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Le Défi magique, volume 2

 | 
Massimo Introvigne
, 
Jean-Baptiste Martin

Sorcellerie d'hier et d'aujourd'hui

Restoring the goddess: Z. Budapest and religious primitivism in America

Christel Manning

Résumé

La croyance qu’il y avait autrefois un âge idéal, que l’histoire depuis ce temps représente un déclin de cet idéal et que nous pouvons créer un futur parfait si nous recréons cette époque primordiale, est l’essence de ce que les savants ont appelé le primitivisme religieux ou la restauration religieuse. Plusieurs savants ont soutenu que le primitivisme est un trait caractéristique de la religion et de la culture américaines. Cependant leur travail traite exclusivement des mouvements chrétiens, surtout des mouvements chrétiens protestants. Ce travail conteste la prétention que la tendance vers le primitivime religieux soit basée dans les traditions protestantes ou peut-être aussi les traditions de l’âge de la Raison. L’auteur se concentre sur un groupe primitiviste très distinct : « Wicca », la sorcellerie féministe radicale, telle qu’elle est représentée dans l’organisation « Susan B. Anthony » de Zsuzsanna Budapest. Dans la première partie, l’auteur analyse les croyances, les rituels et d’autres dimensions de l’organisation Budapest et démontre que « Wicca » est une religion primitiviste. Dans la deuxième partie, le texte démontre que tandis que la sorcellerie radicale féministe se trouve hors de la culture américaine en ce qui concerne ses croyances religieuses, le modèle de sa tendance vers la restauration primitiviste démontre une tendance unique en Amérique.

Texte intégral

  • 1 Zsuzsanna Budapest, The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries, part 1 (Los Angeles: Susan B. Anthony Cove (...)

«We believe that Goddess consciousness gave humanity a workable, longlasting, peaceful period during which the earth was treated as mother and wimmin were treated as her priestesses. This was the mythical Golden Age of Matriarchy... We believe that women lost supremacy throught the aggression of males... responsible for the invention of rape and the subjugation of women... It is through the Female Principle that the Way will be found. Let the spaceship find home in the Mother’s harbor –paradise restored.»
Z. Budapest1

  • 2 For an excellent introduction to American primitivism, see Richard Hughes, ed. The American Quest (...)

1The belief that there was once an ideal golden age, that history since then represents a decline from the ideal, and that we can create a perfect future if we restore this primordial time, is the essence of what scholars have termed religious «primitivism» or «restorationism.» Several scholars have argued that primitivism is a characteristic feature of American religion and culture. According to Richard Hughes, four features of American primitivism stand out: it is recurrent; it serves a legitimating function; it is at once tolerant and condemning of other beliefs; and it restores one of two primordial norms, the Bible and nature2. Hughes’ work, however, deals exclusively with Christian and most often Protestant movements.

2This paper will focus on a very different restorationist group: radical feminist Witchcraft, as represented by Z. Budapest’s Susan B. Anthony coven. On the one hand, Budapest’s religion stands outside American culture in that it rejects the Bible as well as the Enlightenment ideal. Contrary to the argument made by some scholars, Neopaganism is not merely a variation of the Enlightenment reverence for nature. On the other hand, Z’s movement fits the American pattern in its appeal to first times as a means of legitimating dissent, and it exhibits the same dual tendency of openness/exclusivism as other primitivist movements. Despite its rejection of American culture, radical feminist Witchcraft is a distinctly American movement. Although most scholars of primitivism have neglected non-Christian religions, the study of feminist Witchcraft provides answers to some theoretical problems that studies of Christian primitivism have be unable to resolve.

3The paper has five parts. Part I will clarify the meaning of primitivism and how it has functioned in American religion. Part II will briefly survey the history of feminist Witchcraft in the context of two larger political and religious movements. Part III will provide some biographical information on Z. Budapest and a brief history of her movement. After demonstrating that radical feminist Wicca is indeed a primitivist religion, Part IV will discuss how Budapest’s movement functions in the context of American culture. Finally, Part V will address some counterarguments to my position and discuss its theoretical implications.

1. Primitivism in American religion

4The trouble with designating any religion as «primitivist» is that it can mean many different things. Most scholars would agree that primitivist movements share four basic characteristics: they look back to an ancient past, or primordium, as ideal; they see history since then as decline; they seek to restore first times; and they look forward to an ideal future that will resemble the ideal past. Beyond this definition, however, there is much room for confusion.

  • 3 Winton Solberg, «Primitivism in the American Enlightenment» in Hughes American Quest, p. 50.

5First, we must distinguish restoration from reformation. A reformist movement seeks to modify the present, and its standard of reference need not be located in the past. By contrast, restorationists attempt to eradicate the norms of the present and replace them with those of an ancient past. Second, some scholars have distinguished cultural from chronological primitivism. While the latter always restores an ancient past, the former seeks mainly to create a simpler life3. However, since the passage of time usually brings increasing cultural complexity, creating a simpler life usually also means restoring the past.

  • 4 See Hughes and Allen Illusions, pp. x-3. See also Jan Schipps, Mormonism-The Story of a New Religi (...)
  • 5 This also helps explain why primitivists, despite their idealization of the past, are not necessar (...)

6Third, scholars have debated the relationship of primitivism to history, i.e., the period between the primordial past and the present4. On the one hand, primitivism is characteristically ahistorical in that it denies history any normative value; on the other, it is profoundly historical in that history is the culprit: the passage of time has caused us to forget our ideals. A major source of this confusion is the tendency among scholars to equate history with reality. History, as distinct from myth, is «what happened»; its «facts» are fixed and therefore unchangeable. Hence, anyone who suggests otherwise must be denying history. Perhaps one way to clarify this issue is to suggest that primitivists hold a magical worldview: their belief that history is reversible, i.e., that time can be manipulated, is not much different from the magician’s manipulation of space, or the objects within it. History thus is neither real nor unreal, but just another force to be controlled5. This paper will therefore assume that restoration is distinct from reformation but that cultural and chronological primitivism are interchangeable terms. Instead of «historical» or «ahistorical,» I shall employ the term «magical worldview» to characterize the primitivist perception of time and space.

7What causes people, Americans in particular, to embrace religious primitivism? Restorationist movements seem most often to emerge as unity-seeking responses to religious pluralism and/or as dissenting voices from the dominant religion. Restorationism may therefore be seen as a call for balance between the threat of total relativism on the one hand and the danger of oppressive absolutism on the other. This helps explain why primitivism has flourished in America. Anti-absolutist restorationist impulses may be seen in the Protestant dissent from the Roman Catholic Church, but many of the more radical reformers left Europe for America. Once there, a context of ever increasing religious pluralism provided fertile ground for new anti-relativist primitivist movements to emerge. Given the insecurities of starting life in a new place that is a common experience to many people in this country, primitivism provides Americans with a sense of unity and tradition they might otherwise lack. At the same time, the American experience creates a sense of new beginning which makes the possibility of restoring the purity of first times a viable proposition. In short, America has provided both the need for and the possibility of a return to a golden age.

  • 6 Hughes and Allen, Illusions, p. xv.

8Religious primitivism is thus a recurring theme in American history. As Hughes puts it, recovery of primal norms is not an aberration but «one of the fundamental preoccupations of the American people»6. In both its anti-relativist and its anti-absolutist forms, primitivism in America has often functioned to legitimate a belief system. Thus restoration of first times provides authority both to dissenters (in which case the primordium is presented as an ideal from which the establishment falls short) and to established religion (in which case the ideal is seen as accomplished). However, perhaps because established religion can rely on tradition for legitimation, while dissenters are at variance with that past, the latter are more likely to be restorationist.

  • 7 For example, see the discussion of John Cotton in Hughes and Allen, Illusions, pp. 25-52. See also (...)

9American primitivist movements have tended to be at once tolerant and condemning of other beliefs. One the one hand, dissenters often emphasize the primordium as a time of religious freedom, while an established church may use primitivism to justify intolerance. On the other hand, even dissenting primitivists must be exclusive and uncompromising because, if first times are normative, no other truth is admisable. Nonetheless, there is clearly a movement from greater to lesser tolerance of other beliefs as dissenters are able to institutionalize and grow into an establishment7.

  • 8 Robert Bellah, «Civil Religion in America» Daedalus 96.1 (1967) pp. 1-9.
  • 9 Hughes and Allen, Illusions, pp. 12-17. For a discussion of restoring apostolic Christianity, see (...)

10According to Hughes, American restoration movements seek a return to one or both of two primordial norms: the Bible and nature. These correspond to the major cultural forces behind what has been called America’s «civil religion», Protestant Christianity and the Enlightenment8. The foundation of America may be seen as restorationist to the extent that the founders saw themselves as building God’s ideal kingdom (biblical restoration) and as restoring man’s natural rights that had been denied by so many previous governments (the Enlightenment ideal). It is therefore not surprising that for most restorationist movements in this country the primordium is either the time of the early apostolic church or an era when the world was governed by nature alone9.

11American restorationism, however, need not embrace either the Bible or the Enlightenment. Radical feminist Witchcraft, as this paper will show, rejects both of these norms and yet employs primitivism in much the same way as the Christian movements described by Hughes.

2. History of Feminist Witchcraft

12The term «feminist witchcraft» is subject to frequent misinterpretation. Feminist witchcraft, or Goddess religion, must be seen in the context of two larger trends that shaped it: religious feminism and Neo-paganism, both products of the 1960s.

  • 10 For an overview of religious feminism, see Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow, Woman Spirit Rising-A (...)

13Religious feminism extends the feminist critique of society to religion. Feminists have criticized the Judeo-Christian tradition for ignoring and/or subordinating women. Central to the persistence of sexism in Western religion is the fact that the image of its highest deity is male. In an effort to correct this problem, two strands of religious feminism have emerged10.

14One group, the «reformers,» believe that Judaism and Christianity have been (intentionally or unintentionally) distorted in a sexist way. These women (e.g., Rosemary Radford Ruether, Elaine Pagels) work within traditional religious denominations to champion the use of female symbols in reference to God. The reformers tend to reject the notion that women are more connected to nature; they seek to eliminate stereotypes, advocate equality, and often suggest androgenous symbols for God.

15A second group, the «radicals», believes that reform is futile. Because the image of God as father and/or son is so central to both Judaism and Christianity, true reform would mean the end of these religions. Hence, these women feel that feminists must leave the Judeo-Christian tradition behind and seek a new female-centered religion. The radicals (e.g., Naomi Goldenberg, Carol Christ, Mary Daly) affirm women’s connection with nature as special; they seek to transform negative stereotypes into positive ones, advocate women’s ascendancy, and view the Goddess as the highest deity. It is this group that draws on elements of the Neopagan movement to create feminist Witchcraft.

16Neopaganism, also often referred to as Witchcraft, the Craft, or the Old religion, is a syncretistic recreation of pre-Christian European nature religions and the Western magical tradition. Neopagans must therefore be distinguished from other Pagans such as remnants of African nature religions and from other magicians such as Satanists.

  • 11 Budapest, Holy Book, p. 33.
  • 12 Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon (Boston: Beacon Press, 1986), p. 107.

17Resistant to the notion of a unified creed, most Neopagans believe in a polytheistic pantheon immanent in nature in which the high deity is usually female (the Great Goddess) and may or may not have a male consort. They believe that Judeo-Christian culture with its single transcendent God has separated us from nature, and that this alienation is the source of most of the problems of modern life. Pagans emphasize the cultic dimension of religion. Each group has its own sacred scripture, often called a «Book of Shadows» which contains instructions for ritual and magic. The Pagan code of ethics is simple: «Do as thou wilt, but harm none»11. The community is decentralized. Most groups are organized in covens (which ideally number around thirteen people) or groves (which may be larger), and there is no proselytization. Estimates of the size of the Neopagan movement vary considerably, ranging anywhere from 300 to 30,000 covens12.

  • 13 Among Gerald Gardner’s most important books are Witchcraft Today (New York: Citadel Press, 1955) a (...)

18Central to Neopaganism is the revival of witchcraft, which Pagans believe was driven underground by the Christian Inquisition. The modern growth of witchcraft is usually traced to Gerald Gardner (1884-1964), who blended elements from western magic with European folk religion to create what we now know as Wicca or Neopaganism. Gardner claimed to have been initiated into the Craft in 1939, and, after the last of the British anti-craft laws was repealed in 1951, formed his own coven and published several books which signaled to the world that witchcraft still existed13. He initiated into his own tradition hundreds of people, including Raymond Buckland who brought Gardnerian Wicca to America. Several major sectarian splits have occurred within American Witchcraft and many groups subsequently claimed succession to pre-Gardnerian traditions. However, closer investigation shows that virtually all of these groups are variations of Gardner’s structure.

  • 14 Many feminist Witches, including Budapest, call themselves Dianic Witches. They subscribe to Murra (...)

19Feminist or Dianic Witchcraft fuses the political ideology of feminism with the religious symbolism of Neopaganism to create one of the major subgroups in the American Witchcraft revival14. Neopaganism’s rejection of Judaism and Christianity and its elelvation of the Goddess obviously appealed to radical feminists. While scholarly research into matriarchy provided the intellectual foundation, the experience of empowerment in small consciouness-raising groups gave the emotional basis for radical feminists to embrace the ancient Pagan Goddess as a positive image of female power.

20Feminist Witchcraft differs from the traditional Craft in three important ways. First, Dianic Wicca promotes gender separatism. Traditional Pagans see the Goddess as a symbol of nature; they emphasize the power of fertility and feel that a balance of male-female energy is necessary to make a ritual «work». Feminists, by contrast, interpret the Goddess as a symbol for the empowerment of women and assert that the participation of men is not necessary for effective ritual practice. Although they share with other Neopagans the view that we have been alienated from mother nature, radical feminists depart from traditional witches in that they see men as the culprit. They reject the Judeo-Christian tradition not so much for its sanction of man’s control over nature, but for its legitimation of patriarchy which has led to the oppression of women and, as a result, of nature as well.

21Second, Dianic Wicca is more egalitarian than the traditional Craft. Feminists believe that any group of women can declare themselves witches without formal training, while in non-feminist covens several levels of initiation are common. Leadership in feminist covens tends to rotate, while traditional covens often have a more hierarchical structure. While non-feminist witches rely more upon tradition as prescribed by their Book of Shadows, feminists encourage the creation of new rituals by any member in the group.

  • 15 Ibid., pp. 176-229.

22Finally, feminist witches, unlike other Neopagans, believe that religion is inseparable from politics. Neopagans are often accused of lacking a social ethic comparable to the call to «love thy neighbor» in Christianity or the requirement to give alms in Islam. Feminist Witches, however, have a definite social agenda: the abolition of patriarchal oppression. It is the political goal that has led to their restorationist emphasis. Dianic Wicca dissents from the larger Neopagan movement as well as from American culture. Dissent must be legitimated. History shows that restorationism is one of the most popular and effective means of religious legitimation in America. Small wonder then that radical feminist Witchcraft would make use of such a tool. Ironically, however, their application of primitivism makes feminist witches in some ways similar to the very culture from which they dissent15.

23In what ways is Dianic Wicca restorationist, and how does restorationism function for this group? To answer these questions, let’s take a look at one of the first and most well-known representatives of radical feminist Witchcraft, the Susan B. Anthony coven of Zsuzsanna Budapest.

3. Z. Budapest

  • 16 Other sources on contemporary Witchcraft are Gordon Melton’s essay-The Magick Family» in his Encyc (...)
  • 17 Adler, Drawing Down the Moon, p. 77.

24The only biographical information available on Z is what has been provided by Budapest herself16. Perhaps to lend legitimacy to her status as spokesperson for radical feminist Wicca, the connection of witchcraft, feminism, and revolution is a recurrent theme in her account. Zsuzsanna Emese Budapest was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1940. She claims her family's roots in Paganism and Witchcraft go back to 1270. Z also emphasizes the psychic significance of her birth and childhood, including a dream her mother had that saved Z’s life and the child’s premonition of her grandmother’s death. The 1956 revolution led Z to leave Hungary and come to America. After studying communication and dramatic arts in Chicago, Z moved to New York to continue her studies. Unable to receive sufficient financial aid from foundations that discriminated against women, Z got married and had two children. «After twelve years, feeling limited and enslaved, she was driven to make a suicide attempt.» Yet Z was saved by a vision which helped her «regain my true perspective of a Witch, how a Witch looks at life-as a challenge». She moved to Los Angeles and became involved in the feminist movement. She also began reading the English literature on modern Witchcraft. «A year later [she] began, with several other women, to have sabbats. In 1971, on the Winter Solstice, [they] named [their] coven the Susan B. Anthony coven»17.

  • 18 Budapest, Holy Book, p. 82.
  • 19 For an outsider’s description of Z's trial, see Steve Harvey, «‘Witch’ to go on Trial», Los Angele (...)
  • 20 Adler, Drawing Down the Moon, p. 121

25Budapest claims that her movement grew from six witches in 1970 to over 700 initiated members by 197918. In 1975, Z was arrested for Tarot reading by the Los Angeles police, tried, and found guilty of violating a county law that prohibited divination except for religious reasons. The fact that this made her the first witch to be tried in the U.S. in three hundred years, and that she chose to argue her case on the basis of religious freedom rather than citing conflicts between county and state law, strengthens her image as a pioneer in the Goddess movement19. Since then Budapest’s group has been officially recognized as a religion and has spawned many others20. In 1980, she turned her Los Angeles coven over to another leader and moved to Oakland. She is now the director of the Women’s Spirituality Forum, and her coven puts out a newsletter» Thesmophoria» that appears eight times each year.

4. Primitvism in Z’s Religion

26One need only read one of Budapest’s books to recognize the restorationist impulse of her movement. Z’s religion exhibits all the characteristics of primitivism discussed earlier in this paper: the belief that we can create a perfect future by restoring an ideal primordium which has been corrupted by history, the magical worldview, and the goal of replacing rather than reforming present conditions.

  • 21 Budapest, Holy Book, pp. 9-12 and 122-126.

27First, Z believes in the existence of an ideal ancient past. The «mythical Golden Age of Matriarchy» is depicted in stark contrast to contemporary Western culture. While patriarchy is equated with war and death, the matriarchal era was peaceful and life-affirming. While Judeo-Christian culture is hierarchical and intolerant, Pagan culture was egalitarian and embraced diversity. In contrast to the Prostestant emphasis on work and the individual, Goddess religion values pleasure, play, and community. Most importantly, in the matriarchal age, unlike in contemporary American culture, women had power, and, as a result, nature was treated with respect21.

  • 22 Ibid., pp. 86 and 9-12.

28Second, as is evident from the contrasts described above, Z sees history as a period of decline. She believes that most of the problems in this world have arisen from the destruction of the ancient matriarchal culture and its replacement by patriarchy. «Alexander, the Great (the pig) burned down the libraries that contained the sacred scrolls of the matriarchy, the maps, the astrological discoveries, the medicine, the entire knowhow of the woman-oriented culture that went before him». Patriarchal culture has produced nothing original and nothing positive. «Lacking imagination, the patriarchs just reversed the Goddess» images and values, replacing Pan with Satan, the Triple Goddess with the Trinity, the female (life) with the male (death) principle, pleasure with pain-worship, and peace with war. Aggressive males are «responsible for the invention of rape and the subjugation of wimmin» which is the prototype for all forms of oppression. In sum, «the cost humanity will have to pay for ignoring and denying the female principle of the universe is soaring»22.

  • 23 Ibid., p. 9.
  • 24 See Ninian Smart, The World’s Religions (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1989), pp. 10-25.
  • 25 Adler, Drawing Down the Moon, p. 188.
  • 26 Budapest, Holy Book, pp. 13 and 11.

29Like other primitivists, Z believes that the return to first times will inaugurate an ideal future. The solution to America’s problems is to restore the ancient religion of the Goddess of Nature. According to Z, the «immediate goal is to congregate with each other according to our ancient women-made laws and to remember our past»23. Restoration is not just a matter of belief but is expressed in ritual action. Thus Z’s group restores the celebration of full moons and of solar seasonal holidays, congregates outdoors, and uses ancient ritual implements. If all religions can be characterized by what Ninian Smart calls the seven dimensions of religion, it can be shown that the restorationist theme is evident in all aspects of feminist Witchcraft, its myths, rituals, doctrine, ethics, organization, material manifestation, and religious experience24. Z’s vision of the future is a socialist matriarchy25. By restoring the Goddess, «we are going to give birth to new kinds of jobs, needs, inspirations, arts, and inventions. We gave birth to society long ago and we can remake tomorrow’s society by remaking ouselves». In short, «the craft is not only a religion; it is also a lifestyle»26. The restoration, therefore, is a cultural one as well.

30Z. Budapest’s primitivist movement exhibits a characteristically magical worldview. Her eclectic appropriation of myths and rituals from many different cultures and historical periods, her cyclical view of time, and her belief that the patriarchal era has contributed nothing meaningful to society reflect Z’s refusal to take history seriously. Yet her belief that history after the destruction of the matriarchies is but a chronicle of decline for which human beings are responsible shows that in another sense she takes history very seriously. Her magical worldview that time can be reversed complements her belief that space and the objects within it can be manipulated. Thus whether or not history is real does not concern Budapest. It is merely another force to be controlled.

  • 27 This tendency is particularly evident in the cast of characters for Budapest’s play, The Rise of t (...)

31Finally, controlling history to Z means replacing rather than reforming the present. Because Judaism and Christianity are fundamentally patriarchal, and patriarchy is essentially evil, such traditions must be abolished. Z does not believe the Judeo-Christian tradition can be reformed since it is a fraud to begin with. Instead we must restore the true religion, Witchcraft or reverence for the Goddesses of nature27.

32How does Z’s restorationism function in the context of American culture? On the one hand, radical feminist Witchcraft differs from other primitivist movements in that it stands entirely outside American culture. All of the religions described by Hughes restore one or both of two primordial norms: the Bible and nature. Assuming (as much of current scholarship does) that Protestant Christianity and the Enlightenment represent the two fundamental building blocks of American culture, I suggest that a primitivist movement that finds authority in either the Bible or natural law legitimates dissent by appropriating accepted cultural norms. Z does not do this. As discussed in detail above, she rejects not only Protestantism but the entire Judeo-Christian tradition. Unlike Christian primitivists, Z does not claim that the establishment has misinterpreted the Bible or corrupted Chrisitianity. To her Christianity itself is fraud. However, Z clearly does seek a return to the norms of nature. The question therefore arises: is modern Witchcraft an Enlightenment religion?

  • 28 Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, «Witches of the West: Neo-Paganism and Goddess Worship as Enlightenment R (...)

33A recent article by Howard Eilberg-Schwartz argues that Neopagan Goddess worship is indeed an Enlightenment religion28. He claims that both Deists and Witches define themselves in opposition to the Judeo-Christian tradition and level similar criticisms against it. Moreover, both are inspired by ancient Paganism and suggest a religion of nature in place of Christian revelation. Eilberg-Schwartz acknowledges that there are differences in the way Enlightenment thinkers and modern Witches interpret nature. To Deists, nature religion is an abstract belief in an impersonal god who created nature and whose will is revealed in the laws of nature. Neopagans, by contrast, believe in a variety of deities that are immanent in nature and with whom they seek to establish a harmonius relationship. He admits further that neither Enlightenment thinkers nor modem Witches would agree with his assessment that one is a derivative of the other. Thus the Deists’emphasis on reason led them to reject Witchcraft as superstition, while Neopagans see the Enlightenment’s glorification of reason as just another version of monotheism. To Eilberg-Schwartz, however, these differences are irrelevant because both Deists and Witches use similar means, Enlightenment thought, to achieve the same end, a critique of Christianity. The only real difference between them is that the Enlightenment didn’t go far enough. It challenged Christian monotheism only to replace it with the cult of reason. It is this cult that Neopagans object to, but, according to Eilberg-Schwartz, they use Enlightenment methods to do so. Modern polytheism, in short, is nothing new, but represents the logical conclusion of the Enlightenment.

34The problem with Eilberg-Schwartz’s argument is twofold. First, he does not clearly define what he means by Enlightenment thought. To characterize the Enlightenment in terms of its similarity to Neopaganism and then claim that the latter made use of the former creates a circular argument. Second, he assumes that simply because modern Witchcraft and Enlightenment philosopy are similar and Deism preceded Neopaganism, the former must have caused the latter. Yet he provides no historical evidence to prove this assumption. He does not cite even one instance of a modern Witch having read and appropriated Enlightenment ideas. In short, all Eilberg-Schwartz succeeds in showing is that Witchcraft and Enlightenment philosophy share certain characteristics; he does not prove that Witchcraft is a derivative of Enlightenment religion.

  • 29 Alternatively, Sidney Mead argues that Deists viewed not nature but God as the ultimate source of (...)

35Z’s restoration of nature is not Enlightenment primitivism because, as suggested above, nature has a different meaning for Deists and Witches. It has been argued that Enlightenment thinkers were primarily interested not in nature, but reason-nature was revered only to the extent that it revealed reason in its laws29. Similarly, the real object of worship in Z’s Witchcraft is not nature but woman-nature is revered primarily because of woman’s connection to it. Budapest’s primitivism, therefore, is unable to find legitimacy in either of the primordia that underlie mainstream American culture. In this respect she differs significantly from other American primitivists.

  • 30 Budapest, Holy Book, p. 11.
  • 31 Budapest, The Grandmother of Time (San Francisco: Harper & Row,
  • 32 Budapest, Holy Book, pp. 10-13 and 86-89.

36On the other hand, Z’s primitivism functions in ways very similar to other restorationist movements: it legitimates dissent and it is simultaneously tolerant and exclusive. Feminist Witches are critical of the patriarchal character of the the Judeo-Christian tradition. They object to a religion in which the deity is exclusively male because they feel this both causes and legitimates the oppression of women and the destruction of nature. Their goal is a culture and religion that places women and nature at the top. Aware that such ideas differ radically from the Protestant establishment, Z finds legitimacy in restorationism. First, she claims there was a time when her ideas were the norm. «Wimmin’s religion is rooted in Paganism where wimmin’s values are dominant. Goddess worship, the core of Paganism, was once universal»30. Second, she argues that this time is much older and therefore more authoritative than the establishment tradition. The Goddess is the grandmother of time. “The oldest of all deities, she had already been worshipped for thousands of years before the Bible»31. Finally, Z claims that the establishment tradition is a fraud, a corruption of the true essence, with no original contributions. «Everything has a mother force... to deny motherhood is to deny wimmin. Patriarchal religion is built on this denial, which is its only original thought-the rest of the edifice having been ripped off... from the old faith of Paganism»32.

  • 33 For a good critique of the intolerance of feminist Goddess religion, see Rosemary Radford Ruether, (...)
  • 34 Budapest, Holy Book, p. 12.

37An effective way to legitimate dissent, especially in the American context that places a high value on freedom, is to contrast one’s own tolerance with the dogmatic beliefs of the establishment. Thus Z depicts Witchcraft as tolerant and open and Christianity as the reverse. There is some evidence to support her view. Polytheism can include monotheism, while the latter excludes all other deities. In feminist Wicca, anyone can become priestess, while Christian leaders must attend seminary. Contrary to some Christian denominations, Z’s religion is tolerant of homosexuality and extramarital sex. And, unlike the Christian church where ritual and myth are fixed, Witches can create their own. However, like other primitivist movements, Z’s religion is also intolerant and exclusive33. Since first times represent the absolute norm, restoring the Goddess is the only way to save the world. Despite evidence to the contrary, Z believes that Christianity exists only for the purpose of sanctifying patriarchy. Christianity in other words is not another valid path but the wrong way. Although Z claims that Goddess religion worshipped both male and female deities, the Goddess is depicted as clearly superior. «The male principle as represented by Pan... is an important part of the craft». Yet the two are not equal. «Only through [the Goddess] is he granted life-without her he is dispensible and perishable»34. Finally, men-even those who oppose patriarchy-are excluded from membership in Z’s religion. Like many Christian primitivists, radical feminist Witches are not nearly as tolerant as they claim to be.

38In sum, while Christian primitivists legitimate dissent from the mainstream church by an appeal to the accepted cultural norms of Bible and/or Enlightenment, feminist Witches legitimate dissent from both of the latter in their employment of primitivism because restoration has itself become an accepted norm of American culture.

Conclusion

  • 35 Adler, Drawing Down the Moon, p. 192.

39Having demonstrated that radical feminist Witchcraft as represented by Z. Budapest is a primitivist religion which functions in ways both similar to and different from other American restorationists, I shall briefly address some counterarguments that may be made to my position. First, most scholars question the claims that either Paganism or matriarchy were ever universal. The hypothesis of a unified Pagan tradition that was suppressed in the Middle Ages is highly disputed; the existence of universal matriarchy at any time in human history is also still under debate. However, whether or not a matriarchal primordium actually existed is irrelevant so long as Z believes it did. There is evidence that she does. While other feminist Witches like Starhawk have modified their position to allow that the Goddess may be primarily a symbol, Z has not. Although she accepts challenges to the precise timing of matriarchal religion, she does not question it existence. «If Goddess religion is sixty thousand years old or seven thousand, it does not matter». What counts is that it is older than Christianity35. The Goddess may be a symbol, but it is a symbol based on historical reality.

  • 36 For the argument that neither polytheistic nor Goddess worshipping religions and cultures were as (...)

40Second, many scholars, including feminists like Ruether, have argued that matriarchal cultures and polytheistic religions were not as ideal as Budapest makes them out to be. They did not always empower women nor did they consistently respect nature36. My response to this argument is the same as above: what matters is that Z thinks Goddess worshipping cultures were perfect, and she clearly does. According to Budapest, any imperfection in Pagan religions can be attributed to the corrupting influence of patriarchy.

  • 37 Budapest, Holy Book, p. 33, and Grandmother, pp. xxiii-xxv.

41Third, one may question whether Z is a primitivist on the grounds that she encourages the creation of new rituals rather than only restoring old ones, and consciously appropriates Goddesses from many different cultures and historical periods in order to combine them into a new religion. However, according to Budapest, creativity is one of the characteristics of ancient Goddess religion, and new rituals can function as tools to restore the Old Religion. Moreover, another feature of Goddess religion is its diversity and universality. Since many different cultures worshipped the Goddess by different names, we can restore her by reference to any of her many manifestations37.

  • 38 Adler, Drawing Down the Moon, pp. 388-390; Budapest, Holy Book, p. 9.
  • 39 Budapest, Holy Book, pp. 86-89.
  • 40 Budapest, Selene (Baltimore, Maryland: Diana Press, 1976), pp. 4-5.
  • 41 Budapest, Holy Book, p. 10.

42Finally, it may be argued that Z’s movement is not a religious restoration but a political movement using the rhetoric of religious primitivism as a means to achieve social change. Most feminist Witches including Z live a modern urban life and are politically active. Moreover, Z is quite explicit that her search for the Goddess emerged font a desire to find spiritual grounding for her political beliefs38. Most importantly, Z believes that myth is human made for the purpose of fixing «the society that the ruling class wants perpetuated,» and acknowledges that «thats why, dear sisters, we must get on with our own myth making»39. Z firmly believes, however, that her own myths are based on truth. While patriarchal myths are entirely fabricated, her stories about the Goddess «are close to historical truth and dramatize events... about ancient sisters who are now our foremothers»40. Budapest’s political action is based on the magical assumption that time and space can be affected by special powers and that the time has come for the Goddess to return. The suspicion that religion is being used for political ends reflects the dualistic Christian preconception that the sacred must be separated from worldly affairs. However, for Neopagans, there is no such dualism. Everything is sacred. Thus, according to Z, religion is always political41.

43The larger question that all of these arguments point to is one of authenticity. Did the primordium actually exist? If so, did it have the characteristics ascribed to it? Does the product of restoration actually resemble first times? Is restoration of ancient norms an end in itself rather than a means to some other goal? Scholars who ask such questions seem to assume that an affirmative answer to each is a prerequisite for calling a religion authentically primitivist. This assumption is problematic because it sets a standard that no religion can meet. We can never conclusively prove the existence or exact nature of first times. Neither Z’s religion nor any of the Christian primitivists ever completely restore all elements of the primordium they see as normative. And finally, due to its legitimating function, restorationism is always instrumental. In short, if we accept the narrow assumption above, authentic religious primitivism does not exist.

44On the other hand, we must also avoid drawing boundaries that are excessively broad. Almost all religions are primitivist in that they find legitimacy in their connection to an ancient past. Many others are restorationist in the sense that they criticize the decline of contemporary values from some past ideal which they claim to represent. We are thus led back to the original question: what makes a religion primitivist? Although a comprehensive response is beyond the scope of this paper, I shall conclude this essay by proposing that the study of Z. Budapest does provide an answer to this question. The peculiarities of her religion suggest two criteria for primitivism that are not immediately apparent from the observation of Christian groups but apply to them as well. First, in order to call a religion «primitivist,» there must be a period of discontinuity between what believers see as the primordium and what they call history (the period from the end of first times to the present). A religion that sees itself as having continuously and openly carried on the traditions of the ancient past should not properly be labelled primitivist because there is no need to restore those first times. Second, the boundaries may be drawn in terms of how much of a religion’s authority derives from restorationism. A religion for which the restoration of first times is not the primary source of legitimation should probably not be called a primitivist movement.

45Z. Budapest’s feminist Witchcraft clearly meets both of these criteria. While she claims that her craft is a modern remnant of an ancient tradition, Z also believes that Paganism only survived in secret. There is a clear discontinuity between the ancient past, when Witchcraft was openly practiced, and later history, when it was suppressed. Z’s religion also derives most, if not all of its legitimacy from restorationism. The fact that her beliefs stand entirely outside the norms of traditional American culture makes her need for legitimation particularly acute and makes restoration of first times that precede both Christianity and the Enlighentment an attractive and perhaps the only viable source of authority. In sum, despite, or perhaps because of, its radical newness, Z. Budapest’s feminist Witchcraft is primitivist religion par excellence!

Bibliographie

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BELLAH, Robert. «Civil Religion in America». Daedalus 96.1 (1967): 1-9.

BUDAPEST, Zsuzsanna. An Open Letter From a Dianic High Priestess, Venice, California: Z Budapest Womansoul Legal Defense Fund. 1975.

" The Rise of the Fates. Los Angeles: Susan B. Anthony Coven No. 1. 1976.

" Selene. Baltimore, Maryland: Diana Press. 1976.

" «Masika». Womanspirit, 13 (Fall 1977): 33-36.

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EILBERG-SCHWARTZ, Howard. «Witches of the West: Neo-Paganism and Goddess Worship as Enlightenment Religion». Journal of Feminist Studies 5 (Spring 1989): 77-95.

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", Gerald B. The Meaning of Witchcraft. New York: Samual Weiser, 1959.

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NEMETON, Alison of. «The Trial of Zee Budapest». Gnostica, 4.8 (June 1975): 40.

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RUETHER, Rosemary Radford. «Goddesses and Witches: Liberation and Countercultural Feminism». The Christian Century, 97.28 (Sept. 10-17, 1987): 842-847.

SCHIPPS, Jan. Mormonism-The Story of A New Religious Tradition, Chicago: University of Illinois Press. 1985.

SMART, Ninian. The World’s Religions, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall. 1989.

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Notes

1 Zsuzsanna Budapest, The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries, part 1 (Los Angeles: Susan B. Anthony Coven No. 1, 1979), p. 9.

2 For an excellent introduction to American primitivism, see Richard Hughes, ed. The American Quest for the Primitive Church (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1988) or Richard Hughes and Leonard Allen Illusions of Innocence (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1988).

3 Winton Solberg, «Primitivism in the American Enlightenment» in Hughes American Quest, p. 50.

4 See Hughes and Allen Illusions, pp. x-3. See also Jan Schipps, Mormonism-The Story of a New Religious Tradition (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1985), pp. 69-70.

5 This also helps explain why primitivists, despite their idealization of the past, are not necessarily anti-modernists. Both primitivists and modernists deny that history has significant impact on present possibilities and both believe that they possess the power to newly reshape, or manipulate, the world.

6 Hughes and Allen, Illusions, p. xv.

7 For example, see the discussion of John Cotton in Hughes and Allen, Illusions, pp. 25-52. See also, Schipps, Mormonism, p. 70.

8 Robert Bellah, «Civil Religion in America» Daedalus 96.1 (1967) pp. 1-9.

9 Hughes and Allen, Illusions, pp. 12-17. For a discussion of restoring apostolic Christianity, see Albert Outler’s essay, «Biblical Primitivism in Early American Methodism», in Hughes, American Quest, pp. 131-42. For a discussion of restoring Enlightenment norms, see Winton Solberg’s essay «Primitivism in the American Enlightenment» ibid., pp. 50-68.

10 For an overview of religious feminism, see Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow, Woman Spirit Rising-A Feminist Reader in Religion (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979). See also Christ and Plaskow, Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989).

11 Budapest, Holy Book, p. 33.

12 Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon (Boston: Beacon Press, 1986), p. 107.

13 Among Gerald Gardner’s most important books are Witchcraft Today (New York: Citadel Press, 1955) and The Meaning of Witchcraft (New York: Samual Weiser, 1959).

14 Many feminist Witches, including Budapest, call themselves Dianic Witches. They subscribe to Murray’s theory that European Paganism centered on a deity that could take many forms including that of Dianus, the Horned God, and that of Diana, the Goddess and leader of Witches. See Adler, Drawing Down the Moon, p. 47.

15 Ibid., pp. 176-229.

16 Other sources on contemporary Witchcraft are Gordon Melton’s essay-The Magick Family» in his Encyclopedia of American Religion 3rd ed. (Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1987), pp. 137-147; and Rosemary Guiley’s Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft (New York: Facts on File, 1989). Both Guiley and Melton cite Adler who appears to rely on Budapest’s books and on personal interviews with Z.

17 Adler, Drawing Down the Moon, p. 77.

18 Budapest, Holy Book, p. 82.

19 For an outsider’s description of Z's trial, see Steve Harvey, «‘Witch’ to go on Trial», Los Angeles Times 10 April 1975, morning final: 1. For a Neopagan viewpoint, see Alison of Nemeton, «The Trial of Zee Budapest·, Gnostica 4.8 (June 1975), 40. For Z’s own opinion, see Z Budapest, An Open Letter From a Dianic High Priestess (Venice, California: Z Budapest Womansoul Legal Defense Fund, 1975). Partly as a result of Z’s efforts, the law was eventually removed from the books.

20 Adler, Drawing Down the Moon, p. 121

21 Budapest, Holy Book, pp. 9-12 and 122-126.

22 Ibid., pp. 86 and 9-12.

23 Ibid., p. 9.

24 See Ninian Smart, The World’s Religions (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1989), pp. 10-25.

25 Adler, Drawing Down the Moon, p. 188.

26 Budapest, Holy Book, pp. 13 and 11.

27 This tendency is particularly evident in the cast of characters for Budapest’s play, The Rise of the Fates (Los Angeles: Susan B. Anthony Coven No. 1, 1976). There are only three male characters, J.C., Hare-Hare, and Moslem (representing the patriarchal character of the Judeo-Christian tradition, of Eastern religion, and of Islam) all of whom are essentially evil and weak. By contrast, all of the female characters are strong, courageous and morally superiour.

28 Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, «Witches of the West: Neo-Paganism and Goddess Worship as Enlightenment Religion». Journal of Feminist Studies 5 (Spring 1989): 79-83.

29 Alternatively, Sidney Mead argues that Deists viewed not nature but God as the ultimate source of authority; nature, rather than revelation, was the source through which God could be known. See Sidney Mead’s response to Solberg's article on Enlightenment primitivism in Richard Hughes, American Quest, p. 75.

30 Budapest, Holy Book, p. 11.

31 Budapest, The Grandmother of Time (San Francisco: Harper & Row,

32 Budapest, Holy Book, pp. 10-13 and 86-89.

33 For a good critique of the intolerance of feminist Goddess religion, see Rosemary Radford Ruether,-Goddesses and Witches: Liberation and Countercultural Feminism». The Christian Century 97.28 (Sept. 10-17, 1987): 842-847.

34 Budapest, Holy Book, p. 12.

35 Adler, Drawing Down the Moon, p. 192.

36 For the argument that neither polytheistic nor Goddess worshipping religions and cultures were as ideal as Budapest makes them out to be, see Rosemary Radford Ruether, «Female Symbols, Values, and Context-Moving Beyond ‘Who Killed the Goddess?’» Christianity and Crisis, 46.19 (Jan. 12, 1987): 460-464.

37 Budapest, Holy Book, p. 33, and Grandmother, pp. xxiii-xxv.

38 Adler, Drawing Down the Moon, pp. 388-390; Budapest, Holy Book, p. 9.

39 Budapest, Holy Book, pp. 86-89.

40 Budapest, Selene (Baltimore, Maryland: Diana Press, 1976), pp. 4-5.

41 Budapest, Holy Book, p. 10.

Auteur

Doct. candidate, University of California, Santa Barbara.

© Presses universitaires de Lyon, 1994

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