Words empty as the wind are best left unsaid.


A picture is worth a thousand words.

~Napoleon Bonaparte

Friday, 2 November 2012

Wicca, Triple Goddess and Neopagan religion

G. Gardner was instrumental in bringing the neopagan religion of Wicca to public attention and wrote some of its definitive religious texts.

Gerald Brosseau Gardner (1884 – 1964), also known by the craft name Scire, was an English Wiccan priest, the author of Witchcraft Today and The Meaning of Witchcraft, as well as an amateur anthropologist and archaeologist, writer, weaponry expert and occultist.

In 1910 he was initiated as an Apprentice Freemason into a Lodge of the Irish Constitution (Sphinx Lodge No 107) in Colombo. He took the second and third degrees of Freemasonry within the next month, but this enthusiasm seems also to have waned and he resigned the next year. He joined the Rosicrucian Order Crotona Fellowship, an occult society based upon Rosicrucianism. However, Gardner was quite critical of many of the group's practices; their leader, who went by the name of Aurelius, claimed to be the reincarnation of Pythagoras, Cornelius Agrippa and Francis Bacon.

He joined the Ancient Druid Order, an organization that promoted the Neopagan religion of Druidry, as well as a mystical Christian group, the Ancient British Church, who ordained him as a priest. The researcher Philip Heselton also speculated that Gardner may well have met Dion Byngham, the leader of the pagan wing of the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry, whose beliefs and practices, termed Dionisianism after the Greco-Roman god Dionysus, bore many similarities with Gardnerian Wicca.

On May Day 1947, his friend, the stage magician Arnold Crowther, introduced Gardner to his friend, the Magus Aleister Crowley. Shortly before his death, Crowley elevated Gardner to the VII° of Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) and issued a charter decreeing that Gardner could perform its preliminary initiation rituals. After Crowley's death on 1 December 1947, Gardner was considered the highest ranking O.T.O. member in Europe.

He also had several tattoos on his body, depicting magical symbols such as a snake, dragon, anchor and dagger. In his later life he wore a "heavy bronze bracelet... denoting the three degrees... of witchcraft" as well as a "large silver ring with... signs on it, which... represented his witch-name 'Scire', in the letters of the magical Theban alphabet."

Let's see a bigger picture. I need to start with Starhawk, the author of The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess.

The Spiral Dance: a Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess  was first published in 1979.  Since its publication, it has become a classic book on Wicca and modern witchcraft, spiritual feminism and the  goddess movement, and ecofeminism.

Starhawk (born Miriam Simos on June 17, 1951) is an American writer and activist. Starhawk received a BA in Fine Arts from UCLA. She received an MA in Psychology, with a concentration in feminist therapy, from Antioch University West in 1982.
Following her years at UCLA, after a failed attempt to become a fiction writer in New York City, Starhawk returned to California. She became active in the Neopagan community in the San Francisco Bay Area, and trained with Victor Anderson, founder of the Feri Tradition of witchcraft, and with Zsuzsanna Budapest, a feminist separatist involved in Dianic Wicca.
She is well known as a theorist of Paganism.

So, she is not a historian....but feminist therapist. Let's see what she says about neopagan religion.

Starhawk offers a vivid summary of the history of the faith, explaining that witchcraft is "perhaps the oldest religion extant in the West" and that it began "more than thirty-five thousand years ago," during the last Ice Age. The religion's earliest adherents worshiped two deities, one of each sex: "the Mother Goddess, the birthgiver, who brings into existence all life," and the "Horned God," a male hunter who died and was resurrected each year.

Male shamans "dressed in skins and horns in identification with the God and the herds," but priestesses "presided naked, embodying the fertility of the Goddess." All over prehistoric Europe people made images of the Goddess, sometimes showing her giving birth to the "Divine Child—her consort, son, and seed." They knew her as a "triple Goddess"—practitioners today usually refer to her as maiden, mother, crone—but fundamentally they saw her as one deity. Each year these prehistoric worshipers celebrated the seasonal cycles, which led to the "eight feasts of the Wheel": the solstices, the equinoxes, and four festivals—Imbolc (February 2, now coinciding with the Christian feast of Candlemas), Beltane (May Day), Lammas or Lughnasad (in early August), and Samhain (our Halloween).

Then came Christianity, which eventually insinuated itself among Europe's ruling elite. Still, the "Old Religion" lived, often in the guise of Christian practices.

We need to go back to Gardner.

Gardner developed his own variant of the Craft that has come to be named after him, Gardnerian Wicca. This combined the teachings he had received from the New Forest coven with ideas taken from a number of other sources, including Freemasonry, ceremonial magic, mediaeval grimoires and the writings of the occultist Aleister Crowley whom Gardner knew personally.

The Rosicrucian Order Crotona Fellowship was a Rosicrucian group founded by George Alexander Sullivan in about 1924.
Sabina Magliocco, in her examination of the influences of the study of folklore on the development of Wicca, considers it possible that by the late 1930s some members of the Crotona Fellowship were performing Wicca-like rituals based on Co-Masonry, and that this was the group referred to by Gerald Gardner as the 'New Forest Coven'.

So, he believed that he found pre-Christian Witch-Cult religion.

Let's see what scholars wrote.

In 1998 Philip G. Davis, a professor of religion at the University of Prince Edward Island, published Goddess Unmasked: The Rise of Neopagan Feminist Spirituality, which argued that Wicca was the creation of an English civil servant and amateur anthropologist named Gerald B. Gardner. Although Gardner claimed to have learned Wiccan lore from a centuries-old coven of witches who also belonged to the Fellowship of Crotona, Davis wrote that no one had been able to locate the coven and that Gardner had invented the rites he trumpeted, borrowing from rituals created early in the twentieth century by the notorious British occultist Aleister Crowley, among others. Wiccans today, by their own admission, have freely adapted and embellished Gardner´s rites.

In 1999 Ronald Hutton, a well-known historian of pagan British religion who teaches at the University of Bristol, published The Triumph of the Moon. Hutton, like Davis, could find no conclusive evidence of the coven from which Gardner said he had learned the Craft, and argued that the "ancient" religion Gardner claimed to have discovered was a mélange of material from relatively modern sources.

Gardner seems to have drawn on the work of two people: Charles Godfrey Leland, a nineteenth-century amateur American folklorist who professed to have found a surviving cult of the goddess Diana in Tuscany, and Margaret Alice Murray, a British Egyptologist who herself drew on Leland´s ideas and, beginning in the 1920s, created a detailed framework of ritual and belief. From his own experience Gardner included such Masonic staples as blindfolding, initiation, secrecy, and "degrees" of priesthood. He incorporated various Tarot-like paraphernalia, including wands, chalices, and the five-pointed star, which, enclosed in a circle, is the Wiccan equivalent of the cross.

Who was Margaret Murray?

 Bust of Murray held in the library of the UCL, Institute of Archeology.

Margaret Alice Murray (13 July 1863 - 13 November 1963), British Egyptologist and anthropologist, known for her work in Egyptology, which was "the core of her academic career," she is also known for her propagation of the Witch-cult hypothesis, the theory that the witch trials in the Early Modern period of Christianized Europe and North America were an attempt to extinguish a surviving pre-Christian, pagan religion devoted to a Horned God. Whilst this theory is today widely disputed and discredited by historians like Norman Cohn, Keith Thomas and Ronald Hutton, it has had a significant effect in the origins of Neopagan religions, primarily Wicca, a faith she supported.

Murray's best known and most controversial text, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, was published in 1921.

Ever since the first publication of Witch Cult in Western Europe 1921, Murray's theory has come under criticism for flaws in its use of evidence, with later historian Ronald Hutton remarking that it consisted of "a few well-known works by Continental demonologists, a few tracts printed in England and quite a number of published records of Scottish witch trials. The much greater amount of unpublished evidence was absolutely ignored." Various critics, including historian Norman Cohn and folklorist Jacqueline Simpson, have highlighted what they see as Murray's "extreme selectivity" in choosing only sources that backed her argument, and ignoring those that did not.

In a 1922 review of The Witch-Cult in Western Europe in the Folklore journal for instance, W.B. Halliday, an expert on ancient religion, dismissed her theory, and noted that her hypothesis relied upon "documents torn from the background of their own age and divorced from the serious study of their historical antecedents.

In 1962, Canadian historian Elliot Rose published A Razor for a Goat: A Discussion of Certain Problems in Witchcraft and Diabolism, in which he provided one of the first popular history books to openly criticize Murray's interpretation.

Jacqueline Simpson blames contemporary historians for doing little to refute Murray's ideas at the time they were written. Jacqueline Simpson, have highlighted what they see as Murray's "extreme selectivity" in choosing only sources that backed her argument, and ignoring those that did not. Regarding this, Jacqueline Simpson comments that:

Her manipulation of sources is sometimes so blatant as to be naive, for even a cursory reader can spot what is going on. At one point she is arguing that witches went to their meetings on foot or on horseback in a quite non-magical way, and quotes from the well-known confession of Isobel Gowdie:  "I had a little horse, and would say 'Horse and Hattock, in the Devil's name!'" - but without mentioning that the "horse" Isobel was talking about was a magic wisp of straw (Murray 1921, 99-100). Then, five pages later, she quotes the same passage again, but this time in full, straw and all, to show how witches had hallucinations of flight (Murray 1921, 105-6); she does not realise that she has thereby wrecked her previous rationalistic interpretation of the passage.

It has been claimed by Norman Cohn that in the thirties her books led to the founding of Murrayite covens (small circles of witches), one of which taught Gerald Gardner in the 1940s.
In 1929, she was commissioned to write the entry on "witchcraft" for the  Encyclopedia Britanica. She used the opportunity to propagate her own Witch-Cult theory, failing to mention the alternate theories proposed by other academics. Her entry would be included in the encyclopedia until 1969, becoming readily accessible to the public, and it was for this reason that her ideas on the subject had such a significant impact. Murray reiterated her Witch-Cult theory in her 1933 book, The God of the Witches. From this publication, she cut out or toned down what she saw as the more unpleasant aspects of the Witch-Cult, such as animal and child sacrifice, and her use of language became "emotionally inflated and coloured with religious phraseology.

In the 1950s Gardner publicized Wicca, a form of pagan religious witchcraft, which in turn helped to inspire the modern Neopagan movement. The phrase "the Old Religion," used by Wiccans and Neopagans to describe an ancestral pagan religion, derives from Murray’s theory. Other Wiccan terms and concepts like coven, esbat, the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, and the Horned God are, it has been suggested, influenced by or derived directly from Murray's works. Her ideas also inspired other writers, ranging from horror authors like H. P. Lovecraft and Dennis Wheatley to Robert Graves. The character of the obsessed academic Rose Lorimer in Angus Wilson's 1956 novel Anglo-Saxon Attitudes is said to have been inspired in part by Murray and Frances Yates.

Murrey's  way of defending her theory.

Murray was also a believer and a practitioner of magic, performing spells such as cursing against those whom she felt deserved it: as Ronald Hutton noted, "Once she carried out a ritual to blast a fellow academic whose promotion she believed to have been undeserved, by mixing up ingredients in a frying pan in the presence of two colleagues. The victim actually did become ill, and had to change jobs. This was only one among a number of such acts of malevolent magic she perpetrates, and which the friend who recorded them assumed (rather nervously) were pranks, with coincidental effects."

Let’s go back to the Starhawk.

In The Spiral Dance, Starhawk stated that up to nine million people, mostly women, were killed during the Witch Hunt  in early modern Europe. The number was based on an article by Mary Daly  who based it on the writings of the 19th century feminist Matilda Joslyn Gage, and has no basis in research. (Most estimates based on research range from 60–100,000.) In the book's 10th anniversary edition, she states: "Actually, estimates range between a low of one hundred thousand and this figure [nine million], which is probably high. The truth, clearly, is that nobody knows exactly how many people died in the persecutions."

Let's look at nine million burnt witches. My oh my......I believed that it was true.

The figure Starhawk cited—nine million executed over four centuries—derives from a late-eighteenth-century German historian; it was picked up and disseminated a hundred years later by a British feminist named Matilda Gage and quickly became Wiccan gospel (Gardner himself coined the phrase "the Burning Times"). Most scholars today believe that the actual number of executions is in the neighborhood of 40,000. The most thorough recent study of historical witchcraft is Witches and Neighbors (1996), by Robin Briggs, a historian at Oxford University. Briggs pored over the documents of European witch trials and concluded that most of them took place during a relatively short period, 1550 to 1630, and were largely confined to parts of present-day France, Switzerland, and Germany that were already racked by the religious and political turmoil of the Reformation. The accused witches, far from including a large number of independent-minded women, were mostly poor and unpopular. Their accusers were typically ordinary citizens (often other women), not clerical or secular authorities. In fact, the authorities generally disliked trying witchcraft cases and acquitted more than half of all defendants. Briggs also discovered that none of the accused witches who were found guilty and put to death had been charged specifically with practicing a pagan religion.

Who was Matilda Gage?

Matilda Electa Joslyn Gage (Cicero, New York, March 24, 1826 – March 18, 1898 in Chicago) was a suffragist, a Native American activist. She became a Theosophist and encouraged her children and their spouses to do so, some of whom did.

Her daughter, Maud, initially horrified her mother when she chose to marry The Wonderful Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum.

Later, he and his wife, encouraged by Matilda Joslyn Gage, became Theosophists, in 1897. He wrote 17 of Oz books. One is titled The Emerld city of Oz.
In 1900, Baum and Denslow (with whom he shared the copyright) published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to much critical acclaim and financial success.

Hutton effectively demolished the notion, held by Wiccans and others, that fundamentally pagan ancient customs existed beneath medieval Christian practices. His research reveals that outside of a handful of traditions, such as decorating with greenery at Yuletide and celebrating May Day with flowers, no pagan practices—much less the veneration of pagan gods—have survived from antiquity. Hutton found that nearly all the rural seasonal pastimes that folklorists once viewed as "timeless" fertility rituals, including the Maypole dance, actually date from the Middle Ages or even the eighteenth century.

Hutton has also pointed out a lack of evidence that either the ancient Celts or any other pagan culture celebrated all the "eight feasts of the Wheel" that are central to Wiccan liturgy. "The equinoxes seem to have no native pagan festivals behind them and became significant only to occultists in the nineteenth century," Hutton told me. "There is still no proven pagan feast that stood as ancestor to Easter"—a festival that modern pagans celebrate as Ostara, the vernal equinox.

Some Gardnerian innovations have sexual and even bondage-and-discipline overtones. Ritual sex, which Gardner called "The Great Rite," and which was also largely unknown in antiquity, was part of the liturgy for Beltane and other feasts (although most participants simulated the act with a dagger—another of Gardner's penchants—and a chalice). Other rituals called for the binding and scourging of initiates and for administering "the fivefold kiss" to the feet, knees, "womb" (according to one Wiccan I spoke with, a relatively modest spot above the pubic bone), breasts, and lips.

Ronald Hutton, English historian who specializes in the study of Early Modern Britain, British folklore, pre-Christian religion and contemporary Paganism  wrote:

Gardner  claimed specifically that the Pagan witch religion into which he had been initiated was essentially the same as that which most scholars of the time believed had been practiced by the victims of the European witch trials of the early modern period.  Gardner’s claim was that it had survived in secret, among a few families, and that he had been received into one of the last existing covens of it.

The problem that beset those who joined his religion, called Wicca, and those who entered parallel traditions of Pagan witchcraft which claimed to spring from the same root, was that the nurturing scholarly interpretation collapsed in the 1970s. A new and systematic process of research into the early modern trials was undertaken by specialist historians, working out of the greatly expanded Western academic system, who decided that the victims of the trials had not been members of a Pagan religion. They seemed, indeed, to be practitioners of the same religion, some variety of Christianity, as their persecutors. That development left both modern Pagan witches, and those historians who knew and cared about their existence, with a problem to be solved.

Hotton further explains that in the 1960s he believed completely in the concept of early modern witchcraft as a Pagan religion of feminism, liberation, and affirmation of life. In 1973,  he defended the historical legitimacy of Charles Godfrey Leland’s “witches’ gospel,” Aradia.

 Title page of the original edition of Aradia.

Charles Godfrey Leland (August 15, 1824 – March 20, 1903) was an American humorist and folklorist. Leland worked in journalism, travelled extensively, and became interested in folklore and folk linguistics, publishing books and articles on American and European languages and folk traditions. Leland worked in a wide variety of trades, achieved recognition as the author of the comic Hans Breitmann’s Ballads fought in two conflicts, and wrote what was to become a primary source text for Neopaganism half a century later,  Aradia or the gospel of Witches.

Leland fabricated a story that shortly after his birth his nurse took him to the family attic and performed a ritual involving a Bible, a key, a knife, lighted candles, money and salt to ensure a long life as a "scholar and a wizard", a fact which his biographers have commented upon as foreshadowing his interest in folk traditions and magic.

During his schooling, Leland studied languages, wrote poetry, and pursued a variety of other interests, including  hermeticism, Neo-Platonism, and the writings of  Rabelais and Villon.

Hotton has stated that  characterizing witchcraft as a good Pagan religion, persecuted by Christianity, made nonsense of the fact that ancient European Pagans had tried and executed people, sometimes on a huge scale, for the same crimes (essentially, attempting to harm others by magical means) as those alleged against early modern witches, only lacking the element of Satanism. Images of early modern witchcraft were based firmly on ancient Pagan models, and indeed across the world traditional peoples had held very similar stereotypes and staged witch-hunts as a result.
Ronald Hutton, Writing the History of Witchcraft: A Personal View

Let's go back to Starhawk.

Male shamans "dressed in skins and horns in identification with the God and the herds," but priestesses "presided naked, embodying the fertility of the Goddess." All over prehistoric Europe people made images of the Goddess, sometimes showing her giving birth to the "Divine Child—her consort, son, and seed." They knew her as a "triple Goddess"—practitioners today usually refer to her as maiden, mother, crone—but fundamentally they saw her as one deity. Each year these prehistoric worshipers celebrated the seasonal cycles, which led to the "eight feasts of the Wheel": the solstices, the equinoxes, and four festivals—Imbolc (February 2, now coinciding with the Christian feast of Candlemas), Beltane (May Day), Lammas or Lughnasad (in early August), and Samhain (our Halloween).

During "the Burning Times," Starhawk wrote, some nine million were executed. The Old Religion went more deeply underground, its traditions passed down secretly in families and among trusted friends, until it resurfaced in the twentieth century.

Subject to slight variations, this story is the basis of many hugely popular Goddess handbooks. It also informs the writings of numerous secular feminists—Gloria Steinem, Marilyn French, Barbara Ehrenreich, Deirdre English—to whom the ascendancy of "the patriarchy" or the systematic terrorization of strong, independent women by means of witchcraft trials are historical givens. Moreover, elements of the story suffuse a broad swath of the intellectual and literary fabric of the past hundred years, from James Frazer's The Golden Bough and Robert Graves's The White Goddess to the novels of D. H. Lawrence, from the writings of William Butler Yeats and T. S. Eliot to Jungian psychology and the widely viewed 1988 public-television series The Power of Myth.

The Triple Goddess is the subject of much of the writing of Robert Graves, and has been adopted by many neopagans  (notably Wiccans) as one of their primary deities .

In 1955, he published The Greek Myths,  containing translations and interpretations. His translations are well respected and continue to dominate the English-language market for  mythography.  Many of his unconventional interpretations and etymologies are dismissed by classicists, but have provoked more research into the topics he raised.Graves in turn dismissed the reactions of classical scholars, arguing that they are too specialized and "prose-minded" to interpret "ancient poetic meaning", and that "the few independent thinkers...[are]...the poets, who try to keep civilization alive."

So, the fever to create own version of Greek mythology continued......

Who was Robert Graves?

Graves, Robert Ranke, 1895-1985, English poet, novelist, and critic; son of Alfred Percival Graves. He established his reputation with Good-bye to All That(1929), an outspoken book on his war experiences. A versatile and highly prolific writer, Graves considered himself primarily a poet; his poems were characterized by gracefulness and lucidity.

His stepmother, a grandniece of German historian Leopold von Ranke, imposed a rigid morality on her husband and children which made young Robert poorly prepared for the rigor of English public school. He left school at the onset of the First World War, and enlisted promptly. He was wounded by shrapnel,  not yet 21, and went home shell-shocked and suffering from severe  neurosis because of the daily horrors of his year in France. Graves was treated by Dr. W.H.R. Rivers, an anthropologist turned neurologist, and it was Rivers who convinced Graves that his cure lay in writing. Rivers also was responsible for Graves's interest in  matriarchal societies and women in power; this interest was later manifested in his controversial work The White Goddess.From then on, Graves wrote whenever he could, and constantly, convinced by Rivers that his life and his art were the same.

Many other neopagan belief systems besides Wicca follow Graves in his use of the figure of the Triple Goddess, and it continues to be an influence on feminism, literature,  Jungian psychology, and literary criticism.

In common Neopagan usage the three female figures are frequently described as the  Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone, , each of which symbolizes both a separate stage in the female life cycle and a phase of the moon, and often rules one of the realms of earth, underworld, and the heavens.
The relationship between the neopagan Triple Goddess and ancient religion is disputed.Ronald Hutton, a scholar of neopaganism, argues that the concept of the triple moon goddess as Maiden, Mother, and Crone, each facet corresponding to a phase of the moon, is a modern creation of Robert Graves, drawing on the work of 19th and 20th century scholars such as especially Jane Harrison, and also  Margret Murray, James Frazer, the other members of the  "myth and ritual" school or Cambridge Ritualitis, and the occultist and writer  Aleister Crowley.

The Triple Goddess was here distinguished by Hutton from the prehistoric Great  Mother Goddess, as described by Marija Gimbutas and others, whose worship in ancient times he regarded as neither proven nor disproven.