Reassessing the Failures of “Recovered Memory” Therapies

From the New York Times (but this link gets you past the paywall), an article called “The Forgotten Lessons of the Recovered Memory Movement” is well worth reading.

During the 1980s and into the 1990s, countless psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, social workers, and other therapists — aided by law enforcement, prosecutors, and the news media —pushed a narrative of “repressed abuse.”

That narrative in turn spawned “Satanic ritual abuse,” largely created by a Canadian psychiatrist, Lawrence Pazder, and his patient/lover, “Michelle.

Quite a few Pagans were dragged into this, since “Michelle” and others claimed to have been abused by “witches” wearing robes and holding nocturnal rituals. But their voices and those of some scholars of new religious movements never got the media push that the “survivors” enjoyed.

Lists of the symptoms that supposedly indicated repressed abuse often went on for pages in these texts. E. Sue Blume’s book Secret Survivors listed over 70 symptoms indicative of repressed abuse. The psychologist Renee Fredrickson’s book Repressed Memories describes over 60. Do you have trouble trusting your intuition? Do you neglect your teeth? Have joint pain? Do certain foods nauseate you? Do you sometimes space out or daydream? If you have some of these warning signals, “you probably do have repressed memories,” wrote Dr. Fredrickson. In their books and papers, therapists described themselves as clever detectives searching patients’ lives for unexplained emotional responses or feelings, which might be the first sign of hidden pasts.

.  .  .  .

Pop culture also seemed to drive two of the more incredible outgrowths of the movement: the precipitous rise of multiple personality disorder and the widespread belief that satanic cults were abusing children on an industrial scale. Two best-selling books, Sybil, published in 1973, and Michelle Remembers, published in 1980, were critical in stoking public interest. Both books tell supposedly true stories of therapists helping their patients recover memories during therapy. Both were later thoroughly debunked — but not until long after they had their impact.

Read it all!

Live were ruined, people went to actual jail for crimes based on what they called in Salem “spectral evidence,” and for the most part, none of the therapists suffered or even admitted that they had been wrong. After all, they were “helping” people who were “in pain.” Hospitals were not so involved, back then.

Free Book Reviews from Latest Pomegranate

As ever, book reviews in The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies are open-access free downloads. Here are links to the four in this issue.[1]I receive a small commission on Amazon sales, which helps to pay for this website.

The King in Orange: The Magical and Occult Roots of Political Power by John Michael Greer, reviewed by Chas S. Clifton. Download PDF here.

Greer, a Druid leader, and writier on ecology, spirituality, and the future of industrial society, here confronts class issues in America and their political ramifications, as well as some Big Ideas about historical cycles. Did Kek and Pepe the Frog magically help swing the 2016 election to Donald Trump? And what was magically incompetent about the post-election “Resistance”?

Quebec’s Distinct Paganism: A Study on the Impact of Language, Culture, and History in the Development of Contemporary Paganism in Quebec by Marisol Charbonneau, reviewed by Helen A. Berger. Download PDF here.

“One of a growing genre of books and articles that explore the particularities of contemporary Paganism in a specific geographical place. Composed of two distinct linguistic communities, Quebec offers what sociologists call a natural experiment: two different groups in the same place that have different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. This existent distinction between groups permits Charbonneau to explore the question of how much language and cultural differences influence the practice of those who become contemporary Pagans”

Spirits of Blood, Spirits of Breath: The Twinned Cosmos of Indigenous America, by Barbara Alice Mann, reviewed by Sarah Dees. Download PDF here.

“Barbara Alice Mann contributes to discussions of Indigenous worldviews, mapping what she describes as the “twinned cosmos” comprised of complementary blood and breath energies throughout Turtle Island or North America. Taking a comparative approach, Mann examines the interconnection between blood and breath spirits and energies as they have manifested in multiple communities.”

The Imagination of Plants:  A Book of Botanical Mythology by Matthew Hall, reviewed by Michael D. J. Bintley. Download PDF here.

“A  generously illustrated treasure trove of plant mythology selected from across world from ancient times to the present. This is not all; the backbone of the book is formed by a series of discursive essays in which Hall identifies thematic links between his selections, and makes a series of interventions that will be of equal interest to specialist and general readers alike.

“Passages are drawn from editions easily accessible to readers for further reading, and range from the mythologies of European Antiquity to the Vedas, the Popol Vuh, and more recently recorded indigenous wisdom of (for example) Australia, New Zealand, and North America. Without simply listing the range of people and places covered in the book, it is fair to say that Hall’s collection is generally representative, rather than exhaustive, in its coverage of plants in the global imaginary”

To submit a book for review or to beome a reviewer yourself, please contact Christopher Chase, Dept. of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Iowa State University.

Notes

Notes
1 I receive a small commission on Amazon sales, which helps to pay for this website.

Who Benefited from the Vinland Map?

Part of the Vinland Map, supposedly from the mid-1400s, before Columbus (Wikimedia Commons).

The Vinland Map has been controversial since the 1960s when it popped into public view. Did it really record a Norse partial-mapping of North America? Its modern history is viewed as scandalous. Most scholars who examined it leaned toward its being a forgery.

But from when? And for whose benefit?

A team at Yale University places it in the 1920s:

Acquired by Yale in the mid-1960s, the purported 15th-century map depicts a pre-Columbian “Vinlanda Insula,” a section of North America’s coastline southwest of Greenland. While earlier studies had detected evidence of modern inks at various points on the map, the new Yale analysis examined the entire document’s elemental composition using state-of-the-art tools and techniques that were previously unavailable.

The analysis revealed that a titanium compound used in inks first produced in the 1920s pervades the map’s lines and text.

It looks like another case of a forger using paper — or in this case, parchment — from the appropriate historical era but not taking the time to re-create the inks of the time. The ink, the Yale researchers say, is 20th-century.

In a follow-up article Smithsonian sees the map as playing a part in American struggles over identity, although leaving open the question of when it was actually forged. After the 1920s is the nearest that can be said.

In the modern era, the European discovery of North America became a proxy for conflicts between American Protestants and Catholics, as well as northern Europeans who claimed the pagan Vikings as their ancestors and southern Europeans who touted links to Columbus and the monarchs of Spain. Feted on the front page of the New York Times, the map’s discovery appeared to solidify the idea of a pre-Columbian Norse arrival in the American mindset.

As it turns out, the map was indeed too good to be true.

 

New Norse Site in Newfoundland

Archaeologist Sarah Parcak in Newfoundland. (National Geographic).

The discovery of Norse ruins at L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, in 1960 proved once and for all that the sagas were right: settlers from Iceland and/or Greenland came to North America.

Now a new discovery on the other side of the island suggests even more of a Norse presence.

After studying the area and researching prior land surveys, the archaeologists have identified other characteristics that would have made Point Rosee an optimum site for Norse settlers: The southern coastline of the peninsula has relatively few submerged rocks, allowing for anchoring or even beaching ships; the climate and soil in the region is especially well-suited for growing crops; there’s ample fishing on the coast and game animals inland; and there are lots of useful natural resources, such as chert for making stone tools and turf for building housing.

But the clincher is evidence of iron-working, something no indigenous people did.

The Spanish Piper at the Ghost Town

Carlos Núñez in Galicia.

Carlos Núñez in Galicia.

I had long admired the music of the Galician piper Carlos Núñez. I bought a couple of his CDs—one of the collaborations with The Chieftains plus Os Amores Libres.

But to hear him live, that would be a big-city proposition. Maybe I would need to attend some festival in Europe.

Not true. It took just a drive through the mountains and then 25 miles of gravel road, ending at a Colorado ghost town that I never had visited (and me a native).

Up at 9,000 feet, it is summer-home territory, and the audience tilted toward hearty retirees in cargo pants and fleece vests. The later summer rains are upon us — as we crossed the Huerfano Valley, even that country looked as green as Gal-i-thia.

The former S-Curved Bar Tavern

The former S-Curved Bar Tavern

The venue is a ramshackle 1920s (?) dancehall and tavern — a little different from Kennedy Center, where the band will be playing later this month.

“We are so happy to be in thees . . . ghost . . . town,” Carlos said, drawing out the vowels.

And they — him, his brother Xurxo, the drummer; guitarist Pancho Álvarez; and Ontario fiddler Stephanie Cadman — launched into a hard-driving 90-minute set during which dancing in the aisles was not only encouraged, it was pretty near compulsory. (“E-stand-e up!“)

At times Xurxo’s miked bodhran was competing with a bigger drummer — thunder bouncing off the ridges of the Cumbres Range. And the wooden planks of the old dance hall bounced and thrummed.

huefano valley copy

Driving into the Huerfano Valley on the way home.

Behind the group’s appearance were the organizers of the Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival, who for ten years have been bringing big names in Celtic music to southern Colorado to play in old movie theatres, ghost towns, and tiny schools.

The Mind of the Native and the Mind of the Witch

Typical Colorado foothills weather — from snow on the ground mid-May to temperatures in the 80s F. by the first of June. What is this “spring” people speak of? If you have hummingbirds and snow at the same time, that is our spring.

Some links:

• Rod Dreher posts on “How to see a ghost,” which is a little tangential for the blogger usually defined as “crunchy con,” but there is a connection to the idea of being embedded in place.

A lot of the post is excerpts from Rupert Ross’s book Dancing With A Ghost: Exploring Indian Reality, Much of it is animistic, as you would expect:

If, for instance, it is possible for a man to “walk” through the spiritual (that is, the imaged) plane, then he could not deny the possibility that others would be able to do the same. The dimension of each person which did this visiting thus ought to be able to encounter the corresponding dimension of others; suddenly the possibility of interaction with others on that plane becomes real.

Dreher is a capital-O Orthodox Christian (by conversion, hence enthusiastic), writing that he does not “subscribe to the pagan, animistic metaphysic Ross describes, but that it’s interesting to me to observe how much this overall outlook tracks with Orthodox Christianity and its belief in panentheism, which teaches that God is immanent in all creation.” But read his post for the excerpts and to watch him wrestle with what Ross has to say.

• Meanwhile, at his Paganistan blog, Steven Posch links to what he considers an accurate description of the “mind of a witch,” although it was not written from that perspective.

I liked this part:

Like all predators, a witch is a territorial animal, and to know your territory you have to patrol it regularly and you have to notice what’s going on there: what has changed, what’s changing, and what hasn’t changed.

It’s all in how you define “territory.

Investigating a “Grandmother Story”

Robert Mathiesen and Theitic, The Rede of the Wiccae: Adriana Porter, Gwen Thompson and the Birth of a Tradition of Witchcraft (Providence, R.I.: Olympic Press, 2005), 167 pp., $17.95 (paper).Book cover of Rede of the Wiccae

• • •

Gwen Thompson (Craft name of Phyllis Healy), 1928–1986, founded the New England Coven of Traditional Witches in the late 1960s. It went on to have various offshoots.

Central to her position as founder of the NECTW tradition was a “grandmother story.” She claimed to have been taught “the Old Religion” (in Margaret Murray’s sense) by her grandmother, Adriana Porter (1857–1946), an underground Craft teaching that supposedly originated in the West of England, in Somerset. Porter was born in Nova Scotia, married William Healy, a bookkeeper and insurance broker, in 1888, and moved with him first to Rhode Island and then to Melrose, Mass. They had one son, Walter, Gwen’s mother’s first husband.

According to Gwen Thompson, her grandmother’s family “were carriers of a secret tradition of Folk Witchcraft,” although her mother had broken with it upon marrying her second husband. Nevertheless, by then Adriana had initiated her and given her the Craft name of Gwen. When Adriana died, Gwen found some of her papers, which she considered to be a Book of Shadows, and which she copied. But she always “refused to tell her initiates anything about the identity of her living relatives, saying, ‘They don’t want to talk to you!'”

This study of her claims has two authors. One, Robert Mathiesen, never met her. Now retired from the Dept. of Slavic Languages at Brown University, he has “a life-long interest in the history of magical practices and doctrines and alternative religions” Theitic, on the other hand, was Thompson’s student from 1974–78 and is now considered to be the historian of the NECTW tradition.

Mathiesen faced one daunting obstacle — he was not allowed to look at Gwen’s Book, except for a part, the Rede (Old English for “counsel”)  that had been published in the Pagan magazine Green Egg in 1975. Most of the Rede is traditional folk wisdom, such “With the fool no season spend / or be counted as his friend.” Other couplets contain wisdom more appropriate to seamen in the days of sail rather than farmers, which could connect them with a port such as Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

The collection as published starts and finished with other couplets that sound a great deal like Gerald Gardner or Doreen Valiente. As Mathiesen writes, they “use the false archaism Wiccan and strongly echo Gardner’s form of Wicca.”

Mathisen researched Adriana Porter’s family history extensively, and he notes that when she came to the Boston are in the 1880s, she had the leisure and income to have investigated  Spiritualism, Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, and other esoteric currents in that city. Since this book’s publication, he has found hints that she might have known Paul Foster Case, in the 1920s. Case was a ceremonial magician and founder of the mystery school Builders of the Adytum, which still exists.

But the so-called Old Religion? The authors conclude that between 19 and 21 of the 26 couplets in the Rede might well have been written down by Adriana Porter, or else some other 19th-century person. The rest, those that give it a Wiccan flavor, were added almost certainly by Gwen Thompson.

It is another example of what I call “the Gardnerian magnet.” Because books by Gardner and his associates became available from 1957 on, many people not part of that initiatory lineage “borrowed” from it heavily.

Adriana had opportunities to become well acquainted with various occult and esoteric teachings. But there is nothing to prove that she carried forward a deep ancestral tradition of Witchcraft as an alternative religion.

My own larger conclusion is that I still have seen no credible evidence for anyone practicing a self-consciously polytheistic Pagan religion called Wicca or Witchcraft prior to 1951 in the English-speaking world.* What we find, instead, are cases such as these:

  • A Craft leader drops bits of information about their own or an ancestor’s involvement in an esoteric school, ceremonial magical group, etc. and passes that off as an ancestral tradition. Such may well have been the case with Gwen Thompson.
  • A person’s ancestor knew herbalism, root-working, card-reading or other divination, spell-casting, water-witching, conjuring, astrology, etc. — even in a Christian context — and their descendent describes this involvement as an ancestral tradition of Witchcraft in order to legitimize their own position in the new religion of Pagan Witchcraft.

Research projects such as The Rede of the Wiccae are needed, therefore, to settle some of these historical questions — inasmuch as they can be settled — and free scholarship on contemporary Paganism to view it through other lenses.

* Yes, I include Philip Heselton’s work here, as detailed in this book review.

Some Items of Interest

Some Pagan, occult, and academic news items of interest:

• I did not know that any of the “Group of Seven” were Theosophists — plus other influential Canadian Pagans and occultists in one list.

• “Unintended Consequences of the Affordable Health Care Act” for part-time college and university faculty. In other words, schools are reacting to Obamacare by cutting the hours of adjunct professors.

• I have been saying for ten years (!) that we need more Pagan biography and autobiography. So I was glad to read in The Wild Hunt that Deborah Lipp has written one.

• The Hopi tribal government is upset over an upcoming French auction selling some of their sacred masks. NAGPRA is no help internationally.

Historians say many Hopi artifacts were taken long ago by people who found them unattended in shrines and on altars along the mesas of the Southwest

Because if a shrine does not have a full-time caretaker, it must be “abandoned.” The “vanishing Indian” and all that.

This is interesting too; the American government will help foreign countries recover their artifacts here, but does not protect ours over there:

When a nation like Italy or Cambodia claims ownership of an object in the United States, it typically invokes international accords that require American officials to take up the cases. The Justice Department, for example, recently sent two lawyers to Cambodia as part of an effort to help that country seize an ancient statue that Sotheby’s planned to auction in New York.

The United States does not have similar accords that it could cite in support of the Hopi claim on the Paris auction items. Several experts and activists said the United States had never viewed its own cultural patrimony as a priority because the country is relatively young, has long embraced the concept of free trade and has not historically focused on the cultural heritage issues of American Indians.

Read the rest. Continue reading

The Norse on Baffin Island

Swedish archaeologist Martin Rundkvist discusses evidence of a Norse presence on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic and whether the people who were there were seasonal trappers or trying to establish a year-round settlement. 

Remains of Old World rats are indicative.

So what we have here is High Medieval Christian Norse-speakers gone native in Arctic north-east Canada. Interesting stuff! But as so often – don’t believe the headlines.

And he reminds us,

Note that while NatGeo’s writer calls the Tanfield settlers “Vikings”, Dr. Sutherland wisely calls them “Norse”. The sites are post-Viking Period, and even during the Viking Period, most people were never Vikings. That was a part-time men-only occupation, not an ethnicity.

The past is always more complex than we imagine.