Sunday, May 26, 2013

Remembering Widukind on Memorial Day

In honor of Memorial Day I present this old post previously (12/19/10) published on this blog as Widukind & the Saxon Resistance to Christianity (and if I do say so myself, this is the single most important resource on Widukind, who in turn is the single most important figure in the history of the Heathen resistance to Christianization, available anywhere on the Internet in the English language):

"All denounced Widukind as the instigator of this wicked rebellion."
Annales regni Francorum

The fierce Saxon opposition to Christianization is inseparably identified with the name of a Westphalian nobleman: Widukind. He is to the Saxons what Geronimo is to the Apache, or Sitting Bull to the Lakota, or Quanah Parker to the Comanche, or Tecumseh to the Shawnee.

It should really be no surprise that, despite the class divisions discussed in the first post in this series, the leadership of the Saxon resistance would fall to a member of the warrior elite (and one who also had strong ties to the warrior nobility of the Danish Heathens as well). If missionaries found a more receptive response among the aristocratic edhilingui than among the lower classes, that is nothing more than a reflection of the strategy pursued by the Christians themselves. This strategy focussed on first currying favor with Pagan nobles, who were then employed to do the dirty work of imposing the new religion on their inferiors. Whatever limited success this strategy might have enjoyed among some members of the Saxon upper class, others proved ready to fight for their old Gods in a sacred war that united all Heathen Saxons in a way that transcended mere distinctions of social standing and wealth.

Considering his central importance to European history, Widukind is a relatively little known figure in the English speaking world, even among Heathens and Pagans. For example, in their History of Pagan Europe, Jones and Pennick mention Widukind but once, and then only to remark upon his eventual baptism! [p. 127]

Here is a list of some works in English that discuss Widukind more than in passing:
  1. The English translation of Charlemagne: Father of a Continent by Italian historian Alessandro Barbero (2004).
  2. Peter Brown's The Rise of Western Christendom (2003, 2ed).
  3. A paper by American historian Eric J. Goldberg, The Saxon Stellinga Reconsidered (1995).
  4. The anthology The Continental Saxons From Migration to the Period of the Tenth Century, edited by Dennis Howard Green and Frank Siegmund, which contains a chapter devoted to The Conversion of the Old Saxons, by John Hines, professor of history at Cardiff (2003).
  5. Early Carolingian Warfare: Prelude to Empire by Bernard S. Bachrach (2001).
  6. Eric J. Goldberg has also written a book-length study titled Struggle for Empire: Kingship and Conflict under Louis the German, 817-876, in which he treats extensively with the Stellinga Uprising, but, because of the period covered, does not have much to say directly about Widukind (2006).
  7. The 1905 English translation of Hans Prutz' The Age of Charlemagne, which, while obviously at least somewhat dated, has quite a bit to say on the subject of Widukind, and is very useful so long as one is also looking at more recent scholarship as well.
  8. Also, there are translations available of the primary sources, including the Royal Frankish Annals. A recent edition is Carolingian Chronicles, by Bernhard Walter Scholz and Barbara Rogers.
The remainder of this post will consist of excerpts from the first four works mentioned above. No attempt has been made to reduce the amount of overlap (or just plain repetition) between these excerpts, or with the material already presented in the other posts in this series (or elsewhere in this blog).

From Alessandro Barbero's
Charlemagne: Father of a Continent:

It was a ferocious war in a country with little or no civilization, with neither roads nor cities, and entirely covered with forests and marshland. The Saxons sacrificed prisoners of war to their Gods, as Germans had aways done before converting to Christianity, and the Franks did not hesitate to put to death anyone who refused to be baptized. Time and again the Saxon chiefs, worn down by war with no quarter, sued for peace, offered hostages, accepted baptism, and undertook to allow missionaries to go about their work. But every time that vigilance slackened and Charles was engaged on some other front, rebellions broke out, Frankish garrisons were attacked and massacred, and monasteries were pillaged. Even the border regions of the Frankish kingdom were not safe. In 778, when Saxons found out that the king and his army were engaged on the other side of the Pyrenees, and would not be able to return before many weeks of forced marches, they appeared in the Rhine Valley. Local commanders had great difficulty in containing them, and then only after much devastation and plunder.

During the period of these rebellions, the figure of a single leader emerged from among the Saxon ranks. His name was Prince Widukind, and his authority was acknowledged by all the tribes. Just at the time when Charles felt confident that he had pacified the region and gained the loyalty of the Saxon nobles, it was this leader who triggered the most spectacular rebellion by wiping out the Frankish forces hurriedly sent to confront him on the Suntel Mountains in 782. Beside himself with anger at the treachery that had also cost him the lives of two of his closest aides, his chamberlain Adalgisile and his constable Geilo, Charles bround in a new army and forced the rebels to capitulate, with the exception of Widukind, who took refuge with the Danes. The Saxons had to hand over their arms and then, when he had them in his power, he had 4,500 of them decapitated in a single day at the Verden on the Aller, a tributary of the Weser. This episode produced perhaps the greatest stain on his reputation.

Several historians have attempted to lessen Charle's responsibility for the massacre, by stressing that until a few months earlier the king thought he had pacified the country, the Saxon nobles had sworn allegiance, and many of them had been appointed counts. Thus the rebellion constituted an act of treason punishable with death, the same penalty that the extremely harsh Saxon law imposed with great facility, even for the most insignificant crimes. Others have attempted to twist the accounts provided by sources, arguing that the Saxons were killed in battle and not massacred in cold blood, or even that the verb decollare (decapitate) was a copyist's error in place of decolare (relocate), so ther prisoners were simply deported. None of these attempts has proved credible ....

In reality, the most likely inspiration for the mass execution of Verden was the Bible. Exasperated by the continual rebellions, Charlemagne wanted to act like a true king of Israel. The Amelkites had dared to raise their hand to betray God's people, and it was therefore right that every last one of them should be exterminated. Jericho was taken all those inside had to be put to the sword, including men, women, old people, and children, even the oxen, sheep, and donkeys, so that no trace would be left of them. After defeating the Moabites, David, with whom Charles liked to compare himself, had the prisoners stretched out on the and ground, and two out of three were killed. This, too, was part of the Old Testament from which teh king drew constant inspiration, and it is difficult not to discern a practical and cruelly coherent application of that model in the massacre of Verden. Besides, the royal chronicler wrote a few years later, the war against the Saxons had to be conducted in such a manner that 'either they were defeated and subjugated to the Christian religion or completely swept away.'

In the years that followed 782, Charles conducted a war of unparalleled ruthlessness. For the first time, he wintered in enemy territory and systematically laid the country to waste to starve the rebels. At the same time, he had published the most ferocious of all the laws enacted during his life, the Capitulare de partibus Saxonie, which imposed the death penalty on anyone who offended the Christian religion and its clergy, and in reality it constituted a program for the forced conversion of the Saxons. We can only shudder as we read the sections of this law that condemn to death those who fail to observe fasting on Friday, thus reflecting a harsh Christianity far removed from the original message of the New Testament [bollocks]. Yet we should be careful not to put the blame for this barbarity onto the times in general. The Capitulare de partibus Saxonie is one of those provisions by which an infuriated general attempts to break the resistance of an entire people through terror, and Charles must bear the moral responsibility, like the many twentieth-century generals responsible for equally inhuman measures. It is more important to emphasize that the edict provoked criticisms among Charles's entourage precisely because of its ruthlessness. Particularly severe criticisms came from Alcuin, the spiritual adviser he most listened to.

The policy of terror and scorched earth initially appeared to pay off. In 785, after the Franks has ravaged the country as far as the Elbe, Widukind was obliged to capitulate, and he presented himself at the palace of Attigny in France to be baptized. The king acted as godfather. Pope Adrian congratulated the victor and ordered thanks to be given in all the churches of Christendom for the new and magnificent victory for the faith. But the baptism imposed by force did not prove very effective. In 793 the harshness of Frankish government ferocity provoked another mass insurrection in the northern regions of Saxony, which had been more superficially Christianized. 'Once again breaking their faith,' according to the royal chronicler, the Saxons burned churches, massacred clergymen, and prepared yet again to resist in their forests.

Charles intervened with now customary ferocity, indeed with even more drastic and frighteningly modern measures. Rather than limit himself to devastating the rebel country and starving the population, he deported them en masse and planned the resettlement of those areas with Frankish and Slav colonists. However, he was an able politician and soon understood the need to modify his approach to the problem. He intensified his contacts with the Saxon aristocracy and sought out their collaboration. At a large assembly in Aachen in 797, he isssued on their advice a new version of the capitulary that was considerably more conciliatory than the previous one. This twin policy proved immediately effective, because it guaranteed almost definitively the collaboration of the Saxon nobles with the new regime. Eigil, the monk at Fulda monastery who wrote the account of Abbot Sturmi's life, stated during those very years that Charles had imposed Christ's yoke on the Saxons 'through war, persuasion, and also gifts,' demonstrating that he well understood how a new flexibility had made it possible to integrate those obstinate Pagans into the Christian empire.
[pp. 44-48]

The Rise of Western Christendom by Peter Brown:

Charlemagne proved to be a man of truly "Napoleanic" energy and width of vision. He was constantly on the move and constantly planning. In one year alone (in 785) he covered 2,000 miles, pacing the frontiers of his new dominions. Such energy boded ill for the Old Saxons. The fate of the Pagan Saxons was crucial to Charles' new concept of Christian empire. Not only were Saxons Pagan, they were a surprisingly aggressive warrior confederacy whose raids affected precisely the areas in central Germany werhe Frankish settlement and a Frankish style of life had begun to be established.

As had once been the case along the Roman limes, so now in the eighth century, part of the danger posed by the Saxon challenge came from the fact that Franks and Saxons had drawn closer to each other. Saxon noblemen had already come to adopt a large measure of Frankish customs. Yet, like King Radbod [of Frisia], they clung all the more tenaciously to Paganism so as to differentiate themselves from the Franks. It was all the more essential for the prestige of the Carolingian family that the Saxons, who come to adopt so much of Franksih ways, should be declared to be outside the pale as Pagans, and that, as Pagans, they should be well and truly defeated.

In 772, Charlemagne led the Franks into Saxony. They were said to have desecrated the great intertribal sanctuary of the Irminsul, the giant tree which uphead the world. They rode home again, with much plunder, in time for the hunting season in the Ardennes. Next spring the Franks were in northern Italy. In 774, Charles became king, also, of the Lombards. He even made a short visit to Rome. It was the first time that a Frankish king had set foot in Rome. It was also the first time since the fifth century that a western ruler of such power had been greeted in Rome with the sort of elaborate ceremonies which the Romans know so well how to put on. Charles entered Saint Peter's and, next day, was led through the gigantic basilica churches of the city. In return, Charles proved to be a generous donor. An influx of Frankish silver marked a dramatic recovery in the fortunes of the popes, which was made plain by an unprecedented boom in buildings and repairs.
But it was in Germany, and not in Italy, that Charles showed himself to be a ruler as determined to be obeyed in all matters as any Roman emperor had been. The Saxon war was fought along the same routes into northern Germany as had been taken the legions of Augustus. But this time, unlike Augustus who lost his legions in the Teutoburger Wald, Charlemagne won. It was an unusually vehement war, characterized by the storming, one after another, of well-defended hill-forts. The very flexibility of the kingless society of the Old Saxons prolonged the misery. Total surrender of the Saxons as a whole was impossible. Fifteen treaties were made and broken in 13 years. One Saxon nobelman, Widukind, was able to avoid submission for decades on end. He fled to the Danes and involved even the Pagans of Frisia in his resistance.

For a decade, and entire Frankish order was challenged in the north. Charles found himself forced to take over more territory than he had, perhaps, at first intended to do. He pressed on from the Weser to the Elbe, entering the northern healthlands as far as the Danes. The populations of whole areas were forcibly relocated. In 782, he had 4,500 Saxon prisoners beheaded at Verden, southeast of Bremen....
In 785, Widukind finally submitted and accepted Christian baptism. In the same year, Charles issued his Capitulary on the Region of Saxony. A Capitulary was a set of administrative rulings "from the word of mouth of the king," grouped under capita, short headings. These were very different in their brusque clarity from the long-winded rhetoric of Roman imperial edicts. They registered, in writing, the invisible, purely oral shock wave of the royal will. The royal will was unambiguous. In theory at least, the frontier was now definitively closed. No other rituals but those of the Christian Church could be practiced in a Frankish province.
"If anyone follows pagan rites and causes the body of a dead man to be consumed by fire ... let him pay with his life.

"If there is anyone of the Saxon people lurking among them unbaptized, and if he scorns to come to baptism and wishes to absent himself and stay a pagan, let him die."
A small body of clergymen (notably Alcuin, a Saxon from Boniface's Britain, who was himself connected with the family of Willibrod) were challenged by the brusqueness to restate, more forcibly than ever before, a view of Christian missions which emphasized preaching and persuasion. But, in fact, when it came to Charlemagne's treatment of the Saxons, most later writers took no notice of Alcuin's reservations. They accepted the fact that, as befitted a strong king, Charlemagne was entitled to preach to the Saxons 'with a tongue of iron' -- as a later Saxon writer put it without a hint of blame. Force was what was needed on a dangerous frontier. Education began, rather, at home. IN the reigns of Charlemagne and his successors, a substantially new Church was allied with a new political system, both of which were committed, to a quite unprecedented degree, to the "correction" and education of their subjects.
[pp. 431-433]


From Eric J. Goldberg's The Saxon Stellinga Reconsidered:

Charlemagne's conquest of Saxony was a momentous turning point that overthrew the distinctive political structures and Pagan culture of the Saxons. Before the conquest, Franco-Saxon relations had been a checkered history of wars, alliances, and Saxon payments of tribute. By the 770s Charlemagne resolved to incorporate Saxony into his growing empire, apparently in order to settle once and for all border disputes with the Saxons. The result was a series of wars, raids, treaties, and rebellions between 772 and 804 through which Saxony south of the Elbe was gradually incorporated into the Frankish empire. In the oft-quoted words of Einhard: "No war ever undertaken by the Frankish people was more prolonged, more full of atrocities, or more demanding in effort." This was a war of conquest and conversion. Charlemagne equated Saxon submission to Frankish rule with the acceptance of Christianity; according to one Franksih author, Charlemagne resolved "to persevere until the Saxons had either been overcome and subjected to the Christian religion or totally exterminate."

Charlemagne's conquest of Saxony actually fell into two distinct phases (772-85 and 792-804) separated by a seven-year armistice (785-92). Between 772 and 785 the war followed a similar annual pattern: almost every year a group of Saxons revolted and attacked a Frankish church, army, or fortress; the Frankish army then invaded Saxony and put down the rebellion without much difficulty; Charlemagne next negotiated with Saxon optimates and primores; and finally Charlemagne exacted oaths of fidelity and hostages from the Saxons and supervised mass baptisms. Between 777 and 785 Widukind, a Saxon Westphalian nobleman, and his socii repeatedly provoked these Saxon rebellions and eluded the clutches of the Franks by seeking refuge in Denmark. In the end Charlemagne bribed Widukind into submission: in 785 Widukind accepted baptism, and the king of the Franks received him "from the font and honored him with magnificent gifts." By 780 Charlemagne began to extend the Frankish church hierarchy into Saxony. After a series of mass executions in 782, Charlemagne abolished the Old Saxon pagus administration under chieftains and implemented the Grafschaftsverfassung (system of countships) common to the rest of the Frankish kingdoms. This new administration placed Saxony under the governance of comites selected from the Saxon nobilissimi. By 785, therefore, Charlemagne had incorporated all of Saxony south of the Elbe into the Frankish kingdom. After a seven-year peace between 785 and 792, the Saxons revolted again, but this time primarily in the regions north of the Elbe. After a series of military expeditions, Charlemagne finally ended the northern war by deporting all Saxons north of the Elbe and in Wihimondia (the northern regions between the mouths of the Aller and Elbe) to Francia.

Charlemagne practiced two main strategies that proved crucial for his success in the wars against the Saxons. First, he secured key strategic locations, such as Eresburg, Paderborn, and Lippspringe, He also confiscated extensive lands along the Hellweg, the main east-west Saxon road between the Rhine and Paderborn, to ensure communication and troop movement in and out of Saxony. Second, as alluded to above, Charlemagne followed a policy of enticing the Saxon edhilingui with bribes and gifts to accept Christianity and Frankish overlordship, as in the case of his chief opponent, Widukind. As Egil (822) wrote in his Vita Sturmi, "The kind ... converted the greater part of that people to the faith of Christ partly through wars, partly through persuasion, and also partly through bribes." Clearly the prospect of appointment to newly created Saxon countships must have convinced many nobilissimi to ally with Charlemagne.
[pp. 475-476]


From John Hines' The Conversion of the Old Saxons, found in The Continental Saxons From Migration to the Period of the Tenth Century, Green and Siegmund, eds.

The conversion of the Continental Saxons in the late eighth century stands out as an extraordinarily well defined flashpoint in European early medieval history . . . . The story of the conversion of the Saxons, enforced by the sword in accordance with Charlemagne's imperial political ambitions, is a brutally clear and stark one. While recognition of the vital place political methods and political motives held in the advance of Christianity in medieval Europe is commonplace, the Saxon case is so pure an example of this as to be paradoxically both extreme and typical at the same time (cf. Fletcher 1997:258, in a slightly different context: "Saxony may be the exception which proves the rule"). In the course and aftermath of the capitulation of the Saxons one can observe a thoroughly efficient replacement and reform of previous communal institutions: a cultural revolution, designed to make Saxonia an obedient and profitable part of the Carolingian empire.
[p. 299]

The first Saxon capitulary, probably of the mid-70-'s, ferociously compelling Christian observance and outlawing paganism, offers some remarkable views of alleged pagan ritual practices. Divination and soothsaying (divinos et sortilegos) are condemned (para 23) ... The cremation of the dead is condemned as a pagan practice ... Three known deities are named -- for renunciation -- in a baptismal formula of the ninth century: Wodan, Thunaer and Saxnot. Woden/Odinn and Thunor/Thorr to given them their Old English and Norse names, are highly familiar, and were evidently major deities of the pre-Christian Angl0-Saxson religion (Hines 1997; Turville-Petre 1964). Saxnot, 'companion of the Saxons', is clearly specific to the Saxons, although of sufficient antiquity to be included in Old English form, Saxneat, at the head of the genealogy of the relatively minor East Saxon royal dynasty.
[p. 303]

What then do we know of Widukind and his supporters? The sources offer no direct testimony as to his policies of motivation, setting aside the Revised Annals' presumably fictional and certainly derogatory allusions to the selfish self-interest of a criminal. There is, however, just enough additional information to allow us to make political sense of Widukind. A crucial point appears to be that he could act with a refuge in Scandinavia -- and thus presumably with the connivance and support of the Danish king. Widukind was thus fighting to be part of one politico-religious system -- non-Christian and north Germanic -- rather than another, the Carolingian empire. As represented in both Saxonia and Scandinavia, this preferred system was socially less rigidly hierarchical than the Frankish one, and this would very plausibly be one of its attractions to Widukind. Loyalty to, or a preference for, that which was traditional and familiar would not be ruled out either, as long as there was, or appeared to be, real scope for this choice. What we do not see here is any evidence of the more sophisticated political strategy whereby Christianity may be accepted, but leaders would prefer to accept it from a distant source, not an overbearing neighbor. (cf. Mayr-Hrting 1994:5-9). Sources such as Einhard's Vita Karoli scorn the Danish king Godfred's apparent ambition to emulate Charlemagne, and certainly in terms of any idea of wresting Charlemagne's empire from him it would have been absurd (Einhard, XIV). But a Danish king and the Frankish emperor were more closely comparable than one might think. The strength, capacity and ambitions of the Scandinavians were to be made manifest, in the course of the following century, in a vast Viking 'empire', albeit one that was only haphazardly organized or co-ordinated in political terms.

A cult of warfare and violence, focussed primarily on the Gods Óðinn and Þórr, became central to Viking ideology and motivation. In this context, it is difficult not to believe that Widukind, the leader of pagan resistance, was more than simply a secular nationalist or regional if not personal freedom fighter but a religious leader of some sort -- perhaps taking on some of the familiar characteristics of the traditionalist 'prophet' emerging to lead resistance to imminent Christianity.
[p. 306]

Friday, May 24, 2013

What Is Paganism?

Below are collected together some of my better past attempts to address the question: "What is Paganism?"

  1. "Those that are most stubborn and unbending She assails...."

    "It is only evil fortune that discovers a great exemplar."

  2. Paganism, B.C. (Before Christianization)

    "[O]n a fundamental level the various religious traditions of the [Roman] empire had more similarities than differences."

  3. Hic sunt dracones

    "If long passage of time lends validity to religious observances, we ought to keep faith with so many centuries, we ought to follow our forefathers who followed their forefathers and were blessed in so doing.... let me continue to practice my ancient ceremonies, for I do not regret them. Let me live in my own way, for I am free."

  4. Paganism is not a European religion

    "One thing that confounds and obstructs our ability to understand modern Paganism's deep connections with the past is the pervasive and pernicious idea that Paganism is European."

  5. Paganism has always been a Magical Religion

    "Apuleius denies very few of these allegations outright, and argues instead that his accusers have misinterpreted his actions, which in fact result from his philosophical and religious interests."

  6. Paganism was not born yesterday

    "Modern Paganism has roots going back to well before the reign of Constantine, back to a time when Christianity as we know it today had not yet come into being. And we have every reason to take pride in these roots: we have the staggering philosophical accomplishments of Ammonius, Plotinus, Porphyry and Iamblichus; the intimate and magical religion of Apuleius of Madaurus and Apollonius of Tyana; the enduring prose of Longus and Heliodorus; the esoteric poetic extravagance of Statius and Valerius Flaccus, etc. We also have the principled calls for religious tolerance from Celsus and Julian, who spoke from positions of relative power with respect to the Christians, whose rights they defended."

  7. Thomas Taylor on the Religion of Socrates

    "'I have often wondered,' says that historian and philosopher [Xenophon], 'by what arguments the Athenians who condemned Socrates persuaded the city that he was worthy of death. For, in the first place, how could they prove that he did not believe in the Gods in which the city believed? since it was evident that he often sacrificed at home, and often on the common altars of the city. It was also not unapparent that he employed divination. For a report was circulated, that signals were given to Socrates, according to his own assertion, by a daemoniacal power; whence they especially appear to me to have accused him of introducing new daemoniacal natures. He however introduced nothing new, nor any thing different from the opinion of those who, believing in divination, make use of auguries and oracles, symbols and sacrifices.'"

  8. "detached from the masses and usually disempowered"

    "It can be difficult to grasp the significance of Newton's accomplishment - but it is also possible to overstate just how 'revolutionary' it was. Stoic philosophers, going back to Zeno of Citium, who died 19 centuries before the publication of Newton's Principia, had always argued that the entirety of the physical universe (inclusive of "celestial" objects) is everywhere governed by one set of universal principles. And centuries before Zeno, Pythagoreans had already concluded that all of the cosmos is governed by mathematical relationships, and that these relationships can be discovered by conducting experiments."

  9. Thinking Like a (Pagan) Scientist

    "More than 20 centuries ago it was well known that the earth is a sphere. In fact, Cicero, in his famous Dream of Scipio, written in 51 BC, describes the polar, equatorial and temperate climate bands that circle the earth.

  10. Religions of the Library

    "This logos has been held not only by the sages among the Jews, but by the wise men of the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Indians, Persians, Odrysians, Samothracians, and Eleusians. The Galactophagi of Homer, the Druids of Gaul, and even the Getae (for example) believe logoi very close to those believed by the Jews -- indeed, before the Jews. Linus, Musaeus, Orpheus, Pherecydes, Zoroaster the Persian, and Pythagoras understood these logoi, and their opinions were recorded in books which are still to be consulted."

  11. Religions of the Library, Part Deux

    "There are 774,746 words in the combined Old and New Testaments of the King James Bible. The Buddhist 'canon', then, is roughly 70 times larger than the entire Christian canon, and fully 300 times larger than the New Testament (which has a mere 181,253 words)."

  12. Paganism is Indigenous and very, very old -- but it is not limited to "Europe", and it is not "Ethnic"

    "Modern Paganisms' roots are as wide as they are deep. No one can deny the strong influences of the pre-Christian religious traditions of Celts, Germans, Balts, Slavs and others on modern Paganism. But at the same time no one can with any justification deny the Egyptian, Phrygian, Semitic, Chaldean and other 'non-European' influences that are an integral part of modern Paganism. Just as the influence of Greco-Roman Paganism, which straddled Asia, Africa and Europe, cannot be questioned."

  13. Paganism is not a European religion, Part Deux

    "Only relatively recently, however, have scholars recognized the extent to which ancient peoples, as well, were exposed to a diversity of religions, both indigenous and imported -- or even, indeed, acknowledged that ancient peoples were exposed to a diversity of cultural influences of any kind. The historical reasons for this failure are political and ideological, as well as intellectual, among which three are especially interesting, as Walter Burkert and other scholars have shown ...."

  14. Honoring Our Pagan Ancestors

    "And not only the people of Britain, but the very land itself appears to have resisted Christianization, for even when the souls of its human inhabitants were being harvested by the missionaries with waning resistance, fresh Heathen reinforcements would arrive on her shores, as if called forth by the sacred stones and forests themselves, now that they were being deprived of their rightful worship."

  15. Hypatia (Honoring our Pagan Ancestors, Part Two)

    "Although she [Hypatia] represents all that is best in Paganism, and he [Cyril] all that is worst in Christianity, it is my opinion that they are each truly representative of their respective religious traditions, and, more specifically, that her brutal murder is also representative of the wider conflict between those two traditions." 

  16. Six Degrees of Charles Darwin

    "Whatever makes any bad action familiar to the mind, renders its performance by so much the easier. As Marcus Aurelius long ago said, 'Such as are thy habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of thy mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts.'"

  17. The Eleusinian Mysteries & The Evolution of Species

    "In the Eleusinian mysteries, the philosophy of the works of Nature, with the origin and progress of society, are believed to have been taught by allegoric scenery, explained by the Hierophants to the initiated, which gave rise to the machinery of the following poem."

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Simon Magus As A Witch In The Wycliffe Bible (1395), The Tyndale Bible (1526), and the Geneva Bible (1599)

Today's text, sisters and brothers, is from the book of Acts, chapter 8, verses 1 through 13.

First, let take a see how Brother Wycliffe translates this passage into Middle English:

1 But Saul was consentynge to his deth. And greet persecucioun was maad that dai in the chirche, that was in Jerusalem. And alle men weren scatered bi the cuntrees of Judee and Samarie, outakun the apostlis. 2 But good men birieden Steuene, and maden greet mornyng on hym. 3 But Saul greetli distruyede the chirche, and entryde bi housis, and drowe men and wymmen, and bitook hem in to prisoun. 4 And thei that weren scaterid, passiden forth, prechynge the word of God. 5 And Filip cam doun in to a citee of Samarie, and prechide to hem Crist. 6 And the puple yaf tent to thes thingis that weren seid of Filip, with o wille herynge and seynge the signes that he dide. 7 For manye of hem that hadden vnclene spirits, crieden with a greet vois, and wenten out. 8 And manye sijk in the palsi, and crokid, weren heelid. 9 Therfor greet ioye was maad in that citee. But there was a man in that citee, whos name was Symount, a witche, that hadde disseyued the folc of Samarie, seiynge, that him silf was sum greet man. 10 Whom alle herkeneden, fro the leest to the moost, and seiden, This is the vertu of God, which is clepid greet. 11 And thei leueden hym, for long tyme he hadde maddid hem with his witche craftis. 12 But whanne thei hadden bileued to Filip, `that prechide of the kingdom of God, men and wymmen weren baptisid in the name of Jhesu Crist. 13 And thanne also Symount him silf bileued; and whanne he was baptisid, he drouy to Filip; and he sai also that signes and grete vertues weren don, he was astonyed, and wondride.

And this is how Brother Tyndale translates the same section about 130 years later:

1 Saul had pleasure in his deeth. And at yt tyme there was a great persecucion agaynst the congregacion which was at Ierusalem and they were all scattered abroade thorowout the regions of Iury and Samaria except the Apostles 2 Then devout men dressed Steven aud made great lamentacion over him. 3 But Saul made havocke of the congregacion entrynge into every housse and drewe out bothe man and woman and thrust the into preson.4 They that were scattered abroade went every where preachyng the worde. 5 Then came Philip into a cite of Samaria and preached Christ vnto them. 6 And the people gave hede vnto those thinges which Philip spake with one acorde in that they hearde and sawe the miracles which he dyd. 7 For vnclene spretes cryinge with loude voyce came out of many that were possessed of them. And manye taken with palsies and many yt halted were healed 8 And ther was great ioye in that cite. 9 And ther was a certayne man called Simon which before tyme in the same cite vsed witche crafte and bewitched the people of Samarie sayinge that he was a man yt coulde do greate thinges 10 Whom they regarded from ye lest to the greatest sayinge: this felow is the great power of God. 11 And him they set moche by because of longe tyme with sorcery he had mocked the. 12 But assone as they beleved Philippes preachynge of the kyngdome of God and of the name of Iesu Christ they were baptised bothe men and wemen. 13 Then Simon him selfe beleved also and was baptised and cotinued with Phillip and wondered beholdynge the miracles and signes which were shewed.

And here is how Brothers Wittingham, Colby, and so forth, translated the same section in the Geneva Bible:

1 And Saul consented to his death, and at that time, there was a great persecution against the Church which was at Hierusalem, and they were all scattered abroad thorowe the regions of Iudea and of Samaria, except the Apostles. 2 Then certaine men fearing God, caried Steuen amongs them, to be buried, and made great lamentation for him. 3 But Saul made hauocke of the Church, and entred into euery house, and drewe out both men and women, and put them into prison. 4 Therefore they that were scattered abroad, went to and from preaching the worde. 5 Then came Philip into the citie of Samaria, and preached Christ vnto them. 6 And the people gaue heed vnto those things which Philippe spake, with one accorde, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7 For vncleane spirits crying with a loud voyce, came out of many that were possessed of them: and many taken with palsies, and that halted, were healed. 8 And there was great ioy in that citie. 9 And there was before in the citie a certaine man called Simon, which vsed witchcraft, and bewitched the people of Samaria, saying that he himselfe was some great man. 10 To whome they gaue heede from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is that great power of God. 11 And they gaue heed vnto him, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. 12 But assoone as they beleeued Philip, which preached the thinges that concerned the kingdome of God, and the Name of Iesus Christ, they were baptized both men and women. 13 Then Simon himselfe beleeued also and was baptized, and continued with Philippe, and wondred, when he sawe the signes and great miracles which were done.

Lastly, for comparison, here it is in the King James version:

1 And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. 3 As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. 4 Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word. 5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. 6 And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. 8 And there was great joy in that city. 9 But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: 10 To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. 11 And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. 12 But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.

The Wycliffe, Tyndale and Geneva Bibles all describe Simon Magus as someone who used "Witchcraft". Moreover, and as a direct result of his "Witchcraft", Simon Magus was greatly admired. It is essential to emphasize that not only did the magic attributed to Simon Magus in the book of Acts have nothing whatsoever to to do with maleficium, but, as a matter of fact, the whole point of the story is that Simon Magus at least appeared to perform precisely the same kind of beneficial magic as that attributed to Jesus and his "Apostles".

From Barnes Notes on the Bible (1834, link):
Greek: μαγεύων mageuōn. Exercising the arts of the "Magi," or "magicians"; hence, the name Simon "Magus." See the notes on Matthew 2:1. The ancient "Magi" had their rise in Persia, and were at first addicted to the study of philosophy, astronomy, medicine, etc. This name came afterward to signify those who made use of the knowledge of these arts for the purpose of imposing on mankind - astrologers, soothsayers, necromancers, fortune-tellers, etc. Such persons pretended to predict future events by the positions of the stars, and to cure diseases by incantations, etc. See Isaiah 2:6. See also Daniel 1:20; Daniel 2:2. It was expressly forbidden the Jews to consult such persons on pain of death, Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6. In these arts Simon had been eminently successful.

From the Geneva Study Bible (1599, link):
He had so allured the Samaritans with his witchcraft that as blind and mad idiots they were wholly addicted to him.

John Wesley''s snarktastic commentary (ca. 1760, link):
8:9 A certain man - using magic - So there was such a thing as witchcraft once! In Asia at least, if not in Europe or America. [Wesley bemoaned the end of the Witch Hunts, and stubbornly opposed those "infidels ... [who] have given up all accounts of witches".]

Indeed, in Justin Martyr's account of Simon Magus it is taken as a perverse point of pride that Simon was "was glorified by many as if he were a god" in Pagan Rome. According to Christianity's world-denying, self-loathing perspective, fame and approval "in this world" are things not only of no value, but worthy only of scorn. Obviously this way of looking at things required some slight modifications after the worldly "triumph" of Christianity (which did not occur for well over a century after Justin). In fact, Saint Justin already reveals, in spite of himself, just how much early Christians eagerly sought after the approval of others. Because, you see, the whole point of the "Apologetic" effort, of which Justin is emblematic, was to improve the public image of the Jesus-cult through a crude aping of the paideia of Hellenism. Once again we see just how essential the human tolerance for cognitive dissonance is for monotheism in general, and the creed making fishermen in particular. But such secondary observations do not take anything away from the clarity of Justin's description of Simon Magus as a man who was held in the highest regard precisely because of his mastery of "Witchcraft".

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

More on "Pagan Fundamentalism"

By now, everyone has heard about Sabina Magliocco's keynote address to the 2013 Conference on Current Pagan Studies: "The Rise of Pagan Fundamentalism." But despite all the ensuing discussion, clarifications, criticisms, and accusations, no one, including most especially Magliocco herself, has been willing (or perhaps able?) to say just who these "fundamentalists" are.

Magliocco has given us some hints, though. In particular she has (very vaguely) defined two specific issues in Pagandom that have given "rise" to this supposed "fundamentalism". Here is how she puts it in her own words (source):
"there have been some discussions, mainly on Pagan Internet blogs and responses to them, which show some of the characteristics of fundamentalism, particularly an insistence on a single correct form of belief, and the demonization of those who hold different beliefs and opinions. These have centered around two hot-button topics: the historicity of Wiccan foundational narratives, and the nature of the gods"
Alas, we are not told where to find these mythical "Internet blogs" in which we can witness for ourselves (that is, instead of just taking Magliocco's word for it) "the demonization of those who hold different beliefs and opinions." Magliocco has repeatedly referred to these "blogs" without ever specifying a single url or naming a single blog or blogger in any other way. On top of that, Magliocco has made sweeping accusations against "a few detractors" (again, unnamed) whom she accuses of waging a campaign of "malicious and untrue rumors", impugning her integrity, and accusing her of being an "infiltrator".

A major problem with Magliocco's fanciful tale of "fundamentalists" who are out to get her, is that she assumes that there exist such things as "Wiccan foundational narratives." But, like her Internet "detractors," these "narratives" are never properly identified. This is, in fact, a very common phenomenon among Pagans, especially that tiny band of "Pagan scholars" who have appointed themselves to be the reformers of modern Paganism. The assumption by these academics and their loyal fans is that, in the words of Ronald Hutton, "Modern pagan witchcraft had, after all, appeared as a movement with a very specific historical claim."

So Magliocco's claim is, in essence, that certain "fundamentalist" Pagans are clinging stubbornly to what Hutton has described as a "very specific historical claim," and what Magliocco describes as "Wiccan foundational narratives." Magliocco claims further, as she must in order to make the label of "fundamentalist" stick, that these Pagans not only believe personally in the "factuality of foundational narratives", but in addition they evince an "insistence on a single correct form of belief," while engaging in "the demonization of those who hold different beliefs and opinions."

Therefore we have a grand total of four unanswered question:
  1. What are the "foundational narratives" of Wicca?
  2. Who today is proposing that these narratives are to be interpreted literally in a way that is inconsistent with historical facts?
  3. Who is insisting that such a literal, ahistorical interpretation is the only legitimate version of the history of Wicca?
  4. Who is demonizing those who disagree with this literal, ahistorical interpretation?
In a follow-up posts I will look more closely at these questions. In the meantime it is essential to emphasize that neither Magliocco nor anyone else has even come close to properly posing these questions, much less made any serious attempt to answer them. The clear implication is that those who are promoting the "Pagan fundamentalism" meme have made no real effort to carefully think through the serious questions they are raising.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

On "Pagan Fundamentalism": Either get specific or Shut The Fuck Up

"I hold here in my hand a list of names of known Pagan Fundamentalists ...."

"There is no doubt that the ancient pagan and medieval Christian worlds defined magic quite differently."

A common trope encountered among the crypto-apologist (aka "neodiabolist") faction of modern scholars of historical Witchcraft is that there is nothing special about the Christian demonization of magic, and that this demonization is in no way unique to Christianity, but is rather a nearly universal feature of human societies. In particular it is claimed that the Christian attitude toward Witchcraft is little or no different from attitudes found today in many non-European societies and also little or no different from attitudes about magic found in the ancient Roman world prior to its Christianization.

The definitive presentation of this thinly disguised attempt to exonerate the Christian religion from any direct responsibility for the early modern Witch-hunts is found in Wolfgang Behringer's 2004 book Witches and Witch-Hunts: A Global History. In fact, this revisionist, exculpatory narrative can be considered the main thesis of, and the whole raison d'être, of Behringer's book.

But, and quite obviously so, something out of the ordinary occurred in Europe during the three plus centuries from the Valais Witch-hunts in the early 15th century to the gradual petering out of trials and executions for Witchcraft well into the 18th century. Otherwise why all the fuss? And just as obviously, there are of course very real, qualitative differences between the Pagan and Christian attitudes towards magic. Fortunately, many contemporary scholars are well aware of these basic facts, and are willing to write about them, although they are not so willing to directly challenge Behringer and other crypto-apologists, at least not out in the open.

Below is an excerpt from a paper by Michael D. Bailey of Iowa State University on The Meanings of Magic, in which Bailey takes on, sort on, the specific claim of equivalence between Pagan and Christian attitudes toward magic. I say "sort of" because Bailey appears to have lost his nerve somewhere along the way, and as a result he muddies the waters with prevarications that are directly contradicted by everything else he has to say.

In medieval Christian Europe, for example, authorities regularly defined magic as drawing on demonic power, while religious rites, however similar in form or intended outcome, comprised a wholly separate sphere of action because they were believed to draw on divine force.13 Thus tied to Christian demonology, medieval European conceptions of magic became inextricably linked to Christian concepts of heresy, blasphemy, and idolatry, profoundly affecting the ways in which medieval authorities responded to supposed magical practices.

In classical Greece, on the other hand, what modern scholars might label as either ‘‘religious’’ or ‘‘magical’’ rituals were often conceived as evoking the same sources of power (frequently spiritual entities called daimones). Within this range of powerful and effective practices, mageia referred quite precisely to foreign cultic rites, specifically those of Persian priests or magoi. In its etymological origins, the Western term ‘‘magic’’ was defined first by simple geography. Because the foreignness of mageia carried dark and sinister connotations, the term gradually became extended to include many illicit, covert, or private rites performed by Greeks themselves, but opposed to the publicly approved civic cults of the Greek poleis. Yet mageia in this sense was not simply ‘‘religious’’ ritual transported out of the confines of public cults, for the ancient world knew private cults, particularly familial ones, as well as prophets and priests who operated outside of clear cultic sites. Such people might arouse more suspicion than temple priests, but they were not automatically magoi.

There is no doubt that the ancient pagan and medieval Christian worlds defined magic quite differently. As Christianity rose to dominance in the world of late antiquity, conceptions of magic underwent a profound shift that Valerie Flint has characterized as a ‘‘demonization.’’ Christian thinkers transformed classical daimones, creatures of often ambivalent morality, into demons, fallen angels, and servants of the devil who were inherently evil and inimical to humanity. Yet although classical and Christian culture had very different ways of separating magical operations from proper religion and cultic practices, they each posited such a division, and even described it in some of the same ways. In both pagan antiquity and medieval Christian Europe, the term ‘‘superstition’’ meant excessive or improper devotion or ritual practices. In fact, early Christian authors took the word superstitio directly from late-Roman usage. While to the Romans, Christianity was superstitious, in the Christian context a major element of superstition was the improper performance of rituals in honor of demons. This definition encompassed magic, but also the rites of all pagan cults. While this radical redirecting of superstition highlights the opposition between Christian and pagan culture, it also demonstrates that both pagan and Christian society, despite their very different understandings of magic, were similar in their identification of sharply differentiated spheres of ritual action.

Here is the full citation for Bailey's article:
"The Meanings of Magic", in Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, Volume 1, Number 1, Summer 2006, pp. 1-23

And here is a link to the full text of the artcle in pdf format:

"They hate me not all." Sorcery and Maleficium in "The Pilgrimage of the Life of Man" (1426)

The Pilgrimage of the Life of Man is John Lydgate's 1426 Middle English translation of Guillaume de Deguileville's Le Pèlerinage de la Vie Humaine (originally written in 1330, followed by Deguileville's own revised redaction in 1355). For more on Deguileville look here:, and for more on Lydgate look here: For the full text of Lydgate's "Englisht" version of Deguileville's work, look here.

Lydgate's Pilgrimage is of interest due to what it has to say about Sorcery and Maleficium, and, more importantly, its starkly contrasting lack of attention to Witchcraft. Here is a portion of the allegorical meeting between "The Pylgryme" and "Sorcerye":

The Pylgryme:

Than I stood in fful gret doute.
And as I tournede me aboute,
Myd off thys Ile that I off tolde,
And euery party gan beholde,
Myd off thys se, lookyng ech way
How I myhte eskape a-way;
And to-for myn Eye I fond
A Maryssh, or elles a merssh lond,
That peryllous was, and ful profounde,
And off ffylthës ryht habounde.
And thyder-ward as I gan hye
A vekkë Old me dyde espye,
Komyng with an owgly cher;
Vp-on hyr hed, a gret paner;
In hyr ryht hand (as I was war,)
An hand kut off, me sempte she bar.
And, or any hede I took,
She kauhte me with a crokyd hooke.
And as she gan me fastë holde,
I axede hyre what that she wolde,
And make a declaracïoun
Off name and off condycïoun.


Quod she: ‘vnderstond me thus;
My namë ys ‘Bythálassus,’
Wych ys to seynë, (who lyst se)
‘A ffamous pereyl off the se,
In wych (wyth-outen any grace)
Allë ffolk that forby pace,
And allë tho that thorgh me gon,
I make hem perysshen, euerychon.
‘And also ek touchyng my name,
I am callyd (by gret dyffame,
As som ffolkys specefye,)
‘Sortylege or Sorcerye.’
Many folkys thus me calle;
And yet they hatë me nat alle;
I am be-lovyd, bothe ffer and ner.
‘And I ber ek in thys paner
(Who that with-Innë lyst to seke)
Many knyves and hoodys ek,
Dyvers wrytës and ymáges,
Oynementys and herbáges,
Gadryd in constellacïouns;
ffor I obseruë my sesouns,
and make off hem elleccyoun
afftir myne oppynyoun.
And ‘Maleffycë’, folkes alle,
Off ryght, they shuldë me so calle.
I have ful many evel vságes
Off drynkës and off beveráges,
Wherby I makë (her and yonder,)
ffrendys for to parte assonder;
ffor, with fals coniurysouns
And with myn incantacïouns,
And many dyuers enchauntëment,
Sondry folk ben offtë shent.
And, with dyuers crafftys ek,
I kan makë men ful sek;
And somme also ful cursydly
ffor to deyë sodeynly.

So far as I know, no modern English version of this work exists, but it is not that difficult to make out the gist of things. "Sorcery" declares her name to be "Bythálassus ... which is to say, a famous peril of the sea." This is a fairly obscure reference, possibly, to the "five perils in the sea", three of which are the much better known Charybdis, Scylla and the Sirens, with the fourth being Bythálassus and the fifth, possibly, is Circe. If you are curious about this, see Katharine Beatrice Locock's Introduction in her The Pilgrimage of the Life of Man: Text Ed. from 3 fifteenth-century mss. in the British Museum.

But then Bythálassus goes on to say that she is also known as "Sortylege or Sorcerye". Under this guise she is held in "gret dyffame" by some, but she proudly insists that "they hatë me nat alle; I am be-lovyd, bothe ffer and ner." She then goes on to explain that she works by means of "diverse words and images, ointments and herbages." I'm not sure what "gathered in constellations" means precisely, but it is obviously a reference to astrology, as is "for I observe the seasons, and make of them elections after my opinion."

Then she declares: "And ‘Maleffycë’, folkes alle, Off ryght, they shuldë me so calle." She then returns to listing her areas of magical expertise, which include the ability to produce various "drynkës" and  "beveráges", and mastery of "coniurysouns", "incantacïouns", and "enchauntëment". With her great magical skills, she is able to curse her enemies with diseases and even cause them to die suddenly.

The important thing in all of this is that we see that the medieval Christian conception of maleficium was not associated with Witchcraft, but rather with Magic generally, explicitly inclusive of divination, potion making, and incantations. It is also quite significant that a close relationship between maleficium and Heatheny is strongly implied by the way in which the Pilgrim's confrontation with Idolatry, in the immediately preceding section, seamlessly transitions to the encounter with diabolical Sorcery.

Monday, May 20, 2013

"The occult orders are full mostly of people who are for the time being in revolt against or not at home with Christianity." (Was/Is the Golden Dawn Christian?)

"Theorists have not been at a loss to explain; but they differ."
Book Four, Part One

It has been observed that the groups and individuals comprising the Western Mystery Tradition can be roughly divided into two streams according to their relationship with Christianity: (1) those whose beliefs and practices are (at most) "only Christian in that they contain some Christianity but do not stress it", as opposed to (2) those who are "primarily Christian but draw on other pre-Christian sources."

The words in quotes are attributed to Gerald Yorke by way of Kathleen Raine's 1969 article Yeats, the Tarot, and the Golden Dawn. So far as I know, Raine's article is the only source for this quote, which she states is from a letter written by Yorke.

Here is the full text of the footnote from Raine's paper containing the quote:

On the question of the degree to which the Society was Christian the experts differ. Mr. Geoffrey Watkins believes that it was strongly so from the first. Mr. Gerald Yorke that A.E. Waite who rewrote the ritual extensively when he broke away from the original Order, was mainly responsible for the Christianization. "Where the G.D. called itself a Hermetic Order, Waite called his version a Roscirucian Order, and the Rosicrucians were always more Christian than the Hermetists. In the original G.D. the Christianized Rosicrucian material did not come until the 5=6 degree in the Inner Order. Here for the first time you find the Calvary cross, but with a rose on it instead of the figure of Christian." This quote from a letter fro Mr Yorke; who further writes: "Now Hermetic Orders as such are only Christian in that they include some Christianity but do not stress it. Rosicrucian orders on the other hand are primarily Christian but draw on other pre-Christian sources. In other words the Hermetists always try to become God in his anthropomorphic or in some instances theriomorphic form. They inflame themselves with prayer until they become Adonai the Lord ... whereas the Christian approached God the Father through Christ (Adonai) but never tried to become Christ, only to become as Christ. Thus the Hermetic (or pagan) approach is as Adonai to order the averse hierarchy about, the Roscirucian approach is to order them about through the grace of Christ or through the power of His name ... Now the G.D. used the pagan formule, the Hermetic formulae and pre- or non-Christian names of power, take from the Hebrew, Greek, Coptic, Egyptian and Chaldean sources. The Rosicrucian substitutes names from the Christian system, from the Christian Trinity, etc. Both systems combine when it comes to the archangels Gabriel, Uriel, Michael and Raphael. They also agree on the Cherubim, Seraphim, etc. The G.D. way of becoming the god is the dangerous one, as it leads at once to inflated ego, witness Mathers and Crowley, et al. The occult orders are full mostly of people who are for the time being in revolt against or not at home with Christianity. When they find that the occult, Hermetic pre-Christian way of doing things at its best is no better than the Christian way, they often find their final home back in Christianity or in Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism. For the major religions are major because they have stood the test of time better. Thus my conclusion is that the Hermetic way of the Golden Dawn is primarily Hermetic and not Christian, since it is reverting to pre-Christian methods and attitudes, but some of the members will have done it all in a Christian way way. I am fairly certain that these were the minority at any given moment and seldom remained in the Order all their lives. But this of course is a personal opinion."

I quote this valuable opinion of Mr. Yorke for the light it throws on the impoderables of an ambience, and emphasis within an Order at best ambiguous. Mr. Watkins's view of the predominance of the Christian emphasis may be founded on the fact that two of the founder-members (not Mathers) were members of the English Rosicrucian Order. As regards Yeats, we must be left wondering, as Thomas Butts wondered about Blake, whether his angels were black, white, or gray; but the colour of the angels themselves may perhaps lie in the eye of the beholder. In any case, from a Catholic point of view the Oder of the G.D. would stand condemned if only on the grounds of the vow of secrecy imposed upon its members.

In my own (decidely inexpert) opinion, the Golden Dawn was so unstable and short-lived precisely because its members included partisans of both camps, as well as others who wavered between the two. And the long term influence of the G. D. might also be due to this chimeric quality, which allows would-be adepts the freedom to project their own attitudes concerning the cult of Jebus onto the theological Rorschach test that was the original Golden Dawn.

Monday, May 6, 2013

"harnessed for good and evil ends" (Malcolm Gaskill on the ambiguity of Witchcraft)

OK, since I gave Malcolm Gaskill such a hard time in a recent post, in this one I will strive to, as the song says, accentuate the positive. In particular I want to give Gaskill credit for the relatively evenhanded approach he takes to the question of the relationship between Witchcraft and malefic magic (evenhanded, that is, at least when compared to many other prominent scholars of historical Witchcraft, which, admittedly, is setting the bar dismally low).

Here, for example, is a sentence from the second paragraph of the Preface to Gaskill's book about John Stearne and Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinders: A 17th Century English Tragedy:
"In this world, one of the strangest and most pervasive beliefs was that in witchcraft: unseen power, thought by many to be diabolical, harnessed for good and evil ends."
A little later on (pp.1-3), when discussing the case of Elizabeth Clarke, who was the first victim of Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne, Gaskill can't quite seem to make up his mind. First he states that a "wise woman". identified as Goodwife Hovey, would have been deemed a Witch by "parish ministers and ecclesiastic courts", but that among the lay public (or at least in the mind of John Rivet), a woman, like Hovey, who was "famed for her skill in healing and divination" would not be seen as a Witch because that designation was reserved for a "hag who visited disaster upon her enemies."

You see, John Rivet's wife was dying, and Rivet had sought the aid of Goodwife Hovey to save her. Hovey, in turn, had informed Rivet that his wife was the victim of a curse. Upon receiving this news, Rivet, or so the story goes, seized upon the idea that the curse was due to one Elizabeth Clarke, an impoverished, one-legged widow who lived alone. Several members of Clarke's family, including her mother, had previously been denounced and executed as Witches, and because of this, according to Gaskill:
"As a legacy of this shame, it is likely that she [Elizabeth Clarke] had been a marked figure all her life, reviled but perhaps also revered among her watchful neighbors." [emphasis added]
Also in his little book Witchcraft: A Very Short Introduction, Gaskill explicitly acknowledges the historical ambiguity of the appellation "Witch". For example, he not only heads one subsection "Healers and Hags", but he also spends some time discussing the specific cases of two women, Elizabeth Mortlock and Appoline Beher, who were sought after as healers, and who found themselves denounced and convicted of Witchcraft because of their practice of beneficial magic

And in his book Crime and Mentalities in Early Modern England , Gaskill provides us with a very significant primary source attesting to the popular usage of the phrase "white witch" in the late 17th century (this was previously noted in my earlier post "The White Witches Of Our Ancestors"):
"Also in 1694, a dispute came to a head between the Crook and Baron families who shared a house at Overhilton (Lancashire). Henry Baron regularly quarelled with James Crook's wife (she had already received a warrant for his good behaviour), and when one of the Baron's calves died suddenly he accused her of witchcraft. On learning that she refused to appear before a JP, Baron was heard to say 'it was ill liveing near a white witch & ... if one did kill a white witch one could not be hang'd for it'. Soon afterwards, he beat her severely and she died. [Words in quotes are from court records dated 16 March, 1694. See Gaskill 2000 for more on the original source.]
This particular point should not be overstated. Gaskill's acknowledgements concerning the ambiguous nature of Witchcraft have the air of a reluctant, half-hearted concession. Clearly Gaskill does not wish to dwell or or draw too much attention to either the positive magic attributed to Witches, or to the positive attitudes about Witches that inevitably resulted from that positive magic. Nevertheless he feels obligated, as indeed he is, to admit the reality of the association between Witches and beneficial magic.

The bottom line is that whenever we encounter other scholars, such as Ronald Hutton, who categorically deny that the word Witch was used during the time of the Witch-hunts to refer to practitioners of beneficial magic, we can call Malcolm Gaskill as a witness to counter Hutton's misrepresentations of the truth.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The "Bought Priesthood" of Historical Witchcraft Scholarship

Most scholars ply their humble trade far away from the public eye, with very little attention ever being paid to their labors outside the narrow confines of their chosen academic niche. Part of the reason for this is that most scholars can barely explain their research to the other experts in their own sub-fields, let alone make themselves understood (much less entertaining) while speaking to the "general" public (i.e. the ignorant masses).

In fact, when we do encounter "scholars" on television, radio, print media, and internet media outlets, these often turn out to be either ancient alien cranks, or, worse yet, card-carrying members of the "bought priesthood".

The term "bought priesthood" might be unfamiliar, but the concept is very straightforward, and the phenomenon itself is sufficiently pervasive that it is easily recognized once you know what to look for. The term is supposed to have originated back in the early days of the American labor movement, but has been revived more recently thanks to Noam Chomsky. The "bought priesthood" is composed of people with genuine academic training (or other legitimate claims to knowledge significantly beyond that of the average layperson) who make themselves available to the mass media as "experts" who can be relied upon to neither ask the wrong questions, nor to give the wrong answers. A "bought priest" is someone who knows, without having it spelled out, what needs to be assumed. And it is precisely in the reinforcement of these assumptions that the bought priests earn their keep. 

It is not an easy job. The bought priest must lend just enough intellectual gravitas to the Dominant Paradigm. Too much simply won't do, especially because the primary goal of all bought priests is to appear regularly on television, and that medium does not mix well with taxing people's intelligence.

The point, however, isn't for all the bought priests to monolithically toe a single party line. Rather, it is their job to delineate the proper boundaries of what one is allowed to think, while maintaining the illusion of having thought of it on one's own. Therefore there are different scripts to be read from depending on whether the opinionating is done on MSNBC, PBS, FOX, CNN, The Comedy Channel, etc (or the Guardian, versus the Telegraph, versus the New York Times, versus the Wall Street Journal, etc).

A few examples might help to clarify all of this. For economists, being in the bought priesthood means never questioning the sacrosanct principles that deficits are bad and balanced budgets are good. For political scientists it means never questioning the two-party system. For foreign policy experts it means never asking why the United States needs so many military bases in other people's countries. For scholars of religion it means framing all religious issues in terms of "God". As previously mentioned, though, some amount of variation on these themes is also part of the game, especially when taking into account the proclivities of one's target audience.

For scholars of historical Witchcraft the following guidelines are expected of those who desire entry into the bought priesthood, thereby opening the door to possible television appearances, being published in the mainstream media, etc:

1. First, and most importantly, one must insist that the Witch-hunts weren't really all that bad after all.
2. Always emphasize the "malevolence" of Witches and either deny altogether or diminish as much as possible any connection between Witchcraft and beneficial magic.
3. Shift the blame for Witch-hunting from the political and religious leaders and institutions of the times, and squarely onto the shoulders of "the people", who, in their ignorance and superstition, "demanded" the execution of Witches, which the princes and priests and pastors only very reluctantly agreed to.
4. And loudly repeat in as many ways as possible that those who were the targets of the Witch-hunts had absolutely nothing to do with Paganism (modern, ancient, or otherwise), and that anyone who thinks such a thing is, at best, a deluded romantic fool.

Bonus points are also awarded for:

a. Mocking feminists.
b. Insinuating a relationship between Paganism and Nazism.
c. Denunciations of Margaret Murray