Note – it occurs to me that the following could be interpreted as a “my druidry is better than your druidry!” kind of thing, and I honestly do not intend it that way. It’s just an exploration of some specific concerns I have on some of the language used in the ADF materials. I have the utmost respect for the ADF people I know, though my practice and my whole concept of druidry is different from theirs.
Isaac Bonewits describes the ADF as involved in “researching and expanding sound modern scholarship about the ancient Celts and other Indo-European peoples, in order to reconstruct what the Old Religions of Europe really were.” (ADF webpage). I have some grave reservations about the ability of modern, or any, scholarship to find out what the ancient religions “really were” – I have been fortunate enough to study under experts in the field of classical Greek religion, both classicists and archaeologists, who would look at you cross-eyed if you asked them what ancient Greek religion “really was,” and this is for a field where we have extensive written primary source records and well-preserved archaeological evidence, which is not true for the ancient Celts and even less for “Indo-European peoples,” whoever they may be. We don’t know, and we can’t know. All we know of is the detritus around the religion – stories, temple ruins, personal accounts – that can give us ideas about what might have gone on. Anything said about what the religion “really was” has to be speculation. We could rebuild the temples, work up ceremonies based on the texts, pray in ancient languages to ancient gods, and we still would not have what the old religion really was – we would have our version of it, with our own seen and unseen cultural biases, and our 21st century minds cannot recreate the religious worldview of ancient times.
Now, I would love to be part of a project like that, and to take part in such a ceremony, and I undoubtedly would have a deeply moving personal spiritual experience – and maybe, just maybe, I could get a glimpse the Old Religion. I could bring that back and write it up as part of a mystical tradition, for the benefit of others. That writing would be very far from “scholarly,” though. As scholarship moves on, a hundred years from now future scholars could read about the recreation of the ceremonies and my mystical writings, and scoff because my ritual was so very far off the mark from what they now know what the old religion “really was” (with the same certainty that I might have known I had it right) and could laugh at my ridiculous imaginings. Maybe a group like the ADF could say about me that “paganism is harmed when wishful thinking and poor science take the place of true knowledge.” (p. 20 in the ADF Dedicant Program booklet.)
I’ve already written about some of my reservations here, but after looking into the subject a little more, I’m afraid I feel even less confident about the ADF’s project. Language like “true knowledge” and “really were” and other such statements indicating the availability of historical certainty have always been what has put me off about the ADF. I have absolutely no problem with most of what they do – I think some of their liturgies and devotionals are lovely, the ADF people I have met have, with a few notable exceptions, been lovely, friendly people deeply committed to their spiritual paths. Their ritual style is not particularly to my taste, but it is simply a matter of taste. If the ADF didn’t have this insistence on on using current scholarship as a source for spiritual practice, I’d feel much much better about their future as an organization. The Dumezilian tripartite structure seems like a useful and effective way of thinking about our religion, but I’d feel much better about it if the rationale its usefulness and effectiveness. This fantasy that it’s somehow more “scientific” to base religion on anthropology is a problem. It paints the whole thing into a corner.
I like the fact that there’s an emphasis on scholarship – I think we need to keep up with current scholarship about the people we’ve named ourselves after. It’s part of the current, it can be an inspiration, but it can’t be the source. I think this has the potential to do much more “harm to paganism” than anything an old guy in a white robe might have said about Atlantis. Let me explain –
Recently I decided to look into the field of Indo-European studies, because I have always heard “Indo-European” described as a linguistic theory – not a culture, not a people, and most certainly not a religion. I wanted to know where the concept of “Indo-European” came from. I’m somewhat familiar with Dumezil, from reading about his theories rather than reading him, and he seems very much a mid-century French structuralist – interesting in terms of anthropological theory but to my mind an uncertain source of Spiritual Truth. Indo-European studies, it turns out, has a rather sordid history. Anthropology in general has a fairly unsavoury past, based in racism and eugenics, but most of that was discarded in the middle of the 20th century when such things fell violently out of fashion. It has rehabilitated itself into an important, respected and fruitful field of scholarship. I thought Indo-European studies would be much the same way, but I was honestly shocked to see how closely and recently the field was tied to racism and bigotry.
One of the leading publications in the field of Indo-European Studies is the “Journal of Indo-European Studies,” which has close ties to the Institute for the Study of Man, which is listed on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website as an organization that focuses on spreading bigotry. It has also received significant funding from the Pioneer Fund, an organization which the SPLC calls a “hate group” – the Pioneer Fund was, in the 1990’s, the main financial contributor to the openly racist journal American Renaissance. Roger Pearson was the founder and editor of the JIES for many years. Roger Pearson is a well-known and very unapologetic eugenicist and racist, who once said that if a group with “a superior set of genes mingles with, instead of exterminating, [emphasis mine] an inferior tribe, then it commits racial suicide, and destroys the work of thousands of years of biological isolation and natural selection.” (Pearson, Race and Civilization, 3-4; R. Pearson, “Sir Arthur Keith and Evolution,” Northern World 2 (July-August 1957): 7, 5. “Keith and Evolution” was reprinted as a part of Pearson, Eugenics and Race, 24-28. found at “The Funding of Scientific Racism”, chapter 4)
A full account of the connections between the Pioneer Fund, Roger Pearson, the JIES, and the field of Indo-European studies can be found in Chapter 4 of “The Funding of Scientific Racism,” which is available online. What I have written here is a very small part of the picture. JP Mallory is the current editor of the JIES, and the author of “In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology, and Myth”, described by the ADF as the recommended introduction to Indo-European studies. I have found absolutely nothing to say against JP Mallory, who appears to be a well-respected scholar. The JIES seems to be an influential and trusted source within the field, and again, I have found nothing to say against its current status, in spite of its unpleasant connections. Roger Pearson no longer appears to be connected with the journal – he is no doubt getting on in years, if he’s still alive – but I notice that as recently as 1991 he was editing JIES monographs.
I don’t mean to imply that everyone in the field of Indo-European studies is a racist, or even that the JIES is a racist publication, or that there is anything at all racist about the ADF. I’m kind of reluctant to even write this because I worry that I will inadvertantly insult someone who doesn’t deserve it. It seems to me, though, that the field of Indo-European studies was largely generated up to very recent times by a racist agenda that throws the whole construction into a poor light. The whole thing seems to be a very thinly built castle in the air, and it wouldn’t take much in the way of “sound modern scholarship” to send the whole thing crashing down. If there never were Indo-Europeans, where does that leave the ADF? And if the basis of the ADF’s structure is shown to be the product of mid-century fascism and racism, what harm does that do to paganism?
I would be interested to hear others’ thoughts on this, especially from those who are more well-versed in the field of Indo-European studies or more involved with the ADF than I. I was thinking of doing the Dedicant Program, because I know more ADF druids than any other sort and I want to have some exposure to and participation in the group. Right now, though, I just don’t know.