Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Pomegranate & The Pagan Knight (Reply to Ronald Hutton)

by David Griffin

Ronald Hutton
Regular readers of the Golden Dawn blog are aware of my mistrust of the Pagan scholarship of Prof. Ronald Hutton of Bristol university. This article will come as a surprise, as for once I actually have words of praise for Dr. Hutton.


Ronald Hutton recently published an article in the Pomegranate on-line Pagan journal that attempts to address concerns raised by Pagan scholars around the world regarding Hutton's treatment of the origins of Wicca and the subject of Pagan survival from antiquity in his monumental tome, Triumph of the Moon. The new article, entitled "Writing the History of Witchcraft: A Personal View." has received accolades from numerous bloggers, including Barrabbas Tiresius on the Talking About Ritual Magick blog. I personally do not share Frater Barrabbas' effusive belief in Hutton's vindication, although the article does answer at least some of the objections raised by independent Pagan researcher, Wiccan HP Ben Whitmore.

Max Dashu
Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about Hutton's article is that Hutton actually engages some the arguments raised in Whitmore's recent book, Trials of the Moon. This stands in stark contrast to Hutton's past dismissive attitude vis a vis independent Pagan researchers like Don Frew and Max Dashu.

Don Frew
If there is anything negative about Dr. Hutton's Pomegranate article, it would be his immodest self-portrayal as a Pagan knight jousting against an implacable Academy. Judging by Triumph, Hutton's newly self-appointed role as champion of the Pagan faith is not really merited.

Hutton does deserve kudos for attempting to rescue Wicca from an abyss left by the collapse of Wicca's foundational story. Triumph, however, attempts to bootstrap credibility for  a baseless attack on Continental Pagan origins by Hutton, using an otherwise well-researched study.

Based on the new article, it appears Hutton may have finally learned his lesson. Gone are the sweeping generalizations that pepper parts of Triumph of the Moon. Gone are the unsubstantiated judgements as well. Instead, Hutton appears to finally confine his remarks to his stated study area of Wicca in Southern England.

Even in regard to anthropology, Hutton has now become more cautious in his presentation as well. Gone is every trace of personal anecdote masquerading as ethnographic data. Nonetheless, in the new article, Hutton does claim:
"Between 1999 and 2002 I therefore read 130 studies of the subject by anthropologists working outside Europe, which included the great majority of those made and all of the most important."
This is all well and good. Reading 130 anthropological articles, however, still does not make Hutton a trained anthropologist. In discussions I had with various professionals at the annual conference of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness last March in Portland, I found nearly unanimous professional consensus that the greatest weakness of Triumph is Hutton's tendency to play anthropologist, although he is completely untrained in the rigors of the ethnographic method.


Judging from the Pomegranate article, it would appear that, eleven long years after Triumph first appeared, Dr. Hutton may finally have learned his lesson. In the wake of severe criticism of Triumph by scholars, it finally seems Dr. Hutton will henceforth confine his pronouncements to his actual field of expertise and that his judgements might even remain in his stated study area.

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