Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Reviewing Ben Whitmore's "Trials of the Moon"

Few Pagans active on the blogosphere over the past year would have been unable to ignore the controversy that has erupted over the release of a small book written and self-published by an Alexandrian Wiccan High Priest named Ben Whitmore. The amusingly titled Trials of the Moon offered a criticism of Professor Ronald Hutton's own seminal text The Triumph of the Moon, which has remained the standard study of Wiccan history in Britain since its publication in 1999. I myself wrote a review of Whitmore's work when it first came out, but ultimately it was never published in either an academic or popular context, The Pomegranate having already commissioned a review from Peg Aloi, which has in turn come under attack on the blogosphere. Nonetheless, I'd hope that it may be of interest to many within the Pagan community, and so present it here, for free! This is my (somewhat belated) contribution to the debate surrounding Whitmore, Hutton and the relationship between practicing Pagans and Pagan Studies scholars.

Ben Whitmore, the New Zealander responsible for
authoring the book I am reviewing here.
Copyright Wikipedia User Fuzzypeg.

Ben Whitmore, Trials of the Moon: Reopening the Case for Historical Witchcraft: A Critique of Ronald Hutton’s “The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft” (Auckland, New Zealand: Briar Books, 2010), 100 pp, $ 11.00, soft cover

In the field of Pagan Studies, Ronald Hutton’s The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft (Oxford University Press, 1999) stands out as perhaps the most seminal tome yet published. No one before Hutton had published anything like a major examination into the history and development of the Pagan Witchcraft religion, and nor had any academic publisher consented to releasing a book on this peculiar subject. Hutton literally laid the groundwork from which all scholars since - both academic and independent - have been able to build upon. In recognition of this magnificent feat of scholarship, the British academics Dave Evans and Dave Green produced an edited anthology entitled Ten Years of Triumph of the Moon (Hidden Publishing, 2009) to mark its tenth anniversary, which brought together papers by a wide array of different scholars working in a variety of academic disciplines.

Hutton’s work challenged many of the old dogmas fervently held by members of the Pagan community, pointing as it did to the idea that the Pagan Craft was a twentieth-century creation rather than the continuation of an archaic Murrayite Witch-Cult.  As news of the book and its conclusions spread, many Pagans came to accept the Huttonite view of Wiccan history, accepting that theirs was a new religious movement and not the continuation of an ancient pagan religion, as the Murrayite theories maintained. Others however were not so convinced. Certain voices within the Pagan community, operating in magazines, on internet forums and even on Wikipedia, disputed Hutton’s interpretation of history, and downright criticized some of his positions. They clung to the idea that contemporary Pagan Witchcraft was solidly connected to earlier forms of witchcraft, in particular that found in Early Modern Europe, and that through this a pedigree could be traced all the way back to pre-Christian Europe.

Whitmore's Trials of the Moon,
self-published under his imprint of
Briar Books. Copyright of Whitmore.

Ben Whitmore’s Trials of the Moon is the first book to appear from the ranks of the Pagan community to openly challenge Hutton’s theories regarding Wiccan history directly. Its author is a practicing Alexandrian Witch and Co-Mason living in Auckland, New Zealand, who for a number of years has been putting forward his viewpoints on the internet to a rather mixed reception. This self-published book, which is his first publication, is an attempt to provide a wider outlet for such criticisms of Hutton’s Triumph, although at only 100 pages, it could be described as being little more than an extended pamphlet.

Entertainingly titled, Whitmore’s book quite literally tries to put Hutton ‘on trial’, scrutinizing some of his more minor claims in an attempt to expose holes in Hutton’s arguments. Whitmore starts by offering some praise for the eminent historian, commending him for his pioneering work, but within a few pages he has changed his tone, and instead argues that whole chapters of Hutton’s Triumph are either simply misleading or downright wrong. He examines the work of historians who have specialized in the witch trials such as Bengt Ankarloo and Alan Macfarlane and argues that Hutton has misrepresented them, thereby intentionally dismissing the notion that the witch trials may have been influenced by a substratum of shamanic belief in Europe (as has been put forward by the likes of Carlo Ginzburg, of whom Whitmore is clearly a big fan). He then proceeds to challenge Hutton’s very definition of the word ‘witch’ before moving on to condemn Hutton’s assertion that there was no singular great goddess in pre-Christian Europe and that the figure of Pan was only a minor deity in the ancient world. He chastises Hutton for his (pioneering) understanding of the British cunning-folk, primarily armed with the criticism that the distinction between cunning-folk and witches was not always as clear cut as Hutton makes out. Following on from this, he argues that Hutton has wilfully demonized such figures as Margaret Murray and Charles Leland in order to better criticize their work, a rather serious charge that I do not believe lives up to scrutiny.

Whitmore’s general method throughout the book is to read a variety of academic texts upon the subjects that Hutton discusses in the first half of his Triumph, find arguments or information that differs from that supplied by Hutton, and then highlighting such disagreements, each time presenting it as a flaw in Hutton’s reasoning. This nitpicking characterizes the entire work, and although Whitmore certainly does make some good points, highlighting where Hutton may have made some minor errors, it certainly comes across as more than a little pedantic. What Whitmore apparently fails to take into account is that Hutton is not an expert in ancient Greek religion, British folk magic, or the Early Modern witch trials, and that therefore such mistakes or differences in opinion with other academics working in these fields are only to be expected. Hutton’s Triumph was primarily a study of Wiccan history, with the professor only delving into these other areas outside of his speciality in order to provide a backdrop to the esoteric scene in which Wicca developed.

Turning to the penultimate chapter of Whitmore’s book however is somewhat more unsettling. Rather than making specific criticisms of Triumph as the rest of the book does, it comprises entirely of Whitmore delving into any and all criticisms of Hutton as a person, bringing up attacks on his earlier work The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles (1991) by Goddess Worshippers and then proceeding to list a number of published disagreements that he has had with both practicing Pagans and academics over the years. A case could certainly be made that this leaves the realm of scholarly criticism and enters that of character assassination. It seems clear from this that Whitmore is not content with simply disputing some of Hutton’s points; he is intent on discrediting the man and his academic credentials, at least in the eyes of the Pagan community.

One of the most telling things about the argument in this work is that at the end of it, Hutton’s basic narrative of Wiccan history that he puts forward in Triumph of the Moon remains intact in its entirety. Whitmore has highlighted some minor errors in Hutton’s work (and missed others that have come to my attention) yet these are to be expected in any such work of scholarship that covers and synthesizes information from such a wide variety of topics. I would not claim that Whitmore’s work is without merit, but its polemical nature, and the way in which it goes about attempting to discredit Hutton, are neither scholarly nor gentlemanly.

It is of note that Hutton has publicly responded to Whitmore’s criticisms in an article entitled ‘Writing the History of Witchcraft: A Personal View’, published in Volume 12.2 of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies (2010). In this strongly worded response, Hutton clearly voices his view that the book is little more than a personal attack upon himself, designed to make him out to be an “unscrupulous and deceitful individual motivated by a concealed hostility to Paganism” (p. 253), a charge Hutton emphatically denies. A famously mild mannered and level headed individual, Hutton is not known for such strong and defensive responses, and it is clear that Whitmore’s work has hit a nerve. This is understandable, although in this reviewer’s opinion his criticism of Whitmore comes across as stronger than is perhaps necessary.


  1. So that's what Ben Whitmore looks like...

    1. Yes, he doesn't seem to have publicised his image following his publication of Trials of the Moon, but this photograph (and one other, of him taking part in what appears to be some sort of ecstatic ritual) had been uploaded to Wikipedia many years before then. There, he goes by the entertaining user name of Fuzzypeg. I have to admit, although I take issue with some of his claims and accusations in Trials, I do rather like his fashion sense!

  2. Re: Ben's pic., as I recall (I saw a pic. of him with his newborn daughter) and he appeared far more "conventional". And, before I forget, concerning Peg Aloi, who was commissioned by Chas Clifton to write a review of Ben's book, I observed with my own eyes how Peg (who, according to her own University isn't even a faculty member) posted a snarky blog about Ben's book that amounted to an attempt to discredit him fallaciously, because she admitted to having not read his book. When she continued this assault on Chas Clifton's blog where Ben finally confronted her, directly, for her specious analysis wherein she was putting words in his mouth. Peg actually defended her lies of Ben's work, insisting that, despite this fact, she was doing nothing "academically inappropriate". *sigh* That admission troubled me down to my very core... *I* would never engage in behavior like that, yet I have long since been aware of the fact that if *I* as a non-scholar Pagan engaging in the writing of historic works were to pull even a small portion of what Prof. Hutton or the late prof. Norman Cohn had (Logical Fallacies and academic impropriety) I'd be pilloried for it by the Pagan community and no one would ever be caught admitting to respecting me again. It's a deeply unfortunate double-standard. However, I must disagree with you that differences to opinion simply must be accepted when Hutton wrote that text with a tone that conveyed his views were consistently representative of the various field themselves. What I, personally, found most disconcerting is that Hutton does seem to have misrepresented several scholars work when he [Hutton] argued that medieval Witchcraft could not be accepted in any way as a form or nor relation of antique paganism. Yet, the scholars he attributes to that view either state quite the opposite (and provide evidence) or they do not reach such a solid conclusion as he. That is in black and white and cannot be so easily dismissed merely because it might be seen as inconvenient. There are also numerous scholars throughout Continental Europe and Ireland that have reached similar views to Ginzburg re: a shamanic substratum (he doesn't, after all, represent an isolated opinion), such as the work of Profs. Eva Pocs, Emma Wilby, David Lederer, Claude Lecouteux, Gustav Henningsen, Gabor Klaniczay, ad nauseum. Their work has continued to garner much respect in the academic world, even within the UK.

    1. ...(continued).... Ultimately, the value of Ben's book to the Pagan community in particular is that it might engage Pagans to think more critically about the works of history that they might be reading, rather than blindly accepting them, as I sincerely believe many Pagans have with Hutton's work, despite the weaknesses of some of his arguments. That is certainly not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. In some respects, I always thought that I had some sort of an advantage in that regard in being able to discern Logical Fallacies within Hutton's material, weak arguments in general, or otherwise sweeping generalizations and academic characterizations that barely even broke the surface in terms of what was out there--which Hutton ought to have been cognizant of. You see, I came to Hutton's "Pagan Religions" rather late after picking up a number of established academic texts in the field of Celtic Studies, as well as specialist journal articles. (If *I* can acquire these specialist journal articles living in a small town in Iowa, without University access, I don't see why Hutton could not.) What struck me was how much Hutton left out and omitted, which seemed to be a personal pedantry rather than academically served purpose. And, it wasn't minor stuff, either, that Hutton was dismisses from the outset. It was the duo theistic nature of inter-tribal Celtic paganism that got the axe, as did the concept of the sovereignty-goddess, as well as Indo-European studies, etc. In many ways it was a rather extremist polemic. By contrast Prudence Jones' "A History of Pagan Europe" was much better, and far more reasonable. It was then--after reading "Pagan Religions"--that I became cognizant of the fact that, very often, Historians can be biased, they can have agendas, and they an even leave out a whole hell of a lot, too! ...they can be grossly fallible. My own experiences really put scholarship within a proper context for me, very rationally. But, what Hutton should have done, however, was at a minimum, use a LOT of qualifiers, which he generally does not do, intent on stating his personal opinions as facts, and leaving out that evidence that might cause one to question his statements. In my view, this is fine, so long as he admits to it from the very beginning. Nor should he have taken ben's book so personally, as it *was* a critique that went back to check that Hutton had dotted his Is and crossed his Ts. As an educator, he ought to welcome such free thought; I know that *I* would have.

    2. Regarding your final point there, I suspect that what Hutton took so personally was the actual manner in which Whitmore made his argument, rather than the argument itself. Quite simply, Whitmore's approach was rather aggressive. Within academia, often scholars will provide very negative reviews of one another's work (just check the back pages of any peer-reviewed journal and you're sure to find some examples!), but on the whole, they will not take an aggressive tone nor will they make things personal, by criticising the scholar rather than their arguments. This is pretty standard academic practice, although I'm sure that somewhere there are exceptions. Of course, Whitmore ignored this, actually attacking Hutton as an individual rather than just Hutton's arguments, and I think that this is what has been the cause of so much bad blood as a result.

      If I would have been in Whitmore's shoes, I would have published the short book saying "here are a few points on which Hutton was factually incorrect in Triumph of the Moon". Instead, Whitmore's general approach reads to me like "here are a few points on which Hutton was, or might have been factually incorrect - this invalidates most of his arguments, modern Pagan Witchcraft really might be connected to earlier forms of witchcraft and paganism, and Hutton as a historian should never be trusted." This is why I believe - perhaps contrary to many scholars working in Pagan Studies - that Whitmore's work has some merit, as he does expose some factual problems with Hutton's work. Nonetheless, the manner with which he went about doing that was simply unpleasant and in many respects un-scholarly, and it is for this reason that he has garnered so much criticism.

    3. Well, Ben's approach can be viewed as "aggressive", but when dealing with facts that don't add up, it's easy to read something in that way. I have seen Hutton slaughter people (figuratively) over research (such as Janine Farrel-Roberts and Donald Frew) for what seemed to me, as the reader, to be an academic turf-war about quashing dissenting voices that question Hutton's own somewhat extremist and certainly agenda-driven positions. He finally relented with Janine and admitted that Cohn "may have been unjust" to Margaret Murray. Really!? A man demonstrably lies about an author--and Prof. Carlo Ginzburg called Cohn out, publicly, for doing the same to him and his own research--and that's all Hutton will bring himself to say? Murray deserves at least SOME apologizing from the academic community. And then, Hutton vilified Frew in an article published in Folklore (though Frew should have been given the courtesy of a response) where he insists that he won't use Frew's status as a non-academic against him, though that theme does, in fact, creep up again and again throughout his article that offered some pretty weak arguments and misrepresentations of Ginzburg. Sadly, when Hutton credit's Frew in a footnote to his "Witches, Druids, and King Arthur" he never once apologized for that egregious behavior on his behalf, where it would have been most appropriate. So, ultimately, while I am looking at this from both sides of the fence, Hutton's hurt feeling, by contrast, seem to be little more than crocodile tears, to be honest, based upon his own aggressive behavior. Honestly, I would appreciate it, greatly, if he would have the grace to simply bow, respectfully, and admit to being wrong when it's warranted. Donald Frew even told me, privately, that Hutton admitted to him, that he [Hutton] often draws a firm conclusion on a book based upon what he thinks it WLL show without having first read it, yet. That is why I think he was so critical of Prof. Pocs when he had no cause to be when debating Janine in "The Cauldron". I was also surprised to find that, while reading his "Witches, Druids, and King Arthur" that it really amounted to a butt-covering move; he off-handedly admitted that he was wrong by positioning evidence that clearly counters him (a breath of fresh air from such staunch extremism), yet claimed that in spite of this, he wasn't *really* wrong because some other scholars maintain positions closer to his own. In essence, he can say, "I was wrong, but I wasn't *really* wrong."

      I, honestly, cannot say that would't have written a book in the same tone to Ben's, because when writing works of history I write with emotional detachment, which of course *can* be viewed as "aggressive", even though that was not its intention. Still Ethan, with absolute respect to you, his tone cannot excuse the criticism of his work by the likes of Peg Aloi and Chas Clifton, for instance, which was intended to destroy his credibility as she admitted having not read his work, but she wouldn't let THAT stop her from responding. Some Pagans within the Pagan community censured her for that, but given Clifton's endorsement of her behavior, I would wager that she could care less what her fellow Pagans think about history and proper academia and the presentation of facts. I can't tell you how observing her behavior truly sickened me as a freelance historian. I would never even DREAM of pulling something like that! I have, since, lost all respect for her.

      Take Care....

  3. If I'm perfectly honest, I too was shocked to read (second hand, admittedly) that Aloi had not actually read the entirety of Whitmore's book before authoring her critique. I read Whitmore's book cover to cover, going over several chapters twice before I put together my review. As I hope people might notice, in my review I haven't criticised Whitmore on the grounds that he isn't an academic and doesn't have any university qualifications in History. Whitmore never claimed such qualifications, and as such I believe that criticising him on these grounds was indeed unfair.

    Nonetheless, I am not here to criticise Aloi or any other scholar of Pagan Studies. I am at the start of my academic career as it were, and if I rock the boat too much by critiquing my fellows then it will undoubtedly come back crashing down on me; I hope you understand my position. I am deeply respectful for the work that Hutton, Aloi and others have done, and have no wish to attack them for it. I share many of their misgivings regarding Whitmore's work, but admit that it does point out some of the problems which exist with Hutton's Triumph, and that criticising Whitmore as being a non-academic won't make those problems just go away. Hence, my position is not as militantly anti-Whitmore's Trials as those of a number of other Pagan Studies scholars.

  4. Really, what absolutely sucker punched my gut was when Ben publicly called out Aloi on Clifton's blog for demonstrably misrepresenting his views and positions only to have her audaciously insist that, despite Ben being extremely accurate in censuring her, she has "done nothing academically improper" by misrepresenting him. (That actually caused me to do a double-take to ensure that I had read her accurately!) I guess that bothered me so deeply because, as a Gay man, I see that A LOT in the anti-Gay industry which flagrantly misrepresents the works of scientists, scholars, and authors to prove their agenda. Ditto re: Norman Cohn's mistreatment of Murray and Ginzburg, for the same analogies apply and I have NO care for tactics such as those whatsoever. It leaves me feeling like I'm being lied to, and that simply doesn't fly, no way, no how. :o) It also leaves me feeling as though the author or historian simply doesn't respect my intelligence by virtue of their unfortunate behavior. Misrepresentation of any kind hits a severely sour note with me, and I extend that same emotional tug even to scholars such as Hutton (and anyone, for that matter, regardless) who makes sweeping generalizations and speaking in certainty (eg. insisting that a certain academic field DOES accept these views uniformly, as though there are no respected dissenting views, or as though there can be no other answers possible when the case may very well still be open or a lot of academic studies have simply been omitted due to their personal and extremist conservatism) rather than using many more qualifiers.

    Oh, and I absolutely understand your position (though, Aloi isn't a faculty member at the University she claims to teach at...I checked into that!). But, you do have my sympathies, because it's a total crock that you cannot critique professional scholars to a greater degree. I have heard many accounts of students who were academically punished for daring to challenge certain scholars, and it's really unfortunate. Though, what was even sadder to me is that some of the members on the Pagan message board that these accounts were taking place on not only couldn't believe that that was going on (despite the students themselves insisting that it was!), but that they were obviously lying merely because they hadn't observed it first hand, and because it just plain hadn't happened to them. It's been nice to make your acquaintance, though, Ethan. However, I really do believe that these individuals think that by attacking Whitmore's credentials, it really will make the academic improprieties within Triumph simply vanish. Some Pagans, sadly (I greatly prize and encourage critical thinking skills, you see), were so taken in by Hutton's Triumph, in particular, that they were simply vicious towards anyone who would even disagree on a minor point with the work. One even insisting that when he had a Coven of his own, he would make it required reading for each member and, presumably, if they might find any problems with his work, this man would kick them out of the Coven as non-believers. I was more than a bit shocked by that account. I was also viciously attacked for questioning "Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles": part of Hutton's argument for Wicca being an entirely modern invention was that ancient gods could never be invoked, and he offered only his opinion to justify this claim, as though it were fact. However, I uncovered accounts from the Classical world and amid Classicists that show that the gods were invoked; and all over the ancient world the gods were invoked into their respective cult-images (I have adopted the feature of Idolatry into the Tradition that I am founding). I really do believe that Hutton, for all the good he has done and is doing, severely underestimates the sort of hold that he has--that he probably doesn't want to have--over the casual Pagan mind to some degree.

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this issue Wade! It certainly provides some food for thought. All the best.

  6. This is an interesting review, which seems pretty much on the mark.

    You might be interested in my own take on the Trial debate, and controversies over Ronald Hutton's work more generally:


    1. Thanks for sharing this Le patron; I enjoyed reading your blog post, and would certainly encourage others to do so. It offers a very nice, well-written and even-handed overview of the debate surrounding Hutton and his critics.

    2. Thanks for the kind words. I've always been a fan of Ronald Hutton, and it's really interesting how his work has been received. The thing I find most interesting is the parallels between the scholar/practitioner debate in Paganism and the interface between modern critical scholarship and orthodox belief in more traditional religions like Christianity. Different religions seem to have very similar problems in negotiating these issues.

    3. Like yourself, I have long admired Mr Hutton and his work; his prolific output is simply astonishing, and both The Stations of the Sun and The Triumph of the Moon are truly amazing works of scholarship that have been of immense benefit to all those following in their wake. Subsequently, as I have entered the realm of Pagan Studies scholarship, I have found Mr Hutton to be of a great help, both to myself and some of my fellows; he's a genuinely lovely chap, always willing to offer very prompt advice and help to those lower down on the rungs of academia. It is a shame that there are Pagans out there who have attacked him and his work in such a malicious and ill-spirited manner.

      My background being in archaeology, I am more familiar with the long-dead religions of North-Western Europe rather than the contemporary orthodoxies of Christianity et al, but it's interesting to read your comment on this issue. Certainly, I know that there are similar issues in India, where the archaeological study of ancient society and the development of Hindu ritual has rarely been to the liking of orthodox Hindus themselves.

  7. Essentially, Whitmore is an amateur "historian," who has an axe to grind. He, like many modern day Wiccans, wants to continue to believe that modern Wicca has direct and palpable connections to the ancient Pagan religions - which it absolutely does not. More historians than Hutton have proved this beyond doubt. Modern-day Wicca is a creation of the 20th Century. Whatever connections it may have with ancient Pagan practices are because modern-day practitioners have deliberately incorporated elements of pre-Christian practice into it. I should specify that they have incorporated elements of *what they see as* pre-Christian practice; there are several instances where would-be "Celts" and "Druids" of the American persuasion have incorporated "traditional" elements into their practice that turn out to be only their misinterpretations of badly translated material, or silly rubbish based on sheer fantasy unsupported by historical elements.

    I have no problem with anybody making up their own religion. I do have a problem with rainbow children trying to pass off their fantasies as historical Pagan practice. Getting resentful because reality does not accede to your fantasy is a First World Problem of the highest order. Getting resentful about the truth is indicative of a ridiculous, spoiled-brat mindset all too typical of the under-educated, over-ambitious amateur who is used to receiving gold medals for just showing up and gets angry when anyone asks him to do real work.

    Whitmore's "book" is essentially an extended temper tantrum where he vents his resentment at the truth. His supporters, who are equally as uneducated as he is, join behind him in the effort to protect their own fantasy worlds. It would be more intellectually and historically honest to accept historical truth. It would even be more honest to admit that it was all made up and that people keep doing it anyway because it works for them as a religious system.

    But following in the footsteps of Christian Biblical literalists, Whitmore and his ilk insist that IT ALL MUST BE LITERALLY TRUE, an attitude that will harm the credibility of Wicca and modern Paganism just as it has harmed Christianity.

    1. To be fair to Whitmore, I don't think that he believes the "traditional" account of Wiccan history (i.e. the Murrayite Witch-Cult) to be literally true. But then again, Murray's ideas have been completely discredited. No historian specialising in the subject of Early Modern witchcraft and the witch trials accept her thesis in even an altered form. The idea that an organised pre-Christian fertility religion continued to meet in covens venerating the Horned God well into the Early Modern period has been completely rejected. And Whitmore knows this. He also must realise that if he were to try and resurrect this idea, claiming that Murray was right after all, he would quite simply be ridiculed and ignored, thrown into the same category as the crazed Biblical literalists.

      Although he apparently understands little of historical methodologies and the process by which scholarship works, Whitmore is certainly a well-read individual, with a keen interest in the subject of historical witchcraft. But – as you highlight – he still desperately wants to connect his Wicca to the witchcraft(s) and magical beliefs of Early Modern and Medieval Europe, and through that to the pagan beliefs of prehistoric Europe. This historical pedigree is important to him. For this reason he has turned to the ideas of a "shamanistic substratum" existing in Europe, as advocated by historians and folklorists like Carlo Ginzburg, Eva Pocs, and Emma Wilby. But these ideas aren't incontrovertible, and many other historians have argued that the Medieval/Early Modern visionary traditions described by the likes of Ginzburg are not necessarily pagan survivals, but might have been later, independent developments.

      Even more problematic is the idea that there is a connection between these Early Modern “shamanistic” visionary traditions and the origins of modern Pagan Witchcraft. Simply put, there is not a single shred of evidence to support this idea. Indeed, if you look at many of the early “Wiccan” traditions, whether that be those of Gerald Gardner, Charles Cardell, or Robert Cochrane, they don't look much like the visionary traditions described by Ginzburg, Wilby and co. at all. Instead, they look a lot more like the ceremonial magic and Western esoteric practices that pervaded 19th century Britain; Ronald Hutton looks at all this in some depth in The Triumph of the Moon, if you are interested.