Following on from last month’s interviews with scholars Chas and Dave (no, not that Chas and Dave), today I cast my eye over to the other side of the world to talk Witchcraft, Paganism, and archaeology with Australia’s Caroline Jane Tully. A practicing Pagan Witch, Tully will be well known to many readers for her numerous articles in Pagan and esoteric anthologies, as well as for her recent opinion piece on cognitive dissonance in the Pagan community which appeared in The Pomegranate. Like myself, she is an archaeologist by training, and is currently working on her PhD over at the University of Melbourne. I ask her about life as an occultist and academic in the Land of Oz.
[EDW] Over the past decade, you’ve appeared in a number of Australian press articles where you have openly discussed your Pagan beliefs and identity as a practising Witch. How did you get involved in the Pagan scene, and could you tell us a little more about your personal spiritual path?
[CJT] I’ve been a Witch since 1985, but I’ve always had a strong Thelemic (Aleister Crowley) component to my beliefs and practise, mainly because two of my most influential magickal instructors, David Mattichak and Barrington Sherman, were inclined that way. I’m also quite partial to Anton LaVey – unpopular as he is, but then again I’m partial to many things, especially Pagan Reconstructionism, the attempt to practise historically-accurate ancient pagan religions. Frankly, I have so many interests in the realm of paganism, witchcraft, magick and the occult that I have to rotate them every so often so they all get a turn.
In 1986 I met my first Wiccan Witches when my (then) partner and I moved to rural Central Victoria and a whole new world was opened up to me: this was my introduction to public Pagan festivals such as the Mount Franklin Annual Pagan Gathering where I met loads of other Witches, and alternative lifestyle festivals such as the Down to Earth Confest. Around 1991 I discovered the American organisation, The Church of All Worlds (CAW), whilst reading a copy of Green Egg Magazine (in fact the magazine was owned by the above-mentioned Wiccan Witches) and for interest’s sake I passed this information on to two friends of mine, Fiona Judge and Anthorr Nomchong. They decided to take the next step and actually become members of this organisation as well as import it into Australia.
Initially I saw no point in membership in an American association, but in order to help Fiona and Anthorr (and because, I admit, I was intrigued) I also ended up joining the Church of All Worlds in 1992, first as a member of the Canberra-based, Draconis Nest, (because “Nests” – the smallest type of group in the Church – needed a certain amount of people to be chartered), and subsequently forming my own group, Primeval Soup Nest, in Melbourne. The Canberra group mainly consisted of public servants (it was in the Australian Capital Territory after all) and students from the Australian National University of varying ages, while the Melbourne group consisted mostly of a mixture of professionals, some like Nigel Cooper and myself, were professional Tarot Readers. There was a strong link at the time between the Canberra and Sydney Pagan scenes, the Church of All Worlds getting much inspiration from Tim Hartridge’s Eostre Gathering, which they then attempted to incorporate into their annual festival the Pagan Summer Gathering.
The Church of All Worlds has a 9-Circle system of progressive involvement and in 1994 I was initiated into the 5th Circle, as a Scion of the Church of All Worlds. By this stage Fiona had gone over to America and been ordained, so she initiated me as a Scion, and the plan was that Anthorr and myself would follow suit with ordination and that the church, as a foreign religious body in Australia, would be able to provide legal Pagan clergy. But it didn’t quite happen like that and to discuss what did happen may compromise people’s privacy, so I won’t – although it was never a secret at the time. The Church of All Worlds still exists in Australia although I haven’t been involved with them for years and in the main I don’t think the current members are even aware of how it got here.
In 1993, while still a member of CAW, I also became a member of the Melbourne-based “Wizards of Oz” which was a sub-branch of the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) and over the next few years I underwent initiation into several of the degrees within the Order. During the late 90s I became very involved in formulating an Australian approach to Paganism, primarily concentrating on the traditional Wheel of the Year and how it did, or did not, gel with the Australian seasons (see here and here). I also published a chapter on this, “The Sabbats” in Practising the Witch’s Craft. (ed.) Douglas Ezzy (Allen and Unwin, 2003). Then in 1999 I started working for WitchCraft Magazine. I’d kept going to festivals such as Mount Franklin through the 90s, and us CAW-OTO members and friends used to host a huge annual Samhain party in late April (southern hemisphere!), which still happens thanks to Philippe Duquesnoy, although I haven’t been for over a decade. In the early 2000s I got jack of the Pagan social scene – not Paganism itself, just the constant intrigues in the scene – and became a hermit, although that didn’t last for long and by the mid 2000s I was back in the OTO (albeit a different incarnation thereof) to do more initiations. I stayed with them for perhaps two years, and then went back to being an antisocial misanthrope – although I was still writing and conversing with Pagans both in Australia and overseas. I also went back to university in 2004 and, while still identifying as a Pagan and a Witch, my focus, both magickal and mundane, has increasingly been upon my research.
[EDW] In the late 1980s and 1990s, you attained qualifications working with textiles and tapestry making, a field that you worked in professionally before deciding to enter academia in 2004, studying archaeology at the University of Melbourne. What spurred this decision to make such a big change in your life, and was it at all influenced by your personal spiritual beliefs and identity?
[CJT] I had originally learned spinning and weaving at the Council for Adult Education back in 1985, and continued with it whilst living in the country – I was a wannabe hippy after all – and I also did an Advanced Certificate of Studio Textiles at the Melbourne College of Textiles in 1990–1. The year after I graduated from Monash University where I attained a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art with a major in woven tapestry and printmaking, I started working at the Australian Tapestry Workshop (1996). Back then it was called the Victorian Tapestry Workshop because the Australian state in which it is in is called Victoria, but we realised that Americans [EDW: and Britons!] thought that “Victorian” meant “of the Victorian era” so we changed it. The Director of the Tapestry Workshop, Sue Walker, saw some of my artworks in a group show at ROAR Gallery in Melbourne and then phoned me up and hired me. I worked there for fourteen years making Gobelin style, haute lisse (high warp) tapestries for private, corporate and government clients.
The Tapestry Workshop valued “artistic” personalities and so it was perfectly fine for me to be an “out” Pagan there, in fact some of the interviews I did in newspapers were specifically through media contacts at my workplace. So, working at the Tapestry Workshop was like an extension of my Monash University fine art course because we had to deal with [mainly Australian] art all day, and were constantly showered with art magazines and invitations to exhibition openings. Consequently I was pretty up to date with the state of the Arts in Melbourne, at least the visual arts. Now I have to subscribe to Art Almanac to know what’s going on!
So, how did I get from the Tapestry Workshop to Melbourne University? My Paganism always went hand in hand with study – of history, magick, ancient religions, anthropology, feminism, ecology, basically the components of contemporary Paganism – but in a non-academic capacity. I have always written for popular Pagan magazines, I worked for six years as a feature writer, reviewer, news and events editor and general “witchcraft stylist” for Australia’s only glossy – and paying! – magazine devoted to Witchcraft, called imaginatively WitchCraft Magazine, and I have several chapters in popular anthologies. It was through pure luck that, in 1999, a Pagan friend who was an academic at the time, mentioned Chas Clifton’s NATREL email list which is now the Pagan Studies Scholars email list. It was there that I started to realise that there were fascinating academic conversations going on about Paganism but that in order to participate in those conversations, indeed in order to even understand quite a lot of their content, I would need to “learn academia” myself. That was one of the reasons that I eventually enrolled at the University of Melbourne in Classics and Archaeology. I would have done Religious Studies if they’d had it, but they don’t. There was also a great Witchcraft History course there for years too, which I think has gone now, but I wanted to study early “pagan” religions.
The other reason I went back to university was because after the publication of Ronald Hutton’s book The Triumph of the Moon in 1999, I – and probably many other Pagans – had started to become suspicious of the “histories” that certain Pagan leaders were telling us. Everyone knows the claims such Pagan leaders make and they have become a bit of a joke: “Paganism is exactly like Stone Age religion;” “in ancient matriarchal times women, especially priestesses, ruled;” “the people persecuted as witches in the European Witch Trials were our direct spiritual forebears;” “ancient Paganism was practised exactly like Wiccan ritual;” “Witches were the clergy and Pagans were the laity”… that sort of thing. I’d already started investigating historical pagan religions, mainly Greek and Roman as well as a bit of Heathenry, in conjunction with the Pagan Reconstructionist scene. And I was starting to be able to differentiate between historical and more recent Paganisms, such as the Frazer-inspired 1950s Paganism like Wicca and its derivatives. It sounds crazy, but it wasn’t that clear to me back then! Anyway, I wanted to hear what academics who study ancient religions, and who were not Pagans and had no investment in Paganism, had to say about ancient pagan religions so I could compare such religions with the claims of modern Paganism. And of course I found that ancient “pagan” religions look nothing like contemporary Paganism – unless we’re talking about Pagan Reconstructionism, but even then there is a lot removed from it to make it palatable to modern sensibilities.
So, it wasn’t so much in order to confirm my spiritual beliefs that I went to Melbourne University, but to have them challenged and possibly destroyed. Most Pagan Studies scholars seem to be in disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, religious studies, theology, history and archaeology. I didn’t go to university in order to be a Pagan Studies scholar specifically, but to study ancient pagan religions and to compare them with modern Paganism. I did a Graduate Diploma and a Postgraduate Diploma in Classics and Archaeology, because at the time I was very into Roman religion and involved in Nova Roma, a Pagan Reconstructionist group. I still love Roman religion. While doing these courses I did an interesting archaeology subject called “Archaeology of Cult” where I discovered ancient Israelite religion – I already knew about the “Hebrew Goddess” from Raphael Patai’s book of the same name, but I didn’t realise that there was much more exciting material to study in ancient Israel until I did that course. Now I’m doing a PhD on tree cult in the prehistoric Aegean (Crete and mainland Greece), Cyprus and Israel. While my overall interest is in the way that humans can have a “religious” relationship with “other-than-human-persons” such as trees and rocks, I’m mainly looking at the way ideology can work in conjunction with an animistic worldview (which is often considered to be a rather benevolent and idealistic kind of “spirituality”) to legitimise elite Minoans of Neopalatial-period Crete.
|Excavating in the Middle East|
[EDW] Your master’s looked at the influence of Ancient Egypt and Egyptology over various occultists in late 19th and early 20th century Britain, and has subsequently seen publication in three parts, one in The Pomegranate journal, another in the Ten Years of the Triumph of the Moon festschrift for Ronald Hutton, edited by Dr Evans and Dr Green, and another in Women’s Voices in Magic, edited by Brandy Williams. What are your particular feelings towards this research project, and do you see yourself returning to this fascinating area in future?
[CJT] Actually, it wasn’t a Masters, it was an Honours thesis. I haven’t done a Masters; I went from 4th year to a PhD. I adore this topic and considered doing a PhD on it. However, I also have fervent interests in many other topics; it’s hard to pay attention to them all. My thesis was on the use of aspects of ancient Egyptian religion by four members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn: Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, Moina Mathers, Florence Farr, and Aleister Crowley – all of whom were major figures in the British occult scene of the late 19th/early 20th centuries and are really terribly important forebears of the modern Pagan scene. Besides focusing on them I also had a chapter in the thesis on the relationship of contemporary Pagans to archaeology in Britain, some of which has ended up in my article discussed below. So, my thesis was on a kind of Egyptomania, a topic I’m extremely interested in both from the angle of the history of Western Esotericism as well as the use of Egyptian Style in architecture and the decorative arts.
This kind of topic is really classified as “Reception Studies” – how the ancient world is received, utilised, and expressed by later movements, groups, or individuals, rather than archaeology per se. Although in regards to my thesis it did incorporate aspects of the history of the discipline of Egyptology as well. Reception Studies is huge in Classics, but less so in archaeology, at least at my university. Anyway, I adore this topic, and certainly will get back to it. I’m also quite partial to romantic Hellenism, the romanticisation of ancient Greece, particularly by people such as the poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) – I’m going to get onto that when I have time. In this regard I am mainly interested in how the past is utilised for self-aggrandisement, for creating a romantic, authoritative persona. This is something contemporary Pagans do too, not all of them, but certainly some, and I’m very interested in that.
EDW: Many of my readers will know you for your opinion piece published in a recent volume of The Pomegranate; titled “Researching the Past is a Foreign Country: Cognitive Dissonance as a response by practitioner Pagans to academic research on the history of Pagan religions.” You argued that many non-academic Pagans were reacting negatively to academic scholarship which challenged their own particular conceptions of the past due to the psychological phenomenon of cognitive dissonance. Although your primary hypothesis seemed to be uncontroversial among Pagan Studies scholars and other academics (at least those whom I talked to), it was bitterly attacked by at least one very vocal figure from within the Pagan community itself. How did this paper come about, and what is your response to this varied response and the wider issues that it raises regarding the relationship between academia and the communities whom we study?
[CJT] Yes, it was weird that I received such a negative response from the person you mention, as can be seen in the comments section on your blog. But then again, it is exactly what I should expect as that paper came about because I was shocked at the way two Pagan Studies scholars, Chas Clifton and Peg Aloi, were attacked on the internet for mildly criticising New Zealand Wiccan, Ben Whitmore’s, book Trials of the Moon which attempted in turn to critique Ronald Hutton’s book, The Triumph of the Moon. I say “attempted” because we all know that it failed because it was not rigorous enough. So, my article originated as a result of what I witnessed when non-academic Pagan practitioners thoroughly over reacted to Chas and Peg’s critiques and I was taken aback at the level of vitriol – it’s all recorded on Chas’ and Peg’s blogs and other places.
That paper was actually originally presented at the Research Network on Transcultural Identities conference in May 2011 at the University of Melbourne, and then at the Pagan Studies session at the American Academy of Religion conference in San Francisco in November 2011. The paper was accompanied by quite funny PowerPoint slides, which, had the shouty critic of which we speak (above) seen, he might have understood that I wasn’t slagging off Pagans – as I am one myself – but suggesting, with a good dose of humour, that both Pagans and academic researchers of Paganism could communicate better, as I think it’s the lack of communication that causes vitriolic outbursts as seen on Chas and Peg’s blogs, and in other places: such as in response to my article... and my interviews with Ronald Hutton (here and here)... and Sasha Chaitow’s interview with me in Fainomena Magazine… and wherever else good Pagan Studies scholars are to be found. The angry comments aren’t all on my blog, but around the internet in various places. Anyway, I tried to explain myself, and the article, in an interview on Jason Pitzl Waters’ blog, The Wild Hunt, early this year, but I did not participate in, or even read, the comments on that as I went overseas soon after and didn’t have time.
[EDW] As both a Pagan and an academic, what future do you see for the fields of Pagan Studies and Esoteric Studies, and what is your own personal take on the debate as to whether “insiders” can be trusted to study within these fields with any degree of impartiality, an issue which has been recently reignited by Danish scholar Markus Altena Davidsen?
[CJT] Well, Esoteric Studies seems to be very sophisticated and interesting. I met some of the well-known academics in that discipline, such as Wouter Hanegraaff and Antoine Faivre, at the American Academy of Religion conference. It seems to be a fascinating area of study which I, of course, would love to be involved in, but I’m not – unfortunately, I can’t do everything! I’m not sure however, whether Esoteric Studies suffers from the kinds of criticism that Davidsen has directed toward Pagan Studies, as I don’t tend to keep up with the literature or converse regularly with the participants. Speaking of Davidsen’s article, yes, my friend Shai Feraro, co-organiser of the Conference of Contemporary Religion and Spirituality at the University of Tel Aviv, first alerted me to it. I’m not a Religious Studies scholar, so I don’t tend to know what the current thinking is on researching religion in that discipline, although I get the idea from Davidsen’s article. Consequently I can’t critique the way in which Pagan Studies is approached from a Religious Studies angle.
I must say however, that when I first encountered the academic study of Paganism – which, as I mentioned above, was via Chas Clifton’s Nature Religions email list, and from there the scholars who at that time were researching contemporary Paganism – I did get the impression that they were very uncritical about modern Paganism and a bit on the idealistic, promoting-Paganism side of things. In fact it did not seem OK to be critical about Paganism, although people certainly were – but not critical enough in my opinion. I certainly agree with Davidsen that “A normative construction of the essence of contemporary Paganism” is prevalent in the academic study of Paganism and that “The ideal of what Paganism ought to be according to certain Pagan intellectuals is presented as how real or pure Paganism is.” I’ve certainly encountered a reasonable amount of naïve idealism from academics-turned-Pagan who have a particular idea of how Paganism “is” and, because they have clout and credibility deriving from their academic status, are able to present their view to a pretty receptive audience, whether that be through lectures at a university, publications, or media interviews and thus formulate a “Paganism” that they like the idea of, rather than as it really is. I certainly think that Paganism itself needs to be analysed more critically, as well as the academic scholarship thereof, so I think Davidsen’s article is useful in this regard.
[EDW] From modern esotericism, you’ve turned your attention many centuries back in time in order to study for a PhD in Aegean Archaeology at the University of Melbourne; your thesis is titled “The Cultic Life of Trees: What trees say about people in the prehistoric Aegean, Cyprus, and Israel.” Could you tell us a little more about what you are investigating here?
[CJT] Well, there are these gold rings and stone seals from Minoan Crete (some are from mainland Greece but in Minoan style) dating to the Neopalatial period, 1750–1450 BCE, that depict images in which figures interact with trees in what has been interpreted as a religious manner. Influenced by the biblical text, and later on by Ugaritic texts, such scenes have been suggested to depict worshippers and a tree goddess, such as the Hebrew Asherah or the Egyptian Hathor – and this might be correct. There are no texts to confirm this however as the Minoan script, Linear A, is not translated, and while Linear B used later on Crete is known to be a form of Greek, it doesn’t really tell us that much about religion. Also, these rings are tiny and one needs to ask whether such scenes depicted thereon are accurate renditions of something that happened in the real world, or rather, are highly edited “signs.” From the beginning of research into these images at the start of the 20th century, the iconography has been used to propose and speculate about corresponding physical sites within the landscape of Crete and the rituals that occurred there. There has not been much rigorous work done in the way of matching, or eliminating, actual cult sites in regard to the iconography however – in the case of Minoan Crete, these sites would be peak sanctuaries, rural sanctuaries, sacred caves, and urban cult sites. Yes, people have studied this, but in a rather cursory manner.
Previous scholarship has been too generalising, and subsequently imprecise, in regards to analysing the spatial layout and especially the built components surrounding trees within glyptic images. What are most probably different types of structures such as walls, stone altars, and wooden constructions in conjunction with trees, have been conflated as just “walls” or just “shrines.” Images of trees without architectural elaboration have been considered to depict cult enacted “in Nature” at an “ephemeral rural sanctuary.” The tree itself has been treated in a predictable, unsophisticated manner, with interpretations ranging from fruit-harvesting, to it being simply a marker of a ritual site, or a vaguely numinous manifestation of primitive religion. Only very recently have scholars begun to consider the tree in relation to its potential place in more sophisticated politico-religious settings. I am trying to do a more analytical analysis of the components of the images of tree cult, as well as any three-dimensional sites within the landscape where such cult may have occurred. I hope to be able to propose reconstructions of cultic procedure, ritual focus and religious aims, but the archaeology of cult is a difficult subject because you are trying to understand what ancient people thought, although to an extent the material traces they left gives you some idea.
[EDW] You have a couple of chapters out in a new edited anthology, Memento Mori: Magickal and Mythological Perspectives on Death, Dying, the Underworld, Afterlife, Ghosts, Ancestors and Mortality, edited by Kim Huggens. Could you tell us a little bit more about these and any other new projects and/or publications that you might have on the horizon? Furthermore, what do you see as the role that anthologies such as these – which are intellectual in nature if not academic – can play within the Pagan/occult communities, and in wider society?
[CJT] Yes, I’ve had chapters in several anthologies, but unfortunately I haven’t written a whole book. Hopefully my PhD will end up as a book. Before I went back to Uni I wrote for popular magazines and was in a few popular anthologies, as I said above. I think that these anthologies are a great way to bring together themed articles by different writers, and they do tend to be of a high standard. I do wonder about the actual saleability of hard copy Pagan books now, however, because there is just so much free information on the internet. But of course not everything is on the internet and some old fashioned types prefer to read actual paper books (even if it does cause the death of trees!). Memento Mori had so many submissions that it had to be divided into two parts. In Volume I which has recently come out, I have an article on the Eleusinian Mysteries called “Demeter’s Wrath: How the Eleusinian Mysteries Attempted to Cheat Death” and in Volume II, which is not available yet, I have an article on the figure of the Roman horror-witch and how it influenced later ideas about Witches, called “Erichtho: Wicked Witch of the West.”
During my Graduate and Postgraduate Diplomas I tended to publish my university essays – it seemed a waste to just hand them in and get a mark, I’d spent ages on them! That’s where my two pieces in Memento Mori came from, as well as other articles such as “The Pythia of Apollo at Delphi” in Priestesses, Pythonesses and Sibyls (ed. Sorita D’Este, Avalonia, 2008); and “Do the Judean Pillar Figurines Represent the Goddess Asherah?” and “Aphrodite Hellenised: The Taming of a Goddess of Sex and Power” both of which are in Tess Dawson’s Anointed: A Devotional Anthology for the Deities of the Near and Middle East (Bibliotheca Alexandrina, 2011). As mentioned above, I published components of my Honours thesis as “Samuel Liddell Macgregor Mathers and Isis” in Ten Years of Triumph? Academic Approaches to Studying Magic and the Occult: Examining scholarship into witchcraft and paganism ten years after Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon (eds. Dave Evans and Dave Green, Hidden Publications, 2009); “Florence and the Mummy” in Women’s Voices in Magic (ed. Brandy Williams, Megalithica Books, 2009); and “Walk Like an Egyptian: Egypt as Authority in Aleister Crowley’s Reception of The Book of the Law,” The Pomegranate: International Journal of Pagan Studies 12:1. 2010.
But I don’t just write things. Although while working at the Tapestry Workshop I hardly ever had time to make my own artworks, we did have exhibitions of our own stuff every so often; now I have more time to spend on making things. Consequently I have three artworks in the forthcoming Linden Gallery’s annual Postcard Show which runs from 2 Feb to 28 March 2013. You can see the kinds of things I do here, although these are from a previous exhibition: (here and here). I like making things, but ultimately I think that studying and writing is more stimulating, important and useful.
[EDW] Thank you for taking the time out to talk with Albion Calling today, Caroline, and good luck with your doctoral thesis.