The Need for Scholarship

Woot, I’m back guys! Bet you didn’t expect me to post today 😉

I’m writing after my week of vacation, much of which was spent reading.  I spent some time walking through the woods and figuring out what was what – I learned to identify Wild Ginger and Jerusalem Artichoke, as well as got a review of sorts on Jewelweed, Purple Loosestrife, Poison Ivy, Sensitive Fern, White Oak, Red Oak, Sugar Maple, Elm, Cottonwood…

Anyway, I’m writing to point something out: our religious books need back up.  It’s all well and good to include a bibliography, but if you don’t cite sources while writing, there is always the chance that what you’re saying is not a fact, but instead a myth perpetuated by the masses.  Sentences in books that start with, “The celts were all” really worry me, because I’m sure the Celtic culture was just as diverse as our own is.  And realizing that through my reading, it began to nag me: where did all of these assumptions come from?  And how could we, as Pagans looking to be respected in the academic, religious and spiritual circles, work towards uniformity in information?

I don’t want us to all agree on the same beliefs.  But I want us to get the facts straight.  If every single Celt that existed loved music as much as some books on Celtic Spirituality claim they did, then fine.  But I have a feeling that not everything was that hippie happiness that we imagine it to be.

Similarly, there is a lack of responsibility and credit for spells and rituals which have been circulating for several generations now.  Is Gardner responsible?  Did Cunningham create all of the things in his books?  Or did he draw from his old coven?

Should we have a Creative Commons licensed database of spells and rituals so credit can go where it is deserved?  With authors and their respective (if possible) contact information?

Should we have to delve into Richard Hutton’s history of Wicca just to retrieve one small fact?  Or should our authors be wise enough to incorporate their citations into their discussions?

Are we worse pirates than those of the music and video industries?  What can be shared and what can be copyrighted in the name of the Goddess?


5 responses to “The Need for Scholarship

  1. You raise several important questions. I completely agree that being good stewards of our traditions means relaying the facts and drawing a very clear line between what is history and what is conjecture.

    Part of the difficulty stems from the Craft’s history as an oral tradition. I believe Hutton mentions this exact thing – that a “Book of Shadows” wasn’t likely used until relatively recently (Victorian England?) as few in earlier times could read and write. The lack of credit in modern works could be due to not knowing who to cite, at least in part.

    Another challenge in my opinion is lack of quality control by publishers of Neo-Pagan works. Do you ever get the feeling some of the more prolific authors have stopped caring about their subject matter and are now just churning out whatever they can to fulfill a contract or meet a deadline? I do.

    There are some great books on Wicca, the Craft, and other Neo-Pagan topics and traditions out there. There’s also a lot of poorly written, loosely substantiated crap. Sifting through the pile and determining which is which can certainly be a challenge.

    Thanks for the post – sorry for my long-windedness. 🙂


  2. Jerome, you’re right about the quality control issue – no author that churns out a book a year can possibly have much that is new to say and this is partly the problem – the more books out there that all say the same thing, the worse the problems become.

    I think it’s up to us all to take up that challenge and refuse to give credentials to those whose writings fail critical and factual tests.

    Copyrighting in the name of the Goddess is starting to come towards standardized texts and therefore interpretation… a personal bugbear of mine. I wouldn’t like to see it happen – who’s qualified to take on the mantle of Wiccan referee and cheif propagandist? Not I, Moriaty! 🙂

  3. Green Witch,

    “I think it’s up to us all to take up that challenge and refuse to give credentials to those whose writings fail critical and factual tests.”

    Great point, and I agree. Though it does beg the question, who is 100% qualified to subject every work to critical and factual tests? This could be a challenge even for an anthropologist or historian. I guess in the end it comes down to honing our collective skills of discernment as well as asking questions and seeking out answers, both intuitively and academically.

  4. I know from college that quality sources – the best quality, anyway – come from peer reviewed material Academic Journals, etc. I think that’s our best bet – but it means that our authors *are* going to have to fact check the crap out of everything they say.

    And as for copyright issues, the best we can do is cite our sources – whether it’s our coven or our high priestess, a book or a speech given in a seminar we attended 10 years ago. Those would only arise over spells/rituals, etc.

    I guess what I’m trying to say – in the end – is that a few footnotes aren’t impossible. Even from Llewellyn.

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