Monday, November 8, 2010

The Roots of Modern Paganism Debate II

This new article continues the debate regarding the antiquity of the roots of modern Paganism from the comments section of my previous article. I am replying to Peregrin with this new article as the issues raised by Peregrin require a somewhat lengthy reply.

Peregrin writes:
Hello again,
Sorry if I do not have the energy or time to really go into this. I have done all this before and do not wish to go over it too much. Some stuff is on MOTO, most was years back and not on-line. This is why I ask folk to do their own research.
Just a few points then.
As Pallas says (thank you) I am referring to some not all.
Of course Pagan does not equal Wicca. However, there is no physical EVIDENCE to suggest paganism remained a viable RELIGIOUS path in Europe up to the 20th century.
Of course there were and are pagan survivals; customs, deity prayers, conflation with Christian saints etc. No one disputes this. What I am saying is that there is no evidence that these survivals existed as a religious alternative to Christianity as a full religious tradition. Sadly Christianity subsumed or killed most of these traditions. Folk magical practices, awareness of deities at wells etc do not a religion make, especially when most of the folk doing this named themselves Christians and would attend Christian churches.
Hutton never asserts beyond England and I speculate based on physical evidence.
The leaders of most neo-pagan traditions that became visible in the 60s and 70s had some contact or training with Wicca. Whilst not Wiccan, many from that time drew from Wicca. It is only from the 80s and 90s that we see Pagan reconstructionism consciously forming itself apart from (and sometimes in opposition to) Wicca.
As for your suggestion that unknown pagan activity may have been happening, it really matters little. We can only judge by the evidence. There may have been a secret cult of the Easter Bunny or the Intestine of Judas…if we cannot see evidence of it, we do not know.
To assert or believe something without evidence requires a level of base faith. This I think is inappropriate in mature religion and certainly has no place, to my mind, in the esoteric traditions. We do not accept literal interpretations of scripture without evidence. I see no reason to accept interpretations of Europe’s pagan past without evidence also.
And while my ego appreciates being described as a Christian apologetic, this is really beyond my field of expertise.
Thanks :)
I frankly don't see how this discussion can continue with any seriousness as long as Peregrin  merely ignores all presented evidence (like about Hutton's proclamations on Leland and Italy covered in my previous comments) and instead merely repeats his talking points over and over, propaganda style. Peregrin's new assertion that "Hutton never asserts beyond England" is so factually inaccurate as to beg the question whether Peregrin has actually even read Hutton himself.

Admittedly, Hutton's evidence is rather convincing that today’s Wicca is largely a reinvention. Numerous of Hutton’s subsidiary claims are not nearly as convincing, however. This may suit true Neopagans, who feel no strong ties to the past, but it disenfranchises many other Pagans who feel kinship and connection with antiquity.

Peregrin writes:

"What I am saying is that there is no evidence that these survivals existed as a religious alternative to Christianity as a full religious tradition. Sadly Christianity subsumed or killed most of these traditions. Folk magical practices, awareness of deities at wells etc do not a religion make, especially when most of the folk doing this named themselves Christians and would attend Christian churches."

In this assertion, Peregrin yet once again parrots Hutton. For Hutton, "these people had signalled their conversion to Christianity by the adoption of Christian worship and customs, and Hutton maintains that in so doing, they necessarily abandoned the old gods: one cannot be both Christian and Pagan. Such an assumption of mutual exclusivity is a very important one, as it underpins many of Hutton's arguments and effectively circumvents whole areas of inquiry. It is also a simplistic idea locked in a monotheistic mindset: from a more polytheistic and syncretic paradigm such as that of our European ancestors it was quite feasible to accommodate the new Christian God into an existing pantheon without invalidating the older deities."

Peregrin follows Hutton as well here in defining "religion" in such a narrow manner as to render any possible evidence as moot, although neither Peregrin nor Hutton provide any real evidence to the contrary either. I am not claiming the existence of a massive, organized Pagan resistance movement like Margaret Murray suggested. But for Peregrin and Hutton to deny the existence of ANY evidence of the survival of pagan religious practice is a much bolder claim not born out by the relevant facts.

On the contrary:
"the survival of pre-Christian belief systems and their contribution to the diabolized stereotype of witchcraft in the Early Modern era has become widely accepted in the field of witchcraft history. It has been amply demonstrated by a whole school of well respected historians, including Éva Pócs, Gustav Henningsen, Carlo Ginzburg, Gábor Klaniczay, Wolfgang Behringer and Juhan Kahk (studying witchcraft in Hungary, Sicily, Italy, Eastern Europe, Bavaria and Estonia, respectively), and other luminaries. What these authors have established is that beliefs about magic followed remarkably consistent, well-developed patterns throughout Europe, and that while they operated within the social framework of Christianity they were anything but Christian in origin."
Moreover, Ethnologist João de Pina-Cabral has also examined the problem of Pagan religious survival in detail and concluded that certain ancient Pagan beliefs and practices have had an “uncanny capacity for survival.” The survival of ancient Pagan beliefs and practices are additionally substantiated in Carlo Ginzburg’s Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath.

In an earlier comment, I questioned what the underlying, personal motivations could possibly for Dr. Ronald Hutton to go to such extremes. Large sections of Triumph of the Moon — entire chapters, even — are one-sided, misleading, or plain wrong. Many of Hutton's sources are misrepresented, and for a surprising number of his claims he provides no evidence at all.

Dr. Ronald Hutton
Ronald Hutton was born at Ootacamund in India to a colonial family of Russian ancestry. His mother considered herself to be a "Pagan." Could it be that the vehemence with which Hutton approaches the roots of Paganism in antiquity arises from little more than Hutton's misplaced feelings about his Mother and her religion?

Peregrin next argues that occulted Pagan activity "does not matter," since we can only judge by evidence we can see. This argument betrays the inappropriateness of applying historical method to matters occult or esoteric, wherein the only admissible evidence is the extremely limited written information available to the profane historian - themselves not privy to the initiatic mysteries. By this narrow definition, no initiatic tradition nor secret mystery school may today even be said to exist, due to their very nature as rooted in secrecy!

According to such narrow standards, the esoteric teachings of the Cromlech temple, for example, could not have been said to exist as long as they remained occulted behind initiatic secrecy.

Peregrin's Act of Desecration
Peregrin himself changed this, however, by personally desecrating the Aura papers of the Golden Dawn spin-off, Cromlech Temple's Sun Order, by publishing them without the permission of the surviving Chiefs of that temple.

It is therefore unsurprising to witness Peregrin today apply this same "profanation standard" to initiatic mysteries of Pagan religion as well!

I am certainly not an advocate of blind faith, as Peregrin would like to paint me as. I do however, believe that neither Pagans nor Neo-Pagans should allow academic historians to define our faith for us, especially in light of the depth of lack of academic integrity we have already witnessed ...

... And certainly we should not desecrate initiatic mysteries, merely to satisfy demands for evidence in arenas in which the only evidence acceptable to the historical method is by its very nature precluded for the profane historian as well as for the desecrator of mysteries.

- David Griffin


  1. I have been following this discussion for a while now. Peregrin, you are a pompous ass. Are you even Pagan? I saw on your blog where you bill yourself a Tibetan Buddhist. And here you announce with pride you are a Christian apologetic.
    The only Goddess or God you worship is the idolatry of your mental masturbation.
    This makes sense, because as an oath breaker you are cursed.
    You run. You try to hide. Because you have no faith yourself, you try to destroy the faith of others.
    Go away, accursed little man lest Hecate finally smite you!

  2. @ Morgan
    Clearly there is a lot of passion in the community with Pagans feeling duped by Ronald Hutton into having believed the entire modern Pagan movement has no real roots in antiquity.

    Obviously, now that Hutton's most pernicious arguments have been refuted academically, this infection obviously still needs to be lanced at a deep emotional level.

    This is why I let your comment through despite its, shall we say, rather passionate tone. You deserve to have a voice as much as either Peregrin or I do.

    However, I would appreciate if you would keep your passion a bit more on a slow boil while commenting here on this blog.

    - David Griffin

  3. David Griffin wrote: "It is also a simplistic idea locked in a monotheistic mindset: from a more polytheistic and syncretic paradigm such as that of our European ancestors it was quite feasible to accommodate the new Christian God into an existing pantheon without invalidating the older deities."

    I couldn't agree more. Just take a look a the native Caribbean religions of Haiti and Cuba (Voodoo and Santeria). They integrate Catholic images and symbols (and Saints even) into their clearly pagan and animalistic African religion.

    Personally, while considering myself being a Esoteric Christian, I prefer to look upon Christianity from the Pagan perspective. Thus I enjoy labelling myself as a "Pagan Christian". I see Christ as the latest "incarnation" of the dying god formula which has been prevalent since ancient times in the orient. The other two Monotheist religions (Judaism and Islam) regard many Christian concepts (if not the entire religion) as intrincically pagan. This is telling in my opinion.

    In Licht, Leben und Liebe

  4. It is so nice to see academic dialog here, I have seen this argument so much outside of the blogosphere that it is kind of surreel to see it surface here.

    I have personally wittnessed an occcult apparatus of some sort pull off a full "Delphi Technique" inspired coup. The coup was so emotionally rooted that it brought down multiple members of an unnamed occult forum, and left many others hurt in the wake......

    that sounds far-fetched but its true.

    The people that want to prove theis point have an agenda, and will stop at nothing to achieve it.

    Thats why at the end of all these situations, people we thought were "ok", comprimise themselves for their cause. I repeat: comprimise themselves.....(?)

    hmmmmmmmm. food for thought and investigation.

    My 2 cents: Crowley didnt invent wicca,,,,, he simply broke his oath, and taught Gardener the ANCIENT practice of Magick that he got from the Golden Dawn......

    it was his secret hope to start a religion and he had a full understanding that the occult has a Priestly-Class (GD Initiate), and a relgious follower class (wiccans and pagans).

    Crowley got his info from the Golden Dawn, who got it from the RC, who got it from the Alchemists, who got it from Phaotep and the ANCIENT temples.


    alucinare concordia vertiate LVX deo volente

  5. Hi David,

    Well we are certainly not getting anywhere with this. I will leave it for now and suggest people read the relevant studies to make up their own minds.

    As for my alleged ‘Act of Desecration’ – I wonder who will get to me first – the GD Guardians or Hecate? :)

    @Morgan: I find it ironic that you mention my self-labelling as a Tibetan Buddhist in a post where you display exactly why I no longer call myself a Pagan. I no longer use the term ‘pagan’ as it would associate me with theologies, practices and dysfunction I do not wish to support. Your comment is a case in point: delighting in a theology where a Goddess can ‘smite’ someone for holding a different intellectual opinion. There are very few people who would see that as a sign of a mature religion or spiritual practice. I trust readers will see your comments and theology as atypical of the modern pagan community.

    Thanks :)

  6. I believe we are arguing semantics at this point. Did pagan practices and beliefs survive to differing extents in different areas? Certainly. Was this ever enough to constitute a "continuation of religion"? Highly debatable, and any opinion will vary on the sources one has read, the areas one is studying, and most importantly, the definitions of "religion", "worship", and indeed, "paganism".

    We can certainly take away from this that modern paganism didn't simply appear out of thin air, and that modern pagans looking for ties to antiquity will certainly find them. But this debate highlights the need for pagans to conduct their own scholarly research before touting conclusions presented in books written for the general public.

    What concerns me, however, is that when Peregrin argues that one cannot draw a scholarly historical conclusion based on traditions which have not been verified by academic research to exist, the response (and please correct me if I'm wrong) seems to be a thinly-veiled ad hominem attack. Nowhere did he say that such secret traditions "do not matter" to us as pagans, only that they cannot factor into academic conclusions until their history has been academically researched and verified. While I respect that you strongly disagree with his actions in regard to his publishing, I fail to see how it is relevant to the present debate, other than to paint him as a character whose opinions aren't worth considering.

  7. Care All,
    It is very clear that G.H Frater Les knows what he is talking about, ther is wizdom in his writing that is occulted, not to go into details. Beside this there are people out there who would get offended by the aparent "crusades" here. Let's stop pointing the finger at each other and try to engage in theese types of dicussions intelectually and put aside personal emotional bagage please. I understand that you are a christian but arguably that isnt the only system of worship. There are other religions , faiths and beliefs that are far older and deserve the same respect. There is even a chrisitan teaching, that is so oftem overlooked this is "judge not else thee be judged thyself".i.e dont point the finger. Unfortuanaltely we see this in fundamentlists and Eleitists, which is a form of discrimination. You can not read books that are biased and discriminative and quote it becasue it is biased. Instead you should try to see the two sides of the coin perhaps, use your own judgement and don't let others tell you what is what, and the blindly follow this as gospel, use your god given intelect think for yourselves. My apologies if this offends anyone, but I am trying to make a poin here. Love and L.V.X to everyone!

  8. Pallas Renatus wrote:

    "one cannot draw a scholarly historical conclusion based on traditions which have not been verified by academic research to exist"

    No one is disputing this. However, in this instance such data does already exist and has been specified in detail, although it has already been misrepresented by certain academic historians. Moreover, this field has also been shown to be more properly the domain of anthropology rather than of academic history, whose very methodology in the present instance prevents it from drawing any valid conclusion about the subject matter.

  9. @Fr. LES:

    I happen to agree with you here, which is why I plan on conducting my own review of the published research soon. Even those who disagree with you should agree that this debate serves as an important reminder to all students to check (and recheck!) their sources.

    I only hope that such lively debate can remain civil. I'm sure you have seen more than I how easy it is for both sides to become overly personal in their defenses.

  10. @ Pallas Renatus
    Hearing this answer from you makes this entire debate worthwhile. All that matters is that Pagans do not rely overly on so-called authorities, but remember that even historians have their biases and agendas too.
    As many people that do independent research in this arena, the better. Carlo Ginzburg is a great place to begin.
    I have no doubt that we have by far not heard the end of this debate. As we reach the end of the line with limits of historical research due to the lack of written materials for non-initiates, the role of the anthropologist becomes paramount.
    -David Griffin

  11. Peregrin,

    I KNEW IT!!!

    You're NOT a Pagan.

    That explains everything.


  12. I think that one very important concept that no one seems to be addressing is that "religion" in antiquity had three very specific domains - the religion associated with the State, the Family, and individual - then there were also the mysteries. In all cases, the only really organized religion in antiquity was the State religion, and that was not any where near as "organized" as it became under the authority and influence of the Christian church.

    For instance, there were no theologies, tightly regulated scriptures, single source liturgies, professional priests with exclusive liturgical prerogatives, over-arching hierarchy or even ecumenical councils to establish a common creed. Religion in antiquity was highly informal and unstructured, with only State festivals, celebrations and the larger mystery schools acting as exceptions to this rule, and even then, traditions were subject to change for various reasons. Heads of households could perform community sacrifices and other liturgies, and throughout that time, there wasn't either a book of common liturgy or common belief.

    All of this massive organization and uniformity came about when Christianity was elevated to the State religion in Rome. The common folk were quite happy to attend to the State sponsored religious activities, and then continued with their family and personal traditions, without so much as an eye blink. While many people may have converted to Christianity and gave up their pagan beliefs, others were more or less co-opted into the faith, particularly those who lived in outlying and fringe areas, away from the major cities and towns. Because a religion in those times would have been a mixture of State, family and individual, one would surmise that a truly ancient survival of the pagan times would also incorporate a mixture of State (in this case Christianity), family and individual.

    By the early middle ages, the Catholic church was fully engaged with co-opting pagans into the church (instead of persecuting them), but there was no longer the zeal to thoroughly change how many of them actually believed. So it would not be surprising if some of these folk kept their pagan beliefs and practices quite active while still attending church and outwardly behaving as good Christians. It would not have been until the Reformation that the church and civil authorities would send out witch finders to prosecute anyone who wasn't pure in their faith, and there were no witch trials in Italy, and probably in other locations as well. Even so, a secretive family tradition could have been kept alive all through the middle ages and even into the 20th century, yet it would have been a heterodoxy of Christianity mixed with pagan beliefs and practices. So I think that Peregrine and Hutton are dead wrong about their pronouncement that nothing survived the two thousand years of Christian persecution. Since religion in antiquity differentiated between State, family and the individual, adopting Christianity would have satisfied the need for conforming to the State religion, but doubtlessly could not have completely purged all such practices and beliefs from the family and personal domains.

    I believe, then, that one of the major problems with this discussion is that the definition of what a religion is may be too heavily influenced by Christianity. Hutton is looking for an organized religion analogous to Christianity surviving into the present times, when the religion of antiquity was never organized to such an extent. He has judged that such a religion doesn't indeed exist, and he's right, it doesn't - but then again, it never did until Christianity came along. I would suspect that Hutton is very likely a Christian apologist, and no friend to modern witches and pagans. How ironic, and I never would have known that had I not boned up on my studies of Greek and Roman religion, particularly, the writings of Walter Burkert.

  13. I am pleased to see that the recent debate between Peregrin and I regarding Ronald Hutton and the roots of the modern Pagan movement and faith in antiquity has not gone unnoticed by the greater Pagan community.

    I bring the reader's attention to three excellent links:

    1. Frater Barabbas recent blog on this subject at:


    2. Ben Whitmore's thoroughly researched book debunking Ronald Hutton's generally accepted (but largely unproven) thesis that the modern Pagan movement has no real roots in Pagan antiquity. Large pre-release excerpts of this groundbreaking book are available in .pdf format, kindly provided by the author at:

    I encourage everyone to actually buy this book as well to help support further research by Ben Whitmore, an author who has just made an astounding contribution to the restoration of the Pagan faith to its roots in antiquity. You can buy this important book and support the valuable research of this Pagan author at:

  14. How anyone could mistake Peregrin for a Pagan is beyond me! His low opinion of Wicca, Paganism and low magic is made clear throughout his blog, as polite as he tries to be about it. Maybe it's too subtle for others to spot?

    At any rate, thank you, Frater, for writing these two essays. Really, from the bottom of my heart. These misunderstandings and cognitive biases have gone unexamined for too long. Admittedly, I was a devotee of Hutton's scholarship myself for some time, until I began to investigate the facts on my own, and found that the evidence for Pagan survival was vastly more compelling than I had been led to believe.

    -Soror V.V.F.

  15. Peregrin entered this discussion arguing from what appeared to be a Neo-Pagan viewpoint. Despite my past run-ins with Peregrin, I got the impression initially that this was legit too.

    Admittedly, however, I am not a great fan of Peregrin and thus am not that familiar with this thinking.

    I only rarely "scan" his blog for anything so outrageous as to require rebuttal.

    Beyond the occasional Golden Dawn whopper Peregrin floats or document he desecrates, I really could care less about either Peregrin or his opinions.

    - David Griffin

  16. as fascinating as this discussion is, i have to say that i am somewhat disappointed. Pagan and Magical, History is quite the twisty topic, however, i can't help when reading these comments as well as comments from other similar blogg posts and articles on the Internet, that this is turning in to an argument over who is right and who is wrong, which i fine disappointing. this argument about who is right and who is wrong becomes not about the roots and history of the modern pagan movement, or about further out understanding of where our influences have come from, but instead it becomes about who can yell the loudest and type the most awsome insult. which makes people like me stop reading and pretty much disregard what is being said.

    so my suggestion would be to people who are wishing to look further into this history and into the historical roots, and aruguing it case for or against, would be
    1/ remind your readers to be discerning about what they are reading, even the stuff you have written
    2/site your sources with links
    3/preface things with this is where i am coming from or this is what i have found out/think, as apposed to tell them like it is.

    oh and 4/ leave the personal insults, weather they are veiled or overt, at the door, because otherwise all you will end up with is flames that others such as me are not interested in reading about.

    this is a topic that has huge value, but unfortunately it invertible turns into a pissing contest, which ultimately leads to loosing the original topic in the first place. so please please for the sake of readers like me, don't make it about proving right or wrong, but about the infomation..


  17. I would say that paganism has always existed and always will. This is so because, for one thing, the entire Christian religion is pagan. The pagan Mysteries, myths, and customs (which Christianity has so faithfully preserved)remains intact. The older myth of the dying god was merely transfered to the Christos, the God-Man of Israel. Sun-day worship, crosses, babtism, bread and wine, easter, christmas, death and ressurrection, human mother and divine father, the 12 zodiac signs (apostles), etc.

    Furthermore, Wicca is a NEW religion. Gerald Gardner invented it. I am a Wiccan and I accept this truth fully. It was all borrowed from ceremonial magick... Well.. elements of it were. The actual spells themselves are more remminescent of gypsy magick and various folk magick practices. Wicca is not an old religion. It is dishonest what Gardner claimed, but I'm glad Gardner made the religion as I see it as more compatible with magick and such than the dogma and concepts of sin in Christianity.

    Yes Wicca is a NEW religion and so is much of the pagan revival. However, the myths, holidays, god-forms worshipped, and heart is ancient. Christianity perpetuates paganism. And the Golden Dawn is much based on Judaeo-christian ceremonial magick...

    One should also consider that, not only is Christianity pagan, but the Qabalah, astrology, alchemy, Hermetic philosophy, magick, and divination are ALL age-old pagan science.

    If you want to speak of Mystery Schools... There were many in the pagan world: The Mysteries of Osiris and Isis in Egyptian pagan religion, the Mysteries of Orpheus, the Elusinian Mysteries of Greece, the Mithraic Mysteries, the Mysteries of Tammuz and Ishtar, the Druidic and Odinic Mysteries... all were the deeper faith of paganism.. all based on certain gods or goddesses such as osiris or isis or persephone. THATS WHAT THEY MYSTERY SCHOOLS ARE.. CENTERS OF PAGAN LEARNING.

    Therefore... the entire discussion of pagan revival i see as rather comical, since we are all pagans speaking about the re-emergence of "those" pagans over there. Of course after tens of thousands of years of faith and devotion, there will be rebirth and re-emergence of the older pagan faiths. this is expected, or atleast it should be. you cant squash it.. it will only emerge in another place! i think religion, however, should not be as it was in older times. religion should evolve with human understanding, culture, new values, and technology. the religion of the past would not work for modern times. so new innovations would be necessary, Wicca being a satisfying shell or form for the Ancient Ones to be honored.. or atleast many feel that way.

    Remember... in the grade of Neophyte.. it mentions to always repsect the religions of another. who are we to condemn what is sacred in anothers eyes.

    -Frater V.H. E.O.G.D and Eclectic witch.