Between the blogosphere's hot zone over Ronald Hutton v Ben Whitmore and someone asking for proof that the original Golden Dawn did an 180 positioning during the purification and consecration, I have been giving a lot of thought to the burden of documented proof and academics lately.
A long time ago, I came to the conclusion that no amount of proof about certain practices, including a signed, dated, and notorized letter from Westcott and Mathers, is going to convince certain people who believe that certain ideas and procedures were not part of the system. It is that simple. The stronger a person believes that certain things are one way and one way only, the less likely that you are going to be able to convince them otherwise. The same goes for trying to convince people to try new procedures and ideas out when they believe that only the ancient techniques should be used.
I have also came to the conclusion that the esoteric world needs to have both the mythical history and the actual history. Mythical history provides us with emotional support, while being able to talk about the actual history makes us less likely to look like loons.
We are not likely to ever know the absolute truth about anything. The best that we can do is assign a percentage of probability to any given fact or statement based on our current knowledge and resources.
Now I will admit that I find the flame/witch war raging around Hutton v Whitmore amusing; it reminds me of some of the mudslinging that I have seen sitting on the sidelines of academia. Yes, even an undergrad gets to see politics and mudslinging. I think that in my case, with my goal of getting at least a masters degree (history or literature or maybe both), and my past experience in the witch and flame wars (1980's Denver---yeah!), makes me more attuned to seeing how academics treat one another.
Hutton when he published knew that he was opening himself up to criticism. And he knew that not all of it was going to come from trained professionals. There is no law that says that only trained professional academics can review and nitpick the work of professional historians. (The same rule applies to professional occultists and writers.) Rebuttals can come from anyone. Just assign percent values to the original work and the rebuttals and reviews and MOVE ON!
In fact, I hate to say this (sorry to everyone)---but this flame war over Hutton's and Whitmore's works might actually be good. One of the harsh realities of book publishing is that people have to be aware of a book if it is going to sell any copies. It is word-of-mouth that sells books. While I wish there was less name-calling, I am glad that people are becoming more aware of these books.