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.
Near Llewellyn Worldwide’s corporate HQ (Google Maps).
At an office park in Woodbury, Minnesota, some publishing employees must be feeling a certain degree of nervousness.
Today I heard a podcast host say what I have been thinking from when I bought the book last year: Aidan Wachter’s Six Ways: Approaches & Entries for Practical Magic has more content in 155 or so pages1)And an index! than a shelf-full of Llewellyn books.
I fantasize that witches, magicians, and sorcerors of all sorts2)That’s a metaphor from the printing trade, did you know? are sweeping their shelves of books with the familiar crescent Moon on the spine and tossing them into cartons to take to the nearest used bookstore to sell or to trade for store credit. Six Ways’ success threatens the old model of printing lots of occult books in small press runs and waiting to see if any author is the next Scott Cunningham.
The Witch of Kings Cross, a documentary on the life of Australian artist and witch Rosaleen Norton (1917–1979), directed by Sonia Bible, is being premiered in Paris as part of L’Estrange Festival. Often described as Australia’s “most persecuted artist,” Norton blended art and magic in a way often called “demonic,” at least in the 1950s and 1960s.
This was an earlier trailer for the film’s crowdfunding campaign, and you can see the Australian occult writer Nevil Drury talkiing about about her:
In 2010, The Pomegranate published an article by Drury titled “The Magical Cosmology of Rosaleen Norton.” This one is not free, but you can read the abstract here, and if you know a librarian or two, maybe they can get it for you.
Influenced by a range of visionary traditions, including Kundalini Yoga, Kabbalah, medieval Goetia and the Thelemic magick of Aleister Crowley, Norton embraced a magical perspective that would today be associated with the so-called ‘Left-Hand Path’, although this term was not one she used to describe her work or philosophy. Norton’s artistic career began in the 1940s, with publication of some of her earliest occult drawings, and reached a significant milestone in 1952 when the controversial volume The Art of Rosaleen Norton – co-authored with her lover, the poet Gavin Greenlees – was released in Sydney, immediately attracting a charge of obscenity. Norton rapidly acquired a media-led reputation as the wicked ‘Witch of Kings Cross’, was vilified by journalists during the 1950s and 1960s, and was branded by many as demonic. But Norton’s magical approach was not entirely ‘dark’. Her perception that the Great God Pan provided a source of universal vitality led her to revere Nature as innately sacred, and in many ways she can be regarded as a significant forerunner of those Wiccans and Goddess worshippers from a later generation who would similarly embrace the concept of sacred ecology and seek to ‘re-sacralize’ the Earth.
“Where life comes out of an espresso machine.” Rosaleen Norton pops up in this short film about her neighborhood in Sydney, done in that classic mid-century style with a narrator who sounds like he stepped over from a cop show.
Teresa Palmer as Diana Bishop, historian and witch, in A Discovery of Witches, Episode 1 (2018).
The final article in the “Paganism, art, and fashion” issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies argues that books and television series based on historical witchcraft make it too safe and fail to portray “the genuine strangeness of witches and magic users in all periods and cultures.”
The authors, she argues, focus too much on female empowerment and not enough on how “early modern witches are much stranger and much more disconcerting than anything likely to be found at Hogwarts or in Narnia or Rivendell.”
Thus the “getting it wrong” of her title not an attack on contemporary Pagan-themed literature — she admits its creative energy— but the suggestion that if you think you are doing something “transgressive” now, you ought to look at some primary sources. And since she teaches at Oxford, she has some snarky things to say about how her university is portrayed in Discovery of Witches on TV.1)Purkiss’ exclamation over the fictional Professor Bishop, ‘That’s not how this works!” might equally well have been applied to the long-running British Inspector Morse mystery series, set in Oxford town, which portrayed Oxford dons as bludgeoned on an almost-weekly basis. Apparently that is how positions are opened up for new hires. Perhaps Bishop arrived immediately after a murder.
M. Z. Bradley, she points out, was more influenced by Starhawk than by anything on ancient Pagan religion. “We tend to want goddesses with moral characteristics derived from Christianity and from the Enlightenment, and matriarchal societies with characteristics derived from Christian socialism and even Marxism. All this excludes the bitter truths embodied in Pagan myths and ideology.”
It’s not that we cannot enjoy Diana Bishop, heriditary witch and professor, but that, as Purkiss is anxious to point out, the real thing was even stranger than the “anondyne” modern re-creations.
Purkiss’ exclamation over the fictional Professor Bishop, ‘That’s not how this works!” might equally well have been applied to the long-running British Inspector Morse mystery series, set in Oxford town, which portrayed Oxford dons as bludgeoned on an almost-weekly basis. Apparently that is how positions are opened up for new hires. Perhaps Bishop arrived immediately after a murder.
Initiated: Memoir of a Witch, by Amanda Yates Garcia, is a gritty story of growing up as a second-generation Pagan wtich in coastal California. I am partway through it, encountering passages like this: “We go into the underworld to reclaim the integrity of our lineage, to snatch it back from the hands of those who had taken it from us. Sometimes those takers are our own kin,our own blood, ourselves, our Ereshkigals.” This is one that I want to read slowly and carefully — and as I keep saying, we need more Pagan autobiography.
Amanda Yates Garcia
Her mother was a feminist witch in the orbit of Reclaiming, the group that Starhawk founded. The daughter, however, is even more fiercely anti-patriarchal and, unlike her Unitarian/Reclaiming mother, who “always saw [witchcraft] as a practice of devotion,” Yates Garcia has turned pro — she is the Oracle of Los Angeles.”(“Book a session.”)
Early in her memoir, she quotes the famous historian of religion Mircea Eliade:
In his book Rites and Symbols of Initiation, anthropologist [sic] Mircea Eliade says that puberty initiations usually begin with an act of rupture. The child is separated from her mother. Persephone is dragged down to Hades. A brutal process. Yet in Ancient Greece, the Eleusinian Mysteries were rites of initiation almost everyone chose to perform.
Mircea Eliade, 1950s (?). He seems always to be smoking cigarettes in his photos.
Who Was Mircea Eliade?
Eliade lived from 1907–1986. Through the 1940s and 1950s he described himself as a “wandering scholar,” he and his first wife literally homeless but staying with this friend or that. Had he returned to his native Romania, the Communist government would have imprisoned him or worse. In the late 1950s he was hired at the University of Chicago, where he helped build a highly influential religious-studies department. At least two of my own professors studied there and knew him, and he came to CU-Boulder a couple of times to guest-lecture in the early 1980s.1)I got to hear him only once, however, and he was quite frail then, with only a year or so to live.
Seeing him quoted in a 2019 book, therefore, is a sign that his name is one to conjure with, that he is an authority to cite. Inside the field of religious studies, the story is more complicated. It has to do with a “civil war” in that discipline that has gone on for a long time and may never end.
As a writer, Mark Weitzman is way too fond of constructions in which Person A “has links” to Person B. (Cue the menacing music.) The phrase “has links” can mean anything or nothing: it is empty of actual meaning, but it sounds important. Overusing it is poor journalism and poor scholarship.
For example, as editor of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, I have published articles from all over: India, Russia, Poland, France, Belgium, UK, Israel, Australia, Latvia, Canada, USA . . . I know only a fraction of these scholars face-to-face, yet to a politicized writer like Mark Weitzman, I “have links” to all of them. And if any of them have the “wrong” political philosphy, well, now I “have links” to that as well. Sheesh.
Unlike openly “New Right” intellectuals like Alain de Benoist, for instance, Eliade died 34 years ago, a highly respected figure. Why him, why now? Why does Weitzman clalm that his reputation is “indelibly stained”?Weitzman admits that even if some alt-right figures name-drop Eliade — even as Amanda Yates Garcia does name-drops him in connection with witchcraft — that name-dropping may merely be “an attempt to gain intellectual credibility.”
But there is more to the story. Let’s start with his childhood in Bucharest, Romania.
Romania’s Homegrown Fascists, pre–World War Two
Romania’s history is complicated. In historic times, it has been all or partly within the Roman Empire, the Mongol Empire, the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, the kingdom of Transylvania, the Turkish Ottoman Empire, the Hapsburg Monarchy, some smaller principalities, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which Romania opposed in World War One. Romania became a constitutional monarchy in 1918, when Eliade was 11 years old. The new government was somewhat democratic, but you cannot say the county had many democratic traditions!
When Eliade was young, a lot of energy went into questions of “After all this foreign domination, who is truly is a Romanian?” “What is Romania?” “Must you be an Orthodox Christian to be a Romanian?” “Should the schools teach only in the Romanian language?” (Others, including Hungarian, were also spoken.)
Eliade’s father, Gheorghe, a hawk-nosed gent with a cavalryman’s moustache, had changed the family’s name to “Eliade,” related to the Greek Helios, symbolizing the rising sun of a potential new nation in the 19th century.
For a young intellectual in the late 1920s and early 1930s, political change was in the air. Benito Mussolini (widely admired in the West, at least at first) was modernizing Italy with his Fascist ideology—should Romania take that path? But what about spirituality? What about a national literature? It was all a swirl.
One group said they had the answers: The Legion of Saint Michael the Archangel, later to be known as the Iron Guard and including the “Everything for the Country” Party.3)It is true that some of Legion’s insignia have been copied by contemporary alt-right types who probably could not say “Hello” in Romanian. The legion was anti-capitalist, anti-Communist, and pro-Orthodox Christianity.
Even before the Great Depression, Romanian universities were producing far more graduates than the number of available jobs and the Great Depression had further drastically limited the opportunities for employment by the intelligentsia, who turned to the Iron Guard out of frustration . . . . The Great Depression seemed to show the literal bankruptcy of these [National Liberal Party] policies and many of the younger Romanian intelligentsia, especially university students, were attracted by the Iron Guard’s glorification of “Romanian genius” and its leaders who boasted that they were proud to speak Romanian.
Mircea Eliade about age 30 — definitely not a street-fighter revolutionary.
In 1938, after economic downtowns and political turmoil, the king dissolved all political parties and iinstuted a royalist dictatorship. Eliade had lost his university teaching job in 1936 amid the turmoil of the times, and in 1938, when King Carol attacked the Legion, he was scooped up in the mass arrests, sent to jail and then a prison camp from July to November.4)Some of the leaders were “shot while trying to escape.” Writer friends helped him to get the post of cultural attaché in the Romanian embassy in London and later the embassy in Lisbon, where he sat out World War Two in neutral Portugal. “At the age of thirty-three, I left the country with empty hands,” he later wrote.5)Mircea Eliade, No Souvenirs: Journal 1957–1969 (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 18. I read “with empty hands” metaphorically, meaning,that he abandoned his old political stance as well — he had dropped his “baggage.”
King Carol was replaced by a German-backed military dictatorship in 1941. Romanians fought alongside Germans on the Eastern Front, but after Germany’s defeat, the Communists took over from 1944–1989.
Unable to go home, Eliade found postwar employment teaching in France and later the United States.
If Mircea Eliade is Accused of Fascist Leanings, Who Benefits?
Jonathan Z. Smith. Yes, people often compared his look to Gandalf (Wikipedia).
Eliade was a huge name in religious studies in the 1960s and 1970s, but there was a scholarly backlash against his top-down comparative and structuralist methods and his invocation of universal homo religiousus, the archaetypal transcultural religious person. A new generation of scholars that still respected his work began to critique parts of it, such as Jonathan Z Smith (1938–2017), who himself would go on to hold the endowed Mircea Eliade Chair in history of religions at Chicago.
Eliade knew who his real intellectual opponents were, however. In 1960 he wrote, “To think like a materalist or a Marxist means giving up the primordial vocation of man.”6)Ibid., 86. If I understand Eliade, he means by that vocation that humans to seek transcendence, to break somehow the bonds of earthly life through encounter with a Sacred dimension. He admits that he has “[taken] a position against the myth of the Earth Mother.”7)Ibid. 79.
Who does this talk of “primordial vocation” offend? That significant group of Marxist-influenced religion scholars who reject all talk of “the Sacred,” “the transcendental” or “the supernatural,” and who instead want to intepret all “religious” activity as human power games.
One leading figure of this group is Russell T. McCutcheon (b. 1961), a Canadian scholar now teaching at the U. of Alabama. In his 1997 book Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia, he devotes a chapter to cutting Eliade off at the knees.8)Which, granted, is how scholarship often proceeds. He is not “concerned primarily with scrutinizing Eliade’s theoretical writings in the light of his early political involvement” (74, emphasis added). He wishes to argue that all defenses of Eliade’s methods and books are theoretically weak and based on the false idea that there is something called “religion” that is “above” human power games. Any thinker who is “anti-modernist” is suspect, in McCutcheon’s view.
After a session today I raced to the bathroom to relieve my bladder and overheard a group of individuals coming from another session declaring the following: “Wow; that was so wonderful” “Best session ever!” “That was incredible!”
Then, most importantly, “You know, that wasn’t even the AAR—that was church!”
And we wonder why others are suspicious that the academic study of religion is actually religious in nature.
In conclusion, whether or not any members of the alt-right “have links” to Eliade is not the the long-term problem.9)Whatever it is today, the factious and fissiparous alt-right will probably morph into something else. The problem is an ongoing split in the study of religion, between those who might accept a religious or spiritual claim—even while “bracketing it out” of their scholarly work—and those who reject anything transcental and question whether there even is anything called “religiion” once you shine a light on it.
For his voume of work and subsequent effect on scholarship, Eliade remains a major figure. But to the materialists, his view of life as containing spiritual seeking is suspect in and of itself. (Apparently, only fascists go on spiritual quests.) He is a big boulder in the road, and to clear the road for the progress of materialism, any tool will do.
Yet for writers like Amanda Yates Garcia, he remains an authority, one of few scholars of religion who is known outside the academy.
It is true that some of Legion’s insignia have been copied by contemporary alt-right types who probably could not say “Hello” in Romanian.
Some of the leaders were “shot while trying to escape.”
Mircea Eliade, No Souvenirs: Journal 1957–1969 (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 18. I read “with empty hands” metaphorically, meaning,that he abandoned his old political stance as well — he had dropped his “baggage.”
Which, granted, is how scholarship often proceeds.
Whatever it is today, the factious and fissiparous alt-right will probably morph into something else.
The old spa town of Manitou Springs, located in the foothills west of Colorado Springs. Photo by Mark Reis, ( a former newspaper co-worker of mine) from the Colorado Sun. Click to embiggen.
The Colorado Sun, an online news site, dropped this into my inbox yesterday, giving M. and me both giggles and epic nostalgia. Back in the Eighties, we were “The Witches of Manitou” — at least two of them.
Maybe you’ve heard it from an Uber driver on the way to an area bar or while scrolling through a travel site. It’s a tale that often wanders through word of mouth. Wherever it comes from, legend has it there are witches in Manitou Springs. More, perhaps, than usual.
But is there an overabundance of witches in this town at the foot of America’s mountain, where at least one apothecary sells miniature broomsticks — or is it just a persistent urban legend?
That much is true. It definitely is a persistent urban legend — I encountered it in my more youthful days, circa 1976. Everybody had heard of ceremonies in “the big cave.”1)Actually, it was an abandoned limestone quarry, and it definitely was a site of high-school keg parties and that sort of thing. It was demolished when an upscale housing development was built in that area.
There’s the horror mockumentary, “The Warning,” a film by Summer Moore, a Liberty High School graduate turned filmmaker. Filmed in Colorado Springs, “The Blair Witch Project”-inspired script follows three friends as they investigate a local cult in the forest that borders the town.
While promoting her film in 2015, Moore toldThe Gazette she spoke with 50 of her classmates who alluded to “true accounts” of dark happenings in Manitou. Moore went on to write, produce, and star in her film. . . .
When Bryant T. Ragan, a history professor at Colorado College, was teaching a class at Colorado College in 2018 titled “Sorcery, Magic, and Devilry: The History of Witchcraft,” he wanted to bring in a practicing Wiccan from Manitou Springs to talk to his students. He ultimately couldn’t track down someone willing to do it
Obviously a must-see. How did I miss it? (The cave in the movie trailer is not the cave that I mentioned above.)
I can say that for a time there was the Iron Mountain Coven, named for the little peak above our house, labeled at the left edge of the photo above.
We used both the second-floor of the Spa Building (labeled) and the basement of an art gallery for ritual/festival/handfasting sites. At the time, a Pagan-friendly couple operated a hot tub and flotation tank-rental business in the Spa Building, which included a large room facing out over the avenue. When ritual ended, the tubs were waiting.2)There was a separate legend about the “old Indian curse” on the Spa Building, which does have a soda spring in its lobby.
M. worked at Celebration, the West Side (Colorado Springs) metaphysical store mentioned in the article, for a couple of years. Its original owner, Coreen Toll, later served on the Manitou Springs city council and narrowly lost a race for mayor in 2015.
So where did the “witches of Manitou” legend originate? Since it was firmly in place by the mid-1970s, it would be easy to blame it on “the Sixties.” To be honest, I cannot say. I do know that our coven was not the first.
To quote a story about the iconic Manitou artist Charles Rockey, who was our own Van Gogh, “Manitou Springs has always harbored a sizeable community of artisans, musicians, potters, healers, New Age masseurs, alternative gardeners, dharma motorcyclists, metaphysical high-techers and liberal-artsy bohemians of every stripe and hue.”
Actually, it was an abandoned limestone quarry, and it definitely was a site of high-school keg parties and that sort of thing. It was demolished when an upscale housing development was built in that area.
There was a separate legend about the “old Indian curse” on the Spa Building, which does have a soda spring in its lobby.
I would like to add just a little bit of nuance to one passage:
Until recently Modern Witchcraft was generally tied into some sort of spiritual system. Most of the self-identified Witches I knew twenty years ago talked at least a little about the sabbats or maybe “the Goddess.” Today that’s no longer really the case and “Witchcraft” seems to be associated more simply with just “magic.” There are some who will argue that it’s always been that way, but I disagree. Books on Witchcraft emphasized a variety of different things, a lot of today’s Witchcraft simply focuses on magickal practice.
Apparently I am one who disagrees, because it feels like we are swinging back to the 1960s–1970s, when there were books out on witchcraft that had nothing to do with Wicca; in fact, few people have ever heard of Wicca. But everyone has heard of witchcraft.
To continue ….
I interviewed Amanda Yates Garcia recently and read her book, much of her story was familiar to me because we are of a similar age, however . . . With the exception of Michael Hughes I didn’t know any of the people who blurbed her book (rare for me in the Witch-world), and I’m pretty sure Yates Garcia and I have never been to the same event. That’s not a knock on her (or I hope, me), just an example of the two parallel Witchcraft worlds that exist today. She’s operating in a different sphere than I am on Patheos and at Llewellyn, and that’s OK, but it seems more common today than it did 20 years ago.
Witches are influencers who use the hashtag #witchesofinstagram to share horoscopes, spells and witchy memes, and they are anti-Trump resistance activists carrying signs that say “Hex the Patriarchy” (also the title of a new book of spells) and “We are the granddaughters of the witches you weren’t able to burn.”
Witches are panelists, they are podcasters, they are members of The Wing (which calls itself a “coven”), they are in-house residents at swanky Manhattan hotels and some might say that one is even a presidential candidate, Marianne Williamson. (Alyssa Milano, of “Charmed” fame, recently fund-raised for Williamson. Coincidence?)
Wait a minute, I thought that Marianne Williamson was a Jewish New-Ager. It is so confusing.
I love rolling the word Festschrift around, and if you are not used to it, this is what it means: “In academia, a Festschrift (plural Festschriften) is a book honoring a respected person, especially an academic and presented during their lifetime. It generally takes the form of an edited volume, containing contributions from the honoree’s colleagues, former pupils, and friends” (Wikipedia).
From the publisher:
This book marks twenty years since the publication of Professor Ronald Hutton’s The Triumph of the Moon, a major contribution to the historical study of Wicca. Building on and celebrating Hutton’s pioneering work, the chapters in this volume explore a range of modern magical, occult, and Pagan groups active in Western nations. Each contributor is a specialist in the study of modern Paganism and occultism, although differ in their embrace of historical, anthropological, and psychological perspectives. Chapters examine not only the history of Wicca, the largest and best-known form of modern Paganism, but also modern Pagan environmentalist and anti-nuclear activism, the Pagan interpretation of fairy folklore, and the contemporary ‘Traditional Witchcraft’ phenomenon.
Here are the contents:
1. Twenty Years On: An Introduction — Ethan Doyle White and Shai Feraro, editors
2. The Goddess and the Great Rite: Hindu Tantra and the Complex Origins of Modern Wicca — Hugh B. Urban
3. Playing the Pipes of PAN: Pagans Against Nukes and the Linking of Wiccan-Derived Paganism with Ecofeminism in Britain, 1980–1990 — Shai Feraro
4. Other Sides of the Moon: Assembling Histories of Witchcraft —Helen Cornish
5. The Nearest Kin of the Moon: Irish Pagan Witchcraft, Magic(k), and the Celtic Twilight — Jenny Butler
6. The Taming of the Fae: Literary and Folkloric Fairies in Modern Paganisms — Sabina Magliocco
7. “Wild Nature” and the Lure of the Past: The Legacy of Romanticism among Young Pagan Environmentalists — Sarah M. Pike
8. The Blind Moondial Makers: Creativity and Renewal in Wicca — Léon A. van Gulik
9. “The Eyes of Goats and of Women”: Femininity and the Post-Thelemic Witchcraft of Jack Parsons and Kenneth Grant — Manon Hedenborg White
10. Navigating the Crooked Path: Andrew D. Chumbley and the Sabbatic Craft — Ethan Doyle White
11. Witches Still Fly: Or Do They? Traditional Witches, Wiccans, and Flying — Chas S. Clifton