There has been a strong movement within
the NeoPagan community towards establishing the legitimacy of our place
within society. This need has required our foremost writers to develop
a more scientific view of religion and society. It has also been accompanied
by a certain snobbery on the part of these academic Pagans toward scholarship
of the past. Philosophers, mythologists and poets have all fallen into
disfavor, anthropological and archeological theories of the early 20th
century are smirked at. Only the most up-to-date and politically correct
theories are considered at all relevant. Those authors that are not
approved are considered absurd or silly, or something I like co call
pyramidiots. Pyramidiots are the kind of people
who believe in the unproven. R. S. Bianchi, who coined the term, defines
pyramidiots as those who write that the Great Pyramid at Giza
was not a tomb, but a gigantic chronicle of history, mathematically
encoded within the pyramids orientation and dimensions.
I have expanded the term to include Atlantis and Mu, UFOs, and alien
intelligences that built Stonehenge. In other words, pyramidiots write
about subjects that scientists and academicians snicker at.
We all know people like that, often we ourselves qualify for that title.
The Pagan community at large, however, claims to abhor it. To combat
pyramidiocy, many Pagan organizations are developing reading lists and
study programs. This has the unfortunate side effect of labeling some
of the most popular, and I believe, insightful, writers as pyramidiots.
The purpose of this article is to reevaluate a few of these writers
in a new light. Let us look at these classics through the eyes of the
Heinrich Zimmer defines the dilettante as one who takes delight
in. I am a dilettante when it comes to pyramidiocy. I have to
admit, I came to Paganism through the writing of one of the 20th centurys
great pyramidiots, Robert Graves. His book, The White Goddess is one
of many not suggested as legitimate reading for the new,
academic Pagan. Much can be lost, however, if we treat as common or
forgettable what these writers contributed to the understanding of their
respective fields. Zimmer asks Does not life itself, every morning
stand before us in ordinary workaday garb like a beggar, unannounced
and unexplained, unexacting and unostentatious, awaiting upon us with
its gifts of the day, one upon another? And do we generally fail to
open its common gifts, the common fruits from its common tree? We should
certainly ask: what does this hold? We should suspect some
seed within, precious and essential; and we should break the fruit to
discover it.3 Let us break into the common fruits given to us
by Margaret Murray, Robert Graves, Lewis Spence and Marija Gimbutas
to find the precious seeds within.
Margaret Murray may be one of the most maligned anthropologists of the
early part of this century. She is often discounted for her so-called
myth of a western white witch cult, a phrase which does not do justice
to her research. In order to properly understand Murrays ideas,
one must realize that little or no research had been done in the field
of pre-Christian Europe. Though some of Murrays conclusions may
be erroneous, many became the basis for future, more accurate
research. Her elucidation of the types of integration of cultures laid
a foundation for discussions by Dumezil and others of the spread of
IndoEuropean ideology. Murrays view of the underground Pagan movement
may be romanticized, but it is not necessarily incorrect. It is commonly
recognized that, though not organized in the fanciful manner of Murrays
witch cult, folk traditions long survived Christianization by various
means. Murray remarks that the importance of these traditions to the
people is made evident by the proliferation of laws against them.5 Working
against Murrays credibility is the style in which she writes,
a product of her place in time. She seems to be both prudish and voyeuristic
by turns, which often confuses and annoys the modern reader. I suggest
reading Murray as one does Edgar Wallace- with great allowance for style.
When it comes to style in writing, no one can beat my favorite pyramidiot,
Robert Graves. Graves, though beloved of many feminist witches, is often
sneered at by the academic Pagan. Not for the style in which he writes,
but for the content of his text, The White Goddess. In defense of this
book, Id like to use some of Graves own words from the books
introduction. The function of poetry is religious invocation of
the Muse; its use is the experience of mixed exultation and horror that
her presence excites.6 The White Goddess is unlike any other pyramidiot
book in one major facet. It is not about aliens or esoteric knowledge
handed down through the ages; it is about poetry. Consequently, Graves
does not claim it to be historically accurate nor does he propose his
work to be a scientific treatise. Unfortunately, our left-brain-oriented
society has difficulty crediting the kind of intuitive cognitive process
that gave birth to The White Goddess. Our new academic NeoPagan shuns
all research that cannot be reproduced or does not footnote subject
experts in every paragraph. A new kind of reading is needed to appreciate
Graves called The White Goddess a historical grammar of poetic
myth. I would like to suggest renaming it a mythopoetical
Qabalah. To read this book, one must look at myth as a metaphor.7
On the most simplistic level, the Qabalah is a translation of the words
of the Bible into their pure mathematical form, and then a retranslation
back to words, to discover their hidden meanings. Graves translates
myths into their pure poetic form and then back into their historical
relevance. Very little can be verified by Qabalah, the science being
an interpretive one. Like psychoanalysis, the true answer isn't always
the right one, and vice-versa. It is in this way that Graves work
can be approached; not as a text full of assumptions, errors and whopping
great leaps of logic, but as an insightful and intuitive rendering of
myth. The poet, as defined by Graves, was originally the leader of a
dancing ritual.8 Graves leads us in that dance, back to the original
shamanpoet-dancer-sacrifice9, helping us to interpret the one theme
of myth: life, death and rebirth.10 As Nietszche states, we must never
trust a god who doesnt dance.11
Also concerned with this single theme is the much disparaged and often
lampooned Lewis Spence. I will not attempt to defend Spences conclusion
nor his theories, singular as they are. I would like to point out the
most valuable of his contributions- the data he collected. In Myth and
Ritual in Dance, Game and Rhyme Spence catalogs many folk customs of
the early part of this century. Some of these are collected from insular
portions of the Scottish highlands by a native of the area, Spence himself.12
As a local Spence was a constant participant-observer in the anthropological
study of his own culture. In the aforementioned book, Spence catalogs
tens of games, songs, dances and old wives tales.
Whether or not one agrees with his conclusions of their origins, this
catalog alone is a precious resource. With the onset of modem technology,
many of these traditions have been lost. The recitation of what was
practiced gives us a link to the ritual and folk myth of the Celts of
Scotland. Furthermore, though Spences conclusion, that all these
rituals lead back to human sacrifice, may be spurious, by no means has
it been disproven. I truly believe that, as a folklorist, Spence has
been passed over as a useful source of information.
The misinterpretation of scanty information is one of the easiest charges
to be levelled against any scientist. All of the above authors have
been accused of this particular crime. Since none of them remain admired
in their fields after their deaths, with the exception of Graves, the
poet, all have had their work undermined. Not without some justification,
I might add. However, my last defense is in support of an archeologist,
greatly admired in her field until recently. She has proposed a theory
which runs counter to the established wisdom and is now fighting for
her right to remain in the foreground of archeological research. A decade
ago Marija Gimbutas was considered a brilliant, up-and-coming, young
archeologist. Now she is surrounded by controversy and charges that
her theories are unfounded and absurd. As absurd, in fact, as the idea
of a Goddess cult in prehistoric Europe. With the advent of feminist
spirituality, this idea is not a new one. But until Gimbutas, not one
archeologist had found any real evidence to support the theory. Unlike
most feminist theories, Gimbutas does not imply the existence
of a matrilinear, matriarchal or egalitarian society. She has simply
proposed the existence of a contiguous belief system in what we now
call eastern Europe.13 When she hypothesized that the female figurines
found in this area all had markings that encoded religious meaning,
her ideas were accepted, with reticence, by the archeological community.
When she expanded her theory to include a Goddess cult, that same community
attacked her with the crime of unfounded, misinterpretive and even sexist
thought.14 Yet, if we go back to 1956, we find 0. G. S. Crawford proposing
something remarkably similar.
Crawford, a Fellow of the British Academy, was founder and Editor-in-chief
of Antiquity magazine for several decades. In his book, The Eye Goddess,
he states, the spread of an oriental fertility cult associated
with a Face Goddess, starting in the Fertile Crescent... was carried
across... Anatolia to Troy and Thessaly.15 is No charges of misinterpretation
were ever launched against Crawford. I think it's time for the established
archeological community to reevaluate the prevailing attitude towards
In conclusion, Id like to return to Heinrich Zimmers words
on learning as a dilettante. The moment we abandon this dilettante
attitude toward the images of folklore and myth and begin to feel certain
about their proper interpretation... we deprive ourselves of the quickening
contact, the demonic and inspiring assault that is the effect of their
intrinsic virtue. We forfeit our proper humility and open-mindedness
before the unknown, and refuse to be instructed- refuse to be shown
what has never yet quite been told either to us or to anybody else.
And we attempt, instead, to classify the contents of the dark message
under heads and categories already known.16
Certainly we should not ignore the guidance of those who have gone before
us. But even more certainly, we should endeavor to make our own way
and e.xtract our own meanings from the wisdom of the past. Only in this
way will we discover our own abilities and place in this world. As the
anarchists say, we should question everything. Otherwise, entropy wins.
+ A phrase that, though coined by Graves, was only recently brought
into common usage with the popularity of Robert Bly's Iron John.
1 Bianchi, R.S., Pyramidiots Archeology, November/December
1991, p. 84
2 Zimmer, Heinrich, The King and The Corpse. Pantheon Books, 1948, pl.
4 Murray, Margaret, The God of the Witches. Galaxy Books, 1971, p. 15.
5 Ibid, pp. 17~18.
6 1bid, p. 115.
7 Graves, Robert, The White Goddess. Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1948,
8 Young, Dudley, Origin of Sacred St. Martins Press, 1991, p.
9 1bid, pp.98-99, 102.
10 Graves, p. 422.
11 Young, p. xxxi.
12 Spence, Lewis, Myth and Ritual in Dance, Game and Rhyme.
Grand River Books, 1971, pp. 68, 72.
13 Gimbutas, Marija, Civilisation of the Goddess.
Harper San Francisco, 1991, p. 222.
14 Fagan, Brian, A Sexist View of Prehistory.
Archeology. March/April 1991, pp. 14-15.
15 Crawford. 0. G. S., The Eye Goddess. Macmillan & Co., 1956. p.
16 Zimmer. p.2.