Tuesday, June 7, 2011

QoD Ronald Hutton

Actually, this should be quotes of the day, but it would just be confusing to have a label like that. Yes, I am guilty of reading the latest piece by Ronald Hutton, Writing the History of Witchcraft: A Personal View, that was just published in the latest issue of The Pomegrante. Three months ago, I wouldn't have been bothered to read this, being more of the "What shiny pieces does your tradition have that are not bolted down properly" type of magical worker than the type of pagan/Wiccan that is concerned about what academic historians say about my religion and other interests. Heck, three months ago, I didn't even know who Hutton was. But hey, everyone else is going to be talking about this in the morning, so I better read the article.

For those who just want my conclusion on whether Ronald Hutton should be trusted, just skip to the end, for I discovered that I was biased and not in the way that I am supposed to be as a Golden Dawn authority. I am going to have to turn in my union card---the (human) Third Order is so going to expel me from the tradition for this bias--the real Secret Chiefs (the cats) will agree, just because they are tired of members showing up at the house and disturbing their naps.

Pages numbers are the same as the journal---remember I use MLA style (###) on my blog because footnoting is such a pain to do on blogger.

"[The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Pagan Witchcraft] was not a general history of Paganism, ancient or modern, in Britain or anywhere else. It did not treat of the history of witchcraft outside Britain, except in as much as that affected British developments. It was certainly not intended to attack the foundational claims of Wicca, because in Britain confidence in those claims had already collapsed" (240).

By the time, I joined the Wiccan community in the early 1980s, the foundational story/myth was pretty much ignored, at least in the circles that I traveled in. Occasionally, I still run into someone that believes that the witch-hunts actually was being conducted to purge the remains of a pagan religion---I tend to humor them. Also on occasion, I run into someone that claims to be fam-trad---I really humor them---they tend to be teenagers! Of course, this is America; everyone in America is delusional, more or less. As for the European community, may I remind you that I am not in Europe and that American Wicca comes from Britian, or at least the branch I belong to does. If things are different in Europe, fine and well, but my membership is American---British descent.

"By characterizing witchcraft as a good Pagan religion, persecuted by Christianity, it made nonsense of the fact that ancient European Pagans had tried and executed people, sometimes on a huge scale, for the same crimes (esstentially, attempting to harm others by magical means) as those alleged against early modern witches, only lacking the element of Satanism" (241).

Yeah, that was a bad PR move.

"Triumph was therefore written not to demolish a belief system but to fill a vacuum created by the collapse of one. Both in professional terms and those of my standing among Pagans, it would have been far better for me had I been able to rescue the old orthodoxy instead. To prove the existence of an early modern Pagan witch religion, after all, would have been a sensational coup among historians, while to prove its endurance to the present day would have endeared me to all modern Pagan witches. I simply found the task impossible, and indeed it became more so as my research for the book went on" (241).

I feel like taking him at his word about the purpose of his book. And as a fellow scholar (humor me), I so understand the Holy Grail of academic research---every scholar wishes to pull off a coup.

"[Modern Paganism's] goddess and god were not the deities of a few cranks, drawing on long-distant ancient images, but deity-forms who had manifested themselves to some of the greatest of all British poest, novelists, and scholars. Its beliefs and rites reflected some of the deepest needs of the modern British soul, and it was not a phemomenon marginal to society in general but drew on impulses which were central to it" (241).

Ok, I will admit to being stupid. I see nothing wrong with this statement. Someone please explain why I am supposed to be upset with this man and his work.

"[My] work re-evaluated generally beloved writers such as John Keats, Percy Shelley, Robert Browning, Algernon Swinburne, Charlotte Bronte, Rider Haggard, Kenneth Grahame, and D. H. Lawrence, among many others, and entitled Pagans today legitimately to claim them as forebears" (242).

The Literature major, that is me, just gave this girlish rock star sighting scream. Hutton is giving my goal as a History/Literature double major a boost, some evidence to argue with the heads of my programs that my eventual academic goal is a real academic goal. Again, I really need someone to explain to me why I am supposed to hate this man.

On that note, I am going to hit "publish post" and leave it to those people who are smarter than I am and less invested in this issue to decide if the rest of us should listen to the man. I am the wrong person to do so; after all, I am the man (without knowing of Hutton) who walked into college planning on tracing symbols that informed modern occult thought though literary references from ancient times to the present. My planned focus as a scholar says that I should be defending the man's research. Yes, I will admit that I am biased in this case.

Cue the people who are smarter and less invested than I am to weigh if Ronald Hutton needs to be burned for his heresy.

1 comment:

Wade MacMorrighan said...

Meh, I am not particularly a fan of Prof. Hutton, having read every single book that he's authored, only to find that not a single one of his books is free from egregious methodological flaws and logical fallacies! Very often Hutton will couch his own personal opinions as an axiomatic fact, he will make a claim without substantiating them, he often makes sweeping generalizations that are flat-out wrong when studied in greater depth, and he often cherry-picks or misrepresents his sources when they provide direct evidence that counters his personal agenda. At least when I write history and I encounter evidence that counters my primary thesis, I at least note it and explain why I disagree with it for the benefit and respect of my readers. Hutton often writes as if specialist scholars have it all wrong (EG. the Celtic Sovereignty Goddess--an established fixture of Celtic Studies by the 90s to the present time--was totally ignored by Hutton in his polemic, "Pagan Religions"), but his much more cynical views are supposedly correct by default. However, what really disturbs me is that Hutton's nihilistic style and approach is rubbing off onto Pagans who are writing very one-sided articles that cherry pick data/ misrepresent their sources, which insists that our pagan beliefs are mere baseless myths with no connection with antiquity. Heck, Hutton confessed in a latter book that while he was writing "Triumph of the Moon," he discovered unequivocal evidence proving Wicca's ties to antiquity, but he intentionally chose to ignore it and write as if such evidence was nonexistent. The Catholic Church could not have done a better job at destroying Paganism by depriving us of our roots! Personally, I believe that Hutton's views are either on account of unresolved issues over his mother, who raised him Pagan; or that he was publicly embarrassed by the mendacious scholar Norman Cohn during a debate! Cohn lied to destroy Margaret Murray's reputation, while Cohn did the same thing in order to destroy Carlo Ginzburg's reputation! In fact, Carlo was so poorly treated by scholars here in the US and from the UK that he resigned and moved back to Europe.