Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My First-Draft Paper on the 'Crisis of History'

My CESNUR paper, "In the Mists of Avalon: How Contemporary Paganism Dodges the 'Crisis of History,'" has been published on line at the organization's web site.

It is sort of quick and lightweight, but I want to work more on those ideas in the future.

In the immediate future, however, I need to come up with something for my guest-blogger spot at The Wild Hunt. Warning, it's more likely to be snarky than deep.

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Blogger Yewtree said...

If you need a topic for your guest blogpost, may I suggest the "occult / victim mentality / conspiracy theory" version of history (e.g. Atlantis, the Great Mother Goddess matriarchy of prehistory, the over-estimation of numbers killed in the "Burning Times", secret societies ruled everything, Holy Blood and Holy Grail, the UK royal family are supposedly crypto-witches / lizards / aliens, yada yada yada...) Great for snarking!

2:29 AM  
Blogger Yewtree said...

Ooh, very good article, and thanks very much for citing my article on SF.

The book that made me realise I am a Pagan was "Puck of Pook's Hill" by Rudyard Kipling (though it was indeed "Mists of Avalon" that made me aware of the Great Goddess).

2:42 AM  
Blogger Apuleius Platonicus said...

I started with Spiral Dance, then moved directly to Mists, then Dreaming the Dark, and the rest is history, so to speak.

However, the "Old Religion" concept was already deeply embedded in ancient Paganism. Euripides coined the phrase "ancestral traditions coeval with time" in his play on Dionysianism (The Bakkhai). Celsus elaborated on this thesis in his Alethes Logos ("On the True Doctrine"). Julian chided the creed-making fishermen for following a "new" religion that people only learned about through instruction, whereas the Gods worshipped by the Hellenes, according to Julian, had always been known to all humans "without having it taught us".

And in modern English language usage the actual phrase "Old Religion" is of course due to Charles Leland, who died 15 years before the first public appearance of Murray's Witch Cult theory. And Leland's concept was of the same type as that articulated by Eliphas Levi in the famous opening pages of his "Transcendental Magic", which in turn was simply a restatement of the Renaissance concept of Prisca Theologia.....

One could go on (oops - it looks like I already have!). There is also the fact that many researches do now believe that there was a medieval witch cult of "Eurasian" origin. And then there is the fact that Ronald Hutton now freely admits that modern Pagan Witchcraft has a "pedigree" dating back at least 1800 years.

It's really a shame, too. It's cool to read peoples stories about how they have been deeply influenced by these wonderful books by Starhawk, Bradley, Adler, etc. Too bad you had to ruin it by using it as a vehicle to (yet again) peddle your own unsupportable historical narrative, namely that modern Paganism is just another "New Religious Movement".

Just to be clear: the claim that modern Paganism is not rooted in a long-standing religious tradition is false. The truth is that modern Paganism is rooted in precisely the religious traditions that give us the word Pagan in the first place: those religious traditions of the ancient world (including North Africa, the Middle East and Europe - the so-called oikoumene or "known world") that preceded the New Religious Movement commonly known as Christianity.

8:13 AM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...

Apuleius suffers from a typical either/or dichotomy. Either Paganism is ancient or it is a new religious movement.

Paganism as a way of being religious is ancient. Wicca, modern Druidry, Asatru, etc., are new religious movements, created in the late 19th or 20th centuries, and they may be studied as such--which includes looking at how their practitioners deal with history.

9:09 AM  
Blogger Aron said...

Good article!

I would argue that modern Paganism represents new religions specifically inspired by old religions, although in sometime contrasting fashions. Almost every new religion I can think of claims to be inspired by something very old, so I guess I'm not so sure about the distinction Apuleius is trying to make.

9:57 AM  
Anonymous Pitch313 said...

The first book that drew me onto a Pagan path was a collection of Norse myths that I read and re-read during my 4th-6th grade years. The book came from my elementary school's library and I have no certain bibliographic recollections other than that it was beautifully illustrated by a turn of the century artist.

The early influence of science fiction and fantasy probably nudged me in the direction of techno-magery as opposed to Romantic distancing from modern culture.

By the time Mists of Avalon came to press, I'd been a self-acknowledged Neo-Pagan for maybe 20 years, commencing from age 13 or thereabouts.

7:34 PM  
Blogger Apuleius Platonicus said...

All religions practiced today are by definition "modern". Obviously.

It is Ronald Hutton and others who have created the false dichotomy of modern versus ancient. What part of "There is nothing in common between modern and ancient Paganism other than the name" do you find hard to understand, Chas?

Modern Pagans are people living in the 21st century who practice a religion with roots in the distant past. Wicca did not exist until the mid 20th century, but Presbyterianism did not exist until the 16th century, and Congregationalism did not exist until 18th century - but that does no make their adherents members of a new religion - they are Christians first - just as Wiccans are Pagans first.

6:41 AM  
Blogger Apuleius Platonicus said...

Ooops - that was supposed to be "Methodism", not "Congregationalism" - not sure when Congregationalism came along - it might have been the 17th century...

6:42 AM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...

I do not recognize the quote, "There is nothing in common between modern and ancient Paganism..." so you might supply a citation so that I (and others) might read it in context.

And do not forget that Professor Hutton is a historian, not a theologian. He is adamant about the distinction.

The more you write, however, the more that you demonstrate that contemporary Pagans--at least some of them--are suffering a "crisis of history."

8:01 AM  
Blogger Aron said...

Apuleius said "Just to be clear: the claim that modern Paganism is not rooted in a long-standing religious tradition is false."

What makes a long-standing religious tradition to you? I'm thinking about specific traditions in which we can study, showing their history of practice through documents and other evidence.

If you're just speaking of Paganism as anyone who ever expresses an even mild form of polytheism as a long-standing religious tradition, this could mean about anything.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Apuleius Platonicus said...

Hutton quotes himself in "Witches, Druids, and King Arthur" as follows:

"the paganism of today has virtually nothing in common with that of the past except the name"

That is from the first page of Chapter Four, which is page 87 in the edition I have.

This quote is originally from "The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles", pp.335-337 (toward the end of the concluding chapter on "Legacy of Shadows").

8:08 AM  

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