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Chapter 5 Notes

January 17, 2013

Myths and Historical Origins from Intro to Pagan Studies by Barbara Jane Davy

So far this is my favorite chapter of the book.  It starts out tromping all the beloved “history” of Neo-Pagan faiths.  So at first I was “ah great, she had to go there”.  But then she says why these myths are so important mayhap even beneficial.

  • myth
    • common meaning – something false or fictional
    • in religious studies – a sacred or significant story; inspirational stories; stories that mean something to the teller and listener; a way to teach
  • 1st Myth:  “the Old Religion” – the claim to continuity with pre-Christian traditions
    • this idea began in the mid to late 1800s, early 1900s
    • it is the original nature religion newly imagined after embracing reason, urbanization and Victorian repression
    • combines nostalgia for the romantic images of the British countryside, with the culture of medieval England and the idea that fold traditions were living fossils of the past
    • Jules Michelet, Charles Godfrey Leland and Margaret Murray spread this idea of continuity, picked up by Geral Gardner and still spread about by modern authors such as Ly de Angeles,  Aiden Kelly first began the challenges of this widely accepted idea.
    • this myth provides a sense of legitimacy
    • many folk traditions unaffiliated with any religious tradition have been reinterpreted as pagan survivals.
  • 2nd Myth:  “the Burning Times”:  the killing during medieval witch hunts
    • Starhawk originally claimed 9 million
    • result of long standing misinformation in which 3% of available evidence was examined and then wrongfully extrapolated; also many forgeries by sensationalist writers
    • scholarly analysis says the number is probably not more than 100,000 and while that is a lot it is not as bad as the original claim.  The majority killed were women but not healers and in areas such as Iceland more men than women were killed.  Not an organized campaign but a sporadic series of events generally not led by the Church but by secular courts especially where central authority had broken down.  Malleus Maleficarum was used by secular courts not the Inquisition   The hunts did not occur in the Middle Ages (400-500s) but during the Age of Reason (1550-1650).  The worst persecution took place where rival Christian sects sought impose their religious views.
    • gives a sense of moral superiority
  • 3rd Myth:  the commonality of Celtic culture:  a nostalgia for a time of greater connection to the land, stronger ties of fellowship and community, freedom from corrupting civilization
    • romantic appeal of the “noble savage”.  This idealization started back in the 18 and 19th centuries.  It is an appropriation that appeals to Americans of European descent because all of whom are immigrants. This romanticism homogenizes various groups into a  pan-Celtic culture led by Druids in harmony with nature and faeries.  Leads to claims that contemporary Celts are more intuitive than others and has commodified in the ready availbilty of Celtic goods and pilgrimages.
    • Cardiac Celts – people who feel in their hearts that they are Celts regardless of their genetic heritage or where they live
    • provides a sense of legitimacy
  • These myths allow people to be part of a culture other than the modern consumerist one.
    • “…ideas of the past continue to inspre contemporary Pagans.  Such myths root Pagan traditions spiritually, if not histrically, creating a community of memory, a sense of shared history, and a common pool of cultural symbols.”
    • Popular mythological tales:
      • Wild Hunt
      • Ceridwen and her cauldron
      • Odin’s hanging
      • Demeter and Persephone
      • Inanna’s descent
  • 4th Myth:  the prevalence of matriarchies – a time when goddesses where reveries and women were honored and respected
    • feminists spirituality movement’s history (herstory) started by early anthropologists and cultural historians in the 19th century
    • poetic appeal, psychological and political value; its power lies in envisioning an alternative to patriarchal culture.
3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 17, 2013 2:54 PM

    This is why I can’t do ADF — it is too polluted with keeping fluff-bunnyism in place. There really is a reason why the threskia of all the pre-Christian European, Egyptian, and Near Eastern religions should not be smooched together along with their pantheons — it makes a stinking mess IMHO.


    • January 17, 2013 3:35 PM

      Really? I wouldn’t be reading this book or any of the others if it hadn’t been for ADF. I think the ADF does a good job of uniting different “hearths” with commonalities and yet allows for individuality between hearths and individuals. Through the DP, I’m getting training that I have not found in other groups or through the last 17 years of meandering on my own.


    • January 17, 2013 5:21 PM

      ADF only has an Indo-European focus. Public ADF rites do not work with pantheons of the Egyptians or Zoroastrianism.

      ADF is focused on scholarship and personal practice, NOT fluffy-bunny Paganism.



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