Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A typical example: "'Witch' is a bad word" (On Tess Dawson on Witches)

I recently happened across an interesting 2012 blog post at Kina'ani, a blog devoted to "Canaanite religion, Natib Qadish, polytheism, and polytheist communities, oracles, and inspiration...". The post in question, by Tess Dawson, is titled, simply enough, "Witch" is a bad word.

Although it's a little dated, the post in question is important to look at not because it says anything new, but because what it says is all too typical and pervasive. Tess Dawson's post perpetuates the insidious notion that Witchcraft is intrinsically harmful and evil, and that all positive associations with Witchcraft are modern, romantic contrivances dreamed up by feminists and/or Wiccans.

What makes Dawson's uncritical repetition of these tired old anti-Witch and anti-Wiccan talking points all the more galling is that she is herself a prominent leader of a modern polytheistic religion (Natib Qadish). That is to say, she should know better.

Here is how Dawson frames her discussion of the historical meaning of the English word "Witch" in the opening paragraphs of her post:

Allow me to clarify: witch is a bad word, i.e. it is a poor word choice for the magic that we do.

For centuries, the word “witch” in English has had a connection with improper use of magic, and even with evil. In recent years, many people who work with magic in the New Age and Pagan communities have tried to reclaim the word “witch” and understand it as a beneficial term despite centuries of use as a malevolent term. In the English language, fewer words mean bad-magic-user quite like the words “witch” and “sorcery” have for generations. As such, scholars of texts exploring Canaanite history, religion, and magic, use the words “witch,” “witchcraft,” and “sorcery” when they translate Canaanite terms which basically mean "bad-magic-user" or "bad-magic". It is ungainly to keep using "bad-magic-user" or "bad-magic" when the terms “witch,” “witchcraft” and “sorcery” are understood to be that.

Why is all this consideration and contemplation over words important? Because there were prohibitions against “witchcraft” and “sorcery,” since these were unlawful forms of magic in Canaan and ancient Mesopotamia. In ancient Mesopotamia, the law went so far as to punish some offenders with death. Let’s take a look at the terms often translated into English as “witch,” “witchcraft” and “sorcery.”

Later on, toward the end of her piece, Dawson claims that anyone who uses the word "witch" in any positive sense is ignoring "the centuries during which 'witch,' 'witchcraft,' or 'sorcery' were evil terms ..."

In the remainder of this post I will not be concerned with Dawson's careless conflation of the very different terms "Witchcraft" and "sorcery". Instead I will focus solely on the words "Witch" and "Witchcraft" and provide a summary of (some of) the evidence that clearly refutes Dawson's contention that "witch" is "an evil term".

First up in the witness box are the authors of The Dictionary of English Folklore, Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud, who begin the entry for the word "witch" in their dictionary as follows:
"The Old English word ‘witch’ meant ‘one who casts a spell’. Intrinsically neutral, it could be applied to those using magic helpfully."
In their entry for "white witch", Simpson and Roud also have this to say:
"This term ['white witch'], together with the equivalent 'good witch', or even 'witch' on its own, might be applied in Tudor and Stuart times to people who used healing spells and performed other useful services."
So, according to these two noted folklorists, going back as far as Old English (a thousand years ago) and all the way up to "Tudor and Stuart times" (bringing us up to the early 18th century) the word Witch was a "neutral" term without any automatic negative (let alone "evil") connotations, and which was definitely used to refer to "those using magic helpfully", including "people who used healing spells". For more on Simpson and Roud see this previous post of mine: Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud on Witches and Witchcraft.

Second, let's take a quick look at the historical records of the Scottish Witch-hunts. Half or more of all Witchcraft trials conducted in the English language took place in Scotland, so this is obviously an important source of information for the meaning of the English word "Witch". According to the research done by the folks at the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft, there exist records from 873 Scottish Witchcraft trials for which we have surviving documentation that tells us what those accused of Witchcraft were actually accused of having done. (Parenthetically, this is only about 1/4 of the total surviving trial records, but only these 873 cases tell us anything about the actual, or at least purported, activities of accused Witches).

To be sure, in Scotland as elsewhere during the Burning Times, simply being accused as a Witch could mean any number of things, from practicing midwifery to being able to fly, to plotting to murder the King. What we find when we search through these trial records is that less than half of those cases in which specific information about the charges is preserved involved any reference to the use of magic to cause harm, while over 20% of these same 873 trial records explicitly refer to the  performance of various kinds of beneficial magic (folk healing, midwifery, and what the researchers at the Survey simple denote as "white magic"). For more on the surviving data from the Scottish Witch-hunts see these three previous posts:
A third category of evidence is comprised of written sources drawn from medieval and early modern English literature. Two notable 14th century sources in which one finds Witchcraft explicitly associated with beneficial magic are Piers Plowman (which refers to Witches as healers), and John Trevisa's (Middle) English translation of the Polychronicon of Ranulf Higden (which tells us about sailors seeking out Witches to perform beneficial weather magic). In the late 15th century we find Malory's redaction of the tale of Sir Balin, in which the "poor knight" is suspected of practicing Witchcraft not because he has harmed anyone (or, more generally, done anything "evil"), but rather because he was the only one of the knights (including Arthur himself) who could come to the aid of the "damsel, the which was sent on message from great Lady Lylle of Avelion." See these three posts for more on Piers Plowman, John Trevisa, and Sir Balin:
From the 16th century we have James Sanford's 1569 English translation of Cornelius Agrippa's The Vanitie and Uncertaintie of Artes and Sciences (De incertitudine et vanitate omnium scientiarum et artium liber). Chapter 44 of that work is titled "Witchinge Magick". In that section, Agrippa includes discussion of such beneficial forms of magic as "charmed drinckes for love, and ... medicins ... whereby happy and fortunate childerne maye be begotten," and also  the ability to "understand the voices of birdes." Also according to Agrippa, the "pocions" of Witches make it possible to change one's shape. Agrippa also includes beneficial weather magic under the category of "Witchinge Magick", and he specifically refers to the wondrous ability of Oprheus to calm the seas with his songs, as related in the famous tale of the Argonauts. For more on this see: Cornelius Agrippa on "Witchinge Magick".

By the time we reach the 17th century, finding literary sources documenting the association of Witches with beneficial magic becomes increasingly easy. The works of William Shakespeare, John Fletcher, Robert Burton, Thomas Middleton, John Webster, Henry More, Samuel Collins, John Dryden and Joseph Addison (although Addison actually brings us into the 18th century) all provide such examples. For more on these and other sources, explore the links found here: Beneficent Witchcraft: One Hundred And Seven Sources .

An especially interesting source of literary evidence from the 17th century is provided by thee different English dictionaries from the period. Robert Cawdrey's 1604 A Table Alphabetical defines "magitian" as "one vsing witchcraft". Thomas Blount's 1656 Glossographia Anglicana Nova tells us that a Witch is a woman who is capable of "Prophecying". Edward Phillips' 1658 The New World of English Words tells us that "Enchantress" and "Prophetess" are other names for a "Witch"; and that "Magick" is another word for "Witchcraft", which is defined as "the black Art whereby ... some Wonders may be wrought, which exceed the common Apprehensions of Men." In all of three of these dictionaries we find that "Witches" and "Witchcraft" are associated with magic generally, and that, as such, they are "evil" only to the extent that Christians considered all magic, outside of the "miracles" sanctioned by them, to be the works of their Devil. For more details see: Looking It Up: Witches and Witchcraft in some early English dictionaries.

Fourth, and finally, we should go back even further and flesh out what Roud and Simpson had to say about the meaning of the word "Witch" in Old English sources. If we look at the earliest known Old English laws on the subject, "wicca" (or "wicce" or "wiccecræft") usually appears as just one member of a list of proscibed magical practices, along with "wigleras", "scinlæcan"/"scincræftcan", "lybblac",and "gealdorcræftigan". In none of these lists is "wicca" singled out as especially associated with harmful or "evil" activities. Rather, these laws clearly represent sweeping efforts to eradicate surviving Pagan magical practices among people who are supposed to have been "converted". The one time when "wicca" does not appear alongside other terms for practitioners of magic, it appears, instead, in an explicitly religious context in a law (Cnut 1018) intended to root out "hæðenscip". In addition to these laws, we also have other surviving Old English sources documenting the fact that Witches were sought out by those seeking healing, financial success, and longevity. For more details and sources see:
The executive summary is that it is completely wrong-headed to apply moralizing labels such as "evil" to Witches and Witchcraft as if this were some kind of objective, historical fact. And it is especially wrong-headed for modern-day polytheists to mindlessly apply such moralizing labels, because they are borrowed directly and uncritically from Christianity's obsessive hatred for all magic that it does not control, whether that magic is beneficial and highly sought after, or potentially harmful and greatly feared.

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Chinese Zen Master On Monotheism, Tolerance, Religious Dialogue, Etc.

"We don't believe in a single god who is the supreme, original, ultimate creator...." 

"After silence ...."

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”
Aldous Huxley, Music at Night and Other Essays

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"The twofold character of the Italian Renaissance"

Another loooooong excerpt from Ludwig von Pastor's The History of the Popes. This time it's from Volume 1, pp. 38-56 (that's from the Introduction to the whole multivolume work).

Though it is an error to consider all ranks of Italian society in the fifteenth century as tainted with the spirit of Paganism, we must admit that the baneful element in the Renaissance took fearful hold on the upper classes. How, indeed, could it be otherwise? The seductive doctrines of Epicurus, and the frivolous, worldly wisdom of the Rome of Augustus, were far more attractive than Christian morality. To a pleasure-loving and corrupt generation, the vain mythology of Heathenism was infinitely more congenial than the Gospel of a crucified Saviour, and the religion of self-denial and continence. Many ecclesiastical dignitaries also unhappily show undue favour to the false Humanism. Startling as this may at first sight appear, it is by no means difficult to account for it.

In the first place we must consider the wide-spread worldliness among the clergy, which was a result of the Avignon period of the Papacy, and the subsequent confusion of the schism. Secondly, Humanism soon became such a power that a struggle with it under existing circumstances would have been very hazardous. The chief reason, however, that the Church and the false Renaissance did not come into open conflict, was the extreme care taken by almost all the adherents of this school to avoid any collision with the ecclesiastical authorities. The race of dilettanti and free-thinkers looked upon the doctrinal teaching of the Church as a thing quite apart from their sphere. If in their writings they invoked the Heathen Gods, and advocated the principles of the ancient philosophers, they also took pains from time to time to profess their submission to the Creeds, and were skilful in throwing a veil over the antagonism between the two. However vigilant the rulers of the Church might be, it was often very hard to determine when this toying with Heathenism became really reprehensible.

The strange medley of Heathen and Christian words, ideas, and thoughts, that prevailed in the age of the Renaissance is notorious. The Church authorities were not severe on transgressions of this kind; and as far as literature was concerned, there can be no doubt that their leniency was thoroughly justified. If the Humanists, in their horror of sinning against Ciceronian Latinity, endeavoured to express Christian ideas in antique phrases, the fashion was certainly an absurd, rather than a dangerous, one. "What need," says Voigt, with reason, "to cry out, if a lively orator should introduce a Roman asseveration into his discourse. Who would charge him with polytheism, if, instead of calling on the one God, he should on some occasion say : 'Ye Gods !' Or if a poet, instead of imploring Divine grace, should beg the favour of Apollo and the Muses, who would accuse him of idolatry?" Accordingly, when Ciriaco of Ancona chose Mercury for his patron saint, and on his departure from Delos addressed a written prayer to him, his contemporaries were not the least scandalized, but contented themselves with laughing at his enthusiasm, and singing of him as "the new Mercury," and "immortal as his Mercury." The indulgence, which the ecclesiastical authorities showed towards the talse Renaissance, is intelligible enough, if we remember that its obviously dangerous tendencies had much to counterbalance them.

From the beginning, the true Christian Renaissance existed side by side with the false.

Its followers were equally enthusiastic in their admiration for the treasures of antiquity, and they recognized in the classics a most perfect means of intellectual culture, but they also clearly perceived the danger attendant on the revival of the old literature, especially under the circumstances of the time. Far from relentlessly sacrificing to Heathenism that Christianity, which had permeated the very life of the people, they deemed that safety lay in the conciliation of the new element of culture with its eternal truths ; and in this opinion they had the support of Dante, and were in accord with Petrarch's highest aspirations. They were justly alarmed at the radical tendency, which aimed at doing away with all existing sanctions and influences. They saw with dismay that all national and religious traditions were threatened, and that therefore a salutary result from the movement was very doubtful. The programme of these men, the most clear-sighted and sober-minded of the Humanists, was the maintenance of religious and national traditions, the study of the ancients in a Christian and national spirit, the reconciliation of the Renaissance with Christianity.

The chief representatives of the Christian Renaissance were Giannozzo Manetti, Ambrogio Traversari, Lionardo Bruni, Gregorio Carraro, Francesco Barbaro, Maffeo Vegio. Vittorino da Feltre, and Tommaso Parentucelli, afterwards known as Pope Nicholas V.

Giannozzo Manetti (1396-1459), the friend of Pope Eugenius IV. and Pope Nicholas V., was most deeply convinced of the truth of the Christian Religion. This noble- minded and distinguished scholars used to say that the Christian Faith is no mere opinion, but an absolute certainty, that the teaching of the Church is as true as an axiom in mathematics. However much occupied Manetti might be, he never went to work without first having heard Mass. He placed all his learning at the service of the Church, and although a layman, was well versed in theology and literature, and translated the New Testament and the Psalms. He had studied three books so indefatigably, that he may be almost said to have known them by heart; these were the Epistles of St. Paul, St. Augustine's City of God, and the Ethics of Aristotle. Manetti was the first, and, for a long time, the only Humanist in Italy, who turned his attention to the Oriental languages. To defend the cause of Christian truth, he learned Hebrew and began to write a work against the Jews, whom he meant to combat with their own weapons. This great scholar was a man of exemplary life ; his friend and biographer, Vespasiano da Bisticci, affirms that, during an intercourse of forty years, he had never heard an untruth, an oath, nor a curse, from his lips.

Manetti's teacher was the pious Ambrogio Traversari, General of the Camaldolese Order from 1431, a man whom the Protestant historian, Meiners, declares to have been a model of purity and holiness; a superior, admirable for his strictness and prudent gentleness; an author of great industry and learning, and an ambassador whose talents, courage, and statesmanship won for him a high position amongst the most distinguished of his contemporaries. This eminent scholar was the first to introduce Humanist influences into the ecclesiastical sphere. A mixed assembly of clerics and laymen, the elite of the Florentine literary world, used to meet in his convent of Santa Maria degli Angeli, to hear him lecture on the Greek and Latin languages and literature, and explain philosophical and theological questions. The biographer of Lorenzo de' Medici speaks enthusiastically of those days when a brilliant intellectual radiance shone forth from this convent, enlightening the dwellings of the Florentine patricians and, through them, the whole world. "Never," he says, "was there seen among clerics and laymen so much real and solid learning devoted to the Church and State, while also ministering to the charm of daily life and the promotion of good morals." Tommaso Parentucelli, who had witnessed this Florentine literary life, which, although not faultless, was on the whole so rich and noble, was unable, even when he had attained the highest dignity in Christendom, to create in Rome anything that could compare with it.

Traversari's unceasing labours in the reform of his Order, and all the harassing toils attendant on his office as Papal Envoy, never interfered with his interest in Greek and Roman literature. Notwithstanding the heavy pressure of necessary business, he contrived to find time to ransack libraries for rare manuscripts and copy them, to visit literary celebrities, to investigate ecclesiastical and Heathen antiquities, and by various letters to promote the study of science. His learned works relate chiefly to the Greek writers of the Church, and he was undoubtedly the first authority on the subject and the possessor of the richest collection of books. In his scrupulous conscientiousness, Traversari thought the translation of profane authors unsuitable to his office. Nevertheless, at the request of his friend, Cosmo de' Medici, he consented to translate Diogenes Laertes on the Lives of the Philosophers, consoling himself with the thought that this work might serve the interests of the Christian religion, ''inasmuch as when the doctrines of the Heathen philosophy are better known, the superiority of Christianity will be the more clearly understood.''

The celebrated Lionardo Bruni (1369-1444), Apostolic Secretary under Innocent VII., Gregory XII., Alexander v., and John XXIII., and afterwards Chancellor of the Republic of Florence, was also sincerely attached to the Church. His love for the classical did not hinder him from recommending "sacred studies," which, from their very nature, must be the sweetest of "sweet toils." What a contrast there is between Valla and this good man, who, though not himself a monk, esteemed the religious life, and refused to support a monk who wished to leave his convent. Bruni was greatly looked up to, and people came from all parts to see him; a Spaniard even went so far as to fall on his knees before him. When this noble scholar departed this life on the 9th March, 1444, the Priors determined to pay him extraordinary honour; his corpse was clad in dark silk, and on his breast lav the History ot Florence, as the richest gift of the Chancellor to the Republic. Manetti pronounced the funeral oration, and crowned the dead with the laurel of the poet and the scholar. "as an immortal testimony to his wonderful wisdom and his surpassing eloquence." He was then buried in Santa Croce, where an epitaph composed by Marsuppini, and a monument sculptured by Bernardo Rossellino, mark his resting place. 

Among the Christian Humanists we must reckon Gregorio Corraro, the highly cultured kinsman of Pope Gregory XII., and Francesco Barbaro, who, like him, belonged to a patrician family of Venice.  Barbaro enjoyed the friendship of almost all the learned Italians of his day, and was, by family tradition and personal feeling, devoted to the cause of the Church, in the negotiations with the Councils of Basle and of Florence he sought, with equal zeal, to promote the interests of the Papal power, and to provide for the spiritual wants of his clients. He furnishes a remarkable example of the union of the Humanist and ecclesiastical tendencies in an age when the latter had begun to lose its power.

Maffeo Vegio (1407-1458), the worthy explorer of the ancient Christian monuments of Rome, must not be passed over. That "tender and eloquent book," the Confessions of St. Augustine, made a deep impression on his mind, as also on that of Petrarch. It brought about Vegio's complete conversion, and induced him to devote himself entirely to ecclesiastical literature. Without transcribing the splendid list of his works, we must mention his widely- read book on Education, inasmuch as it represents an endeavour to combine the wisdom of the Classics with the Bible and the teaching of the Church. He strongly recommends the work of Virgii, Sallust, and Quintilian, as means of culture, but objects to the Elegiacs on account of their indecency, and would have the comic authors reserved for the perusal of grown-up men. In the time of Eugenius IV., Vegio came to Rome, where he filled the offices of Datary, Abbreviator, and Canon of St. Peter's, and finally became an Augustinian Canon. He died in 1458, and was buried in Sant Agostino, in the very chapel where, thanks to his efforts, the bones of St. Monica had found a fitting place of rest, when brought from Ostia in 1430. Vegio's pure life and piety were honoured beyond the limits of his own order. An enthusiastic notice of him is to be found among the writings of the Florentine Vespasiano da Bisticci.

 The most attractive and amiable of the representatives of the Christian Renaissance is Vittorino da Feltre, the greatest Italian Pedagogue of his age. "He was one of those men who devote their whole being to the end for which their capacities and knowledge specially fit them." The honour of having introduced this excellent man "to his proper sphere of work" belongs to the Marquess Gian Francesco Gonzaga, who summoned him to Mantua in 1425, to take charge of the education of his children and direct the court school. Vittorino began his labours by a thorough cleansing of the Casa Giocosa, the new educational Institution, which was pleasantly situated on the borders of the lake of Mantua." At his command the gold and silver plate, the superfluous servants, vanished, and order and noble simplicity took the place of pomp and show. The hours of study were punctually observed, but they were constantly varied by bodily exercise and recrea- tion in the open air. Vittorino encouraged his pupils to expose themselves to cold and heat, to wind and rain, for he believed that a soft and idle life was the origin of many maladies ; but there was nothing of Spartan harshness in the education, and individual idiosyncrasies were sufficiently respected. t In the fine season he used to take his pupils on long excursions to Verona, to the Lake of Garda, and into the Alps. In regard to decency and good manners, Vitto- rino was rigid ; swearing and blasphemy were always punished, even if the offender were one of the Princes. Corporal punishments were reserved for the worst cases; in general the penalties inflicted were of the nature of dis- grace. Ihe moral and religious conduct of the scholars was most carefully watched over, for Vittorino held that true learning is inseparable from religion and virtue. A bad man, he used to say, can never be a perfect scholar, far less a good orator.

His method of teaching was simple and concise; he guarded carefully against the evil subtleties of the day. "I want to teach them to think," he said, " not to split hairs." The classics naturally formed the groundwork of higher education, but with a careful selection fitted for the young. I Mathematical Science, Logic, and Metaphysics, were not neglected ; special attention was devoted to com- position, and every encouragement given- to originality. Vittorino was always ready to help those, who were back- ward in their studies. Early in the morning he was among his scholars, and when all around had betaken themselves to rest, he worked on with individual boys. " Probably," to use the words of a modern author, " the world had never before seen such a schoolmaster, who was content to be a schoolmaster and nothing else, because in this calling he recognized a lofty mission ; one who, just because he sought nothing great for himself, found all the richer reward in the results of his labour."'^" When a monk asked permission from Pope Eugenius IV. to enter Vittorino's Institution, the Pontiff answered, " Go, my son. We willingly give you up to the most holy of living men."t Vittorino's fame was widely spread ; eager disciples flocked around him from far and near, even from France, Germany, and the Netherlands. J Many of these youths were poor, and such were received by the good man with particular affection ; they were not only freely instructed, but also fed, lodged, clothed, and provided with books at his expense, and his generosity often extended even to their families. For these scholars, whom he received for the love of God (per I'amore di Dio), he founded a special institution in association with the Princes' School. Here he lived like a father in his family, giving to it all he possessed, for his own wants were very easily satisfied. § It is no wonder that the scholars looked up to such a master with love and respect. Federigo da Montefeltro Duke of Urbino, one of the noblest among them, a man distinguished by his courage, cultivation, and large-minded- ness, placed Vittorino's portrait in his palace with the inscription : " In honour of his saintly master, Vittorino da Feltre, who by word and example instructed him in all human excellence, Federigo places this here."||

The secret of this great schoolmaster's immense in- fluence is to be found principally in his religious and moral qualities, his disinterestedness, his humility and simplicity, and the charm of his virginal purity.'^ All his contemporaries speak with respect of his piety. Vespasiano (la Bisticci says that "he daily recited the Divine Office like a priest; he strictly observed the Fasts of the Church, and insisted on his scholars doing the same. He said grace before and after meals like a priest, constantly approached the sacraments, and accustomed his scholars to go monthly to confession to the Observantine Fathers. He also wished them to hear Holy Mass every day ; his house was a very sanctuary of good morals. "f Vittorino's example shows that a good man may be immersed in classical studies, without making shipwreck of his faith. His liberality equalled his piety; no monk or beggar, who sought his aid, was sent empty away. Notwithstanding his unremitting labours as a teacher and educator, he always found time to visit widows and orphans, the poor, the sick, and even prisoners, and wherever he went, he bore with him comfort, instruction, and help. It was said of him, that the only people who received nothing from him were those, whose needs were unknown to him. Almsgiving on so large a scale would not have been possible, but for the generous support of the Marquess of Mantua and some of his wealthy scholars. All that he received from them was given away to alleviate the sufferings of his fellow men. When he died on the 2nd February, 1446, at the age of sixty-nine, his property was so deeply in debt, that his heirs declined the mheritance, and the corpse had to be buried at the Prince's expense. He leit instructions that no monument should be raised to his memory. 

The position occupied by the representatives of the Christian Renaissance in relation to the ancient world was the only true one, and they have in some degree solved the problem how justly to appreciate antiquity. ( Their enthusiasm for the intellectual treasures of the past I never went so far as to endanger their devotion to the ! Christian religion. Unlike the extreme Humanists, they held fast the principle, that the works of the heathens are to be judged by a Christian standard. They saw the danger of so idealizing the moral and religious teaching of Heathenism, as to make it appear that by its means alone the highest end of life could be attained, thus ignoring the necessity of Christian doctrines and morality, of remission of sin and grace from on high."^

In the light of Christianity alone can the ancient world be fully and justly estimated, for the pagan ideal of humanity, as exhibited in its heroes and divinities, is not, as a modern philosopherf justly observes, a full or complete one. It is but a shadowy outline, wanting the colour and life which something higher must supply — a fragmentary form, which has yet to find its complement in a more perfect whole. This higher Image of human perfection is the Incarnate Son of God, the Prototype of all creatures ; no creation of fancy or product of human reason, but the Truth and the Life Itself. The ideals of Greece grow pale before this Form, and only vanity and folly could ever turn from It to them. This folly was perpetrated by the ad- herents of the false Renaissance, by those Humanists who, instead of ascending from the Greek Poets and Philosophers to Christ, turned their backs on the glory of Christianity to borrow their ideal from the genius of Greece.

The twofold character of the Italian Renaissance renders it extremely difficult justly to weigh its good and evil in relation to the Church and to religion. A sweeping judg- ment in such cases would generally be a rash one, even were the notices of the individuals concerned less scanty than those which are before us ; here, as elsewhere, human penetration is baffled in the endeavour to appreciate all its bearings.;];

A modern Historian has forcibly remarked that every genuine advance of knowledge must in itself be of ad- vantage to religion and to the Church, inasmuch as Truth, Science, and Art are alike daughters of heaven. § From this point of view we must contemplate the encourage- ment given by ecclesiastics to the revival of classical literature. A distinction should evidently here be drawn between the two schools of the Renaissance, and judgment pronounced accordingly. Those members of the Church, who promoted the heathen view, acted wrongly, and were, if we look at their conduct with a view to the interests of the Church, blameworthy. Impartial inquiry will, how- ever, lead us to temper this blame by a consideration of all the attendant circumstances, and to bear in mind the difficulty of avoiding the abuse, to which the ancient literature, like all other good things of the intellect, is liable.

The common impression that the dangerous tendencies of the Renaissance were not recognized by the Church is very erroneous. On the contrary, from the beginning, men were never wanting, who raised their voices against the deadly poison of the false Humanism. One of the first in Italy to indicate its pernicious influence on education was the Dominican Giovanni Dominici. This preacher, who laboured ardently for the reformation of his Order, enjoyed the favour of Pope Innocent VII., and was raised to the purple by Gregory XI I. '^ In his celebrated Treatise on the order and discipline of Family Life, written very early in the 15th century, he denounces, with all the energy of his ardent nature, the system " which lets youth and even childhood become heathen rather than Christian ; which teaches the names of Jupiter and Saturn, of Venus and Cybele rather than those of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost ; which poisons minds that are still tender and powerless by sacrifice to the false Gods, and brings up wayward nature in the lap of unbelief." f

In yet stronger terms does Giovanni Dominici express himself in a writing"^ which has but recently been brought to light, and which is dedicated in courteous language to the celebrated Chancellor of Florence, Coluccio Salutato. Its primary object was to warn him against being seduced by the charms of the false Renaissance ; but at the same time, it aimed at protecting youth in general from the questionable elements contained in the classic literature, and at counteracting its perversion and misuse. The Dominican condemns those, who give themselves up with blind and deluded zeal to heathen learning, and are thus led to depreciate the Christian Religion. Looking at the subject from an ascetic point of view, he is at times blind to the ancient literature. In his horror at the new heathen- ism, which was rising before his eyes, he is even betrayed into the utterance of such paradoxes as, that it is more useful to a Christian to plough the ground than to study the heathen authors !t Exaggerations of this kind pro- voked exaggerations from the opposite party, and in this way it became more and more difficult, if not absolutely impossible, to arrive at a clear understanding in regard to the proper use of the ancient classics.

The Franciscans, as well as the Dominicans, distinguished themselves by their opposition to the Humanists, or Poets, to use the name by which they were commonly called. J It cannot be denied that most of these men were full of holy zeal for the interests of Christianity, and that their courageous efforts were of real advantage to the Church, at a time when many other dignitaries, from a spirit of worldliness, favoured the false Humanist tendencies. Still, it is much to be regretted that the majority of the opponents of the Poets went a great deal too far. Correctly to under- stand the position, we must bear in mind the furious attacks on the Religious Orders and their scholastic teaching by Poggio, Filelfo, and other elegant and well-known Humanist authors. The new movement had gained strength so fast, that the monks were left almost defence- less against the ribaldry of these men. Further, the alarming errors and excesses of the extreme admirers of antiquity justified the worst apprehensions for the future. Consequently, most of those, who withstood the false Renaissance, lost sight of the fact that these errors had their origin, not in the revival of classical studies, but in their abuse, and in the deplorable social, political, and ecclesiastical conditions of the times. Corrupt intellectual elements, struggling for complete emancipation, had gathered round the banner of the Renaissance, and they often led the great Humanist movement into crooked paths. Thus it came to pass, that the larger number of the monks, in their zeal, overlooked the distinction between the true and the false Renaissance, and made Humanism in general responsible for the excesses of the most extreme of its votaries. Against such attacks the Humanists could most justly appeal to the works of St. Jerome, St. Augus- tine, St. Ambrose, St. Cyprian, and other Fathers of the Church, which are full of quotations from the Poets and of classical reminiscences. The monks often waged war in a very unskilful manner, as, for instance, when they treated Valla's attacks on Priscianus and the mediaeval grammarians as heretical.*

/ The partial and short-sighted view, which condemned the whole Renaissance movement as dangerous to faith and morals, cannot be considered as that of the Church. At this time, as throughout the whole of the Middle Ages, she showed herself to be the Patroness of all wholesome intellectual progress, the Protectress of all true culture and civilization. She accorded the greatest possible liberty to the adherents of the Renaissance, a liberty which can hardly be comprehended by an age, which has lost the unity of the Faith. ^ Once only in the period of which we are about to treat, did the Head of the Church directly attack the false Renaissance, and this censure was called forth by a shameless eulogy of heathen vices, which the Pope, as the chief guardian of morals, could not pass over in silence. t Otherwise the Church gave liberal encouragement to Humanist studies, fully endorsing the beautiful words of Clement of Alexandria, that the learning of the heathens, as far as it contains good, is not to be con- sidered heathen, but a gift of God. J And, indeed, the speedy degeneracy of the Renaissance in Italy was not the fault of the ancient literature, but rather of its abuse. § That the many irreconcilable enemies of the Renaissance, who are to be found in the Religious Orders, are not the true representatives of the Church, is evident from the fact that the greater number of the Popes adopted a very different attitude towards the new movement. ||

1 he friendly relations which existed between the Popes and the two founders of the Renaissance literature, Petrarch and Boccaccio, have already been mentioned ; these relations were not impaired by the passionate language, used by these two great writers in denouncing the corruptions which had made their way into ecclesi- astical affairs during the Avignon period. No less than five times was Petrarch invited to fill the office of Apostolic Secretary, but the poet could not make up his mind to undertake the charge, fearing that it would compel him to give up literature, his special vocation.^ But he gladly employed himself, at the desire of the learned Pope Clement VI., in the collection of early manuscripts of Cicero's works for the Papal Library. t When the tidings of the death of Petrarch, whom he had once invited to Avignon by an autograph letter, reached Pope Gregory XI., he commis- sioned Guillaume de Noellet, Cardinal Vicar of the Church in Italy, to make diligent inquiries after his writings and to have good copies made for him, especially of the Africa, the Eclogues, Epistles, Invectives, and the beautiful work. On the Solitary Life. J

Gregory XL, whom a modern writer has justly char- acterized as the best of the Avignon Popes, § showed a notable interest in the half-forgfotten heritasfe from the ancient world. When he heard that a copy of Pompeius Trogus had been discovered at Vercelli, he at once sent a letter to the Bishop of that city, desiring him immediately to look after this book and to have it conveyed to the Papal Court by a trusty messenger. A few days later the same Pope charged a Canon of Paris to make researches in the Sorbonne Library regarding several works of Cicero's, to have them transcribed as soon as possible by competent persons and to send the copies to him at Avignon."^ It might, at first sight, have seemed likely that the storms which burst over the Papacy after the death of Gregory XI. would have deterred the Popes from showing favour to the Renaissance, which was now asserting its- power in the realm of literature, and yet it was actually at this very period that a great number of the Humanists found admission into the Roman Court. t

A closer study of this time, in connection with which the previous years of the residence of the Popes at Avignon must also be considered, will bring to light the causes of the gradual and, in some respects, hazardous influx of Humanism into the Papal Court. A review of the History of the Popes from the beginning of the Exile to Avignon until the end of the great Schism seems all the more necessary, as without an intimate acquaintance with this period of peril to the Papacy, the latter course of events cannot be understood.

In the progress of the following work we shall show that the Renaissance gradually took root in Rome under Martin V. and Eugenius IV. ; that Albergati, Cesarini, and Capranica, the most distinguished among the wearers of the purple in the fifteenth century, encouraged Humanism in its best tendencies; that the sojourn of Eugenius IV. in Florence, and the General Council held there, produced marked effects in the same direction; until at last, in the person of Nicholas V., a man mounted the Throne of St. Peter, who, full of confidence in the power of Christian Science, ventured to put himself at the head of this great intellectual movement. This circumstance was the beginning of a new epoch in the history of the Papacy, as well as in that of science and art — an epoch which reached its climax in the reigns of Julius II. and Leo X.

It has often been said that the Renaissance itself ascended the Papal Throne with Nicholas V., yet it must not be forgotten that this great Pontiff was throughout on the side of the genuine and Christian Renaissance. The founder of the Vatican Library, like Fra Angelico whom he employed to paint his study in that Palace, knew how to reconcile his admiration for the intellectual treasures of the past with the claims of the Christian religion: he could honour both Cicero and St. Augustine, and could appreciate the grandeur and beauty of Heathen antiquity without being thereby led to forget Christianity.

The leading idea of Nicholas V. was to make the Capital of Christendom the Capital also of classical literature and the centre of science and art. The realization of this noble project was, however, attended with many difficulties and great dangers. If Nicholas V. overlooked or underestimated the perils which threatened ecclesiastical interests from the side of the Heathen and revolutionary Renaissance, this is the only error that can be laid to his charge. His aim was essentially lofty and noble and worthy of the Papacy. The fearlessness of this large- hearted man, in face of the dangers of the movement — " a fearlessness which has in it something imposing " — strikes us all the more forcibly, when we consider the power and influence which the Renaissance had at this time attained in Italy. The attempt to assume its guidance was a great deed, and one worthy of the successor of the Gregories and Innocents.

To make the promotion of the Renaissance by the Holy See a matter of indiscriminate reproach, betrays total ignorance of the subject. For, deep and widespread as was the intellectual movement, excited by the resuscitation of the antique, it involved no serious danger to Christian civilization, but rather was an occasion of new activity and energy, as long as the unity and purity of the Christian faith were maintained unimpaired under the authority of the Church and her head. If in later days, in consequence of the undue influence obtained by the Heathen Renaissance, a very different development ensued; if the intellectual wealth, won by the revived study of the past, was turned to evil purposes, Nicholas V., whose motives were of the highest and purest, cannot be held responsible. On the contrary, it is to the glory of the Papacy that, even in regard to the great Renaissance movement, it manifested that magnanimous and all-embracing comprehensiveness which is a portion of its inheritance. As long as dogma was untouched, Nicholas V. and his like-minded successors allowed the movement the most ample scope; the founder of the Vatican Library had no foreboding of the mischief which the satire of the Humanists was preparing. The whole tenor of his pure life testifies that his words proceeded from an upright heart, when he earnestly exhorted the Cardinals assembled around his death-bed to follow the path he had chosen in labouring for the welfare of the Church — the Bark of Peter, which, by the wonderful guidance of God, has ever been delivered out of all storms.

Monday, March 10, 2014

'the mark of someone adamantly free"

"The fire you like so much in me 
Is the mark of someone adamantly free"
Liz Phair, Strange Loop

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Polytheism and Monotheism: Don't Complicate The Simple

Polytheism is the natural form that all human religious activity and thought takes by default. Polytheism is like walking or talking - it's just what humans do naturally. Of course there are unfortunate cases where a human being might, for various reasons, not be able to walk or talk. In fact, when we are first born we are completely incapable of walking and talking, and once we reach a sufficiently advanced age we might lose these abilities once again.

But the only time you will encounter groups of people who, as a society, do not worship a wide variety of Goddesses and Gods is if that worship has been systematically and violently suppressed among those people.

Like language, dancing, music, art, cuisine and other natural expressions of human nature, polytheism takes on an essentially infinite variety of forms. It is foolish almost beyond comprehension to try to sort through this great diversity in search of "true" polytheism. It is equally foolish to artificially define arbitrary criteria for delineating "hard" polytheism with the intention of denigrating other forms of polytheism as being "soft" and, therefore, in some sense deficient.

None of this needs to be said, and perhaps would be better left unsaid. The truth of polytheism is a self-evident fact that is recognized in every human society except for those that have endured centuries of savage persecution. And yet, for whatever reason, modern Pagans (perhaps precisely because modern Paganism arises out of societies that have endured and are only just now beginning to recover from such persecution) are extremely gifted when it comes to complicating the simple.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Joseph Campbell on "Permanent Human Values"

Some morons have claimed that Joseph Campbell was antisemitic and/or racist. Some have even gone so far as to imply that he may have secretly harbored profascist or pronazi sympathies. Of course, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever for these slanders. In fact, the "evidence" that some of these miscreants have pointed to actually proves the exact opposite. For example, a lecture that Campbell delivered to one of his classes at Sarah Lawrence College (in early December of 1940) is often cited by those claiming that Campbell was antisemitic. However, if one actually reads what Campbell actually said then one sees that he explicitly condemns nationalism, militarism, chauvinism, patriotic jingoism and ethnocentrism.

The text below was found here:

"Permanent Human Values"

I have been asked to tell you what seem to me to be some of the important things--permanently human--which men are likely to forget during hours of a severe political crisis.

Permanent things, of course, do not have to be fought for--they are permanent. We are not their creators and defenders. Rather--it is our privilege (our privilege as individuals: our privilege as nations) to experience them. And it is our private loss if we neglect them. We may fight for our right to experience these values. But the fight must not be conducted on a public battlefield. This fight must be conducted in the individual mind. Public conquerors are frequently the losers in this secret struggle.

Permanent things, furthermore, are not possessed exclusively by the democracies; not exclusively even by the Western world.

My theme, therefore, forbids me to be partial to the war-cries of the day. I respect my theme, and I shall try to do it justice. I am not competent to speak of every permanent human value. I shall confine myself, therefore, to those which have been my special disciplinarians: those associated with the Way of Knowledge.

Which of these are likely to be forgotten during the hours of a severe political crisis? All of them, I should say. I think that everything which does not serve the most immediate economic and political ends is likely to be forgotten.

I think, in the first place, that the critical objectivity of the student of society is likely to be forgotten--either forgotten or suppressed. For example: The president of Columbia University has declared that the present conflict is a war 'between beasts and human beings, between brutal force and kindly helpfulness,' Yet Columbia professors laboriously taught, during the twenties and thirties something about the duties of objective intelligence in the face of sensational propaganda: and no educated gentleman can possibly believe that the British Empire or the French Empire or the American Empire was unselfishly founded in 'kindly helpfulness.' without gunpowder or without perfectly obscene brutality.

It is not surprising, of course, that there should be a strain of opportunism in those public gentlemen who are in a position to tell the multitude what to think; but that our universities--those institutions which have plumed themselves in their dignified objectivity--should begin now to fling about the gutter-slogans of our newspaper cartoons, seems to be a calamity of the first order.
Perhaps our students must prepare themselves to remember (without any support for our institutions of higher learning) that there are two sides to every argument, that every government since governments began, has claimed to represent the special blessings of the heavenly realm, that every man (even an enemy) is human, and that no empire (not even a merchant empire) is founded on 'kindly helpfulness.'

When there was no crisis on the horizon, we were told that objectivity was a good. Now that something seems to threaten our markets--or to threaten perhaps even more than that--we are warned (and this by still another of our university presidents) that the real fifth-columnist in this country is the critical intellectual. What kind of leaders are these men, anyhow?--snorting through one nostril about the book-burnings in Germany, wheezing through the other at critical intelligences in our own Republic?

In the second place we are in danger of neglecting the apparently useless work of the disinterested scientist and historian. Yet if there is one jewel in the crown of Western Civilization which deserves to take a place beside the finest jewels of Asia, it is the jewel cut by these extraordinary men. Their images of the cosmos and of the course of earthly history are as majestic as the Oriental theories of involution and evolution. But these images are by no means the exclusive creation, or even property, of democracies. Many of the indispensable works which you must read, if you are to participate in the study of these images, have not even been translated into democratic tongues. Let me say, therefore, that any serious student of history or science who permits the passions of this hour to turn her away from German is a fool.

Whatever may be the language for hemisphere defense, German, French and English are the languages of scholarship and science. (Biblio: At Sarah Lawrence, as at many schools and universities, German and Italian were being eliminated from the curriculum, as if somehow the boycott of the language would enforce some kind of sanction on the country or its political leaders. It was probably this practice Campbell was decrying.) German, French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Scandinavian, English, Irish, Polish, Russian, Swiss, Christian, Pagan, Atheist, and Jewish have been the workers in these spheres. Chauvinism has no place here. The work is international and human. Consequently, whenever there is a resurgence of the nationalisms and animalisms of war, scientist and scholar have to cork themselves tightly in. They are not anti-social parasites and slackers when they do this. It is with them that Western Culture, as opposed to Western Empire, will survive.
In the third place, the work of the literary man and the artist is in danger. We need not worry about the popular entertainer: he will be more in demand than ever. But we may worry about the artists of social satire: theirs will be a plight very like the plight of the objective social scientist. And we may worry about the creative writers, painters, sculptors, and musicians devoted to the disciplines of pure art. The philistine (that is to say the man without hunger for poetry and art) will never understand the importance of these enthusiasts. But those of you whose way of personal discipline and discovery is the way of the arts will understand that if you are to keep in touch with your own centers of energy, you must not allow yourself to be tricked into believing that social criticism is proper art, or that sensational entertainment is proper art, or that journalistic realism is proper art. You must not give up your self-exploration in your own terms. The politicians are such a blatant crew and their causes are so obvious that it is exceedingly difficult to remember, when they surround you, anything but the surfaces of life....

The artist--in so far as he is an artist--looks at the world dispassionately: without thought of defending his ego or his friends; without thought of undoing any enemy; troubled neither with desire or loathing. He is as dispassionate as the scientist, but he is looking not for the causes of effects, he is simply looking--sinking his eye into the object. To his eye this object permanently reveals the fascination of a hidden name or essential form...

Now this perfectly well-known crisis, which transports a beholder beyond desire and loathing, is the first step not only to art, but to humanity. And it is the artist who is its hero. It cannot be said, therefore, that the artist is finally anti-social, even though from an economic point of view his work may be superfluous; even though he may seem to be sitting pretty much alone.
In the fourth place, the preaching of religion is in danger. God is the first fortress that a warlike nation must capture, and the ministers of religion are always, always, always ready to deliver God into the hands of their king or their president. We hear of it already--this arm-in-arm blood brotherhood of democracy and Christianity...

And how quick the ministers of religion are to judge the soul of the enemy; when the founder of their faith is reputed to have said: 'Judge not, that you may never be judged.' How quick they are to point at the splinter in the enemy eye, before they have looked for the plank that sticks in their own! 'Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's,' is not the phrase for a political emergency. 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' is not the phrase for a political emergency... And perhaps it would be well to remember that even the inhabitants of the democracies were born with original sin on their souls: and that not even the President of the United States has any objective assurance that he is the vicar of Christ on earth.

We are all groping in this valley of tears, and if a Mr. Hitler collides with a Mr. Churchill, we are not in conscience bound to believe that a devil had collided with a saint (Biblio: This phrase was quoted out of context, with a predictably horrifying impact on modern sensibilities, in the New York Times article of 1989 on Campbell's alleged bigotry.)--Keep those transcendent terms out of your political thinking--do not donate the things of God to Caesar--and you will go a long way toward keeping a sane head.

I believe, finally, that education is going to suffer during the next few years, as it did during the last war. You will be tempted to forget that you are educating yourselves to be women: you will imagine that you are educating yourselves to be patriots. Primarily you are human beings; secondarily you are members of a certain social class. Primarily you are human beings; secondarily you are daughters of the present century. If you devote yourselves exclusively, or even primarily, to peculiarities of the local scene and the present moment, you will wonder, fifteen years from now, what you did with your education...

I would not say that the Way of Knowledge is the only way to human fulfillment: but it is a majestic way; it is a way represented by the innumerable sciences, arts, philosophical and theological systems of mankind. The final danger is not (let me repeat this emphatically in closing), the final danger is not that mankind may lose these things (for, if Europe and America were to be blown away entirely, there would remain millions and millions of subtly disciplined human beings--who might even feel relieved to see us go!). The great danger is that you--unique you--may be tricked into missing your education."

I am such a fan of Mr. Campbell and there are so many things of his which I quote in different books that some think I am nuts about him. The facts he presents have been added to in the archaeological and linguistic or anthropological, so I really end up quoting more of his pure spiritual ecumenicism thoughts. But when a potential editor from my alma mater who had 14 years post secondary education and had been a professor commented about Campbell being a Nazi sympathizer - I lost interest in him. He also was stupid enough to suggest the Pyramids had nothing unknown to academia - RIGHT!!

Article Source:

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Socrates: "let us seek to gain knowledge from above, by divination, for the Gods grant signs ....."

"No one who wishes to manage a house or city with success: no one aspiring to guide the helm of state aright, can afford to dispense with aid from above. Doubtless, skill in carpentering, building, smithying, farming, of the art of governing men, together with the theory of these processes, and the sciences of arithmetic, economy, strategy, are affairs of study, and within the grasp of human intelligence. Yet there is a side even of these, and that not the least important, which the Gods reserve to themselves, the bearing of which is hidden from mortal vision. Thus, let a man sow a field or plant a farm never so well, yet he cannot foretell who will gather in the fruits: another may build him a house of fairest proportion, yet he knows not who will inhabit it. Neither can a general foresee whether it will profit him to conduct a campaign, nor a politician be certain whether his leadership will turn to evil or good. Nor can the man who weds a fair wife, looking forward to joy, know whether through her he shall not reap sorrow. Neither can he who has built up a powerful connection in the state know whether he shall not by means of it be cast out of his city. To suppose that all these matters lay within the scope of human judgment, to the exclusion of the preternatural, is preternatural folly. Nor is it less extravagant to go and consult the will of Heaven on any questions which it is given to us to decide by dint of learning. As though a man should inquire, 'Am I to choose an expert driver as my coachman, or one who has never handled the reins?' 'Shall I appoint a mariner to be skipper of my vessel, or a landsman?' And so with respect to all we may know by numbering, weighing, and measuring. To seek advice from Heaven on such points is a sort of profanity. Our duty is plain: where we are permitted to work through our natural faculties, there let us by all means apply them. But in things which are hidden, let us seek to gain knowledge from above, by divination; for the Gods grant signs to those to whom they will be gracious."

Socrates (from Xenophon's Memorabilia, Book 1: link)