Sunday, March 7, 2004

Cynthia Allen vs. The Wiccans

There are many good articles -- as usual -- on, including a reprint of a 2001 Atlantic Monthly article "The Scholars and The Goddess", by Charlotte Allen, dismantling the myth of a pre-partriarchal "Goddess-worship" fueling the Wiccan movement.

Allen cites two prominent investigative works criticizing the Goddess myth. The first is 1998's Goddess Unmasked: The Rise of Neopagan Feminist Spirituality by Philip G. Davis, who argued that Wicca was the creation of an English civil servant and amateur anthropologist named Gerald B. Gardner (1884-1964), who in turn was influenced by (mostly male) German and French Romantics.

As a professor of religion at a Canadian university, feminist critics could regard Davis with suspicion. The same cannot be said of Cynthia Eller, who initially wrote "a sympathetic sociological study of feminist spirituality" in 1993 titled Living in the Lap of the Goddess ("required-reading" for many a Wiccan). Eller, who identifies herself as a feminist, came to betray the cause with the subsequent publication of The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory (Beacon Press May, 2000), in which she examines the historical evidence for such, finds it lacking, and contends that basing a movement on a questionable "gynocentric" myth will ultimately damage the integrity of the feminist movement by enforcing the "strong gender polarities" that they hope to dismantle. (As one reviewer put it, the matriarchal-goddess myth is simply "the flip side of the Aryan myth").

Cynthia Allen notes that there are "now more than 200,000 adherents of Wicca and related 'neopagan' faiths in the United States" -- I wonder how many of those have investigated the historicity of their new-found religion?

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