Now, I have to be honest at the outset that this issue doesn’t lay particularly close to my heart, at least not as close as to that of Mr. Griffin’s, or that of Mr. Wildoak’s or Mr. Eckstein’s. I wouldn’t even label myself as being a “Pagan”, nor would I label myself as being a “Christian” either. And if anyone is wondering, no I’m not a Stregherian Witch although I find that old religion quite faschinating, being one of the few examples in Europe of a surviving pagan tradition. What is especially interesting with Stregheria, or l'Arte Eccelsa (“The Sublime Art”), for me personally is that it linked to ancient Roman paganism, and in particular to the cult of Diana, the Huntress. Thus it is the only remaining pagan living tradition coming from ancient Rome.
But when it comes to personal religious beliefs I abhor labels such as “Paganism” and “Christianity” as none of them can truly grasp any real spiritual truths, at least not how I would define my own religions beliefs. Being a non-dualist Hermeticist I sometimes make fun of it all in calling myself a “Christian Pagan”; I’m neither and I’m both. What I believe in, in the core of my own being – with a religious fervour – is in the Hermetic Godhead, the ONE and ALL. Qabalists refer to It as the Ain-Soph.
But I also believe that the ONE expresses itself through the many; from a purely pragmatic view I do sometimes supplicate and invoke specific “pagan” lesser deities in my own personal Theurgy, depending on my current needs on that particular occasion, in the name of personal and spiritual development, and with the aim of Apotheosis. As a Hermetic Alchemist I believe that every human has the seed inside of him or her to become truly godlike, “to become more than human”; to become a man-god. If you like, you also can call it being “angelical” in nature. Thus we may all one day become one with the “sons of God”.
With this particular aim in mind I often find myself drawn to the foremost Occidental exemplar, i.e. Jesus Christ. I regard Christ to be one of several personages who succeeded in the Great Work of becoming transhuman and godlike, but one that I particularly find most appealing. Being a Westerner and European I prefer to call upon his name as a patron of Alchemists and demigods in the making. Orientals instead prefer Buddha, or any of their local Bodhisattvas, in the same manner as Shia Muslims rever their Imams. Thus I’m intrinsically drawn to all deities enacting the death and resurrection mythos, such as Osiris, Dionysus, etc.
But as a practicing Alchemist I am also drawn to the dual deities expressing sexual polarity in creation, the God and the Goddess. The former expresses the Solar and the latter the Lunar qualities and energies in the macrocosm (world) and in the microcosm (man). I prefer not to give these two deities any names, as they are true archetypes which cannot really be reduced to anyone single pantheon, but I must confess that in this instance I have recently found myself being pulled toward Oriental Saivism and the tantric Shakti cults; the interplay between Siva and Shakti resonates in my being as expressing a both sublime and profound, as well as concrete, spiritual truth with strong Alchemical connotations.
So what am I in the final analysis? To be honest, I have no idea, and please don’t put a label upon me. There is no religion today which clearly can express my current believes. It’s like in my political views; I wish that every citizen could be given a total of five votes to distribute amongst several parties as no one particular expresses all my opinions. The same thing with my spiritual beliefs; on my altar you will find a picture of the crucified Christ, as well as Siva and Shakti united in ecstasy! Don’t you dare to call me a Christian, for God’s sake! Don’t even contemplate to label me as a pagan, or else..!
But personal belief systems isn’t the actual issue at hand here. Even the main character in this drama, Prof. Hutton, refuses to reveal his religious beliefs, “if any”. Oh, I have to make yet another confession before I proceed; I haven’t actually read Triumph of the Moon. Neither have I read Trials of the Moon. Why? I don’t bother doing it to be honest. I have more important issues to deal with; there is only 24 hours in one day, minus 6 hours (or less) of sleep. But I do have read Mr. Griffin’s entertaining rebuttals and also the previous debates between him and Mr. Eckstein or Mr. Wildoak. I have also read the latest interview that Caroline Tully made with Prof. Hutton, followed by Mr. Griffin’s rebuttal. So I believe I’m entitled to an opinion, although flawed and meagrely educated it may be.
In my alchemical studies, both theoretical of the Oriental Tantra (mainly through the book The Alchemical Body by David Gordon White) and practical of the Occidental Alchemy (through the guidance of my Alchemical Masters), I have finally come to realize that there exists a direct lineal transmission from ancient Shamanism down to the modern practice of Alchemy. Tantra emerged from the Kapalikas, the cremation ground ascetics and their ecstatic worship of Siva and Shakti, a form of worship that shares much in common with what we today regard as being shamanic. Now, I have also been informed by my teachers that Hermetic Alchemy has a basis in ancient goddess worshipping Shamanism. This Occidental tradition has many similarities, at least superficially, with the Tantrik Kapalikas, as its devotees worship the God as well as the Goddess in a straight forward manner.
The funny thing is that last weekend I attended a pagan conference in my hometown Gothenburg, where I held a lecture on Golden Dawn god-form magic. During that conference I listened to a highly illuminating lecture held by the Wiccan Priestess Caroline Levander, who talked about her religion as a mystery tradition. When she spoke of the great two deities of Wicca, the God and Goddess, shivers almost went through my spine in recognition. I remember thinking, “how alchemical” all this sounded. Thus I dare to say that even in Wicca we find shamanic traces going back to the ancient worshipping of the Great Mother Goddess.
Thus here is my main contestation of Prof. Hutton’s whole thesis, that there are no continuous and surviving elements in between modern European paganism and that of the ancient or pre-Christian religions. How should we define “Paganism”? Could Shamanism be properly labelled as “Pagan”? Today, in Neo-Paganism we surely find Witchcraft and Shamanism within the same fold; on the said conference last weekend I also participated in a shamanic drumming session. But is it possible to compare ancient Paganism, such as the Greek and Egyptian religions, with Shamanism? To answer this we must problematize the use of the term “Paganism”. In truth this originally Latin word, as well as its English equivalent “Heathen” or the Italian word “Stregheria” was coined by Christians in a degradory way. So traditional Stregherians, if we may call them such, prefer to use their ancient name l'Arte Eccelsa.
It is better to refer to these old religions as “ancient” or perhaps even “pre-Christian”. Shamanism surely enough is both ancient and pre-Christian, as is l'Arte Eccelsa. The interesting part here is that in many of these ancient mystery religions of Rome, Greece and Egypt, we could find ecstatic practices which evokes Shamanism, if we would dare to look closely enough. With l'Arte Eccelsa this relation between ancient Roman Paganism and Shamanism surely is established, or so I have been informed by its initiates. So, perhaps in Prof. Hutton’s native country there are no longer any surviving elements of Shamanism, but in Europe you will find evidences of a living and continuous shamanic tradition, not only in Italy. “Where else?” you might ask. Let me tell you.
In my own country we have the Sami people and their shamanic Wizards, called “Noaidievuohta” or “Noaidi” for short. One of my associates some decades ago found himself badly bruised with broken bones somewhere near the Finnish border, in the middle of a vast wilderness. He eventually passed out after crawling for several hours and when he woke up he found himself in a Sami goahti or hut (similar to the North-American tipi). The only thing he remembers from this episode is that some kind of a medicine man made a series of rituals over him. A week later he could leave the hut being miraculously healed; would it not had been for his encounter with a Noaidi, he is convinced that he wouldn’t be alive today. I trust this man and his anecdotal story.
A year ago, on a party with some Thelemites, I met a nice woman who was an ethnic Sami. She told me about the Shamans of her people – the Noaidi – that these were working very secretly but had continued the old religion of the Sami in an unbroken lineage since the dawn of her culture. The real tragedy in all of this is that most Sami people nowadays are Christian and abhors the old animistic religious beliefs and the ways of the Shamans. That is the greatest reason for the continuous seclusion of the practicing Noaidi, the persecution of their own people. This phenomenon is the main reason for us not finding these traditions today in Christianised Europe, both in Scandinavia and in Italy. Imagine a practicing witchcraft working out in the open right in the very heartland of the Catholic faith and the home of the Vatican! You couldn’t without serious peril, at least not until quite recently.
Only today has the l'Arte Eccelsa emerged in a non-distorted, non-American and non-reconstructionist form, not being afraid of being burned at the stake or imprisoned for life in a dungeon. I only wish that my own brethren in Sweden and neighbouring countries (the Sami people occupies an area in the far North stretching from Russian Kola Peninsula in the East to Norway in the West, approximating to a total of 100.000 individuals) could find the same courage; but their shame is to great as of yet I’m afraid.
So, this is my biggest problem with Prof. Hutton and his reconstructionist stance on modern paganism. He doesn’t seem to acknowledge the shamanic component fully, or at least there is some ambivalence in his words. Let me quote him briefly from Caroline Tully’s interview:
…I acknowledged that Carlo [Ginzburg]’s use of shamanism, as an interpretative framework for the beliefs that underpinned the early modern witch trials, drew useful attention to linkages and similarities across Europe. I also felt, however, that it obscured major regional differences in ancient conceptions of the supernatural which explained important variations in the trials, such as why it was mainly women who were accused in most places but mainly men in some, why some areas experienced intense witch-hunts and other none, and so forth.So, if Prof. Hutton in fact does acknowledge Shamanism as a model for a greater understanding of European Paganism, why has he failed at least to see the still living Pagan traditions in Scandinavia? Is it perhaps because he finds it difficult to “kill his darlings”? It makes me wonder what actually transpires inside of his head, what truly motivates him in his quest. We all have our conscious or unconscious agendas and paradigms, of which we have difficulties in seeing outside of the box, so to speak. If they are unconscious, the more difficult to loose the blinkers.
Another thing I would like to bring up in this context is how we should define a living tradition of Paganism? What is a living tradition? Does it have to have its own congregation and followers, an ecclesial chaste, or could it had survived through different forms, and even being assimilated into (and thus formed) local Christian practices and beliefs?
I don’t know how big Celtic folklore is in Britain today, but I know for a fact that in Sweden there are obvious traces of the old Norse religion and even more of old folk magical practices. Our peculiar way of celebrating Christmas, to take but one example. I won’t go into details but it has been confirmed by ethnography that even one century ago Christmas – which is called Jul (as in Yule) in Swedish – as a celebration took overtly pagan forms. We also have the supposedly “Christian” celebration of “Lucia” (supposedly a Catholic woman Saint from Italy) on December 13th, which has strong local pagan origins and undertones.
Lastly we have the “unique” Swedish celebration of Summer Solstice, which is one of the most celebrated holidays in Sweden and that has retained almost all of its original pagan expressions, lacking typical Christian dilutions, albeit much restrained as compared with the old ways which involved orgies of free sex. All of this points to the fact that many old pagan practices have survived in popular folklore and even through annual festivals.
My wife, who has a past as a Neo-Asatro practitioner, has told me that in Island (which today is mostly notorious for its erupting volcanoes), the only country in Scandinavia which never did prohibit the old religion, the Norse folklore is very explicit even though the Asatro movement has even more recent origins than Wicca. Thus in an environment as this, it is feasible to conclude that a “reconstruction” of an old religion isn’t such a hard feat as the link to the actual ancient and pre-Christian religion isn’t wholly severed and may be yet seen in disguised forms.
Another quite funny observation regarding the Neo-Asatro movement in Scandinavia is that it has taken quite shamanistic forms called Seid, involving singing and chanting, and a shamanic style divination tool using the runes, etc. This again expresses a very ecstatic form of Paganism, proving that Shamanism truly must be regarded as being the very foundation of all so-called “paganistic” expressions.
But let us return to Finland again. In the minds of many Swedes, the “land of 1000 lakes” is an even more mysterious site that airs heathendom and naturalistic folk magic. In my personal study of 18th Century Swedish Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry, most prominently in Kjell Lekeby’s essential tome Gustaviansk Mystik, there are several references to Finish mages and oracles. Some of them visited the Capital of Sweden, Stockholm, and practiced as nature-healers and divinators. In the minds of Swedish occultists of the late 18th Century, Finland was filled to the brim with wizards and shamans that inspired awe in Swedish aristocracy (who spend their leisure time dabbling with occultism). One of the most powerful Swedish occultist during this time, Gustaf Björnram, was supposedly initiated into some form of Finnish shamanic magical tradition. He taught one of the Swedish royalties in the art of magic, who was later crowned as Carl XIII, in particular necromantic sorcery.
Finland has also today the largest collection of folklore and old pre-Christian poems, gathered during the last two Centuries, mainly drawing from Karelian traditions. The biggest bulk of these poems in fact consists of magical spells and charms. A collection of those sources found its way in to Elias Lönnröth’s anthology Kalevala, wich has served somewhat as a “Holy Book” for Finnish neo-pagans, but also later recognized by theosophists and anthroposophists. One Pekka Ervast, who was an theosophist and Freemason, created a new masonic blue degrees rite based upon Kalevala for his own organisation called Ruusu-Risti (Rose-Cross). However, all of this is just a quite recent re-creation of a supposed original Finnish religion with strong romantic-nationalistic sentiments.
In the wake of the 13th Century Christian crusade, waged by the Swedish states man Birger Jarl, all practice of ancient Finnish traditions became prohibited. But in an effort of survival the old pagan ways and deities merged and became corresponding with Christian Catholic and other Christian saints, reminiscent of Voodoo and Hoodoo. However, although it does seem, according to my Finnish neo-pagan friends, that the old Finnish folk religion has died out in its pure form as a continuous tradition in all practical respects, they don’t argue against the possibility that there still may be eldery nature-healers and folk magician still practicing the old arts in some remote villages. The recounts among Swedish magicians in late 18th Century with a reference to a living folk magical (and perhaps even pagan) Finnish tradition is significant and must be taken to account in the overall picture.
My point in all of this is that if we are to find any possible traces of an original pagan religion and magical tradition in Europe, we should not only look towards Italy but also do research in the farthest Northern and Eastern part of Europe, in Scandinavia and in Russia. But this requires more than academic scholarly research; this requires a different type of science than Prof. Hutton represents. Thus we come to my main argument, epitomized in a interesting detail I found in the Hutton-interview where the good Professor is addressing the oral tradition and scholarly considerations, which is next to nil. Let me quote the pertinent part in the following:
I have no interest in contesting the claims of modern Pagans to represent a secretly surviving tradition, as long as the practitioners do not attack me or offer any actual historical evidence for scrutiny. If they do neither, then they are effectively standing outside history and are not the concern of a historian.Here it is obvious that Prof. Hutton has a blind spot about the size of a lunar eclipse. He reduces his academic research only to “history”. This makes it obvious for me that “history” isn’t about truth at all, it is a species of reconstruction by it self only based on documented evidence and research made in private collections and libraries. Hasn’t it ever occurred to Prof. Hutton that in early and “primitive” forms of Paganism the oral transmission probably was the totality of that tradition?
As an example, the Indian Kapalikas doesn’t rely on any texts, as in the later form Tantras (the Tantric source texts), etc. Hadn’t it been for the fact that the official religion in India in fact is Pagan, we probably wouldn’t be able do any research on the Kapalikan cult.
The reason why it’s so hard for us to be able to make good studies of any surviving traditional pre-Christian religions, is because of the fierceful and vehement Christian persecution and the witches trials. Prof. Hutton however asserts all over his interview that the witches burned at the stakes during the inquisitions in fact weren’t representatives of the old Pagan religions; Prof. Hutton argues that most of them witches would have been treated as the plague also by the pre-Christian clergy. Here he fails to recognize that in many religions, both polytheistic and monotheistic, there has always been a division between (a) state sanctioned or official magic performed by the priesthood of that religion, and (b) unofficial or non-sanctioned folk magic praciced by natural healers, such as described in Richard Cavendish book A history of magic. Thus I cannot stop wondering how many old wise women and men practicing shamanic folk magic and natural healing, helping their neighbours in need, actually died in that process? Many I believe. More than we can imagine.
In a similar vein Prof. Hutton won’t find any documents that proves the existence of Sami Noaidi in some library. But does it mean that Noaidis actually doesn’t exist? Of course not! There exists an academic field called anthropology which could remedy the limited world view of Prof. Hutton. But that would entail him actually coming to Sweden and seeking out a real Noaidi, something that takes perseverance and stamina. In a best case scenario he would have to become initiated into the shamanic practice itself. Calos Castaneda and his books about Don Juan Matus, the Yaqui Shaman, is a well known example of this. What European paganism needs is its own “Carlos Castaneda” visiting Italy, Scandinavia and Russia.