Friday, June 15, 2012

"There have been Witches in all ages."

One of the things that most irritates some modern Pagans about Ronald Hutton is his refusal to admit to the simple fact that there have always been people like us. Pagans living in the 21st century were, as a general rule, not only not born in Pagan cultures, but we were born and raised in an environment openly hostile to Paganism.

In many ways, modern "secular" culture is, in fact, even more antithetical to Paganism than the cultures of medieval Christendom. And yet we have managed, somehow, to find our ways back to the old Gods. To many modern day Pagans it is inconceivable how anyone could deny that even during the darkest of the Dark Ages, at least some people managed to do the same.

As to evidence, there is evidence galore. There is, literally, evidence "high" and "low". That is to say, there is (1) evidence that the masses of European common-folk remained merely "nominal" Christians who were, in their hearts, still "submerged" Pagans (to use the terminology of the modern scholar of anthropology and missiology Alan Tippett), up to the Early Modern period, and there is also (2) plenty of evidence of Paganistical shenanigans among learned (but not, in many highly significant cases such as Marsilio Ficino, Cornelius Agrippa, and Giordano Bruno, by any stretch of the imagination "aristocratic") Mages, Kabbalists, Hermeticists, Rosicrucians, Alchemists, etc. And there is overwhelming evidence of overlap and interaction between "high" and "low" Paganisms, to the point where such a division becomes completely artificial and highly misleading.

The title of this post is taken from the title of Chapter Two of Gerald Gardner's 1954 book Witchcraft Today. That chapter is full of speculations about the history of Witchcraft that have not necessarily stood the test of time (and advances in scholarship) well. But Gardner would have no problem with that, as he makes clear, for example, when discussing his "impression" that the Witch Cult in Britain was the original religion of the pre-Celtic peoples of those isles, and that the Cult slowly changed under the influence of Celtic ideas. For immediately after relating this theory of his, Gardner states matter-of-factly "This is simply a wild guess on my part .... of course, the reverse may have happened; it may have been an orthodox Celtic cult into which more primitive beliefs and practices infiltrated ...."

Here endeth the lesson.