Thursday, March 29, 2012

Silly, Ignorant Goddess Worshippers (More on Tully on Whitmore on Hutton)

In a recent opinion piece published in the Pagan Studies journal The Pomegranate (link), graduate student Caroline Tully contrasts two different views concerning how to interpret the archaeological finds at Çatalhöyük:

Position 1 On the one hand there are the silly, ignorant "Goddess worshippers" who foolishly "identify prehistoric figurines as 'aspects' of the 'Great Goddess'", and who romantically fantasize that these figurines "provide evidence for the existence of a utopian world in which women were not subject to oppression". Tully tells us that the "inspiration" for these imaginings "comes from the mid-twentieth century interpretation of the site by its first excavator, James Mellaart and later popularised by archaeologist Marija Gimbutas."

Position 2 In the other corner we have Tully's heroes, those plucky post-processualist archaeologists who have overthrown Error thereby firmly established the reign of Reason. The theories of Mellaart and Gimbutas have been consigned to the dustbin of history, and all clear thinking people now accept the new post-processualist explanations which are "more nuanced", leaving the silly, ignorant Goddess worshippers "confused".

With respect to Position 1, we are left wondering who these Goddess Worshippers are, and, consequently we must also wonder whether or not they (whoever they are) really espouse anything like the positions that Tully attributes to them? This is not the way serious scholarship is done. This is FOX News style propaganda, where straw-man positions are attributed to a vaguely defined group of people, and then this group is ridiculed and vilified on the basis of positions that are at best distorted versions of the group's actual beliefs, or just outright fabrications.

Let's take a look at two prominent Goddess Worshippers, and see what they actually have to say for themselves in their own words. In the case of both Starhawk and Max Dashu, the evidence is quite clear. Neither of these women takes on anything like the crude positions sloppily attributed to unnamed "Goddess worshippers" by Caroline Tully.

Here is what Starhawk wrote back in 2001

from: Religion From Nature, Not Archaeology:
"Goddess religion is not based on belief, in history, in archaeology, in any Great Goddess past or present. Our spirituality is based on experience, on a direct relationship with the cycles of birth, growth, death and regeneration in nature and in human lives. We see the complex interwoven web of life as sacred, which is to say, real and important, worth protecting, worth taking a stand for. At a time when every major ecosystem on the planet is under assault, calling nature sacred is a radical act because it threatens the overriding value of profit that allows us to despoil the basic life support systems of the earth. And at a time when women still live with the daily threat of violence and the realities of inequality and abuse, it is an equally radical act to envision deity as female and assert the sacred nature of female (and male) sexuality and bodies . . . .

"To us, Goddesses, Gods, and for that matter, archaeological theories are not something to believe in, nor are they merely metaphors. An image of deity, a symbol on a pot, a cave painting, a liturgy are more like portals to particular states of consciousness and constellations of energies. Meditate on them, contemplate them, and they take you someplace, generally into some aspect of those cycles of death and regeneration. The heart of my connection to the Goddess has less to do with what I believe happened five thousand years ago or five hundred years ago, and much more to do with what I notice when I step outside my door: that oak leaves fall to the ground, decay and make fertile soil. Calling that process sacred means that I approach this everyday miracle with a sense of awe and wonder and gratitude, and that in very practical terms, I compost my own garbage.

"The current discussion within the Goddess tradition about our history and scholarship is part of the healthy development of a vibrant tradition that tends not to attract true believers of any sort. We enjoy the debate, but we are sophisticated enough to know that scholars, too, have their biases and fashions."

And here is what Max Dashu has to say for herself in an essay she wrote about Marija Gimbutas back in 2000:

from: The Furor Over Gimbutas:
"All this polarization and oversimplification avoids the real issue, which is not female domination in a reverse of historical female oppression, but the existence of egalitarian human societies: cultures that did not enforce a patriarchal double standard around sexuality, property, public office and space; that did not make females legal minors under the control of fathers, brothers, and husbands, without protection from physical and sexual abuse by same. We know of many societies that did not confine, seclude, veil, or bind female bodies, nor amputate or deform parts of those bodies. We know, as well, that there have been cultures that accorded women public leadership roles and a range of arts and professions, as well as freedom of movement, speech, and rights to make personal decisions. Many have embraced female personifications of the Divine, neither subordinating them to a masculine god, nor debarring masculine deities.

"Evidence for such societies exists, though there's no agreement on what to call them. For many people, 'matriarchy' connotes a system of domination, the reverse and mirror-image of patriarchy. Identified with early anthropological theory and, during the 60s, with slams against African-American women, it has been overwhelmingly rejected by feminist researchers. 'Matrilineal' is inadequate, focusing on the single criterion of descent. 'Matrifocal' is too ambiguous, since it could be argued (and has been) that many patriarchal societies retain a strong emphasis on the mother. A variety of names have been proposed for egalitarian matrilineages, including 'matristic,' [Gimbutas, 1991] 'gynarchic' societies, [Gunn Allen, 1986] 'woman-centered' societies, or 'gylany.' [Eisler, 1987] My preferred term is 'matrix society,' which implies a social network based on the life support system as well as mother-right.

"Old-school academics as well as post-structuralist upstarts like to scold refractory feminists about evidence and certainties. The pretense of disinterested objectivity reminds me of what Gandhi said when asked what he thought about Western Civilization: 'I think it would be a very good idea.' The notion that mainstream academia is somehow value-free, but feminist perspective is necessarily ideological and agenda-driven, is still widely held. Covert agendas pass easily under the banner of objectivity.

The project of reevaluating history with a gender-sensitive eye is in its infancy, and necessarily allied to indigenous and anticolonial perspectives. An international feminist perspective views history as remedial - - because sexism and racism have obscured, distorted and omitted what information is available to us - - and provisional, because new information keeps pouring in. History has changed rapidly since the 60s, in every field: Africana, Celtic studies, West Asian studies, American Indian scholarship. Thousands of new books come out every year that look deeper into women's status and stories in a huge range of societies and periods, at a level of detail not possible before. Fresh interpretations are being advanced from voices not heard before. It's way too soon for sweeping dismissals . . . .

"So polarized has this debate become that, as Wendy Griffin has observed of Marija Gimbutas, 'Her theories tend to be judged as either absolutely true or absolutely false...' [Griffin, 2000] It is impossible to mention the work of Gimbutas in academia without being caught up in a heated dispute. A positive mention is immediately assumed to indicate total agreement with every interpretation she ever wrote, and to warrant heated attack. In this charged atmosphere, the content of her work invariably gets lost, and the documentation she provided is never evaluated. Those who dismiss her work as being about 'matriarchy' and a 'mother goddess,' terms she explicitly rejected, misrepresent her much more complex views. [See Joan Marler’s defense of Gimbutas’ contributions and historical narrative, 1999]

"By any account, Marija Gimbutas had a distinguished career as a 20th-century archaeologist and a primary founder of modern Indo-European studies. She excavated sites of the Vinca, Starcevo, Karanovo and Sesklo cultures. Her ability to read sixteen European languages enabled her to study virtually all the archaeological literature on both sides of the Cold War split, a crucial skill since most key publications in her study area were written in eastern European languages. It was Gimbutas who laid pivotal groundwork for integrating archaelogical data with linguistic studies of Indo-European origins. Her model for Indo-European origins is still the leading theory in the field. Its basic outlines are upheld -- minus the focus on women’s status and goddess interpretations -- by her former student J.P. Mallory, now one of the top authorities in IE Studies."

The take home lesson here is that both Starhawk and Max Dashu show themselves to be articulate, serious minded and well informed. One can agree or disagree with their views, but those views are substantial and reasoned. In brief, neither woman in any way resembles the hackneyed caricature of silly, ignorant Goddess worshippers being peddled by Caroline Tully.


Anonymous said...

I doubt Tully was basing her average Pagan Practitioner on Pagan elders like Starhawk. Of course Starhawk is educated and articulate! But it's true that our bickering about history/anthropology is rather pointless because a faith should be based on your experiences in the here in now, in this life.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

In the first place Tully never tells us which "Goddess worshippers" she is referring to, and that is precisely what makes her "analysis" so utterly worthless.

In the second place, one does not critique an ideology on the basis of its most foolish and least informed hangers on. The only intellectually honest way to critique Goddess worshippers is by addressing people like Starhawk and Max Dashu. Anything else is just crude propagandistic bashing, which is the only way that Tully's rant can be accurately characterized.

Anonymous said...

It seamed to me that she was commenting on why the conflicts between academic sources and Pagan theology happen. I don't think she's critiquing and entire ideology at all....but I will take another look, in case I missed something.


Anonymous said...

"I need to emphasise that I am not suggesting that that knowledge
gained through the currently valid procedures of the human sciences is
necessarily superior to knowledge gained in other ways, such as those
methods used by many modern Pagans, such as dreams, trance states,gut knowing, flashes of intuition or revelation....
Pagan Studies scholars have the capability to invigorate Paganism
from within. By inhabiting the grey area between ivory tower academia and on-the-ground Pagan practitioners, the Pagan Studies scholar is a go-between, a translator, but not a proselytiser. The hybrid nature of the Pagan Studies scholar can work to reduce dissonance and hence trauma and aggression, diffusing black-and-white antagonistic, combative positions and facilitating reconciliation. A religion that is static is dead. The Pagan Studies scholar infuses Paganism with hybrid vigour and can
enable Pagan practitioners to perceive academic research, not as a repressive ideology, but a liberating one. Such hybridity does not shut down multivocalism but contributes to polyphonic discourse within contemporary
Paganism." -Tully

Nope, I don't see any overall critique of Paganism as a valid path at all. I see someone trying to facilitate better communication between the academics and the practitioners. I'm glad someone is for me I'm too busy communing with the Goddess in my garden, getting my hands dirty learning to grow my own food.

The Goddess is Alive, and Magic is Afoot...right now, today! Nasty academic debates, as documented by Tully, do not serve me.


Apuleius Platonicus said...

Hi QH,
I am certainly not saying that Tully, who is obviously a Pagan herself, has put forward an "overall critique of Paganism as a valid path". What I am saying is that she seriously distorts the ideas and beliefs of "Goddess worshippers". And I really don't think that Tully has documented any "nasty academic debates" at all. In fact, she fails to document much of anything at all in her paper.

Wade MacMorrighan said...

Cornelius, what sticks out to me about Tully's positions is that she seems to be looking at Archaeology as a perfect science interested only with the dates of artifacts that seems to divorce them from the cultures and early human (freshly evolved) that had created them. What I have understood through the works of many pre-historians (a field that she seems to snobbishly dismiss as almost ludicrous in her Wild Hunt interview) is that such cultures would have been DEPLY animistic in their cosmogony. Moreover, in spite of this research by pre-historians, she seems uninterested in finding any sort of a middle ground between these two positions and fields of study. Some brilliant work has been published by the likes of David Lewis-Williams, for example. However, her polemic seems justified to the side of rejecting the possibility and worth of such research and evidence.

But, in terms of not specifying the pagans she is speaking of, like Cynthia Eller (whose work she seems to unequivocally endorse) Tully appears to have contrasted her own straw man argument.

Wade MacMorrighan said...

Something that I don't think is getting the attention that it deserves is that Tully, in her WH interview, seemed to rather ovately suggest that scholarship was unworthy of lowly Pagans who were unable to grasp it and, thus, cannot be trusted with it. That is rather offensive, when many Pagans have rather vast personal libraries filled with academic texts, specialty academic journals, as well as source material! Like Pagans, however, as certain general historians can attest, even SCHOLARS are not fully cognizant in the latest positions of certain academic fields that they are trying to represent.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Hi Wade, I think you are absolutely right to point out that Tully's views on Archaeology are quite stilted and that she does appear to simply be repeating tired old talking points from well over a decade ago, especially from the time of Cynthia Eller's beief moment in the spotlight.

Wade MacMorrighan said...

Thanks, AP. Sadly, Tully also insists in her Wild Hunt interview recently that if Hutton *was* guilty of any academic impropriety (and she clearly doesn’t believe that he is, despite what ben was able to prove!) that his scholastic colleagues would have given him am academic bitch-slapping! While I tend to agree, in general, this cannot be trusted as the ultimate litmus test. How can it be when the appropriate scholars involved who are intimately acquainted with such works are largely unfamiliar with Hutton’s polemics, especially “Triumph” which he has variously admitted was a lonely book to write because he was combining multiple disciplines and despite many contacts with specialist scholars in these subjects none could be bothered (apparently) to involve themselves in his research, perhaps in fear of their reputation. So, how can scholars with no interest in a work censure an author for misrepresenting their work unless someone else otherwise brigs it to their attention? Here, she seems to infer that academia is, to some degree, omniscient, when it’s clearly not. Then there is the case of Norman Cohn whom, in many cases, misrepresented Margeret Murray’s writings insisting she omitted data that would have disproving her when she actually included such inconvenient data and examined it in great detail. To date, most scholars (especially Hutton) unequivocally endorse Cohn’s mischaracterization of Murray even though one can compare Murray’s writing’s with Cohn to see that he was unjustly discrediting her (not that I agree with all of her suggestions, mind you); I believe in credit where credit is due and the thought of someoe misrepresenting one’s work to such a degree troubles me to my core. I wouldn’t want it to happen to me, so at the very least we owe it to Murray’s life to admit to this injustice. Sadly, when this was brought to Hutton’s attention by an investigative freelance journalist in The Cauldron, his ultimate meme was that regardless of how Cohn mischaracterized Murray’s reputation to discredit her, that it was inconsequential. So, sometimes scholars are uninterested in censuring academic misappropriation when it doesn’t serve their agenda. It is also note-worthy that Prof. Carlo Ginzburg has also charged Cohn with the same mendacity against his own research that Cohn engaged in against Murray. Max Dashu has even found that Cynthia Eller demonstrably misquoted JP Mallory’s work “In Search of the Indo-Europeans” to make an argument, yet I am unaware of any negative academic press this particularly egregious polemic has received, considering this and other troubling anomalies.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Hi Wade. Yes, sometimes there is honor among thieves, and sometimes there isn't. And one cannot always count on what, precisely, amounts to "honor" in certain groups.

Raksha said...

So, it's been a while since this was posted, but I ran across an article you might be interested in. The discussions on your blog in various places and in Wade's last comment on this post questioning the likelihood of Tully's insistence that any impropriety on Hutton's part would immediately be detected by his peers and exposed immediately jumped to mind when I ran across this post on io9 (which in turn links to a longer article on The New York Times).

It's about the recent spike in retractions by peer reviewed scientific journals. Appparently, they're up almost ten-fold in the most respected journals. These retracted articles were supposedly already reviewed by other experts in the field before they were even published! And this article is referring to hard science journals, where one would think mistakes or willful deception would be somewhat easier to prove than in more interpretation-intensive fields.

My point is that this quite solidly exposes Tully's belief in the infallibility of peer review to be a total fantasy. Maybe I should go dig up her email address and send it to her ;P

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Thanks for the heads up on that NYT article, Raksha!