One example of such a harmful myth created by an uncritical reliance on academic authority is the prevalent belief that the Golden Dawn is based on a "forgery." This urban legend arose due to an credulous reliance on the authority of Ellic Howe, whose otherwise fine history of the Golden Dawn is marred by Howe's intense personal dislike of the order. The destructive myth arising from Howe's biased theory that the foundational "Sprengel" letters written to W.Wynn Wescott were forgeries, in reality has been substantiated by nothing more than the so-called, "expert" testimony of Oscar Schlag, a Swiss Thelemite who, like Crowley himself, was out to destroy the Golden Dawn.
Golden Dawn Senior Adept, Dr. Robert Word (of the August Order of the Mystic Rose), recently submitted the Sprengel-Wescott letters for independent examination to a truly objective, professional Germanist. Her results verify the Sprengel-Wescott letters not to have been forged by a native English speaker as both Howe and Schag erroneously and misleadingly claim. The letters instead appear written in completely correct Sutterline German entirely consistent with the period. As a trained Germanist myself, I subsequently submitted these letters to personal scrutiny as well. Admittedly, my personal findings can in no way be considered unbiased, due to the key leadership role I play in the contemporary Golden Dawn. Nonetheless, I have been trained as Germanist for over 30 years and - contrary to the enduring urban legend - I also judge these letters to be authentic.
And yet, the myth that the Golden Dawn is based on a "forgery" tenaciously persists until today, among all but those who have actually bothered to investigate the matter for themselves!
Another such urban legend is the prevalent belief in the modern Pagan movement that no Western Pagan religion has survived from antiquity, and consequently that ALL contemporary Pagan religion is but modern revival, with no historical roots. This belief has resulted in many contemporary Pagans mistakingly identifying themselves as "Neo"-Pagans, and has tragically cut off the modern Pagan movement from its historical roots in antiquity.
This destructive myth has become entrenched in the Pagan community in large part due to an uncritical reliance on the authority of Dr. Ronald Hutton's book, "The Triumph of the Moon," an examination of the historical roots of Wicca. In this well-researched work, tenured historian Dr. Hutton presents a rather convincing argument that Wicca is a synthetic religion pieced together from bits of Gerald Gardner's personal experiences in India with Goddess worship, anthropological data from Dr. Margaret Murray, Sir James Fraizer and Charles G. Leland, and the Golden Dawn, with membership drawn in part from the Naturist (Nudist) movement in England.
Even in regard to Wicca, the evidence presented by Dr. Hutton, while difficult to ignore, a decade later does not remain undisputed. For example, Philip Heselton has provided compelling data that G.B. Gardner was indeed initiated into the pre-existing New Forrest Coven. Consequently, contrary to Hutton's premise, it is unlikely that Gardner completely made up his witchcraft tradition.
Nonetheless, the urban legend tenaciously endures that no European Pagan religion has survived from antiquity. This myth survives not based on factual evidence presented by Dr. Hutton on the origins of Wicca, but merely based on sweeping pronouncements Dr. Hutton makes on the antiquity of Pagan traditions in Continental Europe.
There remain gaping holes in these proclamations. Firstly, Dr. Hutton's historical inquiry is limited to southern England, as he readily admits in the opening of his investigation. Moreover, Hutton presents no solid historical evidence to substantiate his decrees on Italy and the rest of the world. Hutton spends five pages merely parroting the opinions of others on the trustworthiness of Leland's informant, for example.
Finally and most importantly, such matters are better the province of anthropologists rather than a historian. Hutton inappropriately does not limit himself to the examination of the written word as is properly the province of the historian, but frequently relies on personal reports he gathered himself, which Hutton presents according to his personal bias, rather than as the results of intense scrutiny by the rigors of ethnographic method.
Despite these gaping holes in Dr. Hutton's underlying conclusions, the urban legend that no European Pagan religion has survived from antiquity, has tragically deprived much of the modern Pagan movement of its historical roots, and has led to the audacious conclusion that ALL Pagan religion today is but Neo-Pagan revival.
This audacity arises directly from the erroneous presumption that the historical roots of all modern Paganism stand or fall with Wicca. This is an extremely Anglo-centered vision, as though no European Pagan traditions have ever existed outside of England, Ireland, and Wales!
Such an Anglo-centered Pagan vision negates, for example, the possibility that vestiges of ancient Greek or Roman Paganism might have secretly survived intact. This is as mistaken a notion as the myopic vision I have encountered again and again in the Golden Dawn community, as though the Golden Dawn arose as an exclusively British affair, completely separate from its Continental European context and Hermetic and Rosicrucian roots.
In the decade following Dr. Hutton's study, new anthropological evidence has surfaced, for example, that casts serious doubt on these urban legends. For example, the polytheistic Kalash Kafir religion, still practiced today by about 3,000 people in Chitral, has a strong resemblance to ancient Greek Paganism. This has led some to theorize that the Kalash religion arose directly from the invading Greeks.
When the great hero and general, Alexander, reputed as great as the gods Apollo and Zeus, left troops on the mountainsides of the great Hindu Kush, he asked them to stay there without changing their beliefs and traditions, their laws and culture until he returned from the battles in the East.
The Kalash people living until today in a village in Pakistan, proclaim with pride that they are the direct descendents of Alexander the Great. In fact, there are many similarities between them and the Hellenes of Alexander the Great's time. Similarities such as religion, culture, and language reinforce their claims to Hellenic ancestry.
The Kalash are a polytheistic people and the gods goddesses they believe in closely resemble the twelve gods of Ancient Greece. Shrines are found in every Kalash village reminding us of religious sanctuaries we would stumble across in ancient Greece. These serve as houses of worship where prayers and sacrifices are offered. Oracles who played a major role in acting as mediators and spokespeople between the gods and the mortals still hold a position of importance in the social structure of the Kalash. Every question or prayer towards the gods is customarily followed by a sacrifice of an animal. This is reminiscent of the sacrifices the Hellenes gave to the gods to assure them a victory over the city of Troy.
The Kalash also practice a ritual that is celebrated on August 6, named the Day of the Transfiguration. This is the day where grapes are brought out to the god to be blessed and to guarantee them of a plentiful crop. This ritual can be traced back to Ancient Greece where it was practiced by the cult of Dionysus who paid their respect to the god of fertility and wine. An active member of the cult of Dionysus was Olympia, mother of Alexander the Great, said to have recruited many of her son's soldiers and who in return practiced it throughout their expedition (Alexandrou, pg. 184).
The Kalash also live a lifestyle that can be positively compared to that of the Ancient Greeks. For example, the Kalash are the only people in the East who make and use accessories such as chairs and stools that cannot be found anywhere else in the surrounding regions. Their chairs are decorated with drawings such as the ram's horns which symbolize the horns that decorated Alexander the Great's helmet. Battle scenes depicting Greek soldiers are also observed. In the recent archaeological discoveries in Vergina, Greek archaeologists found the exact same replicas as the ones the Kalash use in their homes today (National Herald, pg. 7).
Certain scientists and anthropologists dispute, however, the notion of the Kalash being direct descendants of the ancient Greeks. Significantly, no genetic ties between Kalasha and Greeks has as yet been discovered. Moreover, the Greeks merely passed through in 327 B.C., probably within 50 miles of Chitral, but did not enter Chitral itself and did not stop or stay for long.
Even more skeptical anthropologists, however, agree that the polytheistic Kalash religion and the Greek religion at least appear to have a common origin. One prevalent theory is that the Kalasha are Indo-Aryans whose religion has commonalities with pre-Zorastrian Iranians. The strongest anthropological evidence, however, indicates that both ancient Greek Paganism and contemporary Kalash polytheism came from a proto-Indo European religion which was carried along with the Indo European language when the Chitralis first got there some 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. No matter which of these theories ultimately prove true, the bulk of this anthropological evidence nonetheless casts serious doubt on the urban legend that no ancient European Pagan religion today survives intact.
Clearly, such a conclusion may not reasonably be drawn merely based on the work of Ronald Hutton. From an academic point of view, Hutton's work is dismissible on three counts. Firstly, Hutton's research is over a decade old and as I have shown in this article, new evidence has meanwhile come to light refuting Hutton's remarks about Paganism outside of England. Secondly, Hutton's attempt at the anthropological method is outside his field of expertise. Thirdly, the statements Hutton makes about Paganism outside of his stated research area are perfunctory, and as such should not be taken as gospel.
The scope of Hutton's actual research was limited to Wicca and Paganism in southern England, whereas ancient Pagan religion flourished across a far broader region. Clearly any remarks Hutton makes regarding Paganism outside of Southern England should be taken - not with pinches - but with BUCKETS of salt. Thus the conclusion, based on Hutton's research, that the entire contemporary Pagan movement is but Neo-Pagan revival is revealed as fatally flawed.
BY DAVID GRIFFIN
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