Monday, January 31, 2011

"It is always good to fight. It is better to win." Statement by Lars Hedegaard on his acquittal

In case you are, for some reason, unfamiliar with the case of Lars Hedegaard in Denmark:
Lars Hedegaard & Lifting the Veil on Sexual Assault.

Statement by Lars Hedegaard on his acquittal (link)

Copenhagen, January 31, 2011

As my ancient forefathers, the vikings, would have said: It is always good to fight. It is better to win.

My detractors – the foes of free speech and the enablers of an Islamic ascendancy in the West – will claim that I was acquitted on a technicality, namely that the judge in the Court of Frederiksberg resolved that my supposedly offensive comments on the violations against little Muslim girls were not intended for public dissemination.

That is absolutely true. The judge chose the way out provided by my capable counsel.

However, the public prosecutor has been privy to the circumstances surrounding my case for a year – and yet he chose to prosecute me. Obviously in the hope that he could secure a conviction given the Islamophile sentiment among our ruling classes.

My acquittal is therefore a major victory for free speech.

I have no doubt that the massive support I have received from freedom fighters around the world has been instrumental in securing my acquittal.

This outcome will encourage people all over the West and beyond to speak up.

The battle for freedom is far from lost.


Ronald Hutton, Vergil, Ovid & GradeSaver.Com (Hutton & Reincarnation, Part Five)

According to Ronald Hutton, reincarnation is the kind of thing that the "western" mind is disinclined to think up on its own, and this to the extent that anyone in the western world today who knows about, much less believes in, reincarnation, (according to Hutton) can only have come to this state due to the relatively recent (in historical terms) introduction to the West of ideas from Eastern religions and philosophy, and this primarily as a result of the British colonization of India.

A fundamental problem with Hutton's thesis, as discussed in Part One of this ongoing series, is that explicit references to reincarnation as an idea associated with classical Greco-Roman Paganism (that is, with the very foundations of western culture), and with Pythagoreanism in particular (that is, with the very foundations of western philosophy), are found in the writings of influential 17th century English intellectuals such as François Bernier (1625-1688) and Thomas Tryon (1634-1703).

Another fatal flaw in the theory of the purely eastern origins of reincarnation, as discussed in Part Two, is that Christians (and "western" Christians in particular) have known about reincarnation from the beginning, as the writings of Tertullian (c.160-c.220 AD), aka "The First Theologian of the West", clearly show. Nor was reincarnation simply forgotten about after the "triumph" of Christianity over the Pagan religions that had embraced and propagated the idea, as the 11th century trial of John Italos (also discussed in Part Two), and the Renaissance debate over Platonism and Pythagoreanism (discussed in Part Three) both clearly demonstrate. Additionally, we also know (see Part Four) that at least from the 12th century onwards, metempsychosis had an important place in the mystical traditions of European Jewry.

But wait, there's more. Much more.

Reincarnation is also prominently featured in Vergil's Aeneid, and Ovid's Metamorphoses, two of the most influential works of literature in the history of western culture.

It should be remembered that for nearly a thousand years, even the most well educated western europeans were, with very few exceptions, completely greekless. Homer and Hesiod were essentially lost. Until the 15th century, Plato was known only through a few of his works that had Latin translations (some of which were not produced until the 12th century). And the situation for Aristotle was only somewhat better than that for Plato.

But the ability to read Latin has a continuous, if at times somewhat precarious, history throughout all of western european history. And while I will, for now, focus on Vergil and Ovid, it is worth mentioning that reference to transmigration of souls is not at all uncommon in Latin literature generally. Ennius (c.239-c.169 BC) is often credited as the first known Latin writer to speak of reincarnation (indeed, he spoke of being the reincarnation of Homer!). However, the exposure of the Romans to metempsychosis dates back to the 6th century BC, that is, the earliest days of Pythagoreanism itself, which, after all, began not in "Greece" (as we think of it today), but in "Magna Graecia", that is, in Italy.

But even if metempsychosis appeared nowhere else in all of Latin literature; and even if Tertullian, John Italos, Anna Comnena, George of Trebizond, Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola had never once mentioned transmigration of souls; and even if François Bernier and Thomas Tryon had never lived; and even if all mention of reincarnation were to disappear from the writings of Medieval and Renaissance Jewish mystics and kabbalistic interpreters; still, Vergil's Aeneid and Ovid's Metamorphoses, by themselves, would provide definitive and absolute proof that it is impossible to speak, with any justification whatsoever, of reincarnation as an idea that "comes from the East" due only to the influence of "Hindu and Buddhist thought", and that this "Eastern" idea only "reached Europe ... in the 18th century."

Even a high school student who doesn't bother to actually read the Aeneid, but relies, instead, on what can be found at a helpful website such as the appropriately named "" will be able to learn at least this much about Aeneas' visit to his dead father, Anchises, in The Underworld:

"Finally, Aeneas arrives in the Groves of Blessedness, where he finds Anchises. He tries to throw his arms around his father, but grabs only air. Anchises describes the many wonders of Elysium to Aeneas, and he then focuses on the great future in store for Aeneas and his descendants: 'my tongue will now reveal/ the fame that is to come
from Dardan sons'. When Aeneas notices souls hovering over a river, Anchises explains that the river is called Lethe, and that after drinking from it souls are stripped of any memory of their former lives, then returned to earth to begin life again in a new body. Anchises points out several souls who would have been significant to Virgil's audience, including Romulus, the founder of Rome; Ascanius's descendants; Julius Caesar; and Caesar Augustus himself. Tears spring to Anchises's eyes when he points out the handsome Marcellus, Augustus's heir, who died at a young age."

Similarly, if a high school student were to search the sight for the terms "Ovid" and "Pythagoras", he or she would immediately be taken to the Summary of Book XV of the Metamorphoses, where we read that:

"In Crotona lived Pythagoras, an extremely profound thinker who was in exile from Samos. He addressed topics such as the gods, the origin of the earth, the motions of the stars.

"We hear Pythagoras' discourse and he argues in favor of vegetarianism, suggesting that there is plenty of food without eating meat, and he points out that only the vicious animals are flesh-eaters. He suggests that in past ages, when people did not kill animals, they were happier, and bemoans the slaughter of cattle, who work alongside humans. Pythagoras chastises those who believe that the gods enjoy the slaughter of such peaceful and loyal animals. He turns to the theory of Metempsychosis -- his belief that when someone dies the soul is freed to inhabit another body. He insists that thus no one need fear death.

"Pythagoras also declares that nothing in life stays the same: everything is like time, constantly moving from day to night, never ceasing to progress. He points out that human beings pass through stages just like the seasons. Childhood is like springtime, summer like youth, autumn is maturity and winter is old age. The physical body changes too, growing from a seed in the womb to a mature adult, then decaying as the body ages. Continuing on this idea, Pythagoras takes as an example the four elements: earth, water, air and fire. He points out that each can become the others. Air can become water, water can become wind or air. The earth can become fire, and fire can become water. All things on earth and in heaven change and transform, but nothing is ever truly "born" or truly "dies." Pythagoras points to the changing nature of the natural environment as further proof that change is everywhere.

"Pythagoras then presents the idea that buried corpses give rise to other creatures. He gives examples, suggesting that the bodies of sacrificial cattle give birth to honey-bees and that mud gives rise to frogs. Pythagoras cites as a better example the marvelous phoenix, a bird that lives for five hundred years, then combusts. From its ashes another phoenix is born. The philosopher then translates his belief in omnipresent change into human terms, pointing out that history changes and shifts as well. Some powers decline and some rise. Troy may have fallen, but in the ashes of Troy, Rome was born. He predicts that Rome will rise to become a power greater than any the earth has seen. Pythagoras returns to his plea for vegetarianism, saying that since nature constantly changes and the soul shifts between objects, and because nothing separates the animal world from the human world, when we kill an animal we might as well be slaughtering a human. Thus, to eat an animal is no better than cannibalism."

For more on Vergil and Ovid:

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

Friday, January 28, 2011

"Renaissance and Rebirth: Reincarnation in early modern Italian kabbalah" (Hutton & Reincarnation, Part Four)

"The interest of English-speaking intellectuals in reincarnation, however, was supercharged in the 1880s by the Theosophical movement led by Madame Blavatsky. Drawing directly on Hindu and Buddhist thought, once more, it made the doctrine both widely known and fashionable in the West, as it has been ever since."
[From 'Dion Fortune and Wicca', a talk presented by Ronald Hutton at the 2009 Dion Fortune Seminar]

"The ideas of theosophy filtered through to large numbers of people who never joined the Society, encouraging them to seek an alternative from the apparent bonds of both traditional Christianity and of the new science in syncretic faiths and heterodox reinterpretations of Christ's teachings, often infusing concepts taken from classical paganism. Indian ideas, however, remained a much greater source of inspiration. The two biggest achievements of Blavatsky's movement were probably to make the notions of a single divine world soul, of which all life is a part, and of reincarnation, both widely known and widely held in the modern European and American worlds."
[Triumph of the Moon, Ronald Hutton, p. 20]

"Indeed, metempsychosis stood as a salient element in the Renaissance conceptualization of the human being, the universe, and the former's place in regard to the latter. Under the rubric of this doctrine, which is known in variant forms with diverse subtleties of meaning by the English terms palingenesis, the transmigration of souls, rebirth, and reincarnation, and which is associated with the Hebrew locutions gilgul neshamot, ha'atakah, 'ibbur, din b'nei halof, and sod ha-shelach, stand concepts and theories as diverse as its names ....

"This present study will focus on eight significant fifteenth century thinkers who discussed the idea of metempsychosis from with Jewish and humanist contexts. The first two scholars to be treated, Rabbi Michael ha-Cohen Balbo and Rabbi Moshe ha-Cohen Ashkenazi, were Jewish communal leaders at the ends of two opposing philosophical camps in the community of Candia on the Venetian controlled island of Crete ....

"The next two thinkers to be treated in this study, Rabbi Isaac Abarbanel and Rabbi Judah Hayyat, were prominent Spanish Jewish thinkers who both made their way to Italy after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 .... The next two thinkers who will be examined, Rabbi Elia Hayyim ben Binyamin of Genazzano and Rabbi Yohanan Alemanno, were born in Italy and were active in Tuscany ....

"The final two thinkers to be analyzed in this book were prominent Christian philosophers of the Italian Renaissance who fell under the influence of kabbalistic lore. Giovanni Pico dello Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino were two of the most influential and important Italian humanist philosophers of the fifteenth century, and an analysis of their thought concerning metempsychosis will help us to moor the idea in the wider cultural and philosophical context of the Italian Renaissance. Indeed, both Pico and Ficino discussed the idea at some length within their writings, and both seem to have lent it a degree of support. Nevertheless, the idea was in opposition to the standard sentiments of the Church, and both thinkers veiled their support of the doctrine of metempsychosis is allegory. Interestingly, Pico, who is widely known for his familiarity with kabbalistic lore, completely omits kabbalistic reference to metempsychosis and relies most heavily on Plotinus in the formulation of his own theories. In contradistinction, Ficino, who is not known for his reliance on kabbalah, invokes the kabbalistic tradition in regard to metempsychosis, oftentimes at points that go beyond mere allegory and venture into questions of veridicality ...."
[Renaissance and rebirth: reincarnation in early modern Italian kabbalah by Brian Ogren, Brill, 2009, pp. 2-5]

"After the Bahir normalized the concept of transmigration within Judaism and gave it credence by reading it into canonical texts, later generations of Jewish thinkers followed suit. In a standard interpretive process of arcanization, these thinkers read the enigmatic doctrine of metempsychosis back in to the classical canon of Judaism, including the bible itself. Through this process, thinkers would interpret biblical and other canonical texts as though they contained within themselves the secret doctrine of transmigration, seeking legitimacy for the doctrine from these very texts themselves .... In the original kabbalistic thought of Nahmanides [1194-1270], this idea was highly veiled, and in the words of Nahmanides himself, "The matter is a great secret from the secrets of the Torah concerning the generation of man, and it is seen by the eyes of those to whom God gave eyes to see." In other words, it is a secret tradition that explains the human generations throughout the ages, and it cannot readily be revealed, but is left up to the understanding of those who are capable of understanding on their own accord. Nahmanides also perceived the doctrine to be the key to the entire book of Job. Nevertheless, in this case too, according to Nahmanides, the matter is highly secretive, should not be expounded, and can only be understood by the select few.

"After the generation of Nahmanides, perhaps due to a desire to unravel the mystery of the secret that enticed by means of its very secrecy, the topic of metempsychosis became more open for discussion amongst kabbalistic thinkers. Among these thinkers, the thirteenth century Isaac of Acco, who sought to synthesize several mystical strands and elements including Sufism, ecstatic kabbalah and theosophical thought, discussed the idea of metempsychosis in his influential work Sefer Me'irat Einayim. Most of the sections of Me'irat Einayim dealing with transmigration are based upon, and attempt to decode the mysteries of Nahmanides. Indeed, in the very first place in which Isaac of Acco discusses the idea, in relation to the death of Abel in the book of Genesis, he directly quotes Nahmanides: "The received secret concerning the matter of Abel is very great." He proceeds, "Alas, I am properly writing a clear clarification for you, with the help of He who is good and who makes good; know that the secret of Abel is the secret of transmigration." In a motif that is later to become prominent with kabbalistic thought, Abel's is the first soul to be transmigrated, and eventually finds its way into the figure of Moses. Isaac of Acco expands upon the idea of metempsychosis in various other ways, and with this declaration and others, and this blatantly stated transmigrational reading of Nahmanides' secret, he opens up the way for further exploration and inquiry into the matter.

"Around 1275, the same period in which Isaac of Acco was active, the Zohar made its appearance onto the scene of Jewish thought in Castile, Spain. Later to become the central text of kabbalah, the Zohar is in actuality not a single book, but an entire body of literature. Within the specific portion of this corpus known as 'the body' of the Zohar, which is fundamentally a running mystical midrashic commentary on the weekly portions of the Torah, the discussion concerning metempsychosis takes its fullest form in the commentary on the Torah portion Mishpatim, known as Sava d'Mishpatim. This section of the Zohar contains the discourse of Rav Yeiva Sava, and unassuming old man who appears to be a lowly donkey driver, but who in reality is a remarkable mystic. Rav Yeiva gives a rather elaborate homily concerning the soul, in which the theory of metempsychosis is the most developed of the Zohar ...."

"The fourteenth century Italian kabbalist Menahem Recanati based himself heavily on Zoharic literature and profusely expounded upon the idea of metempsychosis on his own accord .... [Recanati] offers a type of summary of the idea as it appears within prior kabbalistic sources, basing himself mainly upon the Bahir and upon the Zohar; in regard to the latter, he basis himself especially, though not exclusively, upon the Midrash ha-Ne'elam l'Ruth. Recanati proved to have had a profound effect upon the subsequent course of Italian kabbalah, which relied heavily upon his theories and his citations of the Zohar. Indeed, his works were a main source of Zoharic literature for those within the Italian milieu. Recanati also influenced the likes of David ibn Avi Zimra concerning transmigration, a figure who was the purported teacher of Isaac Luria. Without a doubt, Recanati's reach was wide-ranging, both as a transmitter of previous texts and ideas and as an interpreter in his own right."
[Brian Ogren, ibid, pp. 15-18]

"Fifteenth century Italy witnessed notable developments in notions of metempsychosis, partly due to a turn in philosophical psychology to more homocentric notions, partly due to an influx of texts, ideas and scholars and the meeting points of various cultures, and partly due to a struggle for the assertion of national and cultural identity. Many other factors were involved as well, such as the exotericization of previously esoteric modes of thought, and indeed, no single factor stands at the crux of the process of these developments. Rather, the picture remains as complex as the doctrine of metempsychosis itself. What is certain is that in the late fifteenth century Italy, the fluid doctrine of metempsychosis advanced to a position of theoretical prominence. Aided by the greater acceptance of both prior kabbalistic concepts and Neoplatonic thought, which were both esteemed elements of prisca theologia in Italian Renaissance Jewish and Christian camps alike, the doctrine of metempsychosis began to be taken very seriously, even by those outside of the strictly mystical camps. As such, by turning to this increasingly popular doctrine of individual continuity in all of its complexities, greater light can be shed upon the dynamics, complications and consequences of Italian Renaissance thought, both Jewish and Christian analogously, concerning the creation of man in the divine image and the resulting uniqeness of his distinctive soul."
[Brian Ogren, ibid, p. 39]

About Brian Ogren, author of Renaissance and Rebirth (from Brill website):
Brian Ogren, Ph.D. (2008) in Jewish Thought, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, teaches Jewish Thought and mysticism at the Hebrew University and at other institutions in Israel. He has published several articles on philosophy and Jewish Thought.

About the book Renaissance and Rebirth (also from Brill):
Metempsychosis was a prominent element in Renaissance conceptualizations of the human being, the universe, and the place of the human person in the universe. A variety of concepts emerged in debates about metempsychosis: human to human reincarnation, human to vegetal, human to animal, and human to angelic transmigration. As a complex and changing doctrine, metempsychosis gives us a well-placed window for viewing the complex and dynamic contours of Jewish thought in late fifteenth century Italy; as such, it enables us to evaluate Jewish thought in relation to non-Jewish Italian developments. This book addresses the problematic question of the roles and achievements of Jews who lived in Italy in the development of Renaissance culture in its Jewish and its Christian dimensions.

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

Ronald Hutton, Reincarnation, and the Renaissance

"As for reincarnation ... it is not a western idea at all, though some confusion has been created among English-reading occultists by the American mystic Edgar Cayce...."

[From "Dion Fortune and Wicca", a talk presented by Ronald Hutton to the 2009 Dion Fortune Seminar]

"Defenders of Plato [during the Renaissance] maintained that Plato's belief in individual immortality and in the creation of the world by a divine Demiurge made his philosophy more easily reconciled with Christianity, but critics noted the difficulties posed by Plato's belief in the transmigration of souls and by the fact that the creation described in the Timaeus was not a creation ex nihilo but rather from preexisting matter."
[Natural Philosophy by Ann Blair, which is Chp. 17 of The Cambridge History of Science, Vol. 3 (2006). The quote is taken from p. 374. In this and all quotes below, emphasis in bold has been added.]

"To counter such arguments [in favor of Platonism], the Byzantine scholar and fanatical Aristotelian, George of Trebizond, in 1458 wrote A Comparison of the Philosophers Aristotle and Plato .... The rise of Platonism, in George's view, was a greater threat to western civilization than the advance of the Turks, not least because Plato's philosophy, in striking contrast to Aristotle's, was completely incompatible with Christianity. Plato's doctrine of immortality, George contended, was undermined by his belief in the pre-existence and transmigration of souls; and in the Timaeus he did not describe a creation 'out of nothing', as in Christian theology, since it is clear that the 'receptacle' was already in being."
[The legacy of ancient philosophy by Jill Kraye, which is Chp. 12 in The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Philosophy (2003). The quote is from p. 333.]

"The most renowned of the early [pre-Socratic] Greek philosophers, however, was Pythagoras ... In addition to the biography [of Pythagoras] in Diogenes Laertius, there were various works on Pythagoras by Iamblichus, which some humanists certainly read -- Ficino even made a Latin translation, though it never got into print ... and a Neo-Pythagorean treatise ascribed to Timaeus of Locri, the principle speaker in Plato's Timaeus, carried sufficient weight to accompany the dialogue in the Greek editions of Plato published in Aldus in 1513 and Estienne in 1578.

"It was this close connection between Pythagoreanism and Platonism, underscored in many Neoplatonic works, which gave Pythagoras a special significance for Renaissance Platonists from Ficino to Patrizi. Pythagoras, for them, was the philosopher who bequeathed to Plato the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, among the best advertisements for Christian Platonism -- though this did not prevent them from using him as a convenient fall guy for Plato's embarrassing belief in the transmigration of souls."
[Jill Kraye, ibid, pp. 341-342]

"Plato's philosophy ... also contained elements profoundly troubling to the larger Christian culture of the early Renaissance. It is true that Plato had (arguably) held something like a Christian doctrine of creation, and he had undoubtedly believed in the immortality of the soul. But increassing familiarity with the dialogues would disclose other doctrines less easy to reconcile with orthodoxy. Though Plato had believed in immortality, he had also apparently believed in the preexistence and transmigration of souls. A determined Christianizer could, studying the account of creation in the Timaeus, identify the demiurge with Christ and the Forms with Ideas in the mind of God. But it was difficult to know what to do with the "receptacle", the chaotic matter which was explicitly stated (52D) to have existed from all eternity, in direct contradiction of the Christian ex nihilo."
[Plato in the Italian Renaissance, Vol. 1 by James Hankins, pp. 10-11]

"This leads to the third group of charges against Plato: that his theological views were incompatible with Christian truth. The humanists, quoting a famous passage in Augustine's De civitate Dei, had argued that Plato's belief in individual immortality and creation made his theology closer to Christianity than Aristotle's. Plato's critics replied that, whatever his merits as a theologian, they were outweighed by his defects. They attacked his heterodox views on the pre-existence and transmigration of souls. They noted that, even if Plato had believed in creation, he had not believed in creation ex nihilo; in the Timaeus it seemed that the 'receptacle' (or 'prime matter', as it was called by Renaissance interpreters) was already in being at the moment of creation."
[Routledge encyclopedia of philosophy, entry for "Platonism, Renaissance", p. 442]

To the above I will just add three brief footnotes:

(1) One of the charges against John Italos that was not mentioned by Anna Comnena, was that Italos had rejected the Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo in favor of the Pagan view that the material out of which the Cosmos is fashioned has existed for all eternity.

(2) In Witches, Druids and King Arthur, Ronald Hutton actually makes several references James Hankins' work on Platonism in the Renaissance.

(3) I apologize for the repetitive nature of these selections. The point, however, is to demonstrate that this stuff is not difficult to find, at least not so long as one actually looks for it.

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

Abortion and mental health problems: No relationship. None. Zip. Nada.

AP science reporter Alicia Chang (SciWriAlicia on twitter) has penned an excellent write-up of a new Danish study that shows that: Abortion Doesn't Increase Mental Health Risk, But Having A Baby Does. (That's the headline of Chang's piece as it appears at the Huffington Post. The article was also carried by The Washington Post and many other media outlets.)

Results of the study have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, with Trine Munk-Olsen as the lead author. Here is a link: Induced First-Trimester Abortion and Risk of Mental Disorder. The full paper is available only to subscribers, but anyone can read the detailed summary that is provided for the general public.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ronald Hutton, Tertullian, John Italos, Anna Comnena & the Transmigration of Souls (Hutton & Reincarnation, Part Two)

Tertullian Contra Pythagoras
Tertullian, in his De Anima, criticized the Pagan philosophical notion of "transmigration of souls" (for this is how the Greek metempsychosis is often rendered in English, while sometimes it is translated more prosaically as "reincarnation"). From Chapter XVIII of that work, "The Pythagorean Doctrine of Transmigration Sketched and Censured", through Chapter XXXV, "The Opinions of Carpocrates, Another Offset from the Pythagorean Dogmas, Stated and Confuted", Tertullian rails (Chapter XXXIII is even titled "The Judicial Retribution of These Migrations Refuted with Raillery"!) against the "inextricable embarrassment" of the "plainly false" notion "that Living Men are Formed from the Dead".

Along the way, Tertullian names, as advocates of "transmigration", in addition to Pythagoras: Plato, Albinus, Pherecydes, Empedocles, Hermes Trismegistus, Simon Magus, and Carpocrates. We could also add many more, such as Ovid, Vergil, Macrobius, Cicero, Plutarch, Salustius, Plotinus, Apuleius (or whoever was the author/translator of the Latin Aesclepius), and so forth.

But perhaps I've gotten ahead of myself. Since there are so many people who actually take Ronald Hutton seriously as an authority on Pagan history, I cannot necessarily assume that such people even know who Tertullian is. I suppose it is likely that they have heard the name "Tertullian" (just as Hutton has certainly heard the names Pythagoras, Plato, Ovid, etc), but it is unlikely (almost inconceivable) that they could have any idea of the man's place in history.

Tertullian has been referred to as "the father of Latin Christianity" (as he is called by Andrew J. Ekonomou in his Byzantine Rome and the Greek Popes on p. 22), and also as "the founder of Western theology" (as he is called by Justo L. González in his The Story of Christianity Volume I: The early church to the dawn of the Reformation on p. 77). His writings provide the first known use of the Latin theological term trinitas, and in addition he provides the oldest known attempt to "explain" trinitarianism. He also wrote of "original sin", although he died well over a century before Augustine was born. And it was Tertullian who first posed the rhetorical questions: "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? Or the Academy with the Church?"

For more on Tertullian see the two works just cited by Ekonomou and Gonzales; the online collection of his writings at The Tertullian Project; the 2005 biography, Tertullian by Geoffrey D. Dunn; the 2003 biography, Tertullian: The First Theologian of the West by Eric Osborn; and Tertullian and the Church by David Ivan Rankin.

Anna Comnena Contra John Italos
The above, on Tertullian, is all given, at risk of beating a dead horse, to re-emphasize what was already shown in the first post in this series (Dion Fortune, Ronald Hutton, Wicca, & Reincarnation): namely, that reincarnation has been well established as a "western" idea for as long as there has been such a thing as western civilization.

Before turning to the Renaissance (which is where Part Three of this series will take up), I will now pause briefly in the 11th century to examine the fascinating case of John Italos, who was Michael Psellos' handpicked successor as Scholarch of the Platonic school of philosophy in Constantinople. (This was a "school" in the old, Pagan, sense of haeresis, and it was newly founded by Psellos, who asserted that the study of philosophy had fallen into utter neglect, and that it was up to him, singlehandedly, to revive it).

Italos was a foreigner in Byzantium, for his name simply means "John the Italian". Anna Comnena ( Άννα Κομνηνή, 1083–1153) states, in her celebrated Alexiad, that "His accent was what one would expect from a Latin youth who had come to our country and studied Greek thoroughly but without mastering our idiom; sometimes he mutilated syllables. Neither his defective pronunciation nor the clipping of sounds escaped the notice of most people and the better educated accused him of vulgarity." [The Alexiad, 2003 Penguin edition, translation by E.R.A. Sewter, p. 177]

The princess also informs us that Italos "occupied the Chair of General Philosophy [the Chair created by his mentor, Psellos] and it was to his lectures that the young men flocked. He elucidated the works of Proclus and Plato, the teachings of the philosophers Porphyry and Iamblichus, and above all the technical treatises of Aristotle."

But Anna Comnena approved of the philosophy taught by Italos even less than his attempts at speaking the Hellenic language, and she says of his students, "they acquired no accurate systematic knowledge of any kind: they played the role of dialectician with chaotic changes and frenzied metaphors, but they had no sound understanding. They propounded their theories, even at that time putting forward their ideas on metempsychosis in rather veiled terms and on certain other matters of a similar nature and almost as monstrous." [p. 178]

How could it come to pass that such "monstrous" ideas were being circulated in the city of Constantine, the seat of power of the ruling Christian Emperor, Anna Comnena's own father, Alexios I Komnenos (Ἀλέξιος Α' Κομνηνός, 1056-118)? The princess informs us, since we ask, "These events, you see, all took place before my father was raised to supreme power." And Comnena wastes no time in reassuring us that His Daddiness promptly set about putting things in order, just as soon as he had the "Supreme Power" to do so: "Noting that Italos was everywhere causing trouble and leading many astray, he referred the man for preliminary examination to the Sebastocrator Isaac, who was himself a great savant with high ideals. Isaac, satisfied that Italos was indeed a trouble-maker, publicly refuted him at this inquiry and later, on instructions from his brother (the emperor), committed him to appear before an ecclesiastical tribunal." [p. 179]

While awaiting trial, Italos was held as prisoner under the personal supervision of Eustratios Garidas, then Patriarch of Constantinople, during which time Italos, according to Comnena, "almost made Garidas his own dedicated disciple"! Fortunately for Garidas' soul, a mob was raised to storm the church where Italos was being held prisoner (for what good is a Christian church that does not have a dungeon in the basement?). And fortunately for Italos' bodily safety, he was able to find his way to the church roof and hide himself "in some hole" before the mob got it's hands on him.

Having just barely escaped the Christian lynch mob, Italos (after being coaxed down from the roof) was told that all would be forgiven if he would only shave his head, crawl on his knees begging forgiveness, and recite, before the congregation of the great church, the anathema pronounced upon him. Which he agreed to do.

After performing this public penance, however, Italos seems to have continued, at least in private, to philosophize in the same old Pagan manner as before. Once this was discovered he was formally excommunicated and sentenced to life imprisonment. His life was spared (and his excommunication lifted) only because he once again recanted, and this time, apparently, with feeling. Anna Comnena herself, good Christian that she was, softens her heart at the end of this narrative, and approvingly tells us that on his second try at a second chance, Italos "did indeed change his ideas about dogma and repented of his former errors." There were eleven specific "errors" charged to Italos, but Comnena only mentions three, and the first of these is (1) "transmigration of souls", with the other two being (2) "ridicule of sacred images of the saints", and (3) views on Plato's "theory of ideas" that were not sufficiently orthodox.

John Italos' trial for heresy took place in 1082. Nothing is heard from of of him again. But the Platonic school founded by his mentor, Michael Psellos, continued on for almost another five centuries. The last head of the school was George Gemistos Plethon.

In closing, two things must be forcefully emphasized:

(1) The reliability, or, more precisely, the objectivity, of the accounts given by Tertullian and Anna Comnena regarding metempsychosis and those who advocated it is of no concern here. Rather it is the subjective aspect of what they have to say that matters. They are both witnesses to the fact that reincarnation was well known to them, and also to the fact that the connection of metempsychosis to classical Greek philosophy, and to Plato and Pythagoras in particular, was accepted as being as obvious as the observation that Greeks speak Greek.

(2) Neither Tertullian nor Comnena rejected metempsychosis due to any consideration of its "foreignness" or its "easternness". Indeed, neither showed any indication that they thought of metempsychosis as, in any sense, foreign or eastern or Asiatic or insufficiently European or anything of the sort. Rather, they both condemned the "monstrous" theory of reincarnation for only one reason: it is a Pagan idea.

[That rather fetching portrait of Anna Comnena is from the cover art of the book Anna of Byzantium, a novel by Tracy Barrett.]

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

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

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"Marriage and the growing use of X-Ray machines."

This is one of a collection of "cute antique Japanese post-cards" that you can see at (hat-tip to I am still trying to figure out what the caption is supposed to mean:

"Marriage and the growing use of X-ray machines - (c. 1910s)"

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Travesty In Haiti": The truth about Christian missions, food aid, etc

When being interviewed by Southern Baptist pastor Marty Duren (links below), Timothy T. Schwartz, author of Travesty in Haiti: A true account of Christian missions, orphanages, food aid, fraud and drug trafficking, was asked:

"What percentage of the orphanages in Haiti are being run legitimately?"

His answer? "I suspect none."

Haitian human rights lawyer and activist Marguerite Laurent (link below) called Travesty in Haiti "the best book that's been written by a foreigner on Haiti since forever."

  • Review by Ezili Dantò "Ezili Dantò (colonially named 'Marguerite Laurent') is a Haitian woman as inspired, guided, and directed by the strength, legacy and visions of the Haitian warrior goddess, Ezili Dantò." [from her website bio]
  • Review by Marty Duren Marty Duren is Southern Baptist pastor who describes himself as "a bedrock theological conservative".

  • Excerpt from Ezili Dantò's review:
"Schwartz has rendered a service here not because there’s authentic value in being a foreigner’s FIELDWORK. For the sum of the parts do not equal the whole and being someone’s fieldwork is in itself a condescension. But Schwartz’s book reports on his own tribe’s corruption in Haiti and that, indeed, is of value to Haitians.

"The book is a must read for anyone interested in hearing the truth about Haiti. Schwartz's contribution is a guidepost to those working for charities, working in the development and foreign aid industries who accept corruption and mediocrity because it's part of the status quo, "it's a job." It's laughably idealistic to wish for accountability, honesty, grace and dignity from the folks at USAID, World Bank, the Christian missions and those "doing good" in Haiti for more than a-half century now, but if just a few people, if one person working in the human rights field who read this book began to re-evaluate and nixed the profit-over-people trend of these failed-State-making-organizations, the world, humanity would breathe that much easier .... the best book that's been written by a foreigner on Haiti since forever."

  • Excerpt from Marty Duren's interview with Timothy T. Schwartz:
"It is not about developing Haiti. It is about developing US business interests; which is fine. Haitians don’t vote for US politicians. But the problem–and this is the point that I hope I make most forcefully in the book–concerns the organizations that claim they are working for the poorest of poor; it’s simply not true. They are working for the US, French, German, and Canadian special interests. And they all know this.

"These organizations are staffed by an almost uniformly good bunch of people. People who set out to help, who wanted to change the world, alleviate poverty, but they got caught up in the industry of aid and those dreams get swept away and replaced by hope for a salary raise, a pension plan, a promotion, better working conditions. This is where the biggest frustration comes in for me.

"Back in the US there is a whole different set of good people who are sending in donations and voting for these organizations, cheering them on. They are doing this because they think the money is going to help the poor and hungry and illiterate overseas. They aren’t donating money so that it can pay some other American or German a middle to upper class salary and pension plan or so the director of CARE can send his children to a $25,000 per year private school. They are giving that money to help the poor in other countries…and it just ain’t happening.

"These other good people, the NGO employees who are the recipients of most the aid, seem powerless to change things and then, as time and their careers progress, less and less disposed to try to change it.

"Yeah, that’s frustrating. But US policy, ideally, should focus on helping other countries develop. I can understand why it doesn’t since politics is politics and corporate interests tend to be first.

"My beef is with the civil/NGO sector. They are the ones we finance to defend and help the poor. They need to be held accountable. They need to do what they say they are going to do."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sanna Kurki-Suonio (when the Gods gave us voices, this is what They had in mind)

Hat tip to Kauko (and his brand new blog on Finnish Paganism) for turning me on to Finnish folk music!

And here is a link to an interview with Sanna Kurki-Suonio, where she confirms that she learned to sing before she learned to talk!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Interview with a Vodou Priestess (Mambo Rachel Beauvoir-Dominique)

Rachel Beauvoir-Dominique earned a Ph.D in social anthropology at Oxford University. She is vice-Provost to research and chair of the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at l'Université d'Etat d'Haïti. She is a respected Mambo (Priestess) in the Haitian Vodou religion, and she is the daughter of Houngan (Vodou Priest) Max Beauvoir.

This interview was conducted in September of 2009 during an exhibition on Vodou at the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Also check out this other interview with Sara Rénélik, Labelle Deesse Jr., and Labelle Deesse Sr.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"We had no choice." Strategic syncretism in the face of Christianization.

Below is a great interview [well, aside from some moronic blather from the interviewers] with Sara Rénélik, Labelle Deesse Jr., and Labelle Deesse Sr. They are all active in the Haitian Vodou community in Monteal. The interview was conducted in 2008 by CTV.

In the interview there is reference made to a film festival that had just taken place in Montreal. Here is a link to more information about that: Voodoo: Montreal Haitian Film Festival (2008). There is also reference to an art exhibit, and here is a link to that: Voodoo: Art, Mystery or Religion?

The reason I'm posting this video is because of the very frank explanation of why Christian elements have been incorporated, at least superficially, in Haitian Vodou, given by Labelle Deesse, Jr.

[0:20] Announcer: "Some consider Vodou to be an actual religion, but others call it witchcraft. Debra Arbec investigates."

Debra Arbec: "To the uninitiated, images like these represent darkness, witchcraft, blasphemy. But for those who practice Haitian Vodou that's the hollywood version .... [2:10] As a French colony, Catholicism was forced onto African slaves in Haiti."

Mambo Labelle Deesse, Jr.: "We had no choice to combine the Catholics with our own culture, so we don't get killed."

Related posts from this blog:

Friday, January 21, 2011

US Gov't Funding Cultural Genocide in Haiti

"Cultural genocide extends beyond attacks upon the physical and/or biological elements of a group and seeks to eliminate its wider institutions. This is done in a variety of ways, and often includes the abolition of a group’s language, restrictions upon its traditional practices and ways, the destruction of religious institutions and objects, the persecution of clergy members, and attacks on academics and intellectuals. Elements of cultural genocide are manifested when artistic, literary, and cultural activities are restricted or outlawed and when national treasures, libraries, archives, museums, artifacts, and art galleries are destroyed or confiscated."

[David Nersessian, Rethinking Cultural Genocide Under International Law]
Abe Sauer has written an explosive expose on the predatory activities of Christian missionaries in Haiti since last year's devastating earthquake: Our Government-Funded Mission to Make Haiti Christian: Your Tax Dollars, Billy Graham's Son, Monsanto and Sarah Palin.

Most explosive of all is the fact that these missionaries are directly funded by the United States government!

These missionaries are hell-bent on nothing short of a sweeping cultural genocide in Haiti. Vodou is practiced by as much as 80% of Haiti's population, and represents a direct continuation of the religious traditions that the ancestors of Haitians brought with them from Africa centuries ago. US based, and US funded, Christian missionaries wish to completely eradicate this religious tradition, which lies at the very heart of Haitian society.

In addition to Sauer's excellent piece, also check out these:
ALSO: "Exporting Faith", a Boston Globe four part series:
(some background on how we got to this point)
Part 1: Bush Brings Faith to Foreign Aid
Part 2: Religious right wields clout
Part 3: Together, but worlds apart
Part 4: Healing the body to reach the soul

Finally, having cursed the darkness, let us light a candle or two:

Hat tip to Jason at the Wild Hunt!

Did the Yaquis Convert to Christianity?

A spectrum of questions
A funny thing happened as I was digging more deeply into the research that has been done on Yaqui religion over the last 30 years or so. I discovered that a number of prominent scholars who study Yaqui culture have openly questioned whether the Yaqui Indians actually converted to Christianity in the first place!

It's a tricky issue, and very basic questions about the nature of religion and religious identity are involved here. The trickiest issue, and the most basic question of all is: what does it mean to say that the Yaquis converted? It is very easy to overlook this question. I mean, well, everyone knows what "conversion" means, right? Wrong.

Exhibit A: When Dr. Carlos Gonzales, a Yaqui, did the opening prayer at the recent memorial service in Tucson, Arizona, he called upon the spirits of the Four Directions, on Father Sky, and on Mother Earth, and so forth. He did not mention Jesus, but there was a reference or two to "God", along with "creatures that walk, swim, slither or move on four legs and two legs." So, does that sound like someone from a society that abandoned its own indigenous religious traditions in favor of Christianity four hundred years ago?

But there's more at stake here than just what heading Yaqui religion properly belongs under in the family tree of human religions. The nature of conversion is also of fundamental importance for understanding all of the conversions to Christianity and Islam that have occurred over the last 1700 years. These "conversions" now account for over half of the human population! Properly understanding these "conversions" is also essential to the question of the relationship between modern and ancient Paganisms.

Long before anyone began to wonder whether or not the Yaquis had really converted to Christianity or not, indeed, long before the time when they supposedly did convert, serious doubts were raised about the completeness of the process of Christianization in Europe. In fact, throughout the entire history of Christianity, and right up until quite recently, it was widely accepted that, long after Christian conversion had officially taken place, remnants of ancient Paganism continued to exist as pockets of resistance within Christendom. The motif of the "Witches Sabbath" was based on just such a belief, although this provides but one (in)famous example.

Another example is the notion that there was a revival of Paganism during the Renaissance, a view held by modern historians such as Ludwig von Pastor (1854-1928) and George Voigt (1827-1891). It was not until P.O. Kristeller's work in the mid 20th century that the theory of a "Pagan Renaissance" was seriously undermined among academics (although Kristeller's revisionism was never universally accepted and is now facing real challenges.)

Belief in the survival of Paganism persisted into the 20th century, as is demonstrated by the popular, and even scholarly, interest in the writings of Charles Godfrey Leland and Margaret Murray, both of whom claimed that at least some of those accused of "witchcraft" really were representatives of surviving pre-Christian (or, more precisely, pre-Christianization) religious traditions. Carlo Ginsberg provides a more recent example of scholarly support for the idea that non-Christian religious traditions in Europe successfully survived the process of Christianization.

Nowadays, one routinely encounters people (including many "Pagan" "scholars") who insist that all such notions about the survival of Paganism have been thoroughly debunked and irreversibly consigned to the dustbin of bad history. The simple fact is that nothing of the sort has taken place. Even Ronald Hutton has repeatedly conceded that modern Wicca has a "distinguished and long pedigree". Although vanishingly few people demonstrate any familiarity with the more subtle aspects of Hutton's writings on the subject of Pagan history, it is clear that he, at least, readily accepts that the issue is not reducible to the binary choice: "did Paganism survive or not?".

Notwithstanding the fact that he is often understood to be saying the exact opposite, Hutton's writings unambiguously demonstrate that instead of simplistic dichotomies, we must pose a whole spectrum of questions about the degree to which Pagan beliefs and practices survived, the ways in which they did so, the manner in which these persistent beliefs and practices evolved in Christian dominated societies, the mutual interactions between Paganism and this thing called Christianity, etc. Most importantly of all, there is no doubt that there are many and varied ways in which modern Paganism is meaningfully related to, and is therefore a continuation of, ancient Paganism.

Well, did the Yaquis convert, or didn't they?
But back to the Yaqui. In his 1980 book, The Yaquis: A Cultural History, Edward Spicer raised serious doubts about the wisdom of blithely asserting a Yaqui conversion to Christianity. Two decades later, Kenneth Morrison summarized Spicer like this:
"By 1980, Edward Spicer ... carefully developed an argument that the Yaquis only partially accepted the Jesuit missionaries' teaching about Christian cosmology. Spicer shows that the Yaquis came to accept the great others [that is, Jesus, Mary, and the Saints] of Catholicism as well as their distinctive location in heaven, or glory. At the same time, however, the Yaquis neither rejected their traditional cosmological system, nor accepted the Jesuits' distinction between a perfect heaven and a tainted worldly existence."
Morrison then moves on to more recent research that builds on the work of Spicer:
"Two recent works on the Yaqui, Muriel Painter's With Good Heart (1986), and Lawrence Evers and Felipe S. Molina's Yaqui Deer Songs (1987), have brought together a great deal more ethnographic information on Yaqui religion. Significantly, they agree with Spicer's view that the Deer Dancer derives from pre-contact Yaqui tradition. The richness of their data makes it possible to see that Yaqui acceptance of Catholicism hardly amounts to conversion in its usual sense of turning away from the truths of tradition to the truths of another. Instead, the Yaqui extended the religious insights of tradition to make sense of their relationship with the great others of Christianity. Unlike Spicer, then, Evers and Molina, and, to a lesser degree, Painter, locate the 'sacred' characteristics of Yaqui religion, its understanding of traditional and Christian power, in the pre-contact tradition."
[Sharing the Flower, Kenneth Morrison, 2002, pp. 110-111]
Even more recently, there is David Delgado Shorter's (2009) We Will Dance Our Truth, in which we read that
"historical claims of conversion not only fail to tell the whole story of native agency in colonial zones but also overlook the role of indigenous performance in historically narrating a consistent and practical precolonial ritual logic." And also this: " Tropes of religious conversion assume that European cultures were superior, that Christianity provided a undeniable 'truth', and that precontact religiosity was abandoned."
[p. 235]
We Will Dance Our Truth won the 2010 Chicago Folklore Prize, awarded by the American Folklore Society and the University of Chicago. Shorter provides a fresh look at the history of the original "contact" between the Yaquis (who are also referred to as Yoemem) and the Spanish, and the early post-contact history unfolds:
"The Yoemem defeated Spanish armies at least three times between 1533 and 1609 and therefore negotiated a contact situation on their own terms. Their engagement with the newcomers was selective and tactful. Yoemem invited Jesuit missionaries to their pueblos in 1617 and kept the Spanish conquistadors at bay at the same time. Yoeme strength clearly controlled the influence of Catholicism on precontact traditions. Like other early colonial encounters, this control included a significant amount of indigenous agency and maneuverability. Yoemem enforced and strategically maintained their territorial adn cultural boundaries and sustained sovereign control of their land from pre-Columbian times through the period of Jesuit collaboration.

To understand Yoeme cultural dynamics, we must grasp that roughly 30,000 Yoemem decided to befriend five or six Jesuit missionaries, ultimately choosing which aspects of Christianity and European life were sensible and adoptable. Yoemem also decided which practices were to be rejected. Control maintained continuity in a time of change."
[p. 8]
In his redaction of this history, Shorter clearly (and sometimes greatly) exaggerates the "agency" of the Yaquis in determining the course of their own destiny.

In the sphere of religion, this "agency" was indeed significant. However, the Yaquis were forced to accept Jesuit political rule over them. They were forced to accept being reorganized into mission villages, with Jesuit appointed leaders, in the same way other Indian groups. They were forced to allow Spanish settlers access to their ancestral lands. They were also, like all Indios, subject to the various forced-labor laws that mandated periods of unpaid work in the mines and haciendas of the Spaniards. And over the course of the subsequent decades the Yaquis also lost control even of their own agricultural output, which the Jesuits appropriated.

Most egregiously of all, Shorter inexcusably denies the simple reality of the blatantly coercive nature of the situation the Yaquis were in when they "negotiated" with the Spanish. No amount of appeals to "agency and maneuverability" can obliterate the fact that the Yaquis, like all indigenous people, essentially (or even literally) had guns pointed at their heads during all their dealings with the Spanish. In the end, all agreements made under such circumstances must be viewed as falling in the class of "offers they couldn't refuse." Nevertheless, especially when it comes to the subject of religion, Shorter's narrative does provide a necessary corrective to the standard "tropes of religious conversion".

In fact, one begins to get a clearer appreciation of the scale of the savagery involved in the European conquest of the Americas when one considers just how fortunate, relatively speaking, the Yaquis were! And Shorter's point really is that this is not simply a matter of "fortune", but rather a quite striking example of the principle: fortes fortuna adiuvat.

Also see this previous post: The true story of how the Yaqui people were conquered and converted to Christianity