Monday, May 27, 2013

Pagan Scholarship and anti-Pagan Propaganda

by David Griffin

"Pagans today have NO roots in antiquity!"
"Because we wiped out every trace - We KNOW."

Many Pagans today believe there are no clear links between ancient and modern Paganism. They are convinced there exist only reconstructed Pagan traditions and that any direct, lineal survival of ancient Paganism has been completely debunked by modern scholars.

Such misunderstandings are unsurprising, since modern Pagan research has been misrepresented over and over on Christian websites, blogs, etc. Most Christians are neither involved nor even interested in such shenanigans. There are, however, elements within Christianity that still have not given up trying to suppress Paganism, especially now that Paganism is growing, and are not above using modern propaganda methods to achieve their objective.

Take, for example, the impartial sounding Religious Studies blog. There you find claims that any connection between modern and ancient Paganism has been thoroughly debunked by modern Pagan scholars. Yet on the same blog, you find the historical veracity of Jesus proven by mere quotation of Biblical scripture!

Why is it that aspects of Paganism are subjected to one standard of scrutiny and those of other religions to a completely different yardstick?

Sadly, even "pro-Pagan" scholars are not above such double standards. Take for example, how Pagan "hard polytheists" have recently been branded fundamentalists by Wiccan Sabina Magliocco, Chairperson of the Department of Anthropology of California State University, Northridge, when Magliocco wrote in the article you can read here
"These [Pagan Fundamentalisms] have centered around two hot-button topics: the historicity of Wiccan foundational narratives, and the nature of the gods." -Sabina Magliocco
Sabina Magliocco

Why is it that Pagan hard polytheists are branded fundamentalists, yet Christians, Jews, and Muslims, who likewise believe in the objective existence of THEIR Gods are not likewise denigrated, nor are Hindu hard polytheists for that matter either.

Such a double standard coming from a self-identified Wiccan is unethical enough on its own, but out and out fear mongering about an unspecified and unsubstantiated "Rise of Pagan Fundamentalism" has no place  in responsible academic research.

Let us next examine the foundational narratives relevant to the survival of ancient Paganism, likewise branded fundamentalist by Dr. Magliocco. Note that Magliocco is quite careful to confine her fear mongering about "Pagan fundamentalists" to Wicca, regarding the "historicity of Pagan foundational narratives."

Such caution is thrown to the wind in anti-Pagan propaganda elsewhere describing Pagan scholarship, however. In the article on the Religious Studies blog entitled, The origins of neopaganism and Prof. Ronald Hutton we find, for example:
"Some neopagans, however, claim that their religion is a direct, lineal survival of ancient paganism...  
... How much of this is actually true? In particular, how much of modern Wicca is a genuine survival of ancient paganism?... The evidence shows that Wicca was created by Gerald Gardner and a small number of other middle-class occultists between the 1920s and the 1950s ... 
the Religious Studies article then wildly concludes:
... Paganism as such disappeared from Europe with the spread of Christianity, and did not reappear until the pagan revival got under way in the 19th century."
Ronald Hutton

Note the way the above, anti-Pagan propaganda narrative seamlessly jumps from Prof. Hutton of Bristol University's Department of History's research on Wicca in southern England to the unsupported conclusion that Paganism as such disappeared from Europe with the spread of Christianity.

I am not suggesting that Pagan scholars like Prof. Magliocco or Prof. Hutton are secretly persuing a Crypto-Christian agenda. These scholars are indeed, however, playing directly into the hands of Christian propagdists out to impede the growth of Paganism.

What is it then that contemporary scholarship actually does say - if not that Paganism disappeared from Europe until the 19th Century Pagan revival?

Prof. Magliocco, for example, readily admits that:
"There are very clear links between ancient and modern Paganisms ...  The links can be found in folk customs, in the Western tradition of magic and esotericism, and in art, literature and philosophy." -Sabina Magliocco
This statement is strongly supported by data provided by anthropological informants of my wife, anthropologist/initiate, Leslie McQuade Griffin, as we shall see below. Dr. Magliocco, however, continues:
"As an anthropologist, I am bound by a code of ethics which demands that I put the good of the communities I work with before anything else, including my research program and professional advancement."
I am not questioning Dr. Magliocco's ethics in particular, but the above statement invokes the entrenched belief held by many Pagans that the ethics of academic research can be blindly trusted. This, in reality, is not always the case, as Leslie McQuade shockingly outlines here:
Leslie McQuade Griffin
"As an archeologist, I have had the great fortune to work in some pretty amazing places, from the English Heritage, Eartham Pit dig in West Sussex where Homo heidelbergensis was discovered during the dig, to the Botai dig in Kazakhstan for the Carnegie Mellon Museum of Natural History, where I was told to cover up the discovery of artifacts made of bone which bore a striking resemblance to screw drivers, which would be astonishing for the time period - to the Chatan-cho dig Okinawa where we were ordered to conceal our discoveries by the Japanese government since they didn't like that we found Koreans rather than Japanese.
I left archeology when the sanctity of scientific data was repeatedly sacrificed for political expedience. As a scientist, I wanted no part in such hypocricy."
Thus, when McQuade began to concentrate more on ethnography, she was already aware of the profound role scholarly bias and even political expediency frequently play in academic research. On significant archeological digs, McQuade was ordered to manipulate and suppress data to skew results of research.

On the subject of Pagan survival, HPS McQuade recently wrote:
"Initiates also hid themselves within Christianity itself, transmuting the ancient Egyptian symbols into versions easily hidden in the symbols and tenants of the new, aggressive faith for re-emergence when the time was both safe and right. 
As has been demonstrated by my Italian Pagan informant, Dianus del Bosco Sacro, in his article, “The Great Rite, Hermeticism and the Shamanic-Pagan Tradition of the Sacred Forest of Nemi,” these same initiatic mysteries can be found preserved encoded in divergent symbol systems across centuries, from the frescoes of the Villa of the Mysteries of ancient Pompeii to the symbols of Hermetic alchemy, only to reappear in Leland’s “Aradia: The Gospel of the Witches.” [Fenris Wolf V: Journal for Magical Anthropology, Stockholm 2013] 
In addition to Dianus, Frater Lux E Tenebris, my alchemical Master and point of contact with the Golden Dawn's Secret Chiefs, has additionally agreed to serve as anthropological informant for Leslie's Pagan ethnographic research. Leslie showed the present article to Frater L.e.T. for comment this morning. Frater LeT added the following to conclude the article:
"There is not one form of Paganism, but two that have survived since antiquity. Prof. Magliocco and others are correct in their observations regarding folk customs, cunning folk, etc. These, however, are but remnants of a "low" Pagan tradition, crumbs of ancient wisdom found among ignorant common folk, mixed with superstition, etc. 
There is, however, a pure Pagan current that survived by remaining completely underground. The ancient Pagan Sacerdotal tradition was preserved by initiatic societies, and there is plenty of publicly available evidence of this survival. For example, Pagan thought reached its apogee with Plotinus. From there arise all of the visible teachings that follow. 
Many Pagan mysteries were concealed inside Christianity itself albeit under another name, for example in Gnosticism in the early centuries. We find Pagan teachings again in the writings of Giordano Bruno, the high magic of Tomas Campanella, Marcilio Ficino, and the group gathered around the De Medici family. 
We find Pagan teachings again in Trithemius and Agrippa, who while posing as Christians in order to protect themselves, nonetheless communicated the ancient Pagan Celestial Magick. Just look at the letters his "Christian" friends sent to Agrippa before the publication of his occult philosophy (which contains PAGAN Magick with but a Christian veneer), warning Agrippa to be very careful lest he be arrested, tortured, and burned. 
Paganism was deeply occulted following the edicts of the Emperors so that it might not be destroyed. But even much of the structure of the Christian church itself is Pagan in origin, including the title today used by the head of the Christian church, Pontifex Maximus. 
And these are but the external signs of what was preserved occulted by the Sacerdotal Colleges, later becoming Rosicrucian and the initiatic orders, and transmitted to us today. 
Thus there is not doubt that Paganism has survived. The scholars know this, although they choose to focus on the "low" Pagan tradition  as it survived mixed with superstition in folk magic, etc. To admit the survival of the "high," Sacerdotal Pagan tradition is not in the interest of Christianity." 
The time has come for Pagans to let go of overly naive trust in academia. Academia is never perfectly objective. Scholarly bias nearly always plays a role in research - and even manipulation and supression of data to skew results are not unheard of.

Pagan scholars be should be even more wary how statements they make may be misrepresented by others and turned against our Pagan community, and as far as ethics go, there is no place in academia for fear mongering,

Historians and anthropologists investigating the survival of remnants of Pagan antiquity should examine the Western esoteric tradition more closely.

That no remnants of ancient Pagan "high" Sacerdotal traditions have yet been uncovered, does not necessarily mean they no longer exist.

Scholars may have just been looking in the wrong places...

"A chair? Impossible."
...or sitting on the data all along!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. As noted in an earlier article, the real polarity is between magic and materialism. In the west, a rigid, one-sided and materialistic view of science has developed that is more antithetical to magic than mysticism ever was. No one should be surprised that academics are attacking magic and paganism.

    The other thing is that this article complains of a "double standard" but clearly the standard used by traditional religion is far too flimsy. I wouldn't want to eliminate a "double standard" simply by lowering standards of historical research to the same level that fundamentalists use.

    While a true understanding of pagan magick is possible, there are far too many hippies out there claiming to be "pagans", just like some of them claim to be "shamans". In fact I've even had someone boast to me that they are a "bodhisattva" - people like these do need to be put in their place by solid historical research, using high standards. They are abrogating terms they don't understand just to get attention. Real paganism requires a discipline that is beyond what I have seen present in the majority of self-styled "pagans" I've met.

    Also most fundamentalists would reject paganism even if it was able to prove its lineage to them. So the article is correct to say this is a non-issue for most christians.