“The Woman Who Inspired Wicca”

This popped up on Twitter recently:

There is no conference that I know of, which may say something about how small a set of academics are interested in Wiccan history. Maybe we Pagan-studies types do not have anything new to say right now, because this issue has been covered pretty well. The debunking of Murray’s claims was underway in the 1960s by such historians as Elliot Rose  (A Razor for a Goat: A Discussion of Certain Problems in the History of Witchcraft and Diabolism) and Norman Cohn (Europe’s Inner Demons).

In my own experience, I would say that by about 1980, Wiccan elders were quietly beginning to abandon the Murray-ite thesis of unbroken ancient Pagan religion lasting to the 17th century or later.

Leave it to First Things, a Catholic-leaning magazine on religious issues, to weigh in on the upcoming centenary, which deserves to be noted.

While Margaret Murray was by no means a founder or adherent of Wicca, the religion to which her writings gave birth, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe inspired the now global phenomenon of neopaganism. There can be no doubt that Murray had a brilliant scholarly imagination—too brilliant, perhaps, for the serious flaws in her reasoning to be seen by many. While few Wiccans and neopagans now believe literally that their religion has existed since prehistory, Murray’s legacy persists in the strange idea that witchcraft was a religion, an idea long since debunked by historians of witchcraft. It is ironic that this idea, devised by a feminist historian, often eclipses the reality that the accusation of witchcraft was a misogynistic construct weaponized against innocent women. Murray’s unsubstantiated claim that these women practiced a secret pagan religion was, ultimately, a calumny against the victims of a dark era of misogynistic violence.

Read the whole thing here: “The Woman Who Inspired Wicca” by Francis Young.

1 thought on ““The Woman Who Inspired Wicca”

  1. The notion of an enduring European Pagan religion must have been present in popular culture as I soaked it up in post-WW II Northern California, because it appealed to me as a teen-aged seeker after Paganism of some sort. Probably more through science fiction fandom and regional Bohemian currents than through Murray, whose book I did not know.

    Obvious religions of notable age existed, some right in front of me–Roman Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism–so the notion of long-lived yet occult Witchcraft seemed plausible. And particularly a target for Catholic opprobrium.

    Later, even as I learned a more critical perspective on Murray’s notion at university, the manifold character of European peoples, languages, and cultures became clearer. As did the thorough-going enterprise of Christianization. Pan-European anything not so Christian enduring from the distant past was unlikely. European witchcraft was more diverse historically and culturally. As well as more fragmented.

    What’s more, I realized that I, the child of Gold Rush immigrants to Northern California was culturally not European, or even as European as folks who lived on the East Coast. Murray’s notion did not add bouyancy to Paganism and Witchcraft.as I was trying to swim in its choppy more or less Pacific waters.

    Inspiration is an appropriate assessment for Murray and the popular culture growths from it.

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