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