Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Witch trials and the survival of paganism

Troll Cat reminds me that it is my opinions that are going to get me burned at the stake.
[This post has been censored in the name of peace...provided that you can have peace and actually disagree with people.]

When I was younger, I believed in the myth that nine million witches and pagans were killed during the great European Witch Hunts. And that the esoteric tradition had been successfully hidden through the use of the oral tradition among covens and lodges.

Today, I do not believe this.

Instead, I believe that the Witch Hunts were primarily Christian on Christian violence; the targets were heretics and property owners who had lands and wealth that the Church and secular authorities wanted. In other words, the Witch Hunts were not about destorying a pagan religion--rather it was about the Church and secular authorities being greedy; the Witch Hunts were driven by economics and the need to control the Christian religion. And it extends past the Church and government, for there was a reward given to people who turned in witches; greed drove the accusations more than fear.

And the numbers killed were much lower than the nine million that is generally cited by those who still insist that they were really a hunting down of actual pagans.

Now, let's be honest: one death in the Witch Hunts was one too many. Among the victims were women, many of them widows, who just happened to have property that other people wanted. The Witch Hunts were wrong.

But the fact that the Witch Hunts happened is not proof that pagan and esoteric traditions managed to survive underground. It is merely proof that people back then were willing to use the Bible to commit acts that go against the love that Christianity claims to be about, much like there are people today who are willing to do the same.

I do believe that some of the customs of the pagan religion survived. But not in the oral tradition, and not in the Book of Shadows copied hand to hand. No, the surviving bits of the pagan religion consists of ideas and customs that were absorbed by Christianity. Many of a Saint is built from the gods and goddesses that the Christians overthrew. These ideas affected magic and alchemy. The ideas also made their way into the Witch Hunting Manuals--but considering that a Witch Trial was done by the Manual, with an ample dose of torture, no confession can be trusted as proof that pagans still existed.

And these ideas were written down...or at least, enourgh of them were, that when the nineteenth century thinkers started to react against Victorian England, they had something to work with. The bones of British Traditional Wicca, as well as the ideas that formed the Golden Dawn and several other lodge systems, can be found in English literature and grimoires.

Yes, I am a British Traditional Wiccan. The type of Wicca I practice comes from England, not Europe. If we waited for Europe to reclaim its pagan heritage, we would still be waiting. The revival of paganism is a British event, not European.

(For the record, the pagan survival in the Norse lands extended to 1000 CE...but we cannot touch that stuff because of the little mess that happened during the first half of the twentieth century.)

What changed my mind about the Witch Hunts and survival of the pagan religions? The evidence I have been exposed to. My mentor in college was a medievalist--I have read more than my fair share of medieval texts. And before I stepped into college, I hunted down information all on my own--the Witch Hunting Manuals are tedious to read.

BTW is a product of Britian; it is a brand new religion.

So why do so many people believe still in the survival of paganism through the oral tradition, and that the Witch Hunts were actually hunting witches? Simply because they are trying to prove that their religion is older than Christianity and that they are still in danger of being burned at the stake by people who believe otherwise. I understand why they must defend their version of history, for it is a psychological need; but the evidence that I have seen says that their version of occult history is just a myth.

(If you want to change my opinion, provide actual proof.)


Josephine said...

well said! And about time.....

Anonymous said...

I think the modern Pagan community learned a lot from Black-empowerment culture and even the Gay-rights movement which learned to celebrate their subculture through celebrating ideas of victimhood. Politically this isn't inherently a bad thing, as a person with disability I've encountered some who let their identity as victims of society define them rather than inspire them to succeed.

You get the same in other faiths such as Christianity - Catholicism in particular which is founded on martyrdom and Judaism which looks at the Jews as a persecuted race chosen by G-d.

Society and culture are powerful forces but they are accessible to everyone through certain modalities.