I just joined the ADF out of curiousity, and because we have a fairly active ADF grove in the area. I thought it was worth a look. I really admire that they have created such an active and well-organized system.
Anyway, I found the following paragraph in their offical Membership Guide that kind of made my eyes bug out, and I’m wondering what others’ thoughts are.
Here’s the quote: “We’re not wasting our time with romantic or ideological pseudo-scholarship by such “authorities” as Lewis Spence, Robert Graves, H.P. Blavatsky, Iolo Morganwg, Barbara Walker, Merlin Stone, or D. J. Conway. Instead, we rely on the work of serious mainstream scholars such as George Dumezil, Stuart Piggott, Mricea Eliade, Patricia Monaghan, A. & B. Rees, Anne Ross, C. S. Littleton, Miranda Green, Ronald Hutton, etc.” (from page 3 of the 6th edition of the ADF Membership Guide, Isaac Bonewits.)
Now, getting past the brief cognitive dissonance brought on by a Druid group using “romantic” as a dirty word, I find the two categories presented here to be thought-provoking. Bonewits sets out two different kinds of writing – “serious mainstream scholars” and “ideological pseudo-scholarship.” I’m fairly new to this path, so not all the names he lists are familiar to me, but I recognize a few.
Thinking about what all the “pseudo-scholars” have in common, it seems that they all write for practitioners rather than scholars (with the exception of Spence and possibly Graves). Walker and Stone both write for a feminist audience, and they retell the myths in a way that speaks to that audience and, Stone especially, gives them a mythic world that resonates with the way women experience life now. Blavatsky was writing for the Theosophists. Conway writes for modern pagans who are looking for relatively simple and easily followed material to help them along their paths. Morganwg related (and possibly created) a system for practicing Druidry, and accomplished some really great things in the process.
Now for the second list – the “serious mainstream scholars.” I have no idea how Patricia Monaghan got onto this list – I like her work but it’s hardly scholarly. Hutton is great for giving modern Pagans some welcome historical context. The rest seem to be Celtic scholars who were hot stuff 20 years ago or so (I may be wrong about this – as I said, I’m new to this path – but most of them look a little dated.) I don’t know well enough to judge, but I’ll take Bonewits’ word that these are all mainstream scholars, writing for a scholarly rather than a popular audience (though the inclusion of Monaghan on that list makes me wonder – I suspect she was put there as a feminist foil to Stone and Walker from the other list, but I don’t really know.)
Background on me – I was a classics major with a minor in classical archeology at a college that takes its classical studies department very seriously. We were always told when writing an archeology paper to rely on the most recent possible sources, because it’s the nature of scholarship to constantly change. Journal articles and books from more than ten years ago were generally frowned upon – after all, what’s the point in citing something from a conversation that happened a decade ago when the conversation has moved on since then? Scholarship is a conversation. One person writes, another reacts, more research gets done, theories are revised – it’s ongoing. So it seems like a really dangerous thing to make “serious mainstream scholars” the (however unaware) authors of practical religious texts. The ADF says it’s here for the long term, but what happens when, twenty years from now, the mainstream scholars become the ideological pseudo-scholars? It happens all the time. Does the whole religion change?
I actually feel much better about basing a practice on actual mystics like Iolo Morganwg. While he may have made some stuff up, he did give us the basis of a self-contained system that is built on methods that seem practical and sustainable. It might make the serious scholars giggle, but the fact is they’ll giggle at us no matter what.