Posted by: aediculaantinoi | March 30, 2012

Pagans, Podcasts, and…(I can’t think of another “P”-word that is appropriate!)

A few days ago, Jason Pitzl-Waters of The Wild Hunt announced that he has started The Wild Hunt Podcast, and the first episode has been posted. A huge part of the episode is an interview with Caroline Tully, who recently had an article published in The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, called “Researching the Past is a Foreign Country: Cognitive Dissonance as a Response by Practitioner Pagans to Academic Research on the History of Pagan Religions” (available there as a PDF for reading or download).

There has been some spirited discussion of this article thus far on the pagan blogosphere, including Apuleius Platonicus’ critique, and another discussion by Eldyohr on The Pagan Perspective blog. There’s a great deal to agree with in both of those treatments, I think…

However, a further alternative voice on these matters is that of Christine Hoff Kraemer, a faculty member at Cherry Hill Seminary, who has offered the paper she did at the AAR last November on this matter: “Perceptions of Scholarship in Contemporary Paganism.” I have to say that I like Kraemer’s paper a great deal, not only because she’s someone I’ve met and know (to an extent), but also because I find that she’s a bit fairer to scholars and practitioners, and that she actually gives some concrete solutions and suggestions on this matter rather than just talking about notions of pagan scholars bringing “hybrid vigor” to the discussion in the future.

I’ll offer my own opinions on the matter here.

After reading Tully’s paper, and having listened to the podcast interview, I found both of them somewhat lacking. Her interview was one of the most rambling ones I’ve ever heard in my life (apart from the fact that, at least on my end, she sounded like she was being digested in the belly of a mechanical whale due to technological issues), and as several people have pointed out, her article was very condescending to Ronald Hutton’s critics. There’s a lot to like in Hutton’s work, and an awful lot that I don’t think can be ignored, dismissed, or downplayed; and there is an awful lot that is lacking in nuance, especially on certain subjects. I don’t think his work can or should be dismissed wholesale, but likewise I don’t think it’s as much of a “threat” to “Wiccan integrity” on a religious or theological level as many seem to think it is.

The whole issue is also problematic from a reconstructionist viewpoint, to say the least. And, the issue of monotheist bias and other complicating factors in scholarship was also not addressed. Just because someone is an archaeologist (for example) doesn’t mean their interpretations are always right, and just because a practicing pagan doesn’t know how archaeological or scholarly discourse works doesn’t mean their opinion that is critical of an archaeologist’s findings is always emotional, uninformed, or incorrect. I think that “it feels good, therefore it is right” doesn’t come into play as often as Tully indicates.

(The playing out of these matters in strictly Antinoan terms is something that I’ve touched on countless times on this blog, and elsewhere, and if you’d like further possible examples to be illustrated by me in follow-up discussions, please feel free to ask! But it also happens with Celtic Studies matters constantly, so I can only assume it probably happens with a great deal of reconstructionist matters more broadly.)

And, needless to say, I also don’t think that real-life, modern experiences of various deities can or should be ignored or downplayed in deference to scholarship. Tully’s entire discussion during The Wild Hunt podcast on how she was having visions of Venus of Willendorf (if I recall correctly) during her pregnancy, but then she lost the baby (if I understood correctly), may have been an experience of cognitive dissonance, but I don’t really think it was relevant to what she was talking about. I think that’s more of a difficulty of a far more common religious variety–the “why aren’t the deities helping me?” variety and questions of theodicy that almost everyone goes through–rather than an experience of “here’s what scholars say, but here’s what my own experience is, and I like mine better, therefore the scholars must be wrong.” I really can’t see any findings of scholarship helping someone out in her situation, particularly in relation to those deities and cultures concerned in her visions. So, how was all of that relevant as anything in the discussion? I really don’t know.

I suspect that the net effect, at least for my own case, was less one that staked a claim for pagan scholars being proponents of “hybrid vigor” (which, as attractive as the phrase happens to be, needs to be defined and expanded upon more if it is to be effective, rather than just repeated twice as a kind of slogan), and more of a needless polarization of the issue even further, making practitioners into cognitively dissonant silly-heads (as Apuleius Platonicus suggested) and scholars into know-it-all (in a non-pejorative sense) unimpeachable paragons of virtue…which, as anyone who has met actual scholars (in any discipline) knows is utterly not true! (And I say this as someone with academic credentials myself, n.b.!)

But, that was my own take…I’d be interested to hear anyone’s opinions on this matter.


Responses

  1. This has to be one of the more balanced and fair takes on this whole issue and I’m glad that you’ve put it out there.

  2. I found Tully’s article silly and dishonest. A significant portion of the pagan community practically worships academics, after all. And yet anyone who has much knowledge of any field of academic endeavor (outside hard sciences) knows how divided academic opinion is on most subjects. But Tully constructs this united front image of academic hegemony–and with incredible audacity had the gall to invoke Foucault, who was such a champion of poking holes in these kinds of hegemonic discourses. Foucault illuminated the important roles of counter-narratives and counter-discourses–which pagans certain;y craft–and which Tully disdains across the board.

    I found Triumph of the Moon a quite valuable read, but Hutton does misrepresent Carlo Ginzburgs’ work therein. Also the twee condescension toward Starhawk gave me a queasy feeling, and he had some preposterous summarization of some of those scholars he calls the California Cosmologists. For example, the preeminent U.C. Berkeley historian of the environment and science Carolyn Merchant is simply referred to as a Marxist rhetorician (or something of the sort). Yet, Tully presents Hutton as a historian who is beyond any criticism, at least if made by pagans.

    I’m glad you brought this up. I think it’s a timely subject.

    • Thank you!

      Yes, I agree with pretty much all you’ve said here. It isn’t as if academics are always going to have the better or best interpretations of a particular matter, especially when a lot of them don’t understand polytheism, how it works, or even really what it is. The Foucault irony is, indeed, huge to say the least…!?! And I agree that Hutton is good, but one has to read his work very carefully in many cases, and with some discernment and skepticism in more cases than many “Team Hutton” proponents often seem aware of. (The Celtic info, for example…including the several books he’s written on druids at this stage…)

  3. This only a half-joking insight, but I think Hutton tends to have a strong “Giles” effect on all the “Buffies” out there – an effect to which I am not immune, I will confess. People find him easy to trust without question. I think it’s the Cambridge accent.

    • Indeed. I know what you mean–but it’s all the more reason to keep aware.

      (As I watched Buffy recently, I was actually quite critical of Giles’ readings on many occasions…which allowed me to be critical of the research of the writers/etc. in the process, but still…!?!)

  4. For me it has really no impact whatsoever. Scholars have always squabbled over historical origins of religions, secret sects and mystery traditions. With the latter two, they rarely get access to any primary sources due to the nature of those closed groups, and when they do, they tend to ridicule them or dismiss them as fantasy. I know both of the strains of the craft I practice pre date Gardner. I have it on the authority of those who brought me in, and they really have no reason or purpose to lie about it, nor did they really care whether I or anyone else believed them or not. It simply is what it is. If you asked the folks of one strain what religion they are, the reply would be Episcopalian. They rather like the idea of being a ‘figment of someones imagination or fantasy’
    Hutton’s fairly accurate in his ideas about Wicca being a modern religion dating from Gardner. As far as old craft goes he is like the person who searches under a streetlamp for something lost, not because that’s where it was lost, but because that is where there is some light.

  5. Thank you for posting Christine Hoff Kraemer’s article. It was refreshing to have something so clear-headed and thoughtfully written on these matters.

    Personally, I’ve never felt that Hutton’s work attacked my “Wiccan integrity”. I feel that he did a fair job of placing pagan witchcraft into historical context, and rather than cutting us down highlighted the rich, deep roots that was drawn upon to form what we are today, and still deeply informs our practices. Another author that did this well, with a particular emphasis on the importance of folklore to the formation of Wicca and paganism, was Sabina Magliocco in Witching Culture.

    • Witching Culture is certainly an excellent book.

      And, indeed, I don’t read Hutton as attacking the integrity of Wicca either. The way he builds his case in Triumph of the Moon is to give all of the ingredients, as it were, that happened in the previous few centuries, and then after a bit of fermenting (in a good way!) or cooking, *BLAM!* you’ve got Wicca in the ’40s as Gardner introduced it. And, there’s nothing wrong with that. But, I think that because his basic work does at very least problematize the “ancient tradition handed down in secret” that so many Wiccans (and other practitioners) are so insistent upon, it seems threatening, and thus makes some people not likely to want to listen to or consider many of his points.

      It’s not flawless work, by any means–Triumph is quite good for the most part, but there are a few bits of his other books that have major holes, in my opinion, especially regarding Celtic things. So, the druid books have a lot in them that I think may not be as useful as some might expect…

      As I mentioned in another comment here, there is a kind of “Team Hutton” mentality that goes with anything/everything he writes for some people, which I don’t think is particularly useful. But, likewise, “Team Anti-Hutton” is also not very useful, either.

      I guess that means, therefore, that I’m “Team Good Information That Is Well Argued And Properly Contextualized,” which isn’t a very large nor popular team, alas. ;)

  6. [...] the theories of scholars are matters that have been discussed in various places recently (including this very blog!), and the differences between these two areas should be kept in mind and respected. Just because a [...]

  7. Thanks very much for the shout-out, and for furthering the conversation on this topic.

    • Thank you for your excellent paper, and all of your work! :)


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