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Monday, April 25, 2011

The Mythology of witches, Druids and Arthurian Legend


Witches,Druids and King Arthur
Ronald Hutton,St Martin's Press
2003

Ronald Hutton is a scholar who cuts through all the crap and gets straight to the truth. He doesn't mess around and he does not have time for biases. Most noted for his study of modern witchcraft in book "Triumph of the Moon" Ronald Hutton has drafted a book that is really a compilation of different essays on different subjects that are pertinent facets of modern paganism. This book is easily read and scholarly at the same time which serves to make it a very enjoyable read as well as informative.

The first essay talks about myths and how they are created. Often times a groups oral history maybe composed of myths. Myths are often legends composed around a certain event or monument. As the author shows myths are outright inventions meant to bolster ethnic pride and carry forth an idea much like propaganda would. The author gives several examples of national myths that clearly have no basis in fact. This could cover everything from battles and historical event all the way to monuments. Many monuments are not as old as reported and the stories surrounding them are equally untrue.

The next area of the author's study is King Arthur. King Arthur is rather a tough figure to pin down. There are several candidates as to who could be the real Arthur. no one knows for sure. Glastonbury Tor is an area often associated with King Arthur. supposedly it is the place where he and Queen Guenivere are buried. Further mythology connects it to Joseph Aramathea. Excavations show, however, that the earliest the building there could have been built was the 10th century ad and most likely they were built by Anglo Saxons. A bit too late for King Arthur.

Ronald Hutton through his research has come to the conclusion that Modern Paganism is not an extension of old paganism. He argues that once Europe adopted Christianity they stopped practicing their pagan religions. Modern Wicca tends to be duotheistic meaning that there are two deities, God and Goddess. Old pagan religions were pantheistic meaning they had a multitude of gods. Monotheism is a belief in one god. The Paganism of the late antiquity period before the onset of Christianity had a tendency to lean towards monotheism and that there was one main creator god and the rest of the deities were spirits under his command. Duo theistic ideas were present as well. There was a main idea that underneath the main creator god there was a female consort who had the responsibility of bestowing life and fertility to the life below on earth. At times this female deity would be called Natura, Venus or even Hekate.

There are other division to be noted with regards too modern paganism and the pagan religions of old. One such division was the use of magic. There is a difference between religion and magic. In religion the followers would worship the given deity and make request. In magic the magician could compel the spiritual entity to perfrom a certain task on their behalf. The Egyptians believed that one could use Heka or spiritual power to coerce a deity. in modern wicca on can perform magic by using their own energy and by asking the deity to lend them power.

It is to be acknowledged that many ideas of magic and religion flowed to Europe from the Middle East via Rome and Greece. Many of these ideas originated in Babylon, Egypt and Phoenicia/Canaan/Israel. The idea of a male God dying at winter and being resurrected is one such motif. Another motif that is found in ritual magic and Wicca, that came to Europe from the Middle East is casting the circle and calling the 4 elements. This played a big part in Greek and Middle Eastern ritual.Modern paganism inherited it from them.

Harran was a place in the Middle East located near what is considered northern Iraq and southern Turkey that was a surviving bastion of Paganism that survived as such until the 11th century ad. It survived and thrived under Islamic rule. Some say that pagan wisemen were transferred there after the Greco-Roman world became christian. it is know that the Muslim mystics known for the art of making amulets and talismans learned what they knew from the mystics of Harran.This would later come to Europe via the Muslims when they conquered Spain.

Two important things are salient with Harranian mysticism. Not only did they cast circle and call quarters but they also subscribed to Hermeticism and neo platonism.
The idea behind Hermeticism is that magic was performed to help one unite with the creator. neo Platonism taught that there was one God but that his many emanations allowed for the creation of different deity like beings. each being had control over a different astral body or planet. Inclusive of the sun and the moon . there seven total. each planet exerted some influence on different earthly matters. Associated with these planet were different stones, colors and herbs.

Mystics believed that planetery powers could be channeled into objects or amulets. neo Platomic ideas along with circle casting would make inroads into Medieval European high magic and Christianity. It often created much controversy.

The last four chapters cover ritual nudity in Wicca, Pagan ideas on two Christian fantasy writers and the rise of Modern druidry. Pagan thought and motif has always beenm a potent undercurrent in Europe. Norse mythology combined with Christian ideology influence a group of creative writers called the inklings. Two such writer from that group were CS. Lewis and Jrr. Tolkien. Their mythology is discussed at length. Ritual Nudity is practiced in some Wiccan groups to enforce equality and increase power. The author examine how ritual nudity was used in ancient times and in modern times and examines some reasons why it would be employed in modern Wicca.
Modern Druidry is not really related to ancient druidry but rather it is a recreation. The first groups to call themselves Druids were actually fraternal groups that offered support and friendship. late on they would develop in religious groups who's rituals borrowed heavily from Masonic organization and structure. This book get a 5 out of 5 rating.

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