Using the Golden Bough anyway

Paganism and academics are fuzzy bedfellows, the type that never will quite satisfy one another. While I often sidestep the issue by focusing entirely on the present – an advantage of journalism – when writing books about a somewhat artificially constructed holiday like Mabon, I do feel obligated to stop and explain myself.

The explanation right now? Why will the book on Mabon be referencing the Golden Bough and the White Goddess when anthropology, history and archaeology have moved far beyond the conventions started by these books?

For me, it’s quite simple: the conclusions in these books – not the facts, the logos of it – but the pathos and ethos are what still speak to modern Paganism. I expect this to change, eventually. I don’t expect this to change soon and to be honest, when it comes to the emotional connection, I don’t want it to change much at all.

I am hoping we can at some point get to a point of comfort with the … “yeah, some bloke or dame made this up…” Certainly Ronald Hutton has done quite a bit of work nosing us in the more accurate direction. Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone have also been pushing a bit with their disinformation tours, pointing out that claims of sole legitimacy issued by some but not all Gardnerians/Alexandrians is a way to miss the point of the spiritual practice altogether.

Even so, while assembling the book that became Llewellyn Sabbat Essentials Mabon, I drew from the Golden Bough and referenced the White Goddess though not with abandon. While they are not part of deep history – the anthropology and archaeology that stirs our dreams of revival, of finding all that we have ever lost – they are part of modern Pagan history, even if just as a springboard for stuff we collectively made up to get us from point A to point B.

Someone will have academic quibbles with me. Some will have academic  quibbles that it’s not an academic book, it’s a book meant to inform and inspire modern practice.  No matter how good the work, someone will have quibbles intended as preventative that

are ultimately cultural setbacks – and those quibbles are best ignored.

I have made my peace with that.