The 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 "Introduction.

Deborah O'Dubhain

To: Jenny
From: Teb
Date: 19 Jul 1997
Time: 12:17:49

Good idea.

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.

To: Teb
From: Jenny
Date: 20 Jul 1997
Time: 07:11:08

>>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.<<

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?").

To: Jenny
From: Teb
Date: 20 Jul 1997
Time: 09:26:20

<<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 you, Jenny.)

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?

To: Teb
From: Jenny
Date: 24 Jul 1997
Time: 13:58:15

>>It may arise from the way history texts are written and the way history is taught in elementary and high school.<<

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 when requested".

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 "objective" field.

To: Jenny
From: An Cli'un
Date: 27 Jul 1997
Time: 00:46:44

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.

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