "Maverick" historian, however, no wonder Hutton got his knickers in such a twist about it!

Let's not quarrel about who coined the term first. I am very happy to demure to you, as I was itching for a fight at the mere suggestion of Hutton calling me a "Wiccan."

As a practitioner of the Pre-Pagan "l'Arte Eccelsa" Italian shamanic tradition, being called a "Wiccan" by Hutton is about the greatest insult I can possibly imagine.

One of my pet peeves is the mistaken notion that Italian so-called "Witchcraft" is but a local variant of Wicca.

If you have not yet seen my completely irreverent rebuttal to Hutton's interview on The Golden Dawn blog (linked to my name above), you really should. Not being an academic myself, nor making any academic pretentions at all, I can still get away with calling a "Q" a "Q".

Anonymous said...

I always fid it interesting to note what has been left out of the 'History' of witchcraft; It must be remembered that the recording of History is a highly political process, and much of what we recieve ius written by christians. Hutton fails to mention that many of the Grimooires that old widows were executed for posessing were written in latin, a language exclusive to clerics in the medieval era [the land posessed by said spinster or widow was then aquired by the church] Necromancy was rife and was practiced within the church, which explains why the Bishop's crozier had a large Amethyst; to protect against curses from those who coveted his position. This was used as an excuse to wipe out any traces of an indigeonous pagan tradition that perhaps predated the Saxons, who, incidentally were not christian when they arived. these factors represent just few of the large gaps in Hutton's argument...

Ben Whitmore said...

I don't know about that. As I understand it, it was rare for 'old widows' to have grimoires in their possession, though folk-tales about such grimoires did circulate (such as the Breton tales of the "Agrippa" which was an enormous book, as thick as a man is tall which must be hung in chains from a crooked beam for safety). There were many churchmen interested in magic over the centuries, but I would be surprised to hear that gemstones in croziers came from popular magical tradition -- what is your evidence? And I don't believe that the church managed to "wipe out any traces of an indigenous pagan tradition". I look at a number of ways in which such traces have likely survived in my book.

Peregrin said...

Again, great article and great comments.

In response to this all, if anyone is interested, I have written a small post "Wicca, Ronald Hutton and a mystical experience" here:

Thanks :)

Yewtree said...

@ Ben - Ronald Hutton also looks at 4 ways in which Pagan views and practices survived, in more than one of his books, and in Caroline's interview.

MP said...

Quoting one of the anonomy:
By the way, where is the historical basis for this 'soft polytheism' that modern Wiccans practice?
Apuleius. Next?

There is zero evidence to be found for any ancient people practicing an indigenous form of religion to have nurtured a belief in one, single, and generic Goddess, along with a consort -- who was a single, generic God.

This is likely true.
However -
This duotheistic outlook is what Wiccans are referring back to when they speak (endlessly, as it were) of 'the Goddess" and "the God".

Depends on which Wiccans you are referring to.
Neowiccans? Sure.

Gardnerians and other BTWs? Unlikely, as Gardner himself explained that these are the tribal gods of the witches, just as the Egyptians had their tribal gods Isis and Osiris and the Jews had Elohim. (The Meaning of Witchcraft, pg 26-27)

Imperator David Griffin said...

This interview is having ripples all across the esoteric community. Here is yet another magickal blog that is addressing the interview as well

(Just thought you might want to know about all of the buzz!)

Caroline Tully said...

The Egyptians had a lot more gods than Isis and Osiris. They were not the major gods of the Egyptians. They were _some_ major gods of the Egyptians. Isis became particularly popular outside Egypt in the Ptolemaic period, especially in Magna Graeca (southern Italy) and later, Rome and the Roman Empire.

Anonymous said...

gyllenegryningen: Orientals instead prefer Buddha

Oriental is an outdated (if not racist) term for Asians these days, and Asia is far too big of a landmass to make such generalizing type of statements of any of the cultures in that area.


Caroline Tully said...

Isn't anyopne interested in the Hwicce in regards to potential precursors of Wicca?

Or do you think the author has used the word 'witches' in his title a little prematurely?

Caroline Tully said...

Actually, 'Oriental' is also used as in 'Orientalism' as per Edward Said - regarding the construction of Near Eastern or Middle Eastern decadent, luxurious 'Others' by, and in opposition to 'the West', and in post-colonial critique of such stereotyping.

Caroline Tully said...

Oh, Peregrin, regarding your first comment. The upcoming Pomegranate piece is not an interview, but an article by Hutton.

Peregrin said...

Whoops, yes, thanks, Caroline - article not interview. Still looking forward to it :)

Are Said and his ideas still accepted as top authorities on postcolonism? It's such a long time since I read him :)

Caroline Tully said...

Hi Peregrin, I'm not sure about 'top' but people do still takk about and cite him. On the other hand, Robert Irwin, in his book "Lust for Knowing: The Orientalists and their Enemies" defends those Western scholars termed 'Orientalists' against accusations of imperialism, colonialism and distorting history and says that did a lot of good work. Let me quote the book's blurb: In recent times Orientalists have been accused of imperialism, colonialism and distorting history. Here Robert Irwin powerfully overturns this view and makes the case for the Orientalists, reassessing their legacy from ancient Greece to the present day. He finally banishes the ghosts of Edward Said's 'Orientalism' and shows that, whether setting up Arabic printing presses, measuring the Great Pyramid or translating the Qur'an, this extraordinary group of scholars, eccentrics, freethinkers, madmen, pedants and romatics were unified not by ideology, but by their shared obsession. 'Oriental' is still used to describe the Near East, for example the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) means Near and Middle Eastern research.

Caroline Tully said...

Yes, re the forthcoming Pom article that Hutton has organised to be a free download which is really so useful - because otherwisae it'd be rather inaccessible... the journal is apparently currently at the printer's and as soon as it is finished I'm sure the electronic version will then be available.

Sincerus Renatus said...

Hi everybody!

I though I would drop in an direct you to my own humble contribution to this recent discussion. I wrote a blog addressing the relation between shamanism and paganism which was inspired by this interview.

Here is the link:

In Licht, Leben und Liebe,

Sincerus Renatus... said...

Someone disliked my use of the word "orientals" (even implying racism). Well I use both the words "occidentals" and "orientals" as i suppose people usually do, i.e. "western" and "eastern". English is not my native tongue so I sometimes make idiosyncratic uses of your language and obviously often outside of the contemporary cultural context of which I'm not a part. Sorry for that.


Caroline Tully said...

This interview is about to be translated into both German and Polish.

Caroline Tully said...

Here's a video clip of Professor Ronald Hutton Wassailing an apple tree.

e' knows 'is folklore 'e does.

Caroline Tully said...

The new issue of The Pomegranate is out, containing Ronald Hutton’s free download article “Writing the History of Witchcraft: A Personal View”, in which he comments on Ben Whitmore’s “Trials of the Moon”. Also included is Peg Aloi’s book review of “Trials of the Moon”.

Enjoy! I know I will.

Caroline Tully said...

I am going to update this blog as soon as I return from Cyprus !!!!!!!!! It's impossible to do it here.... I just aint organised enough.

Al Henry said...

Great interview, but I'm convinced Mr. Hutton is a Time Lord.

Caroline Tully said...

Hi Al,

You're probably right. I mean he _looks_ like a Time Lord as well as acts like one, doesn't he.

Caroline Tully said...

"Ronald Hutton and the Gods" from

Caroline Tully said...

Hutton's latest article, "Witch Hunting in Celtic Societies" is now out in the journal, Past and Present, No.212 (August 2011) pp. 43-71.

Caroline Tully said...

Another Hutton article, "Why Does Lindow Man matter?" in 'Time & Mind' journal:

He's so prolific.

Caroline Tully said...

Oh, now I see one on 'Celtic Curses' in a later issue of that journal!

I WISH _I_ was super prolific at writing learned articles!

Caroline Tully said...

Hey everyone, have you seen the newest interview with Proferssor Hutton? On the front page of the blog? (I know some of you have).

Anonymous said...

I was glad to find your wonderfully written academic blog, and this interview with Professor Hutton, and now see an even newer follow up interview in Feb 2012. I was originally in the pro-Hutton camp, then the anti-Hutton camp, and am now in the middle as he writes more and bloggers like you make a balanced approach more understandable to non-academic witches like myself. I will eventually reblog both interviews at my blog if that is OK with you. I am also slowly going through all your previous posts back to 2007 and have subscribed to WP feeds of future posts. Thank you.

Don Frew said...

Hi John! The problem with your proposal is that we are talking about a secret society. I firmly believe that a continuity from antiquity to modern Craft CAN be proven, but not without relying on evidence that is oathbound and can't be published. This is why I have not written the book you propose. It's also why I don't really pursue the matter: I won't publish if I can't produce the evidence. I am content to continue my own practice, share the evidence and analysis among initiates, and trust that the truth will come out some day... or not. It doesn't really matter. I just think that when we are discussing a secret society it would be prudent to assume that all of the evidence has not been brought to light. Blessed be.