The Incredibly Stupid…it buuuurrrrnnns
I usually try to ignore the garbage I see online but Patheos’ latest post reached such a level of confusion and just outright stupidity that as an historian I feel the need to jump in just to correct the historical mis-information. I’m literally just stunned at the depth and breadth of inaccuracy and flat out historically incorrect nonsense being presented as fact here. Ready, Readers? Take a good stuff drink and buckle up because here we go.
“Christianity had the privilege of a couple thousand years of recorded history. Men, white men, have contributed the most Christian theological information than any other ethnic or gender in their field.”
This is flat out incorrect. The first two seriously influential Christian theologians were….North African (Tertullian) and Egyptian (Origen). In fact, the majority of Christian writers for the first four hundred or so years of Christianity were from the east, particularly places like Antioch, Alexandria, Damascus, Cappadocia, Babylon, Syria and Turkey, in addition to North Africa and of course Italy and Judea. During the medieval period you also had significant intellectual movements within Islam and Judaism – so how dare this ill-informed author claim that only white men have contributed? Christianity for instance, crossed all classes and ethnicities (one of the reasons I suspect Constantine chose to legalize it. Christians in his time may have only been about 10% of the society, but they were 10% across every possible social stratum).
“White men also dominate books written on Paganism, the Occult, and Witchcraft.”
Really? Working hard to win the oppression Olympics aren’t you, sweetheart? Let’s see, I’ll pull three or four for each category just off the top of my head: Occultists: Dion Fortune, Margerie Cameron, Helena Blavatsky, Leila Waddell, Moina Mathers, Pamela Colman Smith, Ida Craddock; Paganism, Witchcraft, and Polytheism: me (lol), Diana Paxson, Margot Adler, Phyllis Curott, Tamara Siuda, Janet Farrar (like her or hate her, she was very influential early on), Starhawk, Sybil Leek, Margaret Murray, Olivia Durdin Robertson, Normandi Ellis….shall I go on? And just for kicks, here are some early female Christian writers: Egeria, Perpetua, Hildegard, Mechthild, Marguerite Porete, Catherine of Sienna, Catherine of Genoa, Margery, Julian, Clare, Teresa of Avila, Angela Folino, Anna Komnena, Proba Betitia Faltonia, Athenais-Eudocia, Macrina, a ton of desert mothers…and this is all off just the top of my head. With a quick web search or a look at my bookshelves I could come up with dozens more.
Our genius goes on:
“So when we support movements like #defendoccultbooks then we are inherently supporting classism and sexism.”
No, you’re supporting competence and excellence. If you can’t go to the library and get a book, you shouldn’t be practicing any occult art. Knowledge is the great equalizer across classes, but the reason this tag came into being is we have a generation of children wanting to style themselves occultists who can’t be bothered to read. They want to learn their craft indiscriminately from videos and tiktoks. It doesn’t work that way.
“Upper class men and, eventually women were the only people with formal education for a long time. Even then women weren’t allowed to read or write for a huge portion of recorded history. Additionally, black and brown people weren’t given access to formal education for most of that time.”
This is why we need you to read, dear. You might actually have some grasp of historical fact if you opened a book occasionally, you know, those things people are trying to defend. The earliest known writer historically is a woman, a priestess in Sumer named Enhenduanna. Female literacy across the ancient world was quite high, likewise in the medieval period, though it is true that formal education was a privilege of the wealthier classes. As to black and brown people…Egypt. Ethiopia. Syria. Carthage. In these countries alone – and I could list a dozen more – there were key centers of learning. The ancient world didn’t divide itself into racial categories as we do now. That was something that happened only in the early modern world. They might recognize differences of appearance, but what mattered was customs, culture, and learning. These things could be acquired – Again, education was and is the great equalizer.
This author then goes on to offer a list of some well-known occult and witchcraft authors:
“Aleister Crowley, Cornelius Agrippa, Anton LaVey, Dion Fortune, Eliphas Levi, Israel Regardie, Helena Blavatsky, Samuel Liddell Mathers, Raymond Buckland, Doreen Valiente, Gerald Gardner, Robert Cochrane, Scott Cunningham, Paul Huson, Ronald Hutton, Raven Grimassi. What largely ties them all together? Being white, being educated, and mostly being male.”
Firstly, note how her list of rich white male occult writers 1) ignores the contributions of women (except for Dion Fortune, Blavatsky, and Valiente) and 2) overlooks the fact that a number of them were of Jewish and Romani backgrounds and 3) some of them were massively poor and struggled to eke out a subsistence living. (Thinking in particular of Scott Cunningham and Anton LaVey.). And that they are male, is because she cherry picked a list of mostly male authors. She’s purposely ignoring the contributions of anyone who doesn’t fit her demographic there so she can beat her breast, cry oppression, and avoid the responsibility for actually learning anything.
I do agree with her when she says that “having education doesn’t make a person more worthy, better, or intellectual.” These things say nothing about a person’s intellect or character. Some of the most intelligent people I have known haven’t finished high school. Education however does help with intellectual formation, whether that education is formal or acquired on one’s own through hard work and study. If you want something badly enough, you find a way to make it happen. Libraries are wonderful things. The internet too, for all its problems, allows for a remarkable access to knowledge.
This person goes on:
“Raise your hand if you have a disability that makes it difficult to comprehend text-based information.”
If that is the case, then the onus is on you to speak up and tell your teachers what you need. Advocate for yourself but do the work. Don’t use your disability as an excuse for why you can’t acquire a particular bit of knowledge. There will sometimes be teachers who refuse to even attempt to work with you – well, in that case, find another teacher.
You might also try showing respect to your elders and teachers – something sadly lacking in most of the communities this author is discussing. That of course, would mean taking responsibility for oneself and obviously that’s occasionally onerous (and before you accuse me of being ableist I have both physical and learning disabilities. Does it make knowledge acquisition more difficult? Yes, in some cases it does. Does it make it impossible? NO. Not if I’m willing to put in the work like an adult). She is correct of course in saying that disabilities do not make one anti-intellectual. I’m not sure why one would think they did.
This author brings up folklore and says,
“These practices and beliefs were rarely written down by practitioners in older times, perhaps out of fear of persecution. That, or another likely answer is that witches of yore simply could not read or write well enough (or at all) to put it in a book. Or they didn’t have enough money to buy ink and paper, let alone cough it up to have a book bound.”
Usually such practices weren’t written down because the best way to learn is from teacher to student, elder to neophyte, mother to child, etc. Putting something in a book means that it is available across a broad swath of one’s community. It opens up knowledge (think I’m wrong? Look at the results of both translating the bible into the vernacular and inventing the printing press. It led to a democratization of knowledge with consequences both good and bad for the institutional church). Most traditions throughout history have had their mysteries, and mysteries are not for the uninitiated. Also, fear of persecution. When? If you’re talking about the supposed “burning times,” those women and men were not, for the most part, occultists or witches. We see plenty of written occult tomes (my favorite come from Iceland) in the late medieval/ early renaissance period. Nor was paper the only material used in books. In the ancient world, papyrus, parchment, vellum, even cloth were used. Ink is easy to make. Professional book binding was complicated, but I’ve made books myself simply by sewing folios together. It’s not rocket science and our ancestors weren’t stupid. While owning books was in the past a sign of luxury, with the internet, kindle, libraries, and the relatively low cost of paperbacks today, that is no longer the case. Lending libraries in particular are a wonderful thing and so is inter-library loan, but perhaps she hasn’t heard of them (though she says she’s a librarian).
Books are a grace and a gift in the process of learning. Ideally, in addition to all the reading a novice should do, he or she also –usually–collects a personal journal, grimoire, whatever you want to call it. One creates one’s own repository of knowledge. Is this a privilege? Absolutely. Everything worth having requires sacrifice. Everything worth having is a privilege. If we can learn, if we have the capacity intellectually to learn well, if we have access to formal education …yes, these ARE privileges and we’re damned lucky. I look at writing sometimes, just the process of putting pen and ink to paper and think what a miraculous thing it is and how incredibly lucky we are to have this knowledge. I believe that equal access to teachers and books is a good thing, an important goal toward which to work. That is going to take commitment and ongoing dialogue (I want to hear from my students when something isn’t working. We can work together to find something that WILL work to help them better acquire the knowledge I’m trying to teach). The one thing we can’t guarantee even then is equal outcome, because excellence is a choice and the result of hard, ongoing work.
Also, and I know this isn’t going to be popular, in the end, the occult arts aren’t meant to be open to everyone (that’s why they’re called “occult,” i.e. “secret” or “hidden”). You work and if you have the talent, if you’re able to stay the course physically and mentally, if you budget for your work, if the stars align, you’ll get somewhere. You don’t need a ton of money (I learned the most as a magus when I had nothing, up to and including a period of homelessness), but you do need commitment, sound judgment, and personal discipline. But these arts were never meant to be open to anyone and I’m just fine with that. I think with the occult in particular, a necessary formation happens as one struggles to acquire knowledge, works to gain access, to learn, to practice, to become competent. That process cannot and should not be truncated because the art and end result will suffer. The work forms the magus and there are no short cuts there.
No one should be barred from learning because of race, finances, or disability but once you’re in the door, if you want to gain any measure of sustainable competence, hard work, study, humility, and BOOKS are going to be part of the game. If that’s not your cup of tea, fine, but then don’t call yourself an occultist.