Burning Times in Neo-Paganism
This thread is a continuation of the post by Jenny
Gibbons outlining her criteria for reviewing books on The
Burning Times in Neo-Pagan literature. The complete
review can be found in the Hall of Remembrance Library
under Book Reviews: Neo Paganism. It is called
Date: 19 Jul 1997
As for Z-- I don't know her personally, but I know
several people who do. They agree that while she has been
crucial to the development of feminist wicca, she's about
as far removed from a scholar as it's possible to get.
Assuming they know what they're talking about, and her
books suggest that they probably do, in her case the
cause for the inaccuracies could well be ignorance. She's
stated frankly that some of her information came from her
mother and the rest she simply made up. (I have no
problem with that; I'm a practitioner of the
make-it-up-as-you-go-along school myself.)
I doubt she's ever been much interested in historical
accuracy. The problem arises when others assume she is
accurate, and we begin the cycle you describe.
Date: 20 Jul 1997
>>I doubt she's ever been much interested in
historical accuracy. The problem arises when others
assume she is accurate, and we begin the cycle you
I think you've hit the problem on the head: much of Pagan
history is written by people who don't truly care about
accuracy. They've got other concerns: empowering women,
giving Paganism an ancient and illustrious lineage, etc.
History is a tool, a means to their end. History doesn't
have to be accurate -- just effective.
Then the $64,000 question becomes, why do people pass off
their myths as history? If Z knows she's making this up,
why does she present her tales as non-fiction? I think
part of the answer is "legitimacy." History has
an undeserved reputation for being impartial, scientific,
or *true*. If you claim that there's historical evidence
for your theory -- however insane it may be -- you get
more attention and credibility.
Say I think that the Church is out to get left-handed
people. So I make up a story about how nine million
lefties died in the Middle Ages, just because they were
left handed. Nobody would listen to me. They'd think that
my story was a nutty, unbelievable persecution fantasy
and dismiss it. Then, however, I say, "The Church
really did kill nine million lefties. Here are some of
the things they said about left-handedness, and here are
a couple of leftie trials." Suddenly my theory has a
weight and legitimacy it didn't have before. Readers'
attention is shifted away from me ("Why would
anybody believe that crap?") to history ("Is
that what really happened?").
Date: 20 Jul 1997
<<History has an undeserved reputation for being
impartial, scientific, or *true*.>>
How right you are! It may arise from the way history
texts are written and the way history is taught in
elementary and high school. Unless an exceptional teacher
is involved, the assumption is that what the book says is
accurate, that there is a "right" answer, that
history somehow deals in objective truth. Witness the
huge controversies over the content of history texts.
This is a bit off topic but illustrative of the general
problem. I once did a simple survey of the index of the
American history text being used in high schools
throughout California looking for entries mentioning
women. I found six, this in an index of several pages.
The choices were illuminating. Shirley Temple was
included. Not Shirley Temple Black, ambassador to
wherever it was--Shirley Temple, child movie star.
Eleanor Roosevelt was not. Nor were any number of other
women I could mention.
<<If Z knows she's making this up, why does she
present her tales as non-fiction?>>
She may not know she's making it up. Say it often enough
and you begin to believe it yourself. You lose track of
how you arrived at your conclusions. Conscientious
scholars are rare and to be treasured. (As we treasure
And when you get tired of reading and dispairing over
history texts, you can move on to science texts.
Everybody knows that science is objective and accurate
and true, right?
Date: 24 Jul 1997
>>It may arise from the way history texts are
written and the way history is taught in elementary and
And even in introductory level college courses. I was a
history/independent studies major as an undergrad, and I
don't think that most of my early courses taught me to
question "the facts". It wasn't until my junior
and senior years, when I was taking senior seminars in
the history department, that my professors insisted we
critique and question our sources. By grad school, there
were mandatory classes which focused exclusively on the
advantages and limitations of various types of historical
evidence. But how many people are history grad students?
Most people simply get "the facts" handed to
them. History is memorizing "facts" and
regurgitating them, not thinking or questioning anything.
Hey, I have to plead guilty on the worshipping science
score. <g> I took the minimum amounts of
science/mathematics required for gradution, so I never
really got beyond the stage of "these are the
scientific facts, kindly memorize them and cough them up
One of my friends is a biologist, though, and she's a
great one for pointing out the biases of
"objective" science. My all-time favorite is
size differences in birds. In some species, male birds
are larger than females; in others, they're smaller.
Ingrid pointed out that researchers always assume that it
is the male bird that's "doing" something, and
that what the male does is always adaptive. If males are
bigger, they talk about how important size is for
attracting a mate and driving off rivals. If males are
smaller, they point out the advantages of smallness.
Nobody ever asks why females are larger or smaller;
nobody ever assumes that large female birds ever became
larger because it was adaptive to do so. Females are
treated like inert lumps -- it's the males that are
active, adapting, and driven. Now, that's changing, and
there's a lot more emphasis on female mate-choice as a
driving force in a species' evolution. But for years
there was a very strong male-bias in this supposedly
From: An Cli'un
Date: 27 Jul 1997
I know how you feel, Jenny.
It's helpful for me to remember that HISTORY has not much
to do with CULTURE. One strives to determine the real
facts behind what happened, The other is how we feel
about what might have happened, and what it feels like
today. And how we relay that to others in daily life,
distortions and all.
While History may be written by the winners, the underdog
myth is very strong in our culture.
As Pagans, we are underdogs. I guess a little
embellishment is allowable. Solidarity, purpose, and
identity are all at stake.
I'm grateful for those like you, however, who choose to
view the facts and keep the reality and voice of reason
in what gets bandied about.
"Get the facts straight, then distort them all you
wish." Sam Clemens said it all in one line.