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This came up recently on Amber and Jet, which is the wicca mailing list on yahoo. By the time I got done typing up the essay things had cooled off. I decided it was a better blog post instead.

Things start off innocently enough.

Best Wishes to all.
Recently I have stumbled across this paper:
Which suggests that Wica is heavily influenced by Neoplatonism.
I would like to ask the experts on amberandjet what they think of this thesis.
If true, scholarly  inclined seekers will want to study Neoplatonism.

I’m really tickled pink that someone managed to get “out of the box” and realizes there’s really interesting philosophy outside of Gerald Gardner. I immediately opened the paper.

Presenter Bio: Don Frew is an Elder in both the NROOGD…

Reply all “please kill yourself”.
OK I wasn’t nearly that caustic despite being tempted.
Instead, I wrote:

Normally I wouldn’t chime in but the paper just absolutely made me sad from a liberal arts perspective. If anyone is interested I would highly suggest at very least listening to the History of Philosophy: http://historyofphilosophy.net/

If you even give things the most cursory look from a historical perspective, women (as a gender) are not somehow venerated  any more than men or hermaphrodites in pagan philosophy. To make it into a gender issue is completely ridiculous – but they are recognized as full people with equal rights. It was the childless and the unmarried that would become philosophers. This topic actually comes up fairly often when looking at modern gnostic thought (Islam) where some folks do frame it in gender issues (usually men who rely entirely on their wives to care for them and run the household) but in antiquity, the role of abstinence, asceticism, and homosexuality were directly defined by a functional application of “making babies” and “how do I pay for all this stuff”? Have family obligations or debt? Can’t go live on the mountaintop… I don’t really understand what the topic has to do with anything but it’s present in the opening of the paper.

The author also makes the error of post hoc ergo propter hoc. Just because the rooster crows before sunrise, the rooster does not cause the sun to rise. Hutton basically serves the role of the strawman in this paper. Hutton is not perfect, Hutton makes mistakes in his own history and generalizations. This does not mean that there is proof there was a surviving, isolated neoplatonist cult somewhere in Europe, it means simply that Hutton was incorrect in some of his assertions. It is not *proof positive*.

The author of the paper skips about the last 700 years of european history. In the 1300s, Plethos (also born “in the safety of the Persian Empire”) was actually starting neoplatonic schools in Europe. It was a mainstream thing. Students would build altars and they would pray to statues and it could comfortably be slotted into present day paganism. The problem is – Plethos is buddy-buddy with the Christians and has a live-and-let-live philosophy, but rejects Aristotle. In doing so, he ends up being prosecuted by the church for heresy (despite Aristotle) and confined to the city. He has, in my opinion, legitimate neoplatonic chops because he managed to piss off the Christians so much they sat up, took note, and told him to stuff it.

The Neoplatonic schools in europe, which Ficino recognizes as a legitimate effort in neoplatonism with his recognition of Plethos as ‘the second Plato’, existed and were established and churned out students and graduates who then went on into european society. That’s great, but neoplatonism in europe as a political branch was an advocate of chain gangs and work camps, burning homosexuals at the stake, and so on. How did we get from The Republic to the Reform of the Peloponnese? It doesn’t really matter – the rub is that this is the hereditary vector of neoplatonic philosophy in Europe. The paper ignores events like the burning of Bruno because it has no reasonable explanation visible to me for the degeneracy and wants us to believe that somehow 700 years of nothing happened like an unfortunate coven caught in an iceberg, only to be thawed out, while some unknown force suddenly decides to make huge prisons and burnings a regular thing for Christianity. Why do we care about Plethos and not Iamblichus? Because Plethos stays in Europe. The rest of them go back home to elsewhere. (I’m not going to make the accusation that the paper follows the wikipedia page on neoplatonism to a T and thats why the author simply ignores the rest of recorded history – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoplatonism – but it did cross my mind at this point).

Does wicca (or wica) have its roots in a synthetic understanding of classical (not limited to Plato) thought? Yes, but this also means that it has more in common with the rosicrucians, the golden dawn, and similar Western Mystery Cults than it does in classical, unbroken (neo)platonic thought which fell victim to the zeitgeist of the time in Europe. The author simply fails to make the connection he alleges exists between the school in Athens and Europe because history is extremely inconvenient after 539. Worst part? The author knows it:

From Harran, Pagan Neoplatonism reentered Europe in the 11th century CE, becoming the basis for centuries of Renaissance “Christian” Neoplatonism (that often was not so “Christian”), but our concern stays with the avowedly Pagan stream of Neoplatonism. BTW, this Pagan stream passed from Harran through the Picatrix into the writings of Agrippa and eventually into the ritual forms of Gardnerian Wica.

The smoking gun is that Ficino has the Picatrix, Ficino loves Plethos, and Plethos doesn’t love homosexuals, Moors, or lenient prison terms which the paper attempts to explain away as “Christianized neoplatonism”. It’s just bad thinking. He can’t have it both ways. Western Mystery Cults could be “reformed neoplatonism”, or “neoneoplatonism”, but they’re not neoplatonism how Europe understood it (unless someone wants to come clean about their weekends)… 😉

After writing it, however, I realized that this also deprived the folks of the creation myth that wicca was older than Gardner and I decided not to post it. That is really the reason why the folks who drink the kool-aide make life harder for everyone else.