The Wild Hunt Podcast, Episode 1: Paganicon and Pagan Scholarship

The Wild Hunt Podcast, Episode 1: Paganicon and Pagan Scholarship March 25, 2012

Welcome to a new supplemental feature here at The Wild Hunt, The Wild Hunt Podcast (you’re dazzled by the unique name, I can tell). This (hopefully) weekly podcast will take a deeper look at stories, links, and personalities that I feature in my daily updates. In this first episode of The Wild Hunt Podcast, we interview Elysia Gallo, Senior Acquisitions Editor for Llewellyn Worldwide, and Cara Schulz of PNC-Minnesota about the Minnesota Pagan convention Paganicon, now in its second year. In the second segment, we interview Caroline Tully from the University of Melbourne about her recently-published paper “Researching the Past is a Foreign Country: Cognitive Dissonance as a Response by Practitioner Pagans to Academic Research on the History of Pagan Religions.”

Elysia Gallo with her husband Tamas at Paganicon 2012. (Photo PNC-Minnesota)

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You can listen to, and download, the episode at

Segment Listing:

  1. Intro
  2. “Naiades” by Monica Richards from her new album “Naiades.”
  3. Interview with Elysia Gallo and Cara Schulz about Paganicon
  4. “Nereides” by Monica Richards from her new album “Naiades.”
  5. Interview with Caroline Tully about her Pomegranate article.
  6. Outro

Relevant Links:

I hope you enjoy the show, stay tuned for next time where I’ll discuss fascism and Dan Halloran’s potential run for Congress (not necessarily in that order).

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28 responses to “The Wild Hunt Podcast, Episode 1: Paganicon and Pagan Scholarship”

  1. Great work, Jason! I enjoyed listening to this show and hope to hear more from you soon in this format.

  2. iTunes or not, is there a podcast-specific feed I can put into my feed aggregator so that I can get these onto my device without hassle?

  3. Only because my life doesn’t work well for sitting at the computer to listen, and if I can put it on my phone I can listen in the car.

  4. Yes, more content from one of my favorite blogs. Please let us know when we can subscribe to a feed.

  5. Caroline and I presented our papers at the same session of AAR, and we agree on a lot; I posted my talk publicly shortly after the conference, so I’m very pleased to see that she managed a public-access venue for her paper as well.

    One thing I’d like to emphasize, though, is that non-scholarly practitioners’ perceptions that there are political and ideological dimensions to scholarly debates are not completely crazy. The problem is not so much practitioners’ objections to scholarship, in my opinion, as the tone in which those objections are made, and the fact that they’re often underinformed.

    I feel strongly that it is scholars’ responsibility to serve the public. Part of that service is educating the public about the standards and conventions of scholarship. I’d like to see more effort on the part of scholars to address that lack of understanding so that practitioner/scholar conversations can be more productive.

  6. Since Caroline Tully does not provide much in the way of data to back up her very questionable claim about “an internet smear campaign against [Ronald Hutton], motivated by [Ben] Whitmore’s attempted criticism”, I have taken the trouble of putting together a list of (nearly forty) links to a broad range of reactions to Whitmore’s book, Trials of the Moon, from around teh interwebs:

    I would particularly like to draw everyone’s attention to the very detailed, and calmly reasoned, review of Whitmore’s book by Max Dashu:

  7. Is your concern with “tone” only limited to critics of Hutton? What about the tone of Tully’s article? What about Peg Aloi’s response to Whitmore’s book, which by Aloi’s own admission, was “snarky” (and was only based on reading part of the book)?

    And really I see no reason why the kabuki-esque jargon-laden circumlocutions of contemporary academic discourse should be held up as the gold standard for constructive debate. There is a lot to be said for speaking plainly.

  8. thank you so much for your tireless work Apuleius!

    To refer to these arguments as “attempted” criticism……i mean really……the level of condescension from these people is unbelievable.

    This is argumentum verecundiam at its finest

  9. There’s also a lot to be said for the presumption of good faith in other scholars’ arguments, which doesn’t seem to get quite so much airtime among critics of Hutton and other scholars.  It’s not too different from the skeptics’ charge that climate scientists are engaging in a massive conspiracy to promote climate change, or that evolutionary biologists are trying to destroy Christianity.  Engage the arguments, not the people, unless you have substantial evidence that there is in fact another agenda at work.

  10. If only there were more discussion of the actual issues, rather than all this hand-wringing over proper debate etiquette.

    For example, Kraemer states in her paper that in “Triumph of the Moon” Hutton had supposedly succeeded in demonstrating that modern Paganism has “considerably less to do with ancient Paganism than previously believed.” But Kraemer forgets (or possibly is unaware of the fact) that just a few years after writing Triumph, Hutton admitted that modern Paganism actually has far more to do with ancient Paganism than he had previously believed. 

    But Kraemer can’t afford to present Hutton’s actual views on modern Paganism’s historical roots, because then she would have to admit that there is far more to the views of Frew and Whitmore (and others such as Max Dashu, Raven Grimmassi, etc).

    The truth is that everyone (or at least Hutton himself along with his critics, while Hutton’s fans are still well behind the curve) now accepts that there is a genuine continuity between modern and ancient Paganism, and the real question is what this continuity consists of and how to best characterize it.

  11. Kraemer’s statement accurately characterizes Hutton’s stated position in Triumph, which is the position to which his critics have responded.  I thought that to be perfectly clear in the context of the paper.

  12. First of all, Whitmore references Hutton’s 2003 book “Witches, Druids, and King Arthur”, in which Hutton conceded that modern Paganism’s historical roots go back at least to late antiquity. Therefore this is well within the scope of Kraemer’s article.

    But more importantly, Kraemer is attempting to analyze the responses of Pagans who have rejected the position that Hutton took in “Triumph”. Certainly the fact that Hutton himself rejected that position is relevant! Hutton might insist that he merely “modified” his position, but the fact is that he went from (a) insisting that the origins of modern Paganism go back no further than the 18th century, to (b) admitting that the origins of modern Paganism go back at least 18 centuries.

    In “Triumph” Hutton went out of his way to criticize Margot Adler and others for merely suggesting that there might be some truth to the notion of the Old Religion. But there can be no doubt that what Hutton wrote in “Witches, Druids, and King Arthur” strongly supports the position that there is in fact quite a lot to the notion of the Old Religion.

    The fact is that none of the prominent critics of Hutton (Frew, Whitmore, Grimassi, Dashu, etc) have ever promoted a doctrinaire “Murrayite” position. Even Gerald Gardner never promoted such a position! All of them (including Gardner!) have, rather, taken positions that are rather close to the one Hutton was forced to arrive at after writing “Triumph”.

  13. First, I feel I need to correct your mischaracterization of Hutton’s comments on Adler: he is at least as supportive of Adler’s stance as he is critical, calling it “a first step” in creating “a relationship with current academic historiography” (Triumph, p. 376).

    Second, while you may dispute the use of “modified” to characterize Hutton’s changes in stance, I would argue that there is in fact no inconsistency between rejecting the idea that British Wicca was a direct lineal descendant of ancient British pagan religions via medieval witchcraft (the “Old Religion” thesis of Murray), and supporting the idea that British Wicca has some substantial traits in common with the theurgy of late antiquity through ceremonial magical traditions of the intervening periods, which appears to be his position now.  You seem to be portraying Hutton’s “modification” as a straight reversal of his position, which I think does substantial violence to his expressed views.

  14.  AP:

    In prior arguments you have often pointed out that Hutton, in making the case against older origins of modern pagan traditions, mis-states Gardner’s own claims in that regard.

    Now, you are saying that Hutton himself has substantially changed his own position, and in fact ackonwledges such origins.

    Doesn’t that rather contradict your own strong positions taken against Hutton until now?


  15. Hi Cigfran, the problem is twofold:

    (1) First of all Hutton has been trying to have it both ways going all the way back to his “Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles” (1993), in which he finally concedes, somewhere very close to the end of the book, that “if Wicca and and its successors are viewed as a form of ritual magic, then they have a distinguished and long pedigree, stretching back … [to] Hellenistic Egypt.” But Hutton loaded this concession down with qualifications and disclaimers. In particular he adamantly insisted that this “magical” continuity was totally separate from any “religious” continuity, which presupposes a clear bright line separating religion and magic – a bright line that simply does not exist, or at any rate is denied by a large number of experts in the field of ancient religion and religious studies generally. If a significant overlap between religion and magic is accepted (as it is by a great many scholars), then Hutton’s position has amounted to an endorsement of “The Old Religoin” all along! And by now, the position that Hutton took in the early 90s of a sharp separation between religion and magic has very few, if any, explicit supporters.

    (2) Second of all, even once Hutton admitted, in “Witches, Druids, and King Arthur”, that the religious roots of modern Paganism actually stretch back at least to late antiquity, Hutton nevertheless once again loaded this admission down with a farrago of provisos and asterisks, in the hopes that no one will notice what is protruding unmistakably out from behind these fig leaves.

    I have consistently recognized the positive aspects of Hutton’s changed position since the writing of “Witches, Druids, and King Arthur”, while at the same time criticizing him for failing to acknowledge just how radically different this position is from the one he rigidly espoused in his earlier writings. And it is the Huttonian position prior to his change of mind that the Caroline Tullys, Christine Kraemers, etc, still blindly defend against all comers.

    And it must be emphasized that all along Hutton has consistently, and egregiously, misrepresented Gerald Gardner’s own version of the origins of Wicca, which everyone can read for themselves in “Witchcraft Today” and “The Meaning of Witchcraft”. In those books Gardner never makes the “specific historical claim” that Hutton & Co. still falsely attribute to him.

  16. “If a significant overlap between religion and magic is accepted (as it
    is by a great many scholars), then Hutton’s position has amounted to an
    endorsement of “The Old Religion” all along!”

    Except that here you’re using the phrase “the Old Religion” in a way that (a) is not the way that Leland and Murray used it (to indicate the survival of an underground, explicitly pagan religious tradition from pre-Christian Europe into medieval times to resurface as witchcraft, and subsequently into the present), and which was criticized in the scholarship Hutton summarizes; and (b) conveniently encompasses Hutton’s current position on the historical roots of Wicca, which enables you to claim that he is now explicitly *for* what he was previously explicitly *against*, which is untrue.

  17. For the record, here are Hutton’s statements from *Triumph* with regard to Gardner’s personal and published positions on the origins of Wicca:

    “Three years later he [Gardner] brought out a book, *Witchcraft Today*, in which he posed as a disinterested anthropologist who had been lucky enough to discover its [Wicca’s] survival as a secret and initiatory system of pagan religion.” (p. 206)

    “He [Gardner] regarded its [Wicca’s] historical context, and validity, as established, by the work of Margaret Murray and the scholars who had endorsed it from the late 1940s, as described earlier.” (pp. 244-245)

    [Regarding testimony about Gardner from Olive Green] “He evaded all questions about the origin and antiquity of his tradition.” (p. 251)

    “He [Gardner] published a last book, *The Meaning of Witchcraft*, in 1959, which amplified the historical background to Wicca provided by Margaret Murray and defended the religion systematically against the press attacks.” (p. 252)

    The Hutton quote that AP likes to brandish regarding a “specific historical claim” makes no reference to Gardner: “Modern pagan witchcraft had, after all, appeared as a movement with a very specific historical claim….” (p. 376)

  18. And finally, from Chapter 1 of *The Meaning of Witchcraft* by Gardner:

    “Thirdly, that school, headed by anthropologists like Dr. Margaret Murray, which has tried to look at the subject without either superstitious terrors and theological argument on the one hand, or materialistic incredulity on the other.  This school of thought maintains that witchcraft is simply the remains of the old pagan religion of western Europe, dating back to the Stone Age, and that the reason for the Church’s persecution of it was that it was a dangerous rival.  I personally belong to this third school, because its findings accord with my own experience, and because it is the only theory which seems to me to make sense when viewed in the light of the facts of history.”

    So despite your assertions otherwise, AP, it would seem that Gardner *did* explicitly endorse Murray’s theory of the origins of witchcraft.

  19. Scott: Murray can be read in a variety of ways, and Carlo Ginzburg has repeatedly defended Murray’s insights as containing a significant “kernel of truth” concerning the incompleteness of the Christianization of Europe and the religious nature of the Witch-Hunts. Gardner’s agreement with Murray is of the same nature as Ginzburg’s, and does not imply an endorsement of everything that Murray ever said, or every interpretation that anyone has ever placed on her works.

    To be precise: Gardner is here only saying two things, which either taken separately or together do not amount to the mythical “Murrayite” position that supposedly constitutes “the very specific historical claims” that Hutton (and his droogies) falsely assert was the “founding myth” of Gardner’s Wicca. These two positions are: (1) that the Witch-Hunts were aimed at eradicating surviving Pagan beliefs and practices, and (2) that this attempted eradication was unsuccessful, and that Wicca is a testament to this.

    The first of these propositions is supported by a variety of researchers, including Ginzburg, Christine Larner, Ruth Martin, Alan MacFarlane, Eva Pocs, P.G. Maxwell-Stuart and others.

    The second proposition merely asserts that modern Pagans, including Wiccans, are the inheritors of whatever Pagan beliefs and practices managed to survive the centuries of murderous persecution that constitute the history of theocratic Christendom (inclusive of, but not limited to the period of the early modern Witch-Hunts). On the fragmentary and often nebulous nature of these “remains” (Gardner’s word) Gardner is quite clear, as seen in these quotes from Witchcraft Today:

    “If we only knew really what the Druids believed and taught, whether
    there was only one form of belief and whether they had various sects
    among them, it would be easier to say whether there was any connection
    or not with witchcraft.” [chp. 2]

    “The witches do not know the origin of their cult.” [chp. 3]

    “At one time I believed the whole cult was directly descended from the
    Northern European culture of the Stone Age, uninfluenced by anything
    else; but I now think that it was influenced by the Greek and Roman
    mysteries which originally may have come from Egypt.” [chp. 4]

    “There are resemblances to Freemasonry in certain parts of the rites
    which I think can-not be due to chance, so I think the one influenced
    the other … although
    this is all guesswork on my part. I can only judge on the evidence I can
    find.” [chp. 9]

  20. But don’t you see Scott, this is precisely the point: that Hutton refuses to say, specifically, who actually made the “very specific historical claim”.

    My references to Gardner prove that Gardner not only did not make any such specific historical claim, he in fact explicitly rejects such a position and repeatedly emphasizes the limitations of his own historical knowledge and also says that “the Witches” as a group “do not know the origin of their cult”. But if Gardner is not the source of this “very specific historical claim”, and if Gardner’s Witches, at least according to Gardner, also made no such claim, then Hutton is just pulling things out of thin air, isn’t he?

  21. Scott: you obviously are unaware of how Charles Leland used the phrase “old religion”. Here is a quote from Etruscan Roman Remains:

    “Among these people, stregeria, or witchcraft–or, as I have heard it called, ‘la vecchia religione’ (or ‘the old religion’)–exists to a degree which would even astonish many Italians. This stregeria, or old religion, is something more than a sorcery, and something less than a faith. It consists in remains of a mythology of spirits, the principal of whom preserve the names and attributes of the old Etruscan gods, such as Tinia, or Jupiter, Faflon, or Bacchus, and Teramo (in Etruscan Turms), or Mercury. With these there still exist, in a few memories, the most ancient Roman rural deities, such as Silvanus, Palus, Pan, and the Fauns. To all of these invocations or prayers in rude metrical form are still addressed, or are at least preserved, and there are many stories current regarding them.”

  22.  AP: Should Hutton have cited Gardner’s claim?  Yes.  Does his failure to do
    so actually weaken his argument?  I don’t think so, especially since Gardner
    *did* explicitly endorse Murray’s thesis (and outline what he understood it to
    mean) in *The Meaning of Witchcraft,* as I showed above.  Your response to that
    passage, apparently, is to assert that Gardner did not, in fact, endorse
    Murray’s thesis, due to some hesitant statements about Wicca’s origins in
    *Witchcraft Today*.  I agree that those statements are cautious.  There’s a lot
    that’s cautious about that work, including Gardner’s self-identification in it:
    remember, he wrote that book from the standpoint of a sympathetic
    anthropologist, not as a practitioner.  I am therefore reluctant to accept that
    Gardner’s early caution in WT should be privileged over his outright subsequent
    endorsement of Murray in MW.  Add to that the fact that Murray *wrote the
    introduction* to WT, and I think that the preponderance of the evidence indicates that Gardner intended Wicca to be identified with the Murray survival thesis,
    even if his early work didn’t say so in so many words.
    You are correct that I am not very familiar with Leland’s work.  I understand
    the quote that you provided to *support* the idea that “the Old Religion” refers
    to an underground survival of explicitly pagan religion into the modern day –
    the Murray definition, in other words.  This is *not* a position that Hutton has
    endorsed, and I have already stated my objection to your redefinition of “the
    Old Religion” in a way that distorts Hutton’s views to make them appear to
    reverse.  If it’s your position that Leland’s definition here uses “the Old
    Religion” to mean a connection to theurgy through ceremonial magic rather than a
    survival of popular pagan cultus, you’re going to have to spell it out for me,
    because I don’t see it.

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