Revisiting the "Moon": An Interview with Ben Whitmore
You feel that Hutton prematurely closed some doors of inquiry. If those doors never yield anything definitive regarding the history of religious Witchcraft or pagan survivals, what do we gain by leaving them open and continuing to explore the possibility of a historical Witchcraft?
I value truth and accuracy, and to say that something is not possible when it's actually entirely possible, even likely, and in some cases demonstrated fact, that doesn't sit right with me. That's not history, it's myth-making. And even though some questions will never yield definitive answers, we don't yet know which questions these are, and we never will know. We can't just whitewash over problem areas of history for simplicity's sake.
But I actually think there's a lot of low-hanging fruit, a lot of questions that could be resolved in the near future by the right person armed with the right information. And the balance of evidence so far points in quite different directions from where Hutton has led us. I feel confident that this whole field of history will continue to open up and bear a lot more fruit. I don't think I'm just grasping at straws.
Now, the other thing we gain by leaving the doors open is freedom to pursue our beliefs without ridicule. By this, I don't mean we suspend critical reasoning and believe whatever takes our fancy. But history looks a bit different to some of us, as a result of our experiences. For example, many witches and Pagans have had experiences with things like clairvoyance, telepathy, spirit travel, and communication with the dead, and to us the old myths, fairy-lore, ballads, and folk traditions seem highly familiar and relevant. We recognize the other-world territory they occupy, because we've been there ourselves.
The same goes with some of the accounts recorded from accused witches, such as Bessie Dunlop, whom Emma Wilby wrote about at length. I might give just one example, at the risk of being scoffed at—you can take it or leave it: In one of my past working groups we were visited in vision by a goddess seated on a cart on a snowy mountainside. There were several very specific elements to the scene that we recorded immediately after the ritual, but none of them were familiar to us. It was a couple of weeks later that I first heard mention of the Germanic folkloric figure Frau Holda, and after some searching I discovered that the details of the vision were all her traditional symbols and attributes. She has continued to play an active role in my life, intervening many times and in many ways since then.
Experiences such as these put a really different spin on things, one that most historians wouldn't accept. More than just nonsense entertainment, might these old stories, songs, and enactments be expressions of a perennial human experience, a powerful visionary spirituality that we today still share? And if we suspect that people have been experiencing and communicating these things over the centuries, might we not feel justified in searching for historical commonality, and even threads of continuity? I say all of this with my theologian hat on, not my historian hat, and of course such reasoning has no place in Trials of the Moon, where I've tried to question my own assumptions and leave personal gnosis well out of it. But it turns out there are powerful traces of commonality and continuity in the historical record. Denying this doesn't benefit anyone.
A hopeless movie junkie, Star Foster believes that good movies are the mythic narratives of our times.