Like in any other community, within communities of Pagans, Witches, and Occultists people will complain about elitism. Most of the time those complaints dub traditionalists like myself as “elitists” due to my and other people’s approach towards occultism, religion and magic practice. Relying on research and academic sources has almost become synonymous with “elitism” for a lot of people in occult and pagan communities.
Because of this, some people will even go so far to dismiss academic resources and the research behind it entirely.
“Research and Academia creates Elitism”
I have heard this argument several times and it’s getting tiresome. The idea behind it is that academic sources of occult and pagan practices are behind a paywall or that you “need academic sources” to be taken seriously. Therefor people conclude that academia and research-based approaches create elitism, because it leaves people out who do not have access to academic sources.
This idea could not be further from the truth.
“You’re left out if you’re poor”
First, on the pricing of good resources. A lot of academic resources are available for free online, while other sources are available for a bargain price. Just to give you a perspective, some of my books for a single semester can cost up to 100€ per book. Those are academic resources for the subjects I study and are lifetime investements into good scholarship. If you compare this with 35-40€ for a very good, new translation and academic edition of the Picatrix, you’ll see the difference in pricing.
Another example is that a lot of (even recent) scholarship is available for free on websites such as perseus.tufts.edu or academia.edu. Price points really aren’t an argument for any sort of elitism here.
“Do research! = Elitism”
The next argument is that people don’t get taken seriously without any academic sources and will be left out of any discussion if they’re not well-versed in academia. This is half-true. First of all, if you make a point you will do yourself a favor if you can back it up with sources. This isn’t something to be taken personally, but people should be able to tell if you base your opinion on something or if you made it up out of thin air.
An exaggerated example would be: “The occultist Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa was born in Washington, DC (USA) in 1910.”
This statement is obviously not based on any academia on Agrippa, since most sources will mention that he was born near Cologne (mondern day Germany) in 1486 – which can be backed up with academic editions of De Occulta Philosophia, the works of Henry Morely and even the wikipedia article on Agrippa.
Backing up your argument or opinion with (academic) sources will give your argument weight. People will know you didn’t just create whatever you’re saying from your own imagination and that’s the important bit. It doesn’t have anything to do with gatekeeping or elitism – it’s how people know the information you’re sharing is reliable! This goes for any paths of paganism and occultism.
The other point, that you will be left out of any discussion is only true if you’re talking to snobby idiots. Many people are glad to share resources and to have discussions with beginners as well as to answer any questions you might have.
“Traditionalism = Elitism”
This sentiment is founded on the assumption that traditionalists keep their resources to themselves, act as if they know it all and won’t offer any help other than saying “do your research”. While snobs exist, not every traditionalist wants to gatekeep sources – most of the traditionalists I know are glad to share them actually.
The only thing, which pisses most traditionalists off, is if you go out of your way to invalidate a reconstructionist or traditional practice or if you are disrespectful in other ways; such as taking their advice and those sources, and quoting everything out of context to fit your UPG – and then acting like everything you’re saying is founded on reliable sources.
What I myself have observed more and more is that traditional voices don’t get taken seriously, or that some of them even get silenced in favor of contemporary, more popular and most often easier approaches.
So, no. Traditionalism does not equal elitism, but assholes exist on either side of the spectrum.
Research and Academia = Elitism?
Can you translate the Poetic Edda? Can you translate Heinrich Conelius Agrippa? Do you know every single influence of the Greek Magical Papyri? Are you an expert on mysticism and religion during the Hellenistic period? Do you have access to every single manuscript of the grimoire you are working with?
Those questions can go further into archeology as well as several languages. Academic sources and research can be real eye-openers to one’s own practice. Without people who actually translate a lot of those works, we would have no clue about several religions and practices, which are experiencing a revival like German Heathenry or the practices of the Hellenistic pantheon. The same goes for people who conduct archeological research and interpret those archeological findings.
This is why people like me and other traditionlists like to built their foundation on academic sources; those are also the reasons why you should never dismiss academic resources completely. Realizing that there are experts in those fields and relying on their works is not elitism – far from it. It is simply relying on people, who are experts in their own respective fields and have more resources than you do in order to built your own foundation in terms of accuracy. This goes for any path as well. I myself rely on academic sources and research, and yes, I learn along the way. And that’s not a crime.
Shoutouts to some Academics
As a conclusion to this post, I’d like to share some of my favorite contemporary authors, academics and scholars on the occult as well as some websites. Those people do extraordinary work and deserve all the credit they could possibly receive.
II. Liana Saif, Associate Professor in the History of Medieval Esotericism. Academia.edu. Twitter (documentation of her translation of the Arabic Picatrix into English).
IV. Dr. Angela Puca, PhD in Anthropology of Religion. YT Channel.
V. Joseph H. Peterson, translator. He offers a lot of sources for free on his website esotericarchives.com.
VI. Stephen Skinner, PhD in Classics and author on occultism.