I loves me a bit of Hutton. But then, I loves me a bit of Hitchens, too.
So it was with great interest that I consumed the following posts:
- Trial of the moon
- Ronald Hutton: Shibboleths and Moonshine?
- Urban Legends: Neopagans & Golden Dawn Forgeries
- The Roots of Modern Paganism: Debate II
This e-debate hangs on the assertion that some of Dr Hutton’s core claims in Triumph of The Moon -more than a decade old- don’t hold up upon further scrutiny.
Correct me if I’m wrong but… Isn’t this how academia is supposed to work? Isn’t this something the magical community should celebrate and eagerly share? Shouldn’t we welcome each new development as another part of a gradually clarifying yet permanently incomplete picture of our origins?
Or are we shopping for an already-complete story that we happen to like better?
Here are a few contributions of my own. These aren’t contributions to the core debate because it’s a non-debate as far as I am concerned: academic assertions are supposed to criticised.
- History abhors a vacuum. The dinosaurs were killed by a meteor. And then they weren’t. And now most of them were killed by a meteor but some of them may have survived. The point here? It turns out nothing emerges out of no where in history. It seems probabilistically unlikely that classical religious practices didn’t mutate and carry on in some form anywhere in Europe. If words jump and mutate between languages, then ideas can too.
- Words suck. Religion, magic, faith, history. Try and pick some less defined words to build an argument on. They’re empty vessels. You can pour whatever meaning you like into them and build your argument from there. They’re impossible foundations on which to construct a like-for-like debate. We probably shouldn’t try. We should recognise this limitation as a first principle and try and have the conversation start from there.
- Academia is imprecise. It’s work done with limited funding based on never-enough research submitted to very tight deadlines. Things are going to go wrong. That’s why it continues to exist. Picking this exact moment and making a call either way on whether or not something is or isn’t “true” is unhelpful.
- Hutton doesn’t have an axe to grind. He has funding. You can’t take department money and then come back several years later and say ZOMG witches are totes real and mega old. Just like you can’t expect balanced drug research to come out of a government department. It’s too loaded a topic. This is the nature of the beast. There is no ulterior motive or secret Christian agenda (!).
- Hutton is a Crowley of magical history. Flawed or not, it is an amazing and voluminous body of work that no one before him can touch. It’s a profoundly important work that has on-balance improved our understanding of history. Like Crowley, he collated a huge amount of disparate information and did his absolute best to improve on it. So it has shortcomings. Big deal.
- Blah, blah reality tunnel, blah. Take seven pieces of evidence and give them to different people and they will form wildly different narratives based on their blah blah blah. I don’t even want to finish this point because you know exactly what I mean. It applies to historians as well.
This discussion isn’t a good thing -it’s a great thing. The fact that we are prepared to continually re-examine seminal texts is an indicator of the health of intra-magical discourse, not an indictment of its flimsy origins. We should however, endeavour to keep the discussions above the belt. Arguing on the internet is beneath us.
The last point? If you are dissatisfied with the state of magical history then -and I’m being very selfish by asking this of you because I want to see the results- be the change you want to see in the world.
Because, as all academic research ultimately concludes, “more work is needed.”