Wicca / Monothiestic ?????

Discussion in 'Pagan' started by Child of a New Day, Jul 1, 2005.

  1. BlakeK

    BlakeK New Member

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    I've got some serious issues with Raven Grimassi's methodology. He has a very bad habit of assuming that any evidence for witchcraft prior to Gerald Gardner's publication of Witchcraft Today automatically demonstrates that Wicca is older than Gardner. Raven never quite assimilated the concept that "Wicca" and "witchcraft" are not interchangeable terms.

    Unfortunately, the evidence does not support Raven's assumption.

    Wicca is a modern religion based in part on Margaret Murray's thesis about the nature of European witchcraft. Textual analysis of the earliest Wiccan material, written in Gerald Gardner's own hand, has pretty conclusively demonstrated that Wicca was a brilliant synthesis of material taken from roughly a hundred disparate primary sources, all of which were available to Gerald Gardner either from his personal library or in the collection of the British Library.

    While I do recommend that persons interested in the early history of Wicca read Philip Heselton's books Wiccan Roots and Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration, I always caution them that Heselton's interpretations of some of his findings are questionable. Heselton has a bad habit of stating in Chapter 2 that the evidence suggests that "A" may be true, and then starting his discussion in Chapter 3 as if the truth of "A" were already demonstrated beyond question. In my view he also misinterprets the writings of both Dorothy St Quentin-Fordham and of Katherine Oldmeadow, imputing pagan themes to their writing when what is actually present is the flowery formal writing style, littered with allusions to Greek and Roman deities, typical of members of Britain's upper classes in the Edwardian period who had been the beneficiaries of a classic British public-school education.

    It is probably appropriate too to mention Ronald Hutton's The Triumph of the Moon while we are on this subject. While a good many people on the Web seem to feel compelled to throw brickbats at Hutton over the faults they perceive in the material in the book, or over perceived faults in Hutton's approach to that material, TotM is still the only historical examination of the origins of Wicca which approaches the subject with anything resembling traditional academic rigor. It's a dry read in many places, but an essential one for anyone with a serious interest in the subject.
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2006
  2. bgruagach

    bgruagach eclectic Wiccan

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    Welcome to the messageboard, Blake.

    You've stated what is more or less my own opinion regarding the history of Wicca, and the work done by Raven Grimassi, Philip Heselton, and Ronald Hutton. I've said it before and I'll say it again that I think Grimassi, Heselton, and Hutton all provide important evidence that deserves attention although, like you, I find the logic in Grimassi's and Heselton's books rather shaky. But the evidence is valuable regardless of the conclusions they draw.

    One disagreement I have with your summary is on the role that Dorothy Clutterbuck played. We do have more evidence than just her public journals to work from. While nothing so far is conclusive it does seem to me personally that she could have been involved. If she wasn't involved directly it does seem likely she was tolerant of her friends who were, and allowed them to use her property (such as her Mill House) on occasion.

    And even if Dorothy Clutterbuck had no involvement with Gardner and the people who purportedly introduced him to witchcraft, Heselton has suggested a number of other very good leads for further research into the pre-Gardner possible witches of the New Forest. One person in particular who I think would be the likely mastermind behind putting together Wicca is "Mother Sabine" -- Rosamund Carnsew. Heselton discusses her in "Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration" and from what he presents I think there is little doubt that Rosamund was likely "Mother Sabine" and would have had the right occult training background (in Golden Dawn material) as well as being in the right place and time for her to have had contact with Gardner.

    I haven't seen any solid evidence to indicate that Wicca is a direct descendant of an intact pre-Christian Pagan religion. But there is evidence to suggest that there were people who might have started up what they thought was a recreation of a witch cult (based largely on Margaret Murray's theories about witchcraft) and it was some of these people who Gardner encountered and then used what they taught him as the core of what he fleshed out.
     
  3. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Admin

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  4. BlakeK

    BlakeK New Member

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    Raven and I have been at loggerheads since we both used to post on the old Pagan/Wiccan discussion forums at CompuServe, back in the bad old pre-Web days of text-only systems and 300-baud modems.

    He knows I don't think highly of him, (or any of his work, really,) and we've agreed, more or less tacitly, not to let our differences disrupt otherwise civilized discussion boards. Should he make an appearance, I shall decline to get into an argument with him.
     
  5. BlakeK

    BlakeK New Member

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    What we have with respect to Dorothy St Quentin-Fordham, (nee Clutterbuck) is a great deal of direct evidence that suggests that she was NOT involved with the New Forest Coven, and a limited amount of evidence which can be interpreted as suggesting that she MAY have been involved. To my mind, the strongest verdict that can be rendered on the issue at this time is NOT PROVEN.

    At the time Gardner said that he was initiated, in a house belonging to "Old Dorothy," Dorothy Clutterbuck was NOT resident in the Mill House, which was instead rented to an as yet unidentified tenant. Given those circumstances, I would be far more likely to suspect the tenant of involvement that I would his landlady. And this all assumes that the Mill House was the actual site of Gardner's initiation.

    After all, this line of thought completely discounts the possibility that the name "Old Dorothy" was chosen by Gardner as a deliberate deception to protect the identities of the actual membership of the New Forest Coven, in order to shift people's attentions to someone who had never been involved with the coven, and who would appear to be as unlikely a candidate for the position of High Priestess of a coven of witches as it is possible to imagine. If "Old Dorothy" was actually Rosamund Sabine, Gardner's initiation would clearly NOT have taken place at the Mill House, but at some other place entirely.

    I am inclined to believe that the "New Forest Coven" was an attempt to create something similar to Murray's vision of European witchcraft, which most probably started in the mid-to-late 1920's or the early 1930's. It may very well have included Rosamund Sabine, and it may also have included persons with experience from the esoteric side of the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry. Given the penchant in that period for claiming ancientry for organizations which had not even existed the week prior, it is not beyond imagining that Gardner would have assumed the ancientness of the group's lineage once he heard the term "wica" used and he "realized" that he had stumbled across something very like Murray's medieval witches. The key point for me is that whether or not the original members of the New Forest Coven believed that they were Murray's witches who had survived in secret, Gardner believed them to be so, and I suspect that no one tried to disabuse him if the actual facts were different.
     
  6. bgruagach

    bgruagach eclectic Wiccan

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    I'm curious what the direct evidence is which suggests she was not involved. Is it something like clear proof that Dorothy wasn't anywhere near the New Forest area for the whole time that Gardner supposedly was interacting with her? I'm not sure there is anything else that would be direct evidence that she could not have been involved.

    I'm not sure I understand why Gardner would bother naming the Mill House as the location where he was initiated if it wasn't true. What's there to gain by making up the location?

    I'm also not sure why Gardner would have introduced the "red herring" of Dorothy's involvement if it was not true. How would this "red herring" help at all? Some have suggested this was to draw attention away from people like Dafo who were clearly involved, or away from other more easily investigated people like Rosamund Carnsew. However, Heselton points out in chapter 13 of "Wiccan Roots" that the public mentions of Dorothy came well after it was already on the public record that Dafo was involved, and after Gardner had also mentioned "Mother Sabine" as in the thick of things. For the "red herring" argument to work Dorothy would have to have been used as the cover story before the ones it was supposed to cover were already exposed.

    It just doesn't quite add up.

    And I'm not sure how saying that if "Mother Sabine" was really the one who oversaw Gardner's initiation means that it couldn't have happened at the Mill House. Or that Dorothy wasn't present or at least aware of what was going on at her own property regardless whether it was her legal residence or not at the time (although it is confirmed that she owned the property at the time when Gardner was initiated.) Even if Dorothy wan't involved it could have been the mysterious tenant who was renting the Mill House who would be the link to why it was held there.

    I agree with most of this last bit. However, I understand that the link to the Woodcraft movement is rather tenous and might not be one of the sources of inspiration.
     
  7. Druweid

    Druweid Sage ~ Student ~ Servant

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    I apologize for the confusion. I was trying to recall Gradner's exact quote, and I should have paraphrased. Though we now know that a Witch and a Wiccan are two different people, within Gardner's writings, witch and Wiccan were synonymous.

    -- Druweid
     
  8. BlakeK

    BlakeK New Member

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    Gardner never did identify the Mill House as the site of his initiation. All Gardner ever said was that the initiation took place at a house owned by "Old Dorothy." The identification of the Mill House as the probable site was made by Phillip Heselton, and that identification depends on the assumption that that "Old Dorothy" was in fact Dorothy St Quentin-Fordham. It is another example of Heselton's sloppy methodology. He suggests that St Quentin-Fordham may have been "Old Dorothy," in which case the Mill House may have been where Gardner was initiated, then he visits the Mill House and identifies a carved mantlepiece that he interprets as having pagan connotations, and in the next chapter he writes as if Gardner's connection to the house has been proven beyond all doubt. Were he writing for an historical journal the piece wound not have passed peer review with careless reasoning of that sort.

    No one has as yet provided me with any evidence that suggests strongly that Dorothy St Quentin-Fordham was involved with the New Forest Coven. She was not involved with the Rosicrucian Garden Theatre, but rather with a wholly different small theater group. She was a regular communicant at the local Church of England parish, and was eventually buried in a CofE churchyard with an explicitly Christian epitaph. Her journals or daybooks, (or at least the excerpts from those books that I have seen,) do not suggest to me that they are intended to convey pagan sentiments so much as they suggest that she was a woman from Britain's upper social classes who had been given the traditional classical education of the Edwardian period. Even Hesleton admits that despite a diligent search of the local newspaper's reports of various community and social activites in the Christchurch/Highcliff area he has been unable to locate evidence that Gerald Gardner and Dorothy St Quentin-Fordham moved in the same social circles or even that they came into contact with one another on a regular basis. While I will admit that the absence of evidence is NOT the same thing as evidence of absence, the identification of Dorothy St Quentin-Fordham as being "Old Dorothy" appears to me to be based on a long-held assumption not actually supported by the demonstrable facts.
     

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