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Paganism and Polemic

by Ronald Hutton

In 1998, the first issue of the newly renamed journal of the Canadian Folklore Association, Ethnologies, included an article by Donald H. Frew, a Californian terming himself an “independent scholar writer.” It represented a historiographical landmark, being only the second contribution to one of the key scholarly debates in the history of contemporary religions, that concerning the origin of Wicca, the first of the various traditions of modern pagan witchcraft to emerge into the public eye (Frew 1998). During the 1980s, British writers working within that tradition, such as Janet and Stewart Farrar and Doreen Valiente, had done valuable work in providing anecdotal material for its history and commencing the textual analysis of its liturgy (Farrar and Farrar 1981; 1984; Valiente 1989).

Systematic discussion of the issue, however, only began in 1991, with the publication of a book by another Californian, Aidan Kelly. This made an analysis of certain key texts to suggest that Wicca had essentially been created by one man, a retired colonial official called Gerald Gardner, who had in turn been heavily influenced by the thesis propounded by the Egyptologist Margaret Murray. Murray had argued that the people persecuted for the alleged crime of witchcraft in early modern Europe had been practitioners of a persisting pagan religion, then being finally exposed and rooted out by Christian authorities. Gardner declared that the religion concerned had survived in secret until the twentieth century, and that he was drawing the attention of the public to its continued existence, and to its rites and beliefs. Aidan Kelly argued that Gardner had himself founded the religion to which he was giving this publicity (Kelly 1991).

Read the original article at: BNet Articles

Read the original article at: BNet Articles

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