Dianic Roots in the Neo Pagan Movement
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Author: Janice Van Cleve
Posted: November 18th. 2012
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The modern manifestation of Paganism is called the Neo Pagan Movement to distinguish it from the great mass of ancient or aboriginal religions that are also lumped together as Pagan. The distinguishing feature of the Neo Pagan Movement is that it can trace its roots through the publications of various authors beginning in the 19th Century. There are, of course, writings before that time dealing with the occult but these Neo Pagan writings were motivated or energized in large part with the stated intention of the authors to “recover” ancient truths.
The 19th Century was a century of disillusionment. The Industrial Revolution brought sweeping changes in the methods of production, the consumption of resources, the concentration of people into cities, and the pollution of the landscape. The political revolutions in France and America upset political realities and bases of power and spread their doctrines of populist government across Europe and the New World. The social revolution emancipated slaves, and went on to advocate for women and workers. Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792 and Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital in 1867. The scientific revolution ushered in by Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, and others completely overturned our understanding of who we are and where we came from. It is no accident that the sciences of archeology and geology were founded at this time. These studies vastly expanded our view of the past.
Added to all this intellectual ferment were the creation of world empires and a revolution in the methods and speed of travel. These latter two innovations opened access to the entire world and exposed societies to totally different cultures and ideas. The English especially were exposed to Eastern philosophies via their dominion of Egypt and India. In this confusing, chaotic, totally disrupting time, it is only natural that there should also be a religious revolution as well.
And there was. The old corrupt Catholic Church and its many Protestant children had thoroughly discredited themselves in the religious wars and persecutions of the 16th-18th centuries. They did not have answers for the upheavals happening all around them. They sought to slow down, resist, or ignore the changes in the world and thus revealed themselves less and less in touch with the realities that most people were experiencing. Thinkers, philosophers, scientists, and reformers stepped forward to fill the worldly gap. It is not surprising that some of them would turn their attention to the spiritual gap as well.
Seeking spiritual comfort and inspiration outside the Bible was a radical concept for 19th Century Europeans and Americans. The authors and thinkers listed below generally sought legitimacy for their ideas in four different ways:
·Lineage. Several Neo Pagan pioneers claimed that the old Pagan practices still lived in secret in the modern world. They claimed they had survived from the religious wars and “burning times” and had been passed on faithfully from one witch to another down through time. They claimed to have inherited this lineage either through self-initiation or actual face-to-face initiation. This is often called “traditional Wicca” and Gerald Gardner is a good example.
·Revelation. Other Neo Pagan pioneers claimed to have seen a vision or received a message from the Otherworld. They claim to have been visited by a spirit who revealed to them the secret mysteries. Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon in 1830 on the basis of such a revelation. Aleister Crowley wrote the whole Book of the Law in three days as he says it was revealed to him while he was in Egypt in 1904.
·Evidence. Those of a scientific or cynical nature based their Neo Pagan theses on the basis of accumulated facts and interpretations. Since evidence is hardly ever complete and thinkers sometimes leap to answers, not all the interpretations were correct, but they did bring a continuous supply of fuel to the Neo Pagan movement. Marija Gimbutas, Robert Graves, and Margaret Murray are all examples.
·Invention. Then there are those few brave souls who created worldviews from their own personal experience and observation and unashamedly created Neo Pagan “traditions” on that basis alone. Starhawk accomplished this by applying feminist principles to ecology to produce her brand of Neo Paganism.
Dianic Wicca really started in the United States in the 1960’s during the Feminist Movement. While it can claim roots all the way back to Stone Age matrilineal cultures – and while Goddess worshipping/women focused religions can easily be identified across the ancient world – it was really the combination of Starhawk and Z. Budapest that launched what is know today as the Dianic “tradition.” However, they stood on the shoulders of the Neo Pagan revival of the 19th and early 20th Centuries.
The following list of publications and events does not pretend to be all-inclusive. This thread, however, highlights many of the most important developments in the Neo Pagan movement and the roots of Dianic Wicca.
1529 - Cornelius Agrippa published Declamation on the Nobility and Preeminence of the Female Sex. Four years later, he published Three Books Concerning Occult Philosophy. Agrippa accepted what was called “natural magic” which at the time included astrology, alchemy, botany, and herbs. He denounced ceremonial magic, which at the time included communication with spirits, necromancy, and witchcraft. This put him at odds with John Dee, mathematician and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, who trained England’s sailors and who coined the term “British Empire” Dee and Edward Kelley, an alchemist who used a crystal ball to summon angels and spirits, developed Enochian magic which focuses on evocation and commanding of spirits.
1801 - Francis Barrett published The Magus, a handbook of ceremonial magic, cribbing much of the material from Cornelius Agrippa.
1860’s - Eliphas Levi published Transcendental Magic, Its Doctrine and Ritual, The Science of Spirits, and The Great Secret, or Occultism Unveiled (1898) . He avoided weirdness, secret societies, and snake oil scams. His mainstream magic was accessible to a broad number of people and greatly influenced The Golden Dawn Society. Levi incorporated the Tarot into his work.
1859 - Charles Darwin published The Origin of the Species.
1848 - Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx publish The Communist Manifesto.
1867 - J.J. Bachofen publishes Mother Right: an investigation of the religious and juridical character of matriarchy in the ancient world.
1884 - Friedrich Engels publishes The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State in which he made use of Bachofen’s theories.
1874-1891 - H.P. Blavatsky published The Secret Doctrine and launches the Theosophical Society.
1870’s - Heinrich Schliemann finds Troy and gives proof of the ancient past. He is a bridge between the antiquarians, treasure hunters, and modern archeology.
1888 - Golden Dawn established. Hermetic order with roots in Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism. Founded by William Westcott with early rituals by Samuel Mathers.
1890 - James Frazier published The Golden Bough, which promoted the idea of a solar deity who married to the earth Goddess and then died each year to be reborn. He characterized the basis of Pagan religions as fertility cults.
1898 - Mathers publishes The Book of Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage based on Levi’s work.
1898 - Aleister Crowley joined the Golden Dawn and was expelled two years later. Breakthrough in Egypt results in 1904 with The Book of the Law. Then he went mountain climbing and it was not until 1907 that he founded Argenteum Astrum. He began drug addition soon after divorce in 1909. In 1910, he joined the Ordo Templi Orientis. In 1920, he set up the Abbey of Thelema in Sicily. In 1925, he became leader of OTO worldwide and in 1929 published Magick: In Theory and in Practice.
1899 - Charles Leland published Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches.
1903-1905 - Golden Dawn splinters because of infighting.
1900-1940 - Sigmund Freud created science of psychology.
1921 - Margaret Murray published The Witch Cult in Western Europe.
1920-1940 - Dion Fortune published many novels that dealt with magical themes. She inspired Doreen Valiente and knew Aleister Crowley.
1936 - Gerald Gardner publishes Keris and Other Malay Weapons, which gained him academic respect as a cultural anthropologist. He was initiated into Dorothy Clutterbuck’s coven in 1939. He met Aleister Crowley in 1946 and became a member of Ordo Templi Orientis. He published High Magic’s Aid in 1949. In the 1950’s, he publicized Paganism much to the distress of most Pagan covens, which preferred secrecy. In 1954, he published Witchcraft Today. Gardiner compounded his version of Wicca from Freemasonry, Ceremonial Magic, and Crowley. Doreen Valiente smoothed and corrected his version.
1948 - Robert Graves published The White Goddess, which proposed that the Goddess of Life, Death, and Rebirth underlay the ancient European Pagan religions. He authored the Maiden, Mother, and Crone symbolism.
1951 - Witchcraft Acts repealed in Britain.
1953 - Doreen Valiente initiated into Gardnerian Wicca by Gardner, became high priestess and rewrote much of his book of shadows. She also wrote the Charge of the Goddess, The Witches Rune, An ABC of Witchcraft (1972) , Natural Magic (1975) , Witchcraft for Tomorrow (1978) , and The Rebirth of Witchcraft (1989) . She courageously challenged Gardner over his publicity seeking and left his coven in 1957. Valiente joined Robert Cochrane’s coven (Tubal Cain) in the 1960’s but later challenged him for promoting witch wars and left his coven.
1958-1991 -Marija Gimbutas published many findings on Eastern European archeology and demonstrated the scientific record of ancient matrifocal cultures. Her investigations provided a historical underpinning to the feminist movement.
1963 - Alex Sanders initiated into Gardnerian Wicca but added ceremonial and eclectic features to become the Alexandrian tradition. A self-promoter, Sanders sought and got media attention, which led other Gardnerians to view him as an ego tripper.
1970 - Janet and Stewart Farrar initiated into Alexandrian tradition by Sanders. They published the Eight Sabbats of Witches in 1981, followed by The Pagan Path and The Healing Craft. They left Alexandrian tradition to become Reformed Alexandrian. Gavin Bone was their polyfidelious third partner and co-author and with the passing of Stewart, Bone and Janet became members of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, headquartered in Index, Washington.
1976 - Merlin Stone published When God was a Woman.
1987 - Riane Eisler published The Chalice and the Blade.
1979 - Starhawk published Spiral Dance and launched the eco-feminist movement.
1979- Z. Budapest published The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries and launched the Dianic Wiccan tradition in the United States.
The best resource for the Dianic tradition of Wicca today is Ruth Barrett’s Women’s Rites, Women’s Mysteries (2004) .
Copyright: Copyright Janice Van Cleve, 2012.
Janice Van Cleve
Location: Seattle, Washington
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