When I first began to study Wicca and Witchcraft (which at the time were considered synonymous), there were several things that were accepted as “fact.”
- Nine million Witches were burned during the Inquisition or “Burning Times.”
- Wicca was the rebirth of an ancient religion.
- Various Witches were going to disagree with each other as to what was real Witchcraft and who were really Witches, leading to what can generously be called “Witch Wars.”
Well, the “wars” were at best minor skirmishes, primarily between some very ego-driven people, most of whom have been forgotten. I’m inclined to think the reason they were relatively small was simply because communication was not as fast or widespread as it is today—at the time there was no internet.
Since that time most Pagans have come to accept that such Witch Wars happen. I was peripherally involved in one a few years ago when one Pagan writer attacked some others for a couple of sentences they had published decades ago. Chances are you didn’t hear about that “war” because it was so bizarre and the people who instigated it simply couldn’t maintain the passion of their “army.”
Most Pagans also accept that the number of women killed during the Inquisition for Witchcraft was well under 100,000. Some have made estimates of under 50,000 or lower. In my opinion even one was too many, but it was a far cry from nine million.
And finally, most Pagans seem to accept that Wicca was a “reconstruction” of ancient Pagan religions, not a continuation. Or at least they did until a decade ago.
In 2000, Ronald Hutton published The Triumph of the Moon. It quite literally showed that Gerald Gardner created Wicca, deriving it from scholars, novelists and poets. In short, Wicca, and modern Witchcraft, was invented.
At first controversial, The Triumph of the Moon has become standard reading among occultists and Pagans (and among anti-Wiccans). Eventually, many Wiccans just swallowed hard, accepted Hutton’s scholarship, and said that Wicca and Witchcraft today are valid on their own, even if they don’t come from some ancient and once-universal goddess-worshiping religion.
Cracks in the Wall
But there were cracks in Professor Hutton’s logic. Specifically, he was looking at a limited area and expanding it to cover other areas. Carlo Ginsburg, in The Night Battles (1994), had shown evidence that there were Witchcraft groups in Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries. For those of you interested in traditional Italian Witchcraft, I can recommend the works of Raven Grimassi.
But if Ginsburg and Grimassi created a crack in the “accepted truth” of Hutton’s thesis, is it possible that there are larger holes? Recently, a man named Ben Whitmore did an exhaustive examination into Hutton’s book. The result is a new book entitled Trials of the Moon. Whitmore has made most of the book available as a free download HERE.
In Trials, Whitmore alleges that Hutton was not completely accurate,misinterpreting some of his sources, making very selective quotes, and making conclusions not justified by the facts. It is important to note that Whitmore is not a scholar and does not claim to be. He does not say “Whitmore is wrong and here’s the real story.” He wisely, in my opinion, just shows that Hutton’s thesis is not as accurate and bulletproof as many have believed.
The results has been a written firestorm of anger, accusations, and personal attacks, a real Witch War in the blogosphere. Why is there so much venom? My assumption is that many people have attached themselves to either believing fully in Hutton or disagreeing with him. Now that someone has come up with evidence questioning Hutton, people are taking sides, grabbing verbal swords, and battle lines across the internet are being drawn.
Unfortunately, the battle between the supporters of Triumph and those of Trials is extending beyond reason and logical argument. Not only are they attacking Hutton and Whitmore, they’re attacking each other with all sorts of insults and name calling. As Rodney King, whose beating by the police was a contributing factor to the L.A. riots of 1992 stated, “Can’t we all just get along?”
My friends, strong disagreements over the background of a religion are nothing new. Since the early days of Christianity, different Christian groups fought and killed each other because each believed they had the true faith. Some said Jesus was a real man. Others disagreed. The doctrine wasn’t decided until 325 c.e., and Christianity has continued to slowly evolve ever since. The same sort of bitter disagreements as to the true history of the faith have existed in other religions.
Can’t we do better? When reasonable, such disagreements are the sign of a rapidly maturing and growing religion, a faith filled with vitality. I’m not saying don’t disagree or don’t argue. Sharing different approaches and ideas can be a great thing, leading to growth and evolution. What I am saying is the same as chapter III, verse 59 of The Book of the Law, “As brothers fight ye!” The people you are disagreeing with are your brothers and sisters. By all means, stand up for what you believe. Attacking your brothers and sisters instead of debating the issues, however, won’t make you anytaller or more correct.
I suggest people should read both books and come to their own conclusions.