Pagan Studies

Pagan Scholar seeks to examine particular topics within Paganism through the various lenses of philosophy.
Also, I make goofy vlogs and review books.
Formerly, A Pagan Aesthetic.

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Review of Ch. 1 in Triumph of The Moon

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

As a way to keep the blog flowing (and supplement a new project Ill share with you soon!) I'm rereading Ronald Hutton's Triumph of The Moon. I'm placing here summaries of the chapters for reference and easy reading for any of you who don't have the book. 

Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of The Moon, undertakes the task of tracing the developments of contemporary paganism and witchcraft as it originated in the English speaking nations of Europe and their influences. His first chapter, “Finding A Language” is a necessary foundation for the reader, supplying and clarifying a vocabulary with which the rest of the book uses and sets the historical framework within which the events examined take place. Hutton superbly mingles witty observations with historical records and cultural paradigms to produce, not merely definitions, but a working understanding of how and why the terms came to be.


Hutton proposes four separate “languages” in which the term “pagan” was and is understood. When the term languages is used, Hutton is not referring to literal languages, but an academic understanding of the context in which a word is used. Languages can be understood as simply a way in which a person would use or understand a term.


The first language Hutton explores “pagan” with is how it was used in context of Evangelists and Imperialists. During the Enlightenment era of Europe, philosophers often idealized native cultures deeming people who lived closer to the earth as sublimely more authentic. However, with the spread of trade, commerce, and Imperialism, these cultures were not explored by philosophers but merchants, often exploiting indigenous natives for their goods. Where merchants flourish, missionaries fallow. As many missionaries traveled to distant lands to spread Christianity, their accounts, letters, and memoirs told of ignorant people devoid of religion or ethics. This was of course their personal interpretation of anybody with a religion that did not resemble an abrahamic tradition of religion. These accounts, while limited in their perspective, were modest in comparison to the sensationalized Adventure novels of the time. Writers like R.M. Ballantyne wove fantastic and diabolical tales for young boys. Tales like The Fugitives, or The Tyrant Queen of Madagascar, and The Coral Island feature thrills and horrors of shipwrecked strapping young lads on an island with natives Ballantyne describes as cannibals and sacrificers of babys and virgins. The sensational rhetoric Ballantyne uses promoted a derisive and antagonistic use of the word pagan. Coupled with missionary letters and the exploitative attitudes Imperialism germinated in the minds of Europe, pagan came to mean for some a devil or idol worshiper, backwards in morality and without sense or societal aptitude. This ethical bankruptcy in turn hindered their cultural development, making them simultaneously easy picking for merchants, and children in need of correcting and educating for missionaries.


~As a side note, this language of understanding paganism can still be heard today by Evangelical and ultra conservative Christian groups (a la Katy Perry promoting Black Magic in her music performed at the Super Bowl!) likening any faith beyond Christianity - or more specifically, the radical in question’s denomination of Christianity - as diabolical, devil worship, and ultimately the backsliding path to hell. ~


The second language in which Hutton explores is that of Enlightenment thinkers reacting to individuals using the first language. As Latin was the (literal) language of scholars in the Enlightenment period, the ancient texts from which philosophical discourses often revolved around were of ancient greek and roman. These thinkers defended ancient Greece and Rome as a vibrant culture which brought the world art, literature, government, philosophy, and architecture to name only a few. The ancient civilizations were to be admired for all of their accomplishments, save only for their religions, which they considered to be ethically deficient to and improved upon by, Christianity. Some even went as far as saying the ancient pagan cultures paved the path for Christianity to perfect the world. This in turn developed the term pagan to refer to cultures beautiful and intelligent, but still lacking in moral reason.


The third language to contextualize pagan comes from the Theosophical Society mystic and medium Helena Blavatsky. A Russian Orthodox Christian by birth, Blavatsky claimed to have received wisdom from “ascended masters”. Her teachings favored eastern and asian cosmologies, and opposed the Abrahamic religious traditions. She proposed and popularized ideas of a single divine world soul and reincarnation. These views granted pagan and paganism as being an alternative to both the Christian sentiments of a beholden world and the cold scientific paradigm. Though her authority comes from unverifiable sources (foreign pilgrimages to remote tibetan monasteries, spiritual teachings from supernatural beings of which she is the only channel) her views provided a language that understood paganism as neither diabolical, nor subservient to Christianity.


Also, nobody questioned her authority, because, well, Russia.



The fourth language of paganism (and the primary language from which Hutton claims contemporary paganism evolved from) has its birth in the literary movement of Romanticism. As the Enlightenment favored reason and dismissed religion, the Romantic movement was a reaction to the Enlightenment’s reduction of a world rich in poetry to base elements. Hutton traces the works of writers like Byron, Keats, Shelley, and Swineburn, finding recurring themes of a longing or nostalgia for a pristine and natural past. Hark A Vagrant comic. Go Read some more. After reading this I mean.


The Romantic movement also considered truth to be ultimately rooted within the individual and not external. This reverence and respect of nature and the idea of humanity being the source of truth culminated in writings that looked for joy in humanities relationship with nature. This fourth language was reactionary to the first and second languages in that it rejected Christianity, considering its effects on the world as risibly bad. To correct this, writers looked back to cultures before Christianity, namely, pagan cultures. As mentioned earlier, Greco-Roman writers were the most popular for intellectuals to study in the nineteenth century. The romantics then focused upon greek and roman mythologies, popularizing and personalizing their preferred deities, or, borrowing from the third language, explored themes in their writings of a divine world soul. This language reached its apex right before the first world war. With the desire for stability and sober modernity amidst the terrors of war, the Romantics waned in popularity. However, the language could still be heard in literature, not necessarily as homage to specific pagan deities, but as an observation of the general powers of nature.


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An unpublished writer but a published poet, Travis writes in the hopes that he can actually use his philosophy degree for something other than grad school. He finds pleasure in working uncommon words into his lexiconic exchanges, discovering work cited lists in religious studies books, and in general pretending his life is not dissimilar that of a 50's Parisian beatnik (ennui: check). He practices what essentially boils down to Wicca with influences from his studies in Philosophy of Hermeneutics, Existentialism, and Mysticism.


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