Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wicca and polytheism

It should go without saying that no one speaks for Wicca. But certain authors have nevertheless attempted to pin the label "duotheist" on Wicca with the explicit intention of creating a clear bright line separating modern Wiccans from the historical Paganism of the ancient world, which reveled in extravagant polytheism.

Question: Do Wiccans recognize (revere, worship, adore, call upon, pray to, honor, sacrifice to, sing hymns of praise to, dedicate works of art to, dedicate their lives to ...) one and only one God and one and only one Goddess?

Answer: Uh, no.

As our first and only witness, let us call Gerald Brousseau Gardner. In Chapter XIII of The Meaning of Witchcraft, Gardner states (on page 170 of the 2004 Weiser edition), regarding ancient forms of Paganism and their relevance to Wicca, that "the only kinds of paganism with which we are concerned here are those which may have had some influence on the witch cult." Gardner then names three such sources of influence in particular: (1) "Druidism, the religion of the Celts", (2) "the religion of the Great Mother Goddess or the old Hunting God", and (3) "the Mystery Cults of the ancient world".

Having cited the Mystery Religions as an important part of Wicca's connection with the ancient Pagan past, Gardner then poses the question, "have we any way of ascertaining what the Mysteries taught?" To which he immediately provides the answer:
"Fortunately, we have. In the fourth century A.D., when paganism was engaged in a fierce struggle with the new creed of Christianity, Sallustius, who was a close personal friend of the Emperor Julian (called the Apostate because he tried to restore the old religion), wrote a treatise called Peri Theon kai Kosmou, About the Gods and the World. It is probable that this treatise was a kind of manifesto of the highest type of paganism prevailing at that time, and it is evident that its author was an initiate of the Mysteries."
[p. 171]
At this point, Gardner launches into an extended commentary on the contents of Sallustius' "Pagan Manifesto", with lengthy quotations from several sections of that work. (Gardner uses the English translation of classicist Gilbert Murray, the full text or which is available online in several places, including the blog of yours truly here. The translation was originally published in Murray's Five Stages of Greek Religion.) At the end of this, having given a fairly detailed summation of selected aspects of Sallustian Paganism, Gardner then states:
"Now the thing that will, I think, strike most the consciousness of the reader who is well versed in the teaching of the higher type of spiritualist and occult circles generally is not the antiquity of this teaching of Sallustius, but its startling modernity. It might have been spoken yesterday. Further, it might have been spoken at a witch meeting, at any time, as a general statement of their creed .... [T]he spirit of his teaching, the spirit of the Mysteries of his day, which is also the spirit of the beliefs of the witch cult, is timeless."
[p. 174]
There can be no doubt whatsoever that Sallustius' "Pagan Manifesto" was thoroughly polytheistic. In fact, the opening words of the manifesto declares that it is addressed to "Those who wish to hear about the Gods." Here is a quote from section VI:

"Of the Gods some are of the world, Cosmic, and some above the world, Hypercosmic. By the cosmic I mean those who make [ποιοῦντας] the Cosmos. Of the hypercosmic Gods some create [ποῖουςι] Essence, some Mind, and some Soul. Thus they have three orders; all of which may be found in treatises on the subject.

Of the Cosmic Gods some make the world be, others animate it, others harmonize it, consisting as it does of different elements; the fourth class keep it when harmonized.

These are four actions, each of which has a beginning, middle, and end, consequently there must be twelve Gods governing the world.

Those who make the world are Zeus, Poseidon, and Hephaistos; those who animate it are Demeter, Hera, and Artemis; those who harmonize it are Apollo, Aphrodite, and Hermes; those who watch over it are Hestia, Athena, and Ares.

One can see secret suggestions of this in their images. Apollo tunes a lyre; Athena is armed; Aphrodite is naked (because harmony creates beauty, and beauty in things seen is not covered)."

In addition to the twelve Olympians mentioned above, Sallustius also speaks of Asklepios, Dionysos, the Charities, and Kronos, and he also makes frequent references to the Daemons who occupy a place between humans and the Gods. In addition, Sallustius also insists that the Gods must be worshipped properly in the traditional manner. In other words, the Paganism of Sallustius is a seamless continuation of the traditional polytheism of the Greek and Roman civilizations.

But recall that according to Gardner, as quoted above, all of what Sallustius says "might have been spoken yesterday. Further, it might have been spoken at a witch meeting, at any time, as a general statement of their creed .... [T]he spirit of his teaching, the spirit of the Mysteries of his day, which is also the spirit of the beliefs of the witch cult, is timeless."


Suggestions for further reading:
  1. Thomas Taylor on the Religion of Socrates
  2. Beauty, Nature, Divinity, Secrets
  3. Sallustius, Gardner & Wicca: "A general statement of their creed."
  4. Gerald Gardner, Sallustius, and the Problem of Evil
  5. Gerald Gardner, Sallustius, and Reincarnation
  6. "Divested of their garments"
  7. "On the Nature of the Gods and the Cosmos" (full text)
  8. Plotinus In Defense of Polytheism
  9. More on Plotinus on the Gods
  10. Hinduism, Paganism, & Polytheism

Friday, March 30, 2012

When did the Village Voice stop pimping child sex slaves?

Ace reporter Kirsten Powers (a FOX News "Democrat" pundit and a regular on the O'Reilly Factor) has now jumped onto the bandwagon of a truly McCarthy-esque smear campaign against the Village Voice. Writing for the Daily Beast (where she recently helped to launch the "hey what about Bill Maher, Matt Taibi, Chris Matthews, etc " meme to provide some much needed left-cover for Rush Limbaugh when he was catching hell for calling Sandra Fluke a slut) Powers accuses the Village Voice of being "Sex-Slavery Facilitators".


Supposedly, Kirsten Powers (and others) are shocked, shocked, to find "adult" ads in the Village Voice. But, to state the painfully obvious, there is nothing new about these ads, or the controversies surrounding them. What is new, though, is that for the past year, the Voice has been running a series of investigative reports exposing the junk science, fuzzy math, and powerful religious organizations behind the overblown moral panic over "sex-trafficking".

I have already recently blogged about this (Counting Sex Slaves: Moral Panics, the Mass Media, and Christian Propaganda). In that post I showed that the investigations of the Village Voice on this issue are based on solid research, and that the Voice's articles closely parallel what has been written by a variety of scholars and activists who have raised very serious doubts about the wildly exaggerated claims of the sex-slavery mongers.

And now here is a selection of some of the highlights of the Village Voice investigative series on sex-trafficking.

If Pirate Jenny worked at Starbucks, etc.

Angela Carole Brown

Frauke Bröcker


with a mask


perfectly understated

pefectly non-understated

if pirate jenny worked at starbucks

"Every normal man must at times be tempted to spit on his hands,
hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats."

H. L. Mencken

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.

Theoretical Archaeology is a Foreign Country

In her recent Pomegranate article, Researching the Past is a Foreign Country: Cognitive Dissonance as a Response by Practitioner Pagans to Academic Research on the History of Pagan Religions (link), archaeology graduate student Caroline Tully presents a cartoonishly simplistic vision of academia as a noble sodality of high-minded truth-seekers whose selfless devotion to the furtherance of human knowledge is only matched by the refinement of their table manners. Such naïveté is perhaps excusable (and, in fact, probably inevitable) in a graduate student such as Tully, but eventually she is going to have to grow up and discover that the Academy, and her chosen field of archaeology in particular, is very different from this fairy tale. And when that happens, she will be able to learn first hand just what "cognitive dissonance" is really all about.

In the real world, modern archaeology is a faction-riddled theatre of ideological struggle. But the reality of scholars heatedly disagreeing with each other on every point of theory and interpretation (and often even the facts), with competing camps taking turns as the dominant party which must constantly fight off both old rivals and newcomers, rather deflates Tully's fictional narrative in which scholars serenely and univocally instruct the untutored in How Things Really Are.

Below is a very nice overview of the current state of affairs in the field of Archaeology, from Professor John Bintliff of Leiden University. Bintliff's observations concerning "post-processualism" are especially relevant, because one of the major proponents of that theory is Ian Hodder, who makes a brief but very illuminating appearance in Caroline Tully's aforementioned paper. (Fair warning: this is rather heavy on the "inside baseball", but that is unavoidable.)

"To the present day the discourse in archaeological theory has been one of competing dominance. Just as New Archaeologists dismissed the formerly dominant culture history version of the romantic tradition, so in turn the revival of romanticism in the guise of post-processualism proclaimed the misguidedness of the New Archaeology. Thus Matthew Johnson's Archaeological Theory: An Introduction (1999), for all its stimulating content, is primarily a propaganda vehicle for the virtues of post-processualism and the inadequacies of processualism.

"As someone who has experienced all these traditions from the inside--as a university student taught by and encouraged to study the leading exponents of culture history, at the same time as young lecturers were distracting us with the first publications of the New Archaeology, then in later years to observe how these young rebels were consigned to old fogey status by post-processualists--any balance seems sorely lacking. When David Clarke (1973) in a heavily cited paper entitled Archaeology: The Loss of Innocence claimed that processualism was about to achieve an absolute purity of method and theory, free of previous ideology and bias, he was as far from the truth as other intellectual gurus within processualism and post-processualism who offered their borrowed finery from Continental traditions to garner serious recognition from other disciplines. The reality has been a succession of ideologies, driven by a desire of each generation of new scholars in Western society to assume the high status of their predecessors through the simplest method--replace the previous orthodoxies with others and remove the latter from serious consideration (the strategies of bibliographic exclusion and scholasticism) . . . .

The fact that (as in geography) whole sectors of archaeology have settled into divergent philosophies, with Paleolithic specialists by and large remaining positivist and Darwinian, Classical, and Near Eastern archaeologists remaining attached to Cultural Historical aims, while later Prehistory and European post-Roman archaeology are the playgrounds of postmodernism, highlights a practical need to re-create a unified discipline without the demand for [ideological] victory or surrender. Nonetheless, the attraction to each generation of displacing their teachers by moving the intellectual goalposts is a good deal easier than building on the past work to sharpen and improve it, which offers less easy fame and an uneasy dependence on older scholars. One source of motivation is the potential for integrating the works of stimulus and skill by generations older than the recent schools with the knowledge of the important achievements of culture history, processual and post-processual scholarship."
[John Bintliff, "History and Continental Approaches", in Handbook of Archaeological Theories, Alta Mira, 2007, pp. 154-155]

This is just a sampling of Bintliff's wide ranging survey of Theoretical Archaeological. If you read the whole thing you'll find he has much more to say about post-processualism, Wittgenstein, Marx, Nietzsche, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, etc. Also highly recommended is the Introductory chapter, in the same volume, by R. Alexander Bentley and Herbert D. G. Maschner.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Caroline Tully and the "Internet Smear Campaign" Against Ronald Hutton. meh.

In a recently published "opinion" piece in the Pagan Studies academic journal, The Pomegranate (link), Caroline Tully makes the following rather alarming claim:

"Pagans who dislike British historian Ronald Hutton’s book The Triumph of the Moon have participated in an internet smear campaign against him, motivated by [Ben] Whitmore’s attempted criticism of Hutton’s work."

The only other critic of Ronald Hutton that Tully mentions in relation to this supposed "smear campaign", besides Ben Whitmore, is Carla O'Harris, who is quoted as saying: "Hutton is a second-rate hack-artist whose cult is completely undeserving." (That is a quote from the comments section of a post over at Chas Clifton's Hardscrabble Creek blog: Arguments without Evidence—or without Ethos?)

Although Tully's paper claims to be based on Pagan responses to "academic research on the history of Pagan religions", she provides no further elucidation on this supposed "smear campaign" against Ronald Hutton, nor does she point us to any other sources where we might learn more about what, precisely, this smear campaign consists of.

Since Tully has failed so miserably in even the most basic scholarly task of data gathering, I have taken the trouble to put together a list of links (thirty three of 'em, so far) to some of the responses (both positive and negative) to Ben Whitmore's book Trials of the Moon (as well as links to responses to the responses). Personally, if there is a smear campaign in there somewhere, I don't see it.

Before getting to that list, though, I just want to point out how unintentionally appropriate it is that an article with the phrase "cognitive dissonance" in its title was written by someone who spews ludicrous accusations about an "internet smear campaign" while, in almost the same hyperventilated breath, claims to be trying to "defuse antagonism"!

Of all the items in the list below, by far the one that strikes me as the most important and substantial is Max Dashu's very thoughtful and detailed review (link #11, below).

  1. Trials of the Moon (book by Ben Whitmore, first published Nov. 10, 2010). Much of Whitmore's book is freely available as a pdf here (download after the jump)
  2. Ronald Hutton - Shibboleths and Moonshine? Frater Barabas, Nov 12, 2010 positive review
  3. Trials of the Moon: a brief critique Peg Aloi, Nov 21, 2010
  4. Book Review: Trials of the Moon by Ben Whitmore Star Foster, Nov 21, 2010
  5. Arguments without Evidence—or without Ethos? Chas Clifton, Dec 10, 2010
  6. From Witch to Archaeology PhD Caroline Tully, Dec. 13, 2010
  7. Some Furor Over Trials of the Moon from Frater Barabas, Dec 17, 2010
  8. The New Witch War by Donald Michael Kraig Dec. 20, 2010. Kraig attempts to defend Hutton while maintaining an even-handed tone. Kraig's historical arguments are potted and unconvincing, but his commitment to civil discussion is admirable if pedantic and superficial (and, in truth, also potted and unconvincing).
  9. Beginning to set the record straight a positive review of "Trials" at amazon by Gaius Cornelius Tacitus Jan 5, 2011
  10. Also, here are all Amazon reviews of Whitmore's book (4 very positive, one very negative)
  11. Reopening the Case for Historical Witchcraft Max Dashu, Jan 21, 2011
  12. Finally a Feminist Historian's Take on Whitmore's Critique of Hutton Feminist/Pagan blogger extraordinaire Hecatedemetersdotir recommends Max Dashu's review, while offering some very cogent thought of her own. Jan. 26, 2011
  13. A review of Ben Whitmore’s "Trials of the Moon: Reopening the Case for Historical Witchcraft" Stasa Morgan-Appel at the aquakerwitch blog Feb. 4, 2011. Very positive but basically just an endorsement of Max Dashu's review.
  14. Interview with Ben Whitmore by Star Foster (Feb 8, 2011)
  15. "Methodological Flaws in Recent Studies of Historical and Modern Witchcraft." A reissued online version of Don Frew's 1998 article with a new Introduction by the author, Feb 8, 2011
  16. Discussion at the Wild Hunt Feb 8, 2011
  17. Barking at the Moon by Fritz Muntean April 7, 2011. Essentially a vicious personal attack on Ben Whitmore
  18. Interview with Professor Ronald Hutton by Caroline Tully, May 20, 2011
  19. Ronald Hutton: Pagan God or "Continuum" Trickster? David Griffin May 22, 2011. Very critical of Hutton.
  20. Wicca, Ronald Hutton and a mystical experience by Peregrin Wildoak at the magicoftheordinary blog May 24, 2011. A breathless encomium by an adoring fan of Ronald Hutton.
  21. Peg Aloi reviews Ben Whitmore's book Trials of the Moon in June, 2010 issue of The Pomegranate
  22. More discussion at the Wild Hunt June 7, 2011
  23. Hutton and the Writing of Witchcraft History Frater Barabas once again. June 9, 2011
  24. Wicca, the Golden Dawn and the Revelation of Love by peregrin at the magicoftheordinary blog, June 11, 2011
  25. The Pomegranate & The Pagan Knight (Reply to Ronald Hutton) Another contribution by David Griffin, this time stating that "it would appear that, eleven long years after Triumph first appeared, Dr. Hutton may finally have learned his lesson." June 14, 2011
  26. Perceptions of Scholarship in Contemporary Paganism by Christine Hoff Kraemer Nov. 22, 2011 Worth reading as an overview of some of the debates around "Triumph of the Moon", but basically just a knee-jerk endorsement of Hutton.
  27. A follow-up interview with Professor Ronald Hutton by Caroline Tully, Feb. 15, 2012
  28. The Wrath of Q & The Return of Ronald Hutton another one by David Griffin, March 1, 2012
  29. Response to “Researching the Past is a Foreign Country" by erska at the nakedoak blog, March 11, 2012
  30. Of Pagans, Scholars, and Cognitive Dissonance from the PaganPerspective blog, March 14, 2012
  31. Cognitive Dissonance: It’s Not Just For Pagans! by Alex Summner, March 23, 2012
  32. Interview with Caroline Tully by Jason of the Wild Hunt March 25, 2012
  33. Aradia and the Revival of Modern Witchcraft another one from the pagan-perspective blog, although this one only mentions Whitmore and his book in passing, March 27, 2012

At the risk of repeating myself, I will now once again list some of my own blog posts which happen to mention Ronald Hutton:

The Old Religion: Getting Beyond the Noise
  1. Part One: Two Myths
  2. Part Two: "A very specific historical claim"
  3. Part Three: The Recantations of Ronald Hutton
  4. Part Four: "A Different World" (Recantations, Part Deux)
  5. Part Five: More on "A Different World" (Recantations, Part Trois)
  6. Part Six: Huttonian Triumphalism (Recantations, Part Quatre)
  7. Part Seven: The Recantation of Ronald Hutton, The Final Episode [parts 5, 6 & 7 are not done yet]
  8. Part Eight: 21st Century Pagans on the Old Religion
  9. Part Nine: Coeval With Time [this part is also still to come]

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 Versus the Witch of Endor:
  1. A question for Ronald Hutton
  2. Ronald Hutton: Witches Are "Inherently Evil"
  3. Ronald Hutton vs The Witch of Endor
  4. Witchcraft: Black and White in Color
  5. "Maleficia Ad Sanandum": Healing By Means of Witchcraft
  6. Christina Larner on the Meaning of "Witchcraft"
  7. Margaret Murray has been completely rejected by everyone ... except for everyone who has not completely rejected Margaret Murray.
  8. Margaret Murray's Thesis "Contained A Kernel Of Truth" (Carlo Ginzburg)
  9. "In the name of the Father, the Son, King Arthur, and Queen Elspeth."
  10. The Strange Case of Emma Wilby and the Wise & Cunning Witches of Britain

"The Good Witch Must Also Die"

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"Christianity is at fault here": Jean La Fontaine on the Kristy Bamu case

"In their present form, beliefs in witchcraft are not 'traditional' – changes since earlier times are obvious. Modern beliefs see the power of witchcraft as emanating from evil spirits that possess the witch and endow him or her with the power to harm. This belief in possession by evil spirits has been promulgated in Africa by western missionaries of fundamentalist, particularly Pentecostal, Christian beliefs."

Below is the complete text of Jean La Fontaine's March 1 column in the UK Guardian on the subject of the Kristy Bamu torture-murder case (link to original). La Fontaine is an anthropologist who has made extensive investigations of modern allegations of "Satanic Ritual Abuse", and is the author of Speak of the Devil: tales of Satanic abuse in contemporary England.

There are some important criticisms I could make of La Fontaine's position. In particular she is simply wrong about the meaning of the Lingala word "kindoki", which is not synonymous with "spiritual evil", and in it's traditional usage can refer to spiritual power that can be either ambiguous or decidedly positive and beneficial, in addition to referring to malefic magical power. Fontaine also overemphasizes the specific role of "fundamentalist" and Pentecostal Christianity, whose Satan-mongering and Witch-hunting are solidly based (in both theory and practice) in both Catholicism and Mainline Protestantism. That being said, La Fontaine gets the most important things right.

And if you are unfamiliar with the tragic story of the death of Kristy Bamu, here is a link to an article that goes over the case, but it is not pleasant reading.

- - - - - - - - - -
The case of Eric Bikubi and Magalie Bamu that has just ended at the Old Bailey has drawn public attention to one form of diversity that is not celebrated in London. The spotlight has settled on ideas of witchcraft that seem to have been the motivating force behind the savage attacks on young Kristy Bamu that finally deposited him, semi-conscious in a bath of water where he drowned.

Kindoki, the Lingala word for witchcraft, is one of hundreds of words denoting spiritual evil in the hundreds of African languages spoken wherever Africans live. It has no special primacy over other such terms and may not even be understood outside a handful of states in west central Africa. However, beliefs in witchcraft are widespread – in town or countryside – and are also in present in Europe, where Africans have migrated in the last 50 years. They are a means of explaining the unequal distribution of good and bad fortune, and the occurrence of otherwise inexplicable misfortune.

As with some of the more extreme Scottish Protestants, coincidence does not exist: the hand of either God or Satan may be seen in every event. To many Africans, this evil power is witchcraft. In some areas of Africa, where civil wars and economic disasters have left society in disarray, the numbers of allegations have amounted almost to epidemics of accusations. The Congo and southern Nigeria can be particularly singled out, but accusations occur almost everywhere. Not all are taken seriously, but many are. Some are taken to pastors for exorcism, other people attempt their own.

In their present form, beliefs in witchcraft are not "traditional" – changes since earlier times are obvious. Modern beliefs see the power of witchcraft as emanating from evil spirits that possess the witch and endow him or her with the power to harm. This belief in possession by evil spirits has been promulgated in Africa by western missionaries of fundamentalist, particularly Pentecostal, Christian beliefs. It has enabled Africans to retain a modified version of their former beliefs in witchcraft, obtaining the approval and support of Satan-hunting Christians whose life is dedicated to the pursuit of evil. New churches, started by Africans with a self-proclaimed "divine mission", have sprung up everywhere.

These churches do not "control" witchcraft beliefs, although they encourage and profit from them. Nor is it true to say that it is only as witchcraft escapes from the control of the church that it becomes evil; witchcraft is evil from the beginning. Some people may feel protective of Christianity, but Christianity is at fault here. The pastors of independent African churches may identify children as witches (for a fee) and are prepared to "cure" them (for a further fee) by exorcising the evil spirits. Such exorcisms are often violent; beating and the use of cold water to cleanse and purify the possessed being is common in many Congolese churches and elsewhere in Africa, too.

A recent change is the accusation of children, who may be singled out by parents or other caretaking adults for a variety of reasons that distinguish them from among others in the household: bad dreams, bed-wetting, children who are cleverer or stupider, who have different likes and dislikes – almost anything can be the symptom of a possessing evil spirit. Often, the accused are outsiders – either stepchildren or refugees in the chaotic postwar Congolese state; trafficked children or child soldiers.

Once suspected, the "witch" must usually be made to "confess". Denial of accusations is not acceptable, but ensures further efforts are made. Much of the violence of exorcisms in the African-led churches may be the result of attempts to force "confessions" from suspects. Many children are easy to persuade. During the panic about Satanic abuse, it became obvious that children's answers to questions under pressure were unreliable evidence: children may agree that they are witches to end their ordeals. Violence may also be used to induce the evil spirit to leave the body of the possessed. It must be understood that to believers, even the body of a small child that has been identified as a witch is no longer a human being, but a shell within which a frightening demon or other spirit is lurking. If this dwelling is made sufficiently uncomfortable then the spirit will leave. Fasting, abstention from all liquid, lack of sleep are all ordeals designed to facilitate confession and force the evil spirit out of a purified body. It is the spirit that is being attacked, not the person.

Most African politicians do not see the issue of child witches as of primary importance, although the state governor of Akwa Ibom state in Nigeria has passed a law making it illegal to accuse a child of witchcraft (unfortunately with very little effect). Some politicians believe they are suffering a scourge of witchcraft, and understand the problem quite differently. Most NGOs and charities are struggling fruitlessly to find countermeasures, but short of peace and prosperity – which no one can provide – there seems little effective action that can be taken other than rescue and care for the victims.

Monday, March 19, 2012

‘the great majority of accusations of ritual murder – common as they are throughout the continent – are unfounded’

This post picks up where the recent post Countering The Big Lies Against African Traditional Religion left off. That post was little more than a list of links. Here I will be almost as lazy, but instead of merely posting links, I will actually go to the trouble of copying and pasting some of the good stuff at the other end of one of those links.

The link I have chosen is Bizarre Rumors, by Adam Kuper, Chair Anthropology, Brunel University, retired (published on the London Review of Books blog, January 12, 2010). The comments section of Kuper's blog post turned into a forum for other anthropologists to air their frustration and disgust at the racist misrepresentations of Africa in the western media in general, and in one BBC Newsnight "report" in particular (Witch-doctors reveal extent of child sacrifice in Uganda, which aired the first week in January, 2010).

There's much more at the link, including responses by Tim Whewell and others at the BBC, attempting to defend themselves.

Most African herbalists cause no more damage than dispensers of alternative medicines on our high streets. Every now and then, however, a sinister practitioner will advise a very special client that while roots and animal parts are useful, the most potent medicines are made from human blood, liver, spleen and heart. Yes, it is dreadful, he whispers, but there are unscrupulous people about, and I have heard that your rival is in the market for the stuff. What choice do you have? When one big man is persuaded, his peers are immediately alerted. In consequence medicine murders tend to crop up in clusters, the clients typically rich and powerful men. The anti-human sacrifice and trafficking unit of the Uganda police recorded 26 cases in 2008 and 28 in 2009, and a number of suspects were brought to trial.

Enter Tim Whewell of the BBC’s Crossing Continents programme. He found a Pentecostal preacher, Polino Angela, who claims to have murdered his own son and dozens of other children for potions. He has repented and is crusading against ‘witch-doctors’. Curiously untroubled by the police, he tells Whewell that he hopes for an amnesty from the government. In the grand tradition of generations of British missionaries crusading against barbarism, Whewell follows the repentant Angela, in the garb of a Pentecostal prophet, as he traipses through the bush destroying ancestor shrines.

The BBC swallowed the dubious story whole, broadcasting it on Newsnight, and endorsing all sorts of bizarre rumours: ‘it is widely believed’ that bodies are buried under new buildings to ensure prosperity etc.

Whewell has his own theory about these horrors. Convinced, quite wrongly, that medicine murder is ‘something new’, and that children are the preferred victims, he notes that paradoxically these horrors come ‘just as Uganda is becoming more modern’. Perhaps, he reasons, it is actually connected to modernity – born of greed spawned by consumerism.

Medicine murders are rare – after all, only the very powerful can get away with them – but the poor have more immediate worries, and these are sometimes translated into fears of witches. At times of drought, war and disease, anti-witchcraft movements may sweep the countryside, now often led by Pentecostal preachers. (The individuals fingered by Angela for the BBC are at risk of vigilante violence.)

Whewell confuses belief in spirits with belief in witchcraft, and when a Ugandan cabinet minister tells him that evil spirits really do exist, he fails to register that this is a Christian doctrine, eagerly propagated by local and visiting preachers. The current priority of Uganda’s evangelicals is a crusade against homosexuality. Egged on by American activists, they have persuaded the government to draft a bill that imposes life imprisonment for homosexuality, and the death penalty for aggravated cases, such as the grooming of minors by school-teachers.

There are important stories here. Anthropologists and local intellectuals are following them closely. Our media should treat them with the same care as stories of child abuse in religious communities in Ireland or Jersey or the Orkneys.
Adam Kuper
Chair Anthropology, Brunel University, retired

Prof. Adam Kuper’s riposte to Newsnight’s piece on ‘child ritual murder’ in Uganda is remarkable in its contrast with the report by BBC journalist Tim Whewell. Where Whewell presents to us – without so much as a shred of evidence – lurid and sensationalist tales derivative of 19th century clichés of the Dark Continent, Kuper’s comments stand out for their clear exposition of the facts, and also for pointing out the unintended ironies of Whewell’s report: his endorsement of real evangelical violence as a fillip against imagined witchcraft violence. The BBC reporter’s willing participation in iconoclastic shrine-torching and his manipulation of local rumours for a Western audience are reminiscent of the worst kind of colonial evangelism, and his unquestioning endorsement of the accusations he elicits represent an open invitation to would-be vigilantes and lynch-mobs.

Prof. Kuper could have emphasized still further that the great majority of accusations of ritual murder – common as they are throughout the continent – are unfounded. The fact that similar accusations commonly made against alleged sorcerers include turning people in zombies, visiting people in their dreams as a means of ‘eating’ them, thus causing the victims to fall ill in waking life, and engaging in nocturnal flight by means of home-made airplanes (to name but a few), should give Whewell pause for thought when gruesome mass-murders are alleged. The fact that impossible accusations of witchcraft activity abound should suffice to cast doubt on the apparently possible accusations.

Nor is ‘confession’ any form of evidence: alleged sorcerers regularly endorse accusations made against them as a mark of their power and efficacy as healers, and vulnerable members of society are easily coerced into confessing to witchcraft. Whewell’s gullibility regarding the literal veracity of child-murder allegations is clearly irresponsible and dangerous for those he accuses, but his uncritical journalism is potentially still more harmful if the BBC should choose to post him to other parts of Africa. In Kinshasa, it is currently not adults who are accused of killing children, but children who are accused of killing adults. One shudders to think what the consequences would be if Newsnight were to report uncritically on these children’s ‘ritual murders’ as fact.

But the greatest harm that this sort of reporting does is perhaps not to Africa, but in Britain, where it spreads disinformation and perpetuates and revives myopic prejudices. By means of precise, long-term, empirical research, academic experts on Africa in British Universities have been working to rid society of such prejudices for decades, but while public broadcasters throughout Europe regularly invite cultural experts to comment on current events abroad, the BBC seem positively averse to this free resource on their doorstep. Why, when they enjoy an assured public subsidy, do they feel the need to stoop to such sensationalist rumour-mongering?
Nicolas Argenti
Senior Lecturer, Social Anthropology, Brunel University

This is not the first time that BBC’s Newsnight has broadcast an inaccurate and misleading story about northern Uganda. Last time, following a barrage of complaints, the Newsnight editor of the time accepted that errors had been made. It would seem, however, that no lessons were learned. The new exotic trip by Newsnight to the region was presented as no more than an interlude in the serious news, sandwiched between the problems with the snow and a speech by President Obama. No space was made to comment on the remarkable revelations and allegations that had been made about ‘primitive’ Africans. What was the purpose of showing it? It clearly was not really about presenting facts and trying to interpret them. Was it because such salacious tales have a ready audience in the UK?

I agree whole-heartedly with Adam Kuper’s points about what was shown. It is nonsense to suggest that the Newsnight reporter is the first person to have visited these kinds of shrines. It is also singularly unhelpful to use the term witchdoctor in such a generalised way, muddling it up with diverse beliefs about spirits and the equally diverse practices of local healing. The Christian churches have been waging a campaign against ‘pagan’ and ‘satanic’ practices in various parts of Uganda for decades, and have been involved in destroying all sorts of ritual objects and places. This is a far more complicated situation than the report suggests. There are, for example, big differences between different kinds of shrines. Also, so called ‘witchdoctors’ are often themselves closely linked with Pentecostal Christian sects.

Those of us who research on Uganda and other parts of Africa are well aware that shocking things linked to ideas about spirits and witches do occur – from the mass killing of millenarian Christians at Kanungu, to the activities of Joseph Kony, to the new mechanisms of ‘democratic’ witch-cleansing in which church groups and local political leaders target and violently persecute accused individuals. There have also long been rumours about the killing of children, albinos and rich men for ritual use of body parts and cannibalism. Certainly some murders do occur, as they do in all societies. Also, as Adam Kuper explains, they sometimes occur in clusters. But a few horrific incidents go a long way in spreading mass panics and all tales need to be treated with caution. In common with this case from among the Ugandan Langi people, they are likely to be as much about asserting certain ideas about moral probity as presenting facts.

It is entirely appropriate for the BBC to cover sensitive issues in Africa. But surely the same standards of journalism that apply in the UK should also apply to Uganda. These events are, literally, a matter of life and death. They are not appropriate for exotic diversions on a flagship news programme.
Tim Allen
Professor of Development Anthropology
London School of Economics

Having struggled with badly informed and sensationalist-driven journalists since the very day I began my research in Uganda in 1997, Tim Whewell still managed to take me by surprise. Needless to say, perhaps, I agree with the critique of Kuper, Argenti and Allen, and I only want to add to their comments by way of quoting another anthropologist, Michael Taussig, and his classic description of the construction of the colonial mindset. Whewell’s story is nothing but an example of the “colonial mirror which reflects back onto the colonialists the barbarity of their own social relations, but as imputed to the savage or evil figures they wish to colonize.”
Sverker Finnström
Associate Professor (cultural anthropology)
Stockholm University and Uppsala University

Tim Whewell’s response on this blog to Adam Kuper’s initial critique of his reporting from Uganda has a familiar ring to anyone, like myself, who has delved into historical accounts of “ritual murder” in Africa. The evidence of his report (he claims) is “powerful and compelling” because it comes from distressed witnesses and victims, or reputable authorities (in this case “the parents of mutilated and murdered children” and Ugandan medical and law enforcement agencies). He takes scepticism regarding the actual evidence as lack of sympathy for the victims or lack of respect for the authorities. In effect, he wonders how in such emotionally distressing circumstances anthropologists could be so unfeeling as to prioritise speaking truth to power over emotional responsiveness to acutely distressing circumstances. Well, the answer is that its our job. We work on cases where exactly the kind of evidence that has so convinced Tim Whewell evaporates in the colder light of hard analysis and further data gathering. My experience of this analytical task makes me curious about what happened to the (allegedly human) liver he filmed? I presume Tim Whewell informed the Ugandan police of his suspicions, and handed over the evidence, and that forensic analysis has since established whether it was human in origin or not. No anthropologist denies the Orwell hypothesis – that widely believed myths are sometimes put into practice in disordered times. But anthropologists are also aware of lynchings and witch burnings where emotional distress, and the misguided attention of authorities willing to pander to popular superstition in the interests of public order, lead to huge miscarriages of justice. Even in colonial times in Africa wiser heads sometimes prevailed. The British in Sierra Leone believed evidence of witnesses and mutilated bodies pointed to “cannibalism” killings for body parts until the Attorney General in 1911 noticed that although witnesses in court repeatedly described in graphic detail the four clawed device made by village blacksmiths for “leopard men” to kill their victims and rip out their entrails, no one had ever produced this device in court. In the same country, penises ripped off young boys were repeatedly ascribed to the murderous work of “baboon men”, until it was established that the damage was compatible with attacks by chimpanzees. The British then stopped executing prisoners battered into confessions of ritual murder. It was not until the advent of post colonial politics that this “crime” was revived, in a climate of political despotism that later drove the country into civil war. Anthropologists are right to be sceptical about “evidence” that can have such massively damaging long-term consequences. Tim Whewell wonders whether Adam Kuper would be “so dismissive if similar evidence came from the British police or other British authorities or agencies”. In turn, I would suggest that Tim Whewell re-reads press accounts of the “Satanic abuse of children” cases in Britain about two decades ago, and then turns to the (government commissioned) investigation undertaken by the distingsuihed anthropologist Jean Lafontaine. He might then see his own work in a different light.
Paul Richards
Emeritus Professor, Wageningen University, The Netherlands

Friday, March 16, 2012

Counting Sex Slaves: Moral Panics, the Mass Media, and Christian Propaganda

This is a very bare bones post. It's just a list of suggested reading on the subject of the "human trafficking" meme. The list is definitely slanted toward skepticism, but not (quite) exclusively so.

If you want to get right to the good stuff, then I suggest you wade into (a) Stopping Traffic by Liz Kelly and Linda Regan, 2000 (link #22 in the list below), (b) Reconceptualizing Approaches to Human Trafficking by Kathleen Kim & Grace Chang, 2007 (link #14), (c) Ronald Weitzer's The Social Construction of Sex Trafficking, 2007 (link #15), and (d) the interview with Nandita Sharma and Jessica Yee by Robyn Maynard titled Sex work, migration and anti-trafficking, 2010 (link #6).

On the other hand, if you want the quick and dirty version then I suggest you look for the following names in the list below: Nick Davies, Rahila Gupta, Bruno Waterfield, and Cathy Young.

  1. The New Christian Abolition Movement Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor, Feb. 5, 2012
  2. The Super Bowl Prostitution Hoax: Indianapolis mobilizes for an epic battle with an urban legend by Pete Kotz, Thursday, Feb 2 2012 (this is the most recent installment in an ongoing Village Voice series: The Truth Behind Sex Trafficking: A Village Voice Investigative Series)
  3. Human trafficking and the sex trade: Faith groups mobilized ReligionLink.Com June 14, 2011
  4. Women's Funding Network Sex Trafficking Study Is Junk Science By Nick Pinto Thursday, Mar 24 2011, PhoenixNewTimes
  5. The launching of the CNN "Freedom Project" By Alex Weprin,, March 9, 2011
  6. Sex work, migration and anti-trafficking: Interviews with Nandita Sharma and Jessica Yee by Robyn Maynard • Jul 1, 2010, Briarpatch Magazine
  7. “40 000 prostitutes” – how rumours and lies become fact Brett Davidson, wingseed (a media advocacy blog), March 19 2010
  8. "Stop this illicit trade in bullshit stories"! Bruno Waterfield, spiked-online, March 18 2010
  9. Another Exaggerated Sex-Trade Stat Carl Bialik, WSJ, October 23, 2009
  10. Sex trafficking is no illusion [response to Nick Davies, see below] Rahila Gupta,, Tuesday 20 October 2009
  11. Prostitution and trafficking – the anatomy of a moral panic Nick Davies, The Guardian, Monday 19 October 2009
  12. Inquiry fails to find single trafficker who forced anybody into prostitution Nick Davies, The Guardian, Monday 19 October 2009
  13. The Truth of Trafficking Rahila Gupta, Guardian, April 2009
  14. Reconceptualizing Approaches to Human Trafficking: New Directions and Perspectives from the Field(s) Kathleen Kim & Grace Chang, Loyola Law School, Dec. 2007
  15. "The Social Construction of Sex Trafficking: Ideology and Institutionalization of a Moral Crusade" by Ronald Weitzer, Politics & Society 35(3):447–475, September 2007.
  16. Exposed: the myth of the World Cup ‘sex slaves’ by Bruno Waterfield,, Feb. 14, 2007
  17. "Prostitution panic" by Ronald Weitzer, American Sexuality (online journal), February 9, 2006.
  18. "The growing moral panic over prostitution and sex trafficking" by Ronald Weitzer, The Criminologist 30(5):1,3–5, September/October 2005. (Also see Weitzer's webpage at George Washington University:
  19. 'Human Trafficking': Exploiting Misery and Creating It, review by Tom Shales, Washington Post, Oct. 24, 2005
  20. Human Trafficking: The Miniseries starring Mira Sorvino and Donal Sutherland, first aired on Oct. 24 2005
  21. Think Again: Human Trafficking David A. Feingold, Foreign Policy Magazine, August, 2005
  22. Was story about sexual trafficking exaggerated? By Cathy Young, Boston Globe, Feb. 9 2004
  23. Stopping Traffic (pdf) Liz Kelly and Linda Regan, 2000

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Countering the Big Lies against African Traditional Religion

Below is a list of academic writings by anthropologists and other scholars who have taken up the Augean labor of sorting fact from fiction concerning the farrago of lurid stories about child sex-slaves, cannibalism, human sacrifice, albino murder, organ harvesting, etc, emanating from Africa. And then below that is another list of investigative reports that have exposed some of the hoaxes, wild exaggerations, and journalistic malfeasance behind these stories (I will probably add more items to these lists over the next day or two):
  1. ‘Child sacrifice’ in Uganda? The BBC, ‘witch doctors’ and anthropologists Pat Caplan, emeritus professor of Anthropology, Goldsmiths, University of London (published in Anthropology Today, April 2010)
  2. Bizarre Rumors, by Adam Kuper, Chair Anthropology, Brunel University, retired (published on the London Review of Books blog, January 12, 2010)
  3. Ritual Murder? Jean La Fontaine, London School of Economics (published on the Open Anthropology Collective blog, March 2 2011)
  4. Scotland yard in the bush: medicine murders, child witches and the construction of the occult: a literature review by Terence Ranger, emeritus fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford (published in the journal Africa, 2007)
  5. Imagining the Dark Continent: the Met, the media and the Thames torso by Todd Sanders, associate professor Anthropology, University of Toronto (published in Cambridge Anthropology, January 2003)
  6. Save Our Skins: structural adjustment, morality and the occult in Tanzania by Todd Sanders (published in the volume Magical interpretations, material realities: modernity, witchcraft and the occult in postcolonial Africa, Psychology Press 2001)
  7. The Fetishization of Albinos in Tanzania by Caroline Ackley, University of Chicago grad student (unpublished manuscript, December 2010)
And here are some examples of actual investigative journalism: