Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dion Fortune, Ronald Hutton, Wicca, & Reincarnation

As part of the 2009 Dion Fortune Seminar Ronald Hutton gave a talk on the subject of "Dion Fortune and Wicca", during which he had this to say on the subject of reincarnation:

As for reincarnation, that also was a belief system old and familiar among the British by the time of Fortune and Gardner. It is not a Western idea at all, though confusion has been created among English-reading occultists by the American mystic Edgar Cayce, who declared that it was Christian doctrine until declared heresy by a sixth-century Council of Constantinople.

This is post-Christian special pleading: the doctrine condemned at Constantinople was that God created each individual soul in advance, at the beginning of time, which is not the same thing as reincarnation.

The concept of reincarnation comes from the East, being especially associated with Hindu and Buddhist thought. It reached Europe, like so much else, in the 18th century, and was especially influential in Britain because the British conquest of India, followed by Ceylon and Burma, opened a highway for it.

The first person to make it widely known among English and French intellectuals was Sir William Jones, who has already been mentioned as one of the earliest proponents of divine polarity as the basis of the cosmos.

Anyone with the slightest familiarity with classical philosophy knows that the concept of reincarnation (or, more precisely, metempsychosis) was attributed by the ancients to both Pythagoras and Socrates, and also that this idea figures quite prominently in the writings of Plato.

And anyone with even the most superficial acquaintance with classical literature knows that reincarnation is a crucial theme in Ovid's Metamorphoses. And since Chaucer references Ovid, by name, more often than any other author, even an education limited just to English literature would require one to be familiar with the most well known work of Publius Ovidius Naso and its general subject matter.

Therefore there is no justification for speaking of reincarnation as an idea "from the East, being especially associated with Hindu and Buddhist thought," and which only "reached Europe" in the 18th century due to the "conquest of India", without which conquest, we are left to believe, Europeans would have continued to be unaware of this concept supposedly so strange and utterly foreign to the western mind.

The writings of François Bernier (1625-1688) and Thomas Tryon (1634-1703) demonstrate that both men were familiar with the Pythagorean concept of reincarnation. We know this because they both explicitly rejected the idea of reincarnation, and in doing so they both mention both Pythagoreanism and India as sources of this idea.

Why did Bernier and Tryon feel the need to make it clear that they were not advocates of the idea of reincarnation? Because both were advocates of what came to be known as "the Pythagorean diet", that is, vegetarianism. Clearly, the association of Pythagoreanism with reincarnation was strong enough at the time that any flirtation with Pythagoreanism, even along purely "dietary" lines, was enough to arouse suspicion that one was advocating the Pagan idea of reincarnation. See Tristam Stuart's excellent The Bloodless Revolution for a discussion of Bernier and Tryon.

Apparently unaware of Bernier and Tryon, Hutton claims that Sir William Jones (1746-1794) was "[t]he first person to make [reincarnation] widely known among English and French intellectuals." First of all, as demonstrated by the cases of Bernier and Tryon, reincarnation was already known to European intellectuals a century before Jones, as was, moreover, the connection between reincarnation and classical Greek Paganism.

Second of all, Sir William Jones was himself also familiar with the parallels between the ideas of the ancient Pythagoreans and the ideas encountered among Hindus of his day, for, in his The Gentiles of Hindoustan (a letter he wrote in October of 1667 to Monsier Chapelain, and which is included in the 1996 Asian Educational Services edition of Jones' Travels in the Mogul Empire, AD 1656-1668), he states that "The Gentiles believe in a doctrine similar to that of the Pythagoreans with regard to the transmigration of souls, and hold it illegal to kill or eat any animal." See also Lynn Sharpe's, Secular Spirituality, her study of "reincarnation and spiritism in 19th century France", where she states that Sir William Jones had "linked Indic metempsychosis, Pythagorean metempsychosis, and Platonic myth." [p. 9]

Therefore, if Hutton were actually familiar with Sir William Jones' thoughts on reincarnation, he would know that Jones' writings disprove the contention that reincarnation is an "Eastern idea" that had to be imported to Europe from Asia. Indeed, Sir William Jones' writings prove beyond any doubt that 18th century Europeans who encountered the Hindu version of reincarnation immediately recognized it's similarity to Pythagoreanism.

Ronald Hutton & Reincarnation:

  1. Part One: Dion Fortune, Ronald Hutton, Wicca & Reincarnation
  2. Part Two: Ronald Hutton, Tertullian, John Italos, Anna Comnena & Reincarnation
  3. Part Three: Ronald Hutton, Reincarnation & the Renaissance
  4. Part Four: "Renaissance & Rebirth: Reincarnation in early modern Italian kabbalah"
  5. Part Five: Ronald Hutton,Vergil, Ovid & GradeSaver.Com
  6. Part Six: Ronald Hutton, Voltaire, and Metempsychosis
  7. Part Seven: Erotic Metempsychosis


Anonymous said...

Wow, that's some shocking ignorance from a brand-name scholar.

Anonymous said...

The more I read about Hutton, the more I think he is a revisionist with an agenda.
Have you read this:

Kauko said...

Jewish Kabbalists also introduced the idea of reincarnation (gilgul haneshamot-cycle of souls) into Judaism in the Middle Ages, which, while a minority opinion, is accepted as authoritative in modern Judaism. Given all of the influences of classical philosophy on the development of Kabbalah, it's likely that this Jewish reincarnation has roots in Pythagorean reincarnation

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Shocking, indeed. When it suits him, though, Ronald Hutton is actually capable of demonstrating a little (but even then a highly, or, rather, narrowly, selective) knowledge concerning classical philosophy. He has even discussed the direct influence of Salustius on Gerald Gardner, and in doing so discusses Salustius on reincarnation/metempsychosis. I hope to discuss this soon in a future post.

parsifal81 said...

His shocking ignorance comes of no surprise to me.

People think that the academic world is somehow above such unscholarly preoccupations as personal charisma, stylistic fads, and conventional doctrine peddling.

This is a myth, as has been clearly shown by the likes of Mr. Hutton.

Just an empty vacuum of pretensions.

Neorxnawang said...

Note that Hutton totally ignores the Germanic evidence for this as well.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Noted. This is also a very important issue, and one that many Heathens/Germanic Pagans could use some educatin' on as well.