Another Pagan History -- What's Really Old, and What Likely Ain't PART 7
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Article ID: 11344
Age Group: Adult
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Author: A.C. Fisher Aldag
Posted: December 31st. 2006
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During the last several essays, we discussed many of the possible sources for popular Wiccan and neo-Pagan ritual tools, ceremonies and holidays. Some of 'em are old... and some of them aren't. In the next several segments of this essay series, we'll explore the history, sources and inventions related to the God and the Goddess of Wicca and the modern Pagan religions.
The Pagan Gods (Part I) – Old, New and Otherwise:
Gerald Gardner was one of the first popular authors to connect the practice of witchcraft with the worship of the old Pagan gods. In an interview, Gardner stated that while Wicca promoted belief in a supreme being, primitive people weren’t quite capable of understanding the notion. Instead they revered a pair of lesser deities, personified as a God of the Hunt and a Goddess of Fertility, who were aspects of the higher power. He also wrote that his belief in the gods was as a “personification of cosmic power”. Although this sounds like a typical anthropology lecture, to the mostly Protestant upper-class English society of the 1950s, this idea was probably quite shocking.
Gardner’s novel _A Goddess Arrives_ was published in 1939, and though it wasn’t actually about goddess worship as we know it today, some of the concepts in the book seem to be the precursor of Wiccan ideals. This includes reincarnation, spirit communication, and a goddess who is related to the phases of the moon. Gardner first made reference to a “triple goddess” in _The Meaning of Witchcraft_, published in 1959, prior to the inception of the feminist movement. In the _Gardnerian Book of Shadows_, ritual consecrations are performed in the name of Cernunnos and Aradia, and these deities are included in the “Eko eko” chant. (The rest of this poem may be from the Basque language, or it may be an incantation from a 13th century grimoire.) Gardner equated “our Lord, the Horned One” with the “dread lord of the shadows” ruling the underworld. The goddess as “Mother of us all” is invoked for Lammas. Cerridwen is summoned in the Charge, the spring equinox ritual, and in summer and winter with her magical cauldron. In other ceremonies, the goddess is invoked as Arianrhod, Diana, and Aphrodite. This belief in a duality of Goddess and God, or a pantheon of pre-Christian gods, is now widely accepted among neo-Pagans and Wiccans.
Much of Gerald Gardner’s material concerning the practice of witchcraft in Europe and the horned god Cernunnos came from the research of Dr. Margaret A. Murray. This eminent archaeologist and anthropologist was an expert on ancient Egypt, and wrote several books about the Egyptian civilizations. Dr. Murray became a professor of Egyptology at the University College of London in the 1920s, a time when few women held a graduate degree. Murray also had an interest in witchcraft, pre-Christian traditions, and the British witch trials. She published two books on the subject, _The Witch Cult in Western Europe_ in 1921, and _The God of the Witches_ in 1933. In these books, Murray proposed that witchcraft was the remnant of the primary religion of Europe, surviving until the times of persecution. At the time they were published, Murray was ridiculed by other scientists and vilified by the Christian church. _The God of the Witches_ was re-issued in the 1952 by the Oxford University Press, and became a best-seller. Although several of her ideas have been discredited, Murray’s books have been one of the primary influences on the modern neo-Pagan movement.
As any researcher does, Dr. Murray proposed theories, then presented evidence to support her conclusions. She speculated that widespread organized pre-Christian fertility “cults” (belief systems) existed in Europe until the late 1600s, and that many people killed during the witch trials were actually members of an “underground nature movement”. Many of Dr. Murray’s scholarship methods were solid. She compared the documents, artwork and artifacts of various time periods, including woodcut pictures of “devils” which strongly resemble pre-Christian deities such as Cernunnos or Pan. One print shows a “witch” figure surrounded by “demons” with stag antlers. These closely resemble the stag figure in an illustrated Medieval manuscript about mummers or street actors, which in turn resembles cave paintings of antlered men. Dr. Murray also studied transcripts of the witch trials held throughout Europe as a possible source of information about genuine religio-magic systems. She read the accused witches’ testimony and analyzed it as “ethnographic data”, which means looking at all the statements and checking them for common elements. Her findings lead her to believe that a number of the accused witches were actually practicing an ancient folk religion, although Murray did not call it Paganism or Wicca.
Today, it has become popular to claim that Dr. Murray was a fraud, or that she faked evidence. Some of her theories and conclusions were found to be without merit. Other parts of her material have been supplanted by later research. There wasn’t really any organized pre-Christian religious movement surviving in Europe up to Medieval times. However, Murray did draw several valid conclusions. Many Pagan religious societies were actually based on the worship of nature and the belief in magic. Authors including Carlo Ginzburg have pointed out the similarities between shamanic practice and statements made by prisoners during the witch trials. Archeologists following in Murray’s footsteps have compared prehistoric artifacts to modern non-Christian representational art. Forms of witchcraft were practiced in Europe up until modern times, as documented by numerous scholars. And the deity called Cernunnos really does resemble cave images of horned entities, as well as the Stag character of folklore.
Dr. Murray’s books on Egyptology are still used by universities and professional archeologists. I suggest that you read Murray’s works about witchcraft, look at the evidence, read her critics, read the critics of her critics, and judge for yourself.
Some scholars question the authenticity of the Goddess of Wicca for various reasons. Testimony taken during the witch trials seldom mentions any goddess or female deity. In some of Gardner’s writings, the goddess seems to be a rather sketchy background character; in other works, she has the attributes of the average 1950s housewife. Historians point out that Doreen Valiente added material to Wicca to balance the horned god with feminine divinity. One of Valiente’s major contributions is “The Charge of the Goddess”, in which the deities of several pantheons are invoked. Not all of these goddesses have comparable qualities. A similar poem is found in Leland’s Aradia. Other Wiccan rituals can be traced to Aleister Crowley, including the “Descent of the Goddess into the Underworld”, which may be based on the legends of Inanna, Persephone, Isis, or the story of Pwyll from the Mabinogion. Much of the wording of the “Drawing Down the Moon” ritual is taken from Crowley’s work. Some authors suggest that Crowley or members of the Golden Dawn used the principles of Tantra or shamanism to develop the concept of sexual polarity, purely as a way to raise and channel energy for use in ceremonial magic. It has been suggested that Gardner may have borrowed from these philosophies to create the Goddess of Wicca.
Gardner may have gotten some of his information about a mother goddess from Robert Graves, a poet and student of myth structures. Graves’s _The White Goddess_, subtitled “A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth”, was written between 1920 and 1940, and published in 1948. Graves wrote over 140 other works, including the historical fiction books _I, Claudius_ and _The Greek Myths_, both well received by the academic community. In _The White Goddess_, Graves suggests that religious legends are based on archetypes, and that all myths evolved in the same manner within pre-literate societies. He proposed that the Christian religion was actually founded on Pagan themes. Graves theorized that most European female deities, including the Virgin Mary, were derived from a Great Goddess of love, birth, motherhood and death, represented by the phases of the moon. Her son or lover usually represents sacrifice and rebirth, including Osirus, Tammuz and Jesus. Graves blamed the suppression of the mother goddess on monotheism, particularly Judeo-Christianity. At the time, these notions were quite radical. Since _The White Goddess_ was published fully ten years before Gardner’s non-fiction witchcraft books, Robert Graves likely had an influence on the formation of modern Wicca.
_The White Goddess_ does not actually have much of a historic basis. Graves wrote his views about myth structures based on his familiarity with poetry and his knowledge about the evolution of language. Like James Frazer, Graves compared the legends of various cultures. He drew conclusions about the effect of symbols on the human psyche, and theorized that there were universal iconic themes. He also speculated about the Ogham alphabet, and its relation to the calendar, the veneration of trees and the use of magic. Later, Graves’s girlfriend claimed that she was a witch, and that much of the material written in _The White Goddess_ was actually her work. Some of Graves’s writing has been challenged by scholars, especially his theories about Ogham and the universal nature of a mother goddess. I suggest that you wade through _The White Goddess_ yourself, then decide what you believe.
Since Gardner’s _A Goddess Arrives_ pre-dated Graves’s book, it’s possible that Gardner borrowed his concept of a moon goddess from another source, such as _The Sea Priestess_ by Dion Fortune (Violet Mary Firth) . One of the original members of the Golden Dawn occult society, Fortune extensively studied various pantheons and ceremonial magic, and wrote about the power of feminine energies. Her books may have given Gardner the idea for a triple goddess, or the notion of one universal great goddess. Around 1930, Fortune advanced the theory that Isis was the prototype for all other mother goddesses, including those of Europe. Her books may have influenced other writers, including Doreen Valiente.
Although Valiente’s work had a profound impact on Wicca, later authors and Craft leaders were actually responsible for rise of the feminist spirituality movement. Pagan writers such as Anne Forfreedom, Zsuzsanna Budapest and Starhawk (Mariam Simos) helped to shape the current Goddess culture in America. Much of their material is based on the research of Dr. Marija Gimbutas, a major advocate for prehistoric goddess worship. While several of her ideas have been called into question, and a few of her theories have been debunked, many of Gimbutas’s conclusions have been substantiated.
Dr. Gimbutas was an archeologist, anthropologist, ethnographer, folklorist and linguist. She was a Fellow at Harvard University, where she made a comprehensive study of the etymology of words in Indo-European languages and researched various societies’ myths and religious practices. As an archeologist, she discovered and cataloged countless relics of Neolithic (new stone age) civilizations. Gimbutas compared prehistoric societies to one another and to those of surviving Pagan cultures. She wrote many scholarly papers on her findings, proposing hypotheses about the worship of goddesses in ancient Europe. Books by Dr. Gimbutas include _The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe_, _The Living Goddesses_, _The Language of the Goddess_, and _The Civilization of the Goddess_, all of which incorporated years of field research. In several of her works, Dr. Gimbutas traced references to goddess worship from the Neolithic period to modern ritual and folklore in Europe. (More on her in a subsequent essay.)
Dr. Gimbutas may have based some of her theories on the work of Charles Darwin, who speculated about humanity’s “matriarchal stage” in his paper, _On the Origin of Species_, published in 1856. She may also have read about similar ideas in the book _Das Mutterrecht_ or “The Mother Right”, written by the Swiss-German academic Johann Jakob Bachofen in 1861. Bachofen’s premise was that motherhood was the foundation of all civilization, including morality, law, and religious training. He was one of the first scholars to write about mythology, archetypes and their relation to human development. Bachofen also believed that the remnants of ancient Goddess worship could be seen in the modern reverence for the Virgin Mary. Later authors who were likely influenced by Bachofen include Robert Graves and Margaret Murray. In Murray’s last academic book, _The Genesis of Religion_, she writes about prehistoric goddess worship as the possible source for the “witch cult”. All of these authors may have had an impact on Gimbutas, and thus on modern feminist spirituality.
In subsequent essays, I’m going to take a stab at identifying some of the sources or “monomyths” for the popular neo-Pagan and Wiccan gods and goddesses, and make guesstimates about their age and authenticity. We'll start with Cernunnos, aka Kernunos, Herne, the Boucca, Gwyn ap Nudd, and St. Cornelly.
I’m still suggesting that you study the works of the above-mentioned writers, then read the theories of those authors who disagree. As before, please weigh the evidence, then draw your own conclusions.
A few people have written and asked about my methodology. I suggest you read some of the books listed above, then Google every topic mentioned in the essays.
Some of the stuff came from British tourist sites, several of which swear their rituals and historic figures have an ancient Pagan basis; others swear just as fervently that they're NOT Pagan.
Others have asked my opinion about the reliability of sources. Well, being a Michigan redneck, if it wears a suit, it might be unreliable, in my humble opinion. In the interest of not getting sued, I'm not mentioning anyones' names here. Sorry!
But that doesn't preclude you from going and looking things up, your ownself....!
Copyright: Copyleft 2006 A.C. Aldag. Reprint as you will. The good folks here at Witchvox request that stuff not be reprinted while it's on the front page of their site, which is only fair.
A.C. Fisher Aldag
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