Wednesday, February 15, 2012
A Follow-Up Interview with Professor Ronald Hutton
I'm thrilled to announce that Professor Ronald Hutton has kindly agreed to do a follow-up interview here, addressing some of the topics that were raised in the Comments section of my previous interview with him. As most of us would be aware by now, Ronald Hutton is a Professor of History at the University of Bristol in the UK. He is leading authority on the history of the British Isles in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but 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 Pagan Witchcraft.
Professor Hutton, thank you for doing this follow-up interview. Do you have any comments to make upon the debate sparked off by the interview that you provided on this site?
Only two. The first is that the Wiccan whom I quoted as describing me as a ‘maverick historian’ was Ben Whitmore, and no other. In the same errand of clearing up misunderstandings (or in this case misinformation), I am not behind the ‘Pagans for Archaeology’ website and am not a member of Dolmen Grove, though I have friends in both, as in many other Pagan groups including the rival of ‘Pagans for Archaeology’, ‘Honouring the Ancient Dead’, to which I have acted as an official advisor. I have had honorary life membership in the Council of British Druid Orders since the 1990s, but do not take any regular part in its deliberations.
The second requires more detailed consideration, and it concerns the meaning of the word ‘witch’. Whenever it is used in practical and everyday contexts, from its derivation from the Anglo-Saxon wicce / wicca, it seems to signify somebody who uses magic to harm others. Wicca or wicce (according to the sex of the person described) was by far the most common of the words employed in early English law codes to describe acts of magic equivalent to serious crimes against the person, which injured or manipulated people and ranked with murder and perjury. The Laws of Ethelred II, for example, made exile or execution the penalties for wiccan odde wigelaras, scincraeftan odde horcwecan, mordwyrtan odde mansworan (witches or sorcerers, workers of magical illusion or seduction, those who kill secretly or deceive). While the other terms died out, it became standard and evolved into ‘witch’. The Anglo-Saxons had a range of other expressions for less harmful kinds of magic, such as galdra (charms) and idelra hwata (divinations).
There is however a complication in this process, caused by the orthodox Christian doctrine that all magic was inherently demonic because the only good supernatural changes could be wrought through the ceremonies and saints of established Churches. This ran counter to the embedded popular tradition that whether magic was good or evil was determined entirely by the uses to which it was put. Accordingly, in certain ages of reform, churchmen would attempt to destroy the reputation of magicians who operated for the benefit of other humans (if commonly for a fee), by declaring that they were merely another kind of witch, as they also (consciously or not) were working with demonic aid. This happened under the Anglo-Saxons, when some clerics glossed the words wicce or wicca as being equivalent to a variety of Latin terms which signified various forms of neutral or benevolent magic, mostly practices of divination of the future which they held to violate true submission to the will of their god. It happened again in the next really great era of reform and convulsion, the English Reformation, when evangelical Protestants set about attacking the popular faith in benevolent magicians, people known by many names but most commonly as ‘cunning’ or ‘wise’ folk. Their argument was that these were actually witches, despite their insistence that a large part of their trade consisted of spells to unmask or oppose witchcraft. It was based on the old Christian orthodoxy that all attempts to work magic were inherently ungodly and involved evil spirits. In the sixteenth century the most prominent of these authors included Reginald Scot, William Perkins, Henry Holland and George Gifford, while those in the next century numbered Thomas Ady and Thomas Hobbes amongst their kind. Some of them believed deeply in the reality of witchcraft while others (such as Scot and Hobbes) regarded apparent acts of magic as diabolical illusions. All, however, were out to destroy the reputation of cunning folk and learned ritual magicians by declaring that they were all really witches (and often that all decent people regarded them as witches). In the seventeenth century this campaign coined the term ‘white witches’ to indicate the cunning folk, which recognised that they might not be as bad as ‘normal’ witches in many ways but that their powers essentially still derived from Satan. This term passed into educated parlance, and has come down through the centuries to the present.
James Sharpe, Owen Davies and I, who are the three historians who have studied this phenomenon, agree firmly that the campaign to demonise cunning craft was a complete failure at a popular level. There is every sign, from the abundant surviving records for popular magic between 1550 and 1950, that ordinary people continued to make a firm distinction between witches (bad) and cunning folk (good, if their craft seemed to work). Individuals could move from one category to the other, but the categories themselves were still fixed. None the less, ever since Christianity took over England there have existed two languages of witchcraft: the consistent popular one, which defines a witch as a worker of evil magic, and a learned one, heard more at certain periods than others and ultimately an evangelical Christian discourse, which tried to extend the term, because everybody regarded it as having bad connotations, to workers of magic which most would regard as helpful and praiseworthy.
This matters at the present day, not merely because it causes a confusion which has emerged on this blog, but because it provides an important context for people taking the name of witch in contemporary society. There are no less than five different ways in which the word is used at present, two of which go back to the emergence of English, as described, and three which have appeared since. The third, which dates from the fifteenth century, is that a witch is a follower of a fully-formed religion dedicated to the worship of Satan. The fourth and fifth come from the nineteenth century and apply the term to a follower of a fully-formed pagan religion dedicated to the veneration of deities of nature, or a woman victimised by medieval or early modern society for asserting the rights of her sex against the dominant power of patriarchy. These are all colliding with each other across the English-speaking world at present, but not from equal positions of strength. In Britain at least, the last four are all the usage of minorities, though the fourth is used by a much larger minority than the third and fifth and the second by more people than the fourth. Even so, the second is generally employed in popular parlance with the formulation ‘white witch’, which itself presupposes the existence of the ‘black’. Still more significant, every indicator that I have seen is that the first, original and pejorative, definition of the word is still the default one for most of the British. This is a matter for concern to me, as it should be for anybody in my society who wishes for a greater (or even a sustained) level of tolerance and multiculturalism, and only an understanding of the historic context can really enable an appreciation of the visceral fear which the word still inspires for very many people, in my nation at least.
What about the issue of the use of ancient texts, like Theocritus, as evidence for witchcraft practices?
Oh thank you, yes, that is an important additional point which I should have covered. The belief that human beings can use uncanny powers to hurt others is one found in every inhabited continent of the world, but not in every people. Some societies in each continent have attributed mysterious misfortune to angry ghosts or land spirits instead. Others have blamed it on humans from rival communities. Only some have accused their own kin or neighbours of it, but these are still very numerous across the world and were the great majority in ancient Europe. In particular, the Romans feared destructive magic within in their own communities quite intensely, put suspects to death for it on a scale which exceeded later Christian witch hunts – if Livy is to be trusted – and associated it stereotypically with evil women, above all old women. The stock image of the early modern European witch is found very clearly in pagan Roman writers such as Horace, Lucan and Apuleius (and those of Shakespeare were based partly on Horace). The Romans, moreover, imposed a legal framework which embodied these beliefs upon their whole empire, and sent them straight into Christianity. The earliest Germanic law codes show the same fear. The Greeks seem to have suffered from it less, their stereotypical sorceress being more glamorous, but they still put people to death for the wrong use of magic. Moreover, from the fifth century BC onward they articulated a very negative view of magic itself, which they shared with the Romans and so handed on to Christianity, as an essentially irreligious and antisocial practice. Plato is perhaps the most celebrated early author to write in this tradition, but not the first. The peoples of Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia not only feared magicians but also demons quite acutely, and made a link between the two their own contribution to Christian thought: the notorious test for a witch, of sinking or swimming in water, is first found in the law code of the Babylonian king Hammurabi. The gender of the stereotypical witch varied greatly across these different societies – it was male in parts of Scandinavia, Baltic Europe, France and Austria, and mixed in the Middle East, but female everywhere else – but the basic dread of the hidden malevolent magician was common to all.
There were, however, two exceptions to this overall pattern. Celtic speaking peoples seem both to have recognised a right to curse, if not secretly and unjustly, more than others, and seem to have feared land spirits more than humans. They also seem to have viewed a use of magic in general as more socially acceptable. Most important is the case of ancient Egypt, a very important and influential culture in which magic was seen as wholly socially and religiously permissible, and from which, indeed, the European tradition of ritual magic really derives. The specific text which you cite, the ‘Pharmaceutria’ of Theocritus, is fascinating because it belongs at a borderline between two cultures. In Greek tradition, its main character, Simaetha, is clearly legally and morally in the wrong, because she is using magic secretly to destroy or compel a faithless lover. In the Egyptian context, she might have attracted more sympathy: and Theocritus was a Greek poet who had settled in Egypt to entertain a Greek colonial society there. The power of the poem lies partly in the fact that the poet makes no comment on the actions portrayed in it, and leaves those hearing it to form their own reactions.
Where are your sources for these conclusions?
Some are cited in detail in the fourth chapter of my collection Witches, Druids and King Arthur, and in the three journal articles identified in the recent essay that I published in The Pomegranate and allowed to go on general release online. I am pulling the evidence and arguments of all together, and augmenting them, in the next book that I am going to write.
How do you see the relationship between academic scholarship and Pagan practitioners?
I don’t think that the two can be separated, and certainly any perceived opposition between them is either a false construction or one which is limited and complicated by a number of different factors. My reasons for suggesting this are as follows.
First, universities would not be there if the general public did not want them. There are more of them in the world now than ever before, and their popularity is illustrated both by the total lack of any significant opposition to their existence, even when some cost taxpayers’ money, and by the fierce competition for places to study in most of them. They seem now to be regarded, worldwide, as an essential feature of a civilised society. Furthermore, the growing number of television and radio programmes which feature academic experts as interviewees and presenters indicates both a widespread appetite for the results of their research and a readiness on their part to engage with mass audiences. There seems to be no significant feeling in any nation of which I have personal knowledge that they lack utility or are out of step with the wider culture of the societies around them. The problem may be, on the contrary, that they reflect that wider society too well, with which some Pagans are at variance.
Second, when some Pagans now express hostility to academics, they are generally doing so in defence of ideas which were originally articulated by other academics. Most often, they are defending what was the general scholarly orthodoxy about historical witchcraft in the mid twentieth century, represented finally and most famously by Margaret Murray of the University of London. What bewilders and angers some members of the public most about professional scholarship now is not actually that it is entrenched and manufactures consent, but that it has overturned many of the received truths of previous decades. To challenge orthodoxy effectively is currently the fastest and most certain way to make an academic career, and the pace of argument and change can be bewildering for people on the outside who want stability and certainty, or at least to continue to believe what they were originally taught about something.
Third, the most determined Pagan opponents of ideas expressed by particular historians tend not to carry out any research of their own but to make use of other historians, who are either academics themselves or dependent on professional scholarship and operating within an academic tradition. A classic example of the former sort who has featured in the present debate is Carlo Ginzburg, and of the latter, Paolo Portone. They are very different sorts of author, Carlo being one of the world’s great research scholars and Paolo a polemical writer who draws mostly on existing publications. I have, however, a personal affection and respect for both: Carlo, as I have written before, is a friend, and I am trying to find Paolo a translator and publisher for his book in English. This might give some pause to those who see us as in opposition to each other. Neither of them champion the idea of a surviving medieval or early modern pagan religion, separate from Christianity and in opposition to it, let alone one which survived till modern times. Both emphasise instead the importance of ancient pagan elements absorbed into medieval and later Christian culture, carried on by people who assumed that they were themselves Christian even if other kinds of Christian did not always agree. I am completely in agreement with them in doing so, the main difference between us being that I have hitherto concentrated more on the way in which the pagan elements got filtered back out of the Christian in modern times to create a set of resurrected Pagan religions.
Fourth, the academics who are singled out as hate-figures by some Pagans are not those who are most remote from or hostile to Paganism but those who are most closely associated with it and have tried most to help it. This point is closely related to the fifth, that the Pagans who complain most about academics are usually not reacting directly to the work of those scholars at all, but to the use made of their work by other Pagans, to denigrate or mock the beliefs of the people doing the complaining. This use is often of a kind of which the scholars themselves would not approve and which itself represents a distortion of what they have been trying to say. Sixth, the whole issue of a concern for authenticity of descent in present-day Paganisms, and a hostility to professional historians (or indeed to anybody) who appears to question or threaten it, is not a European phenomenon, let alone a British one. It is concentrated in the United States, and there mainly in the central and western parts of the country and only among certain groups and individuals. It has echoes in some areas of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It therefore is a problem which affects both sides of the Pacific, but has hardly appeared on both sides of the Atlantic. If it exists in Europe, then it is barely visible at present, and not at all in the main societies, journals and conventions that represent European Paganism. Last September, British Wiccans held a ‘Day for Gerald’ to celebrate Gerald Gardner’s life and work. I was invited to speak, with people who had known and worked with Gerald, his biographer Philip Heselton, and leading members of the current Wiccan community. All of us turned out to be in agreement with each other, both with regard to Gerald’s character and the significance of his achievements. None of us addressed the question of the authenticity of his tradition, because there is no solid evidence to settle it and because it has more or less ceased to matter to most British Wiccans in any practical sense.
Incidentally, it puzzles me that, whereas Paganism is supposed to be a complex of religions centred largely on the power of the feminine, most of those whom I might term Pagan fundamentalists across the world seem to be men. What is more, many of them employ a very traditional male-gang language of swagger and taunt, of which there have been some ripe examples in the responses to my interview. I acknowledge that a few have also made some points worth discussing, which I have addressed above, but do these really have to wrapped in so much machismo?
Will you publish on the history of modern Paganism again?
Probably not. I wrote Triumph to suggest an answer to one specific question: why Wicca appeared in England, of all the places in the world, and in the mid twentieth century, as opposed to any other time. To put it another way, I wanted to show why it was that one of the most industrialised, urbanised and densely populated countries on earth happened to be the one to produce a religion drawing on ancient pagan roots and centred on nature deities, at the threshold of late modernity? In providing my answer, I also believe that I achieved three other objectives. One was to explain the national and international success of the religion concerned, and another to reassure those who knew little or nothing of it of its essentially benevolent character. The third was to show that, far from deriving from ideas and impulses which were the preserve of a fringe element in society, they drew on several which were mainstream to modern British culture, and involved some of its most familiar and admired figures. In particular, its deities, although present in the ancient world, were not those who were most central to that world’s religions but those who had become most important to the modern British in general, in a way which has not been adequately appreciated and honoured.
Having done this, I stepped back to let other researchers build on and modify my proposals, and to assist this process I repeatedly emphasised in Triumph that the data could be interpreted in different ways. I did this particularly in the case of the origins of Leland’s Aradia and those of Gerald Gardner’s rites, in each of which I proposed three quite distinct valid readings of the evidence, one of which was to accept exactly what Leland and Gerald had claimed. In each case I expressed a personal view that the traditional claim was the least likely scenario, but continued to include it as an open possibility. Likewise, I became the first person to raise an informed doubt that Dorothy Clutterbuck was a witch, but then emphasised that nothing that I had said proved that she was not. In my analyses of the nineteenth and early twentieth-century evidence, I opened up several areas which had never been properly investigated before with such questions in mind, and left those in turn to other people to consider further for themselves. If, as some have claimed, Triumph has been used to close down the investigation of Pagan history, that is exactly the opposite effect to that which I intended. Had I wanted to dominate the field, then I would have continued to base myself mainly in it and follow up the matters that I had raised myself. Instead I wrote two essays a few years later, to dispel possible false impressions created by my earlier work: that I thought that there was nothing in ancient paganism which closely resembled modern Paganism, and that there was no continuity in the veneration of ancient deities through the Middle Ages. I published these in Witches, Druids and King Arthur, and then left the whole field to newcomers.
My other reason for a reluctance to continue is that I just couldn’t locate any more evidence which promised decisive answers to the remaining problems of modern Pagan origins. Nor has anybody done since. Last November, for example, I was privileged to stand in Dorothy Clutterbuck’s former home in Highcliffe and act as questioner in a filmed debate between the two current world experts on her life, Philip Heselton and the local historian, Ian Stevenson, who had helped both Philip and me so much in our research. Neither of them believed any longer that Dorothy herself had been a witch, but Philip suggested that she had lent her house to the New Forest Coven for its activities, even if she herself may not always have been quite sure what those were. Ian was by now convinced that she had never had anything to do with witchcraft or Gerald, and that the latter misrepresented her as one to conceal the true background to Wicca. I listened to both and pronounced that, in the present state of the evidence, either could be correct, and that I hoped that one of them would uncover the solution to the problem. I don’t myself, however, see a way in which this can be done.
Several years ago I became aware of a possible source of information for Wiccan history which I had missed before: a cache of letters from Doreen Valiente and Margaret Murray to the artist and ritual magician Ithel Colquhoun, preserved in the archive of the Tate Gallery. I intended to read them when I was in the right part of London at the right moment, but recently Amy Hale, who is studying Colquhoun, made photocopies for me. Doreen’s letters are interesting on her breach with Gerald and the Bricket Wood Coven, but tell us nothing really new. The single one from Margaret Murray (Tate Gallery Archive 929/5/31/15) was important, because it revealed her attitude to Wicca, by 1960, which was bitterly hostile. She called it ‘an obviously modern sect, which has nothing to do with the old cult, which was definitely as much a religion as Christianity. The medieval witch was a devout person believing in God, though not in the Christian idea of God … The modern imitation appeals to rather brainless young people who want to feel important, and is not in any way religious’. How she could have reached the conclusion that Wicca was not a religion, when she had written a preface to Gardner's Witchcraft Today, and even the hostile newspaper reports acknowledged that its members thought themselves to be deeply religious, escapes me. The letter thus provides a rare insight into her private opinions, but like all the new information that I have seen, it adds detail to existing knowledge without answering any of the really big questions of Wiccan origins.
I have not turned my back on the history of paganism and witchcraft: instead I am farther into it than ever before, preparing the two large books of which I have spoken in my Pomegranate piece. The focus of these is on the ancient, medieval and early modern periods, which I had relatively neglected before. They should be of direct interest to modern Pagans – indeed, material from them has featured above in this interview. What I have found most significant and inspiring in the reactions to your interview with me, is the warmth and supportiveness shown by the majority of those who have responded to it. I am honoured to take my place among such a company.
Thank you again, Professor Hutton, for providing such detailed and fascinating answers to these questions. I, and I'm sure others too, really appreciate your willingness to engage with what seem to be some of the more contentious aspects pertaining to the academic study of both historical and modern witchcraft, and ancient and contemporary paganisms. I'm sure readers of this blog will agree with me that your work and ideas invigorate contemporary Pagan Witchcraft - which is essentially still a work in progress - and your accessability and public presence provide both clarification and enhancement of its nature.
Posted by Caroline Tully at 2:34 AM
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Big thanks to you and the prof for this :) great stuff.
I too am curious at the description given of the letter from Margaret Murray to Ithel Colquhoun. If it was a little later than 1960 I would have suspected she may have been reacting to an Alex Sanders piece in a daily rag. But I am pretty sure that was 62 onwards. So I wonder about her change of heart or whatever it was?
I love the info the good Prof gave about his supporting of both Ginzburg and Portone, and how they are in essential agreement over the big issues. Some pagan commentators would have one to believe they are at each other's throats and chuck their latest works at each other like missiles :)
Thanks again, will re-read no doubt soon. :)
This is great Caroline, many thanks to both you and Mr Hutton for doing this.
It would be interesting to hear if Amy Hale plans to publish these letters in any form in the future, as I'm sure that they would be of much interest to many in both the Pagan movement and academia.
I've long suspected that Margaret Murray did not believe Gardner's Wicca to be the survival of her Witch-Cult; after all, in her introduction to Witchcraft Today she notes something along the lines of "Gardner claims that this religion is the genuine continuance of the cult and not a recreation created from books" (not an exact quote; am picking it from memory), but she never actually specifies whether she believes him or not, something which to my mind would imply that she didn't. The information from this letter confirms this suspicion very nicely.
In future perhaps someone could look further into Murray's relationship with Wicca and those figures involved in its early development? I think that it would make a very interesting paper.
Would love to read this but do you understand that pretty much anyone with eyes over 50 years old cannot deal with the white on black print? It gives me migranes.
Next time you have Professor Hutton's ear, I'd be very interested to know what his thoughts are on the current debate within contemporary paganisms over the use of the word 'indigenous'.
As you've queried elsewhere, this debate did indeed receive a lot of attention during and after the 2009 Parliament of the World's Religions, in Melbourne. Andras Corben-Arthen argues that the term is applicable to northern European traditions such as Romuva, although possibly not to new religious movements such as Wicca. Others such as Professor Michael York feel Corben-Arthen overstates to some extent, but that pre-Christian paganism can still plausibly be described as the religious paradigm indigenous to Europe. Others are more skeptical.
In my own book, I propose that Wicca and other modern traditions might plausibly be described as reinventions and reconstructions of indigenous European traditions - although in Wicca's case, this is leavened with a fair amount of Christian ritual magic from the Middle Ages.
I do believe that there is some merit to the argument that paganisms in Europe represent an earlier and more complete example of the kind of extermination that Christianity has undertaken against every culture and religion with which it has come into contact.
In addition, given that the best translation from Latin of 'pagan' seems to approximate the modern English word 'local', the connection to country and specific landscapes implied by the term 'indigenous' lends it force. (This is sadly not a strong element within contemporary Anglophone paganism, which seems entirely portable, but is strong particularly within the pagan revivals of Eastern Europe. Although, this is also easily confused with the 'cultural paganism' fostered by resurgent nationalism.)
Personally, I hope that the perception that contemporary paganisms are engaged in putting back together the shattered pieces of our ancestors' traditions (often in new and beautiful ways) takes hold. It might serve to move us beyond the debates over authenticity and 'foundation', in which Professor Hutton's research has featured in ways he never intended, if I am reading his comments right.
Wonderful job Caroline, and many thanks to you and Ronald. I look forward to reading through this again in future, having only begun to digest it.
I have to admit, as I get older, I find the white text on black background a bit harder to read. I find a pale pastel color a bit less difficult to navigate in cases of very dense text.
Sigh... I want a black background. I haven't had time to deal with doing anything about updating the look of this blog. Maybe I will do something about it one day. Gavin, the people who seem to be writing about modern Paganism(s) and indigeneity - particulalry in regards to the Parmiament of the Worlds Religions - are Sabina Magliocco and Lee Gilmore, who presented on it at the 2011 AAR. So you should Google them and ask them.
Thank you so much for posting this. What a charming, intelligent and wonderful man. I have learnt so much :)
Thanks Caroline, I know Sabina through Michael York's discussion group on FB.
Be interesting to read Professor Hutton's view on it, though.
Still, reading about his engagement with the work of Carlo Ginzburg and Paolo Portone is plenty exciting for starters...
Very well done! Informative and well written! Thank You very much! Blessed Be!!
Black backgrounds rock. But Hutton is just plain wrong about the word "Witch". In the first place, language simply doesn't work like that. Words do not start out with one "original" definition and then only later degenerate into ambiguity. In fact, and this is especially the case with English, words do not "start" at all. One should assume, if one is going to assume anything, that the words "witch" and "wicce" were always ambiguous and were always in flux, and that they always had the potential to mean different things to different people and even to mean different things to the same person.
Hutton is especially wrong about the English "Reformation". The very "reformers" that Hutton cites are our best evidence that they were arguing against they popular usage of the word "Witch", especially in such phrases as "white witch", "healing witch", "good witch", and "blessing witch". These explicitly positive forms of the word "Witch" were applied to those who were also known as "charmers" and "cunning" men and women.
1.) Useful and informative interview, Caroline.
2.) What has me kinda scratching my head is the way Hutton regionalizes the Pagan opposition to his views--Central and Western USA, New Zealand, Australia.
It's almost as if he's hinting that those places at greatest distance from England hold the most insecurities about the origins and qualities of their affiliations within Pagan Trads.
What's more, I like his contrast of the Atlantic Pagan Ring vs. the Pacific Pagan Ring. I don't have any notion of where to go with it, but I like it!
Well, I think that may very well be what he is hinting. From what I can gather, British Pagan/Witches have been more comfortable with the questioning of Wicca's history for longer than people in the USA, Aus and NZ. In Britain, I think they are less worried about Wicca's 'historical authenticity' than outsdide of Briatin. Some British Pagans have specifically mentioned this in the Comments section of the previous Hutton interview. Perhaps some Wiccans outside Britain feel more insecure about Wicca's history precisely _because_ they are outside Britain? I think Britain is so sophisticated in regards to public accessability to archaeology and history, perhaps the British Wican have had more chance to be confronted by and to thence discuss and debate their place within that history because of scholars such as Hutton, (and Owen Davies on Cunning Folk, and the plethora of historians of all periods of British history, archaeologists, and researchers within Wicca itself, like Philip Hestleton). ???
Hi, I am not too sure of the state of things now, but when I was heavily involved in Australian Wicca in the 90s I got the impression it was still stuck in the 70s compared to what I saw in the UK and USA. This, as commentators on migration has said, is pretty typical in a dispora. I assume now Wicca in Oz has caught up. What I read from the states and UK fairly makes me want to don me ol' pointed hat again :)
The initiatory Wicca I am familiar with in Australia is very 'England-focussed'. That isn't _all_ Australian Wicca, of course, just the Wicca I have had closest contact with. And that's fine, Wicca comes from Britain... but it does have components from Italy and, frankly, ancient Sumer (via Frazer's Golden Bough, I expect). Of course the Wheel of the Year doesn't fit here in Oz, we have to - in the southern regions - at minimum, turn it upside down and in the northern regions, well structurally it hardly fits there at all. So, instead of worrying about 'tradition' as being all important, I think, in regards to the Wheel, what is important is situating onself _in_ the land (and sky) - I think that, rather then 'adhering to tradtion' is what Wicca, in a broader sense, teaches (among other things).
A great interview!
In the US, I think there are more fundamentalist Christians in the central and western parts of the country than in the east. I wonder if the Wiccans in these areas adopt the same general ethos as the Christians around them? Just a thought - I don't have any answers!
"the whole issue of a concern for authenticity of descent in present-day Paganisms, and a hostility to professional historians (or indeed to anybody) who appears to question or threaten it, is not a European phenomenon, let alone a British one. It is concentrated in the United States, and there mainly in the central and western parts of the country and only among certain groups and individuals. It has echoes in some areas of Canada, Australia and New Zealand."
As a friendly outsider to modern paganism, I have been quite shocked to discover the very odd mixture of political correctness and righteousness reflected in the pagan oriented media I have explored over the past two years. I'm an American born in a another country with dual citizenship, I spend much time contemplating the culture, one I am part of, but don't understand.
What Ronald describes is to me a fundamental flavor of the culturally extreme Protestant American culture that envelopes all. Canada has been imported this same current. One of the projects of this culture is the fortressing of certainty. An American academic who taught university in Manitoba wrote a fascinating book called "The Authoritarians". He focusses on right wing authoritarian followers, but there are "left wing" ones too, who guard their certainties vigorously.
My perception is that some pagans in America are bound to have this quality complete with righteousness, fundamentalism and apologetics, being immersed in the overal culture.
My spiritual background has been in Sufism (the version that originated in India and brought to the west in 1910 by Hazrat Inayat Khan). When a Wiccan friend insisted to me that Wicca was the "real deal," more historically authentic than Sufism was, I started reading the classics of modern paganism (including Gerald Gardner), and other pagan media. I was interested to notice Idries Shah's involvement with GG. GG was very creative with his weaving of elements. I can see why his form of paganism has been so successful and sparked so many people's imaginations.
The stream of Sufism I initiated into in the 70s, and maintain a loose affiliation with, has a recorded line going back to the 11th century. However, I have come to notice each generation of leaders improvises and renews the tradition, this appears to be part of the intentional maintenance of the tradition's wisdom. I do know that the adaptation of the tradition to a new contexts has not been without its challenges.
I am happy to explore the writings of the many excellent historians and other scholars who are interested in this subject matter.
Dear Peter M, hmmm, that'd be an interesting study for someone to do!
Dear Anonymous, How interesting regarding the "fortressing of certainty"!
Perhaps this is the pagan version of the creation of the cannon. Except in modern times it's ever moving. The pace of publication and revision these days is much speeded up over even 30 years ago.
Imagine those crazy arguments of the 4th c about the nature of the Christian trinity and the Arian heracy if they were enacted in the comments of blogs! There is a very viseral icon showing the execution of Arius after he lost the argument . "A picture is worth a thousand words."
Quite a lot of comments about this interview are actually over at The Wild Hunt blog, see here:
So that's where the conversation moved to. Perhaps it'll still come back here? Doesn't really matter, as long as ther _is_ a conversation.
Well, comments seem to be closed over at that other blog, and it looks like it's due to the "Ronald Hutton is completely wrong!" folks posting comments there. I recognize one of them because they wrote a lengthy multi-part debunking of Ronald Hutton on Witchvox, then refused to cite any sources for their "research".
Thank you Caroline for this follow up interview. Part of me sympathizes with Professor Hutton. He's earned his academic letters and done the research to back up his historical narrative, but people still insist he's wrong. This is part of the field, but it's not part of the field to refute legitimate research with sources to back up the research with rebuttal arguments that have nothing to back them up. It's good the conversation continues, but for lay folk it needs to be understood a pedagogy for this type of work exists for a reason.
I especially appreciate Professor Hutton's discussion of Margaret Murray's letter, which substantiates she didn't care for how her body of work was used in creating 'the olde religione.' I imagine it had to be a number of different things that turned her off.
On a personal note, I've been doing research in Eastern European history to answer my own questions about where did paganism persist the longest in Europe? It certainly wasn't the British Isles. Again, thank you for the follow up interview.
Thank you, Kelly, for your interesting comment. I think Paganism persisted longest in Lithuania didn't it? I mean 'officially' re: date of conversion to Christianity. I think one of the problems with this 'debate' about the historicity - or not - of modern Pagan Witchcraft is that many people simply do not understand what is involved in professional scholarship, how to argue your case, what constitutes evidence and what does not. I frequently hear of people saying 'Well, I write academic articles" when they have never been to university or otherwise trained in academic research methods. Simply using footnotes does not mean your article is 'academic'. And yet when you say that there are actual standards in acadmeic research and writing that you must live up to if you are claiming to be 'writing academic articles' you are accused of being 'elitist'. I just think there is a lot of written stuff on the internet that claims to be 'history' but that would never achieve a 'pass' in first year at a univerisity.
Have people seen Ethan Doyle White's review of Ben Whitmore's book, 'Trials of the Moon'? It's avaiable here:
Read in conjunction with Peg Aloi's review here:
You're absolutely correct on academic research methods. My bachelor's degree is in history, so I have a basic understanding of historical research methods that makes me appreciate people who go on and earn advanced degrees. My master's is in education.
And correct about Lithuania. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania did not officially convert to Christianity until 1386 when the Grand Duke married the King of Poland and formed an alliance to defend their borders against the Teutonic Order. The people of the former Grand Duchy (Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine) still celebrate traditional customs today that go back centuries. An interesting note, the Ruthenians who were part of the Grand Duchy were Eastern Orthodox, but the pagan customs still thrive in those regions too.
Kelly - the Grand Duke married the Queen of Poland. Laws permitting marriage of two males had not been passed in any Christian state in 1386, though there was a sort of male-male handfasting (per John Boswell) in some Catholic parts of the Balkans.
I didn't misspeak. Jagwiga of Poland (1384-1399) was crowned Rex rather than Regina when she was 11 years old. Her official title was Hedvigis Rex Polonie. This was done to reflect that she was a sovereign in her own right, and not a consort by marriage. When she married Grand Duke Jogaila in 1386 they did not rule as king and queen but as co-kings. Her royal lineage is why she was crowned king.
Posted for Prof. Sabina Magliocco.
Many thanks to you, Caroline, as well as to Prof. Hutton, for these comments. I just want to add a few further remarks in response to his fourth and sixth points.
Prof. Hutton is correct when he notes that the majority of academic scholars who have worked on modern Paganisms in the last fifteen years have themselves been closely associated with the movement. The literature on modern Paganisms is notable for its reflexive commentary; authors Jenny Blain, Nikki Bado-Fralick, Susan Greenwood, Margot Adler, Jone Salomonsen and I, as well as Prof. Hutton himself in a number of his publications (Triumph of the Moon, Witches Druids and King Arthur, and The Druids) include chapters directly addressing their relationship to the modern Pagan movement. Jenny Blain, Doug Ezzy and Graham Harvey’s Researching Paganisms, a textbook in the emergent field of Pagan Studies, also directly addresses the involvement of academic scholars with modern Paganisms. In the majority of cases, scholars who study Paganisms regularly engage with the Pagan community by presenting their findings at Pagan and scholarly meetings, advocating for Pagans in the public sphere, and serving as media experts on Paganisms, and a significant number of them are also involved as participants, creators and innovators. Accusations that we are not engaged with the movement, or that we are opposed to it and seek to discredit it, are clearly uninformed.
A further comment I’d like to make concerns Prof. Hutton’s remark that preoccupation with the authenticity of the movement’s creation narratives is most intense in areas of British diasporic settlement (North America, Australia and New Zealand). This shouldn’t surprise scholars of migration. Religions (indeed, cultures) in diaspora are often more conservative than the parent cultures, as certain features tend to crystallize as they were at the time of migration. Too, arguments of authenticity often intensify in diasporas, especially as communities expand and direct ties to the place of origin loosen, creating tensions around who belongs and who doesn’t. As a result, diasporic religions often develop new and creative elements, as well as an intensity of involvement that surpasses that in the parent community. These features can sometimes be puzzling to members of the parent community, for whom issues of membership and authenticity are generally much less salient.
The fact of the matter is that all religions have sacred origin narratives that seek to establish their authenticity and legitimacy. Whether these are taken literally, in a fundamentalist sense, or understood as metaphoric or symbolic, depends on the religious tradition and its interpretation. Yet such narratives need not be literally true in order for the religions to be legitimate and provide their members with valid spiritual experiences.
Gavin Andrews’ remarks on the current application by some Pagans of the term “indigenous” to this group of religions is right on the money. While another strategy of authentication, the argument can be made that Paganisms are part of a much larger global movement in which local, autochthonous spiritual practices are being reclaimed and recreated. The contact between modern Pagans with other indigenous reclamation movements through Interfaith, in which Pagans have been very active, is one of the vectors for this discourse.
It’s time for modern Paganisms to accept their growing role on the world stage as legitimate religious traditions, regardless of the veracity of their origin narratives.
Lovely articles, and always, interesting comments.
I found the white letters on black a bit difficult too, and I am way over 50, LOL.
But I just copied it off and put it into a Word document. (sorry Caroline) And had joy reading it then.
Hi Rob, its fine to copy the text and put it in a Word document for easier reading. I do that with things on the internet regularly.
Since Prof. Hutton has directly responded in this interview, to several issues I raised over that past year, I have published a proper reply to Professor Hutton over on the Golden Dawn Blog, linked to my name above.
Free download of my paper that I presented at the American Academy of Religion annual meeting in November 2011,'Researching the Past is a Foreign Country: Cognitive Dissonance as a Response by Practitioner Pagans to Academic Research on the History of Pagan Religions' available here:
As a longstanding admirer of Ronald Hutton's work, I found this all really interesting.... I've published my own thoughts on the debate(s) over Hutton's work on my own blog:
Thanks Caroline. I see that I'm posting a long time after you published this interview.
I just want to take this opportunity to thank Professor Hutton publicly, not only for his outstanding life's work to date, but also for his forebearance, in the face of petty personal attacks.
To anyone reading this, who thinks my post is slavish hero-worship, well that's your problem. I was trained in analytic philosophy, so actually, I love to debate for good purposes. However, it's my impression that there have been more straw-man arguments floating around the internet than anything else in response to Prof. Hutton’s work - for years - and that's annoying and so that is what I hope to redress by giving praise where I believe it is due.
As a Neopagan, I'm amazed at how fast my religion is maturing - how far it has come since I first self-identified in the mid-90s. Then later, the priestess training me was shocked when I included references in my summaries, and wanted me to know that none of this was necessary within Paganism. I never did understand such a mushy approach. It took a long time for me to discover Ronald Hutton and other scholars and I particularly find the U.K. scene refreshing exactly because there seems to be a potent cross-pollination going on between academics and practitioners and perhaps others.
So thank you, Professor Hutton:
1. for daring to help clear away the underbrush of poorly conceived received "wisdom" about our traditions. I certainly do think that what's happening here in Canada is traceable ultimately to the U.K.'s Pagan Witchcraft and our assumptions about it. ...Never have I read you claiming to know the "truth", only assessing the evidence as it currently stands and on that basis, debunking when current evidence doesn't support claims. Never have I read you claiming that the scholarly work is finished;
2. for writing books that provide an intelligible frame for future research, growth, and changes. As people on a bunch of related religious paths, we need to take stock to move forward in a mindful, solid way;
3. for contributing greatly to a higher standard of debate across the modern Pagan world;
4. for meticulously referencing - you probably could have got away with writing for the mainstream press now that you are famous and saved yourself years of effort by not footnoting! Instead, readers like me have at our fingertips all these incredible possible future leads and explorations if we so wish. (This should be standard practice on all e-list discussions/debates or Pagan/CR org websites, but it's not);
5. for your writing style - serious, yet witty, satirical and exacting yet humane, thorough yet highly readable and enjoyable.
6. Finally, Prof. Hutton, thanks for tackling the matter of the figure of the Witch. It's horrifying to know what's been happening in recent years in other countries to women and children mostly, on the grounds that they are evil witches. ...The Witch figure is also an emotional issue for so many Pagan women like myself. And there is a valid safety concern for all Pagans. - K.W.
Good day, Caroline! It's no secret that I am not a fangirl of Hutton because he tends to give a very one-sided portrayal of a given issue, when those issues are most likely open-ended. For example, consider his one-sided discussion of The Sorcerer in the Neolithic French cave painting in "Witches, Druids and King Arthur": He asserts that this image cannot be accepted as any sort of a Horned God because the antlers were later additions by the artist who first recorded the image (since she noticed certain imperfections in the cave wall). Albeit this is technically correct, it doesn't give the full story and has prematurely closed a subject that it much more open-ended when other specialist opinions are cited in the matter. According to prehistorians, David Lewis-Williams and David Pearce in their book, "Inside the Neolithic Mind"--Hutton is well aware of their research since he cherry picks from it when it supports him--Pearce and Lewis-Williams demonstrate that Neolithic cave artisans frequently made intentional use of these imperfections on cavern walls in their compositions. Therefore, even if the the artist had been the first modern person to document the Sorcerer's antlers, she was probably intended to do so by its creator(s). This puts a much greater spin on the subject, don't you think? (That was a rhetorical question.)
Finally, I wanted to redirect your attention to an earlier interview with Hutton where he claimed that he is a close, personal friend of Carlo Ginzburg! I thought it was odd that Hutton would then spend almost an entire chapter in his book, "The Witch" attempting to debunk Ginzburg, and then to empirically claim that Ginzburg has recanted his views on his writings supposedly because Ginzburg has not written anything new on the subject. I thought that this was VERY strange behavior considering that Hutton claimed Ginzburg is a close, personal friend! Therefore, I contacted Ginzburg who told me a much different story! (He didn't mince words, which implied that he was not happy about being misrepresented by a historian that few outside of Wiccan circles take seriously.) Ginzburg told me in no uncertain terms that he is not friends with Hutton in any sense; in fact, they have only corresponded with each other briefly at a single academic conference. Despite Hutton's claim that Ginzburg agrees with his assessment of Ginzburg's work, it was enough to convince Ginzburg that they were in complete and utter disagreement with each other. Furthermore, Ginzburg has NOT recanted his views found in "The Night Battles" and "Estates"; conversely, Ginzburg has republished these books in Italian with an additional postscript. I believe that Hutton contrived this lie for two reasons: to attempt to control the narrative surrounding his assessment of Ginzburg's work, and to make his criticism of Ginsburg seem more palatable to we witches and pagans. After all, how often do we gullible witches and pagans check up on what Prof. Hutton is saying? We rarely do; and we should be doing so far more often.
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