Repudiating Bad Wiccan History

Repudiating Bad Wiccan History

Author: Zan Fraser 

The problem is that we Wiccans have inherited two sets of history. One is the history shared by the persons of the world around us, recognized as an academic and intellectual discipline, and based upon consensus agreement as to demonstrable facts. The other is what I call the “Wicca Fantasy-Land” version of European history.

Wicca Fantasy-Land is without question a colorful and dramatic place, dominated as it is by a malignant and pervasive Institution of Villainy (the medieval Church) , countered by a bold and oppressed culture of Paganism, and by Pagans who band into defiant pockets reminiscent of the organizers of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising or the French Resistance during World War II.

There are English kings who secretly keep to the Old Pagan Ways and who sympathetically guard and preserve Pagans; there are even English kings who bravely end their own lives as a Magical Sacrifice to the Old Gods to preserve the Ancient Ways. There are gallant women like Aradia and Joan of Arc who lead armed forays against the evil forces of the Inquisition to liberate captured Pagans. And there are countless devout Witches who meet in covens of thirteen, under threat of mortal danger, to worship the Horned God of Witches and to count out the seasons of the year.

It makes a really good story, with the disadvantage of not being true- or at least not really true in the manner in which it is invariably presented.

Wicca Fantasy-Land made its way into our collective history at a time well before there was even Wicca.

Margaret Murray was a respected British Egyptologist at the turn of the twentieth century, whose notes and observations upon archeological digs in Egypt are apparently still thought worthwhile. In the 19-teens, she turned her attentions to European history, producing The Witch-Cult in Western Europe in the early 1920s. Here she offered the startling (for its time) opinion that those called “Witches” during the medieval period were actually continuing the old Pagan Faith of Europe, meeting in covens of thirteen under a Master or High Priest who impersonated the God of Witches- the Horned Forest-God called Pan or Cernunnos.

The Church demonized this Deity into the Christian Devil and (according to Murray’s thinking) the rest of the Middle Ages (including the 300 years Burning Times) represented an on-going series of efforts on the part of the Church to destroy this stubborn Paganism. Murrray went on to elaborate upon her theories in two subsequent books- The God of the Witches and The Divine King in England.

Discussing Murray can be tricky, because she produced some penetrating insight into medieval history as it pertains to Witches (and therefore to the spiritual, if not actual genealogical, descendents of medieval Witches- modern Wiccans) . Her basic observation- that Paganism did not die out suddenly and completely at the Conversion of Europe, but actually continued for some time after, sometimes under threat of violence (Charlemagne proscribed death for any Saxons who continued to worship the sun, trees, and rocks) – was revelatory for its time, but is now understood as a given to researchers of the Middle Ages (especially researchers of the Pagan variety) .

Her insight that the European Devil represents a demonized version of the Horned Forest-God (known by many names, in endless local variations) was likewise a thunderbolt of perception, now also part of the bedrock of Pagan and Wiccan medieval understanding. For reasons such as these, the eminent and formidable historian Anne Llewellyn Barstow (in Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts Pandora Publishing, 1994, p. 83) credits Murray for her detection of “ancient ‘folk religious’ practices throughout the Western witchcraft material.”

Barstow also finds in comparative studies with Russian sources support for Murray’s basic theory that Satan represents in perverse form the “lost God (s) ” of Western Europe. Likewise, in his Introduction to Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath (Pantheon Books, 1991, p. 9) the brilliant researcher Carlo Ginzburg discerns a “core of truth” and a “correct intuition” to Murray’s work.

Be this as it may- Murray is now considered discredited in the academic and scholastic world. Every serious historian on the subject throughout the twentieth century has concluded that she pushed her theories far too far- well beyond what evidence supports. Beginning with Harvard professor Kittredge in the latter 1920s, and continuing through Robbins, Briggs, Cohn, Russell, Kors and Peters, and including Barstow and Ginzburg- all have found that Murray finally reached to absurd and unsustainable lengths.

The decisive nail was struck in the early 1960s, with Elliot Rose’s A Razor for a Goat: A Discussion of Certain Problems in the History of Witchcraft and Diabolism (University of Toronto Press, 1962) , wherein he systemically blew apart Murray’s thesis bit by bit.

For the better part of the twentieth century, however, Murray was widely held almost as a sibyl breathing discernment into the murky cauldron of medieval history- so much so that it was her article on “witchcraft” that appeared in the Encyclopedia Britannica in the 1950s, when Gerald Gardner was writing Witchcraft Today.

Desiring to include an account of what many at the time thought “true” Witchcraft history in his volume, Gardner turned to Murray’s works. Therefore (at a time when they were already called into question) , Murray’s theories and highly unique recounting of European Witchcraft made their way into the founding book of the current Wiccan and Neo-Pagan movement.

Through Gardner, tales of the Divine Sacrifice of William Rufus and the Witcheries of the Countess of Salisbury (mistress to the secretly Pagan Edward III) circulated into the publishing of Doreen Valiente and Patricia Crowther, thence outside the Gardnerian line to Sybil Leek and Alex Sanders, thence to the Farrars- thence to Wicca at large.

Despite the fact that Rose devoted a special chapter in A Razor for a Goat (in the 1960s, one notes) to Gerald Gardner’s assertions of medieval “Wiccan history” as regards Murray’s interpretations, Margaret Murray’s “Wicca Fantasy-Land” version of European history continues to circulate throughout American Paganism. How else to explain the presentation offered at a well-known gathering this summer, wherein one who advertised himself by his Third-Degree Initiatory Tradition status, as well as by (it must be admitted) his forth-coming Llewellyn publication, produced a talk chock-full not only of outright mistakes (he incorrectly placed Edward III and the Burning Times in the 1200s; Edward lived in the 1300s and the Burnings do not start until the 1400s) , but of pure, unreconstructed Murrayism- the same Murrayism discredited decisively since the 1960s.

Despite treating his audience to a opening establishing the unique and special quality of Third-Degree Initiates- indeed ho-ho-ho-ing the very idea that a non-Initiated Wiccan bereft of Initiatory Training even counted as a “Wiccan” (thereby specifically invalidating self-directed, self-Initiated Wiccans such as myself) and referring at one point to himself and his “peers” with a smug self-regard that frankly rankled me- and despite much reference to his forth-coming Llewellyn volume (apparently on a subject different from that of this particular talk, giving me every confidence that it will be a far-better researched project) – I found the gentleman’s presentation to be an alarming mish-mash of outright error and wild “Wiccan Faerey-tales, ” offered without substantiation as genuine history.

The Countess of Salisbury was a Witch! Edward III founded the Order of the Garter as a secret Witches’ Coven! He charged its knights with the protection of Witches against the Inquisition! – (Despite that fact that Murray’s fanciful re-interpretation of the Order of the Garter is one of the areas specifically disproved by Rose, with no one presenting persuasive evidence to the contrary since- and despite the fact that the Inquisition was never really that powerful in England- and despite the fact that few people actually cared about punishing Witches in the 1300s, in many ways the last truly Magical era of the Middle Ages.)

The gentleman continued- the Knights Templars were closet Ceremonial Magicians, preserving the Secrets of Magic from the Inquisition! – (Never mind that the Knights broadcast themselves as a Christian order akin to monks, and were perceived as such throughout Europe) . The Masons delivered the Templars from destruction, saving the ancient wisdom of Ceremonial Magic! (This last contains all sorts of mistakes.

It ignores the historical reality that the Templars were deliberately taken unawares, leaving very few to be “saved”; that the majority of the Templars were without question killed; that the reason for their assault was without question the seizure of their properties, rather than an effort to destroy Ceremonial Magic; that the Masons as such do not come into existence until the early 1700s; and finally that there is no need for the Templars to preserve Ceremonial Magic, as Ceremonial Magic is preserved very nicely in the medieval grimoires of Bacon and Agrippa and Paracelsus.)

The part of the man’s presentation that bothered me the most was his projection of modern (Initiatory) Wicca into the medieval past. Wiccan Witch-Queens wear garters- therefore one can tell that the Countess of Salisbury was a Wiccan Witch-Queen, as she wore a garter! (Never mind that many people of the fourteenth century probably wore garters as a means of keeping their leggings straight.) Initiatory Wiccans maintain Books of Shadow- therefore medieval Witches kept Books of Shadow! – Despite the fact that few medieval Witches could probably read or write.

These Books of Shadow were in constant danger of being destroyed by the Inquisition, erasing forever the secrets of Witchery- never mind that many, many grimoires are plainly in circulation and that the “secrets of the Witches’ Craft” (far from being so closely guarded as to be in danger of vanishing) are in fact well-known enough in Elizabethan England (I assume through the avenue of oral folk-culture) that playwrights such as Shakespeare and Jonson compose plays around them.

My point finally is not to diss a bad historical presentation, but to decry the situation whereby such outmoded stuff can be peddled as a “Wiccan History-lesson.” We Wiccans are in the kind of odd position that knowledgeable observers have actually discredited much of what we assert and allege as our “Historical past”. If our movement is to receive respect in the world, we need a history that can withstand scrutiny, as well as movement-participants educated enough to separate fact from plausible supposition from outright nonsense.

Regrettably this means we must abandon a lot of what our founding elders declared to us was our past; we must locate ourselves in the genuine records of medieval Europe established by scholars such as Kittredge and Robbins and Russell (et al) .

We must insist upon elders who can deliver a reasonable review of European Witch-History and we must foreswear the colorful (but unsupportable) Murayite/ Gardnerian “Wicca Faerey-tales” that have hitherto been our history tomes.

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Repudiating Bad Wiccan History

Repudiating Bad Wiccan History

Author:   Zan Fraser  

The problem is that we Wiccans have inherited two sets of history. One is the history shared by the persons of the world around us, recognized as an academic and intellectual discipline, and based upon consensus agreement as to demonstrable facts. The other is what I call the “Wicca Fantasy-Land” version of European history.

Wicca Fantasy-Land is without question a colorful and dramatic place, dominated as it is by a malignant and pervasive Institution of Villainy (the medieval Church) , countered by a bold and oppressed culture of Paganism, and by Pagans who band into defiant pockets reminiscent of the organizers of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising or the French Resistance during World War II.

There are English kings who secretly keep to the Old Pagan Ways and who sympathetically guard and preserve Pagans; there are even English kings who bravely end their own lives as a Magical Sacrifice to the Old Gods to preserve the Ancient Ways. There are gallant women like Aradia and Joan of Arc who lead armed forays against the evil forces of the Inquisition to liberate captured Pagans. And there are countless devout Witches who meet in covens of thirteen, under threat of mortal danger, to worship the Horned God of Witches and to count out the seasons of the year.

It makes a really good story, with the disadvantage of not being true- or at least not really true in the manner in which it is invariably presented.

Wicca Fantasy-Land made its way into our collective history at a time well before there was even Wicca.

Margaret Murray was a respected British Egyptologist at the turn of the twentieth century, whose notes and observations upon archeological digs in Egypt are apparently still thought worthwhile. In the 19-teens, she turned her attentions to European history, producing The Witch-Cult in Western Europe in the early 1920s. Here she offered the startling (for its time) opinion that those called “Witches” during the medieval period were actually continuing the old Pagan Faith of Europe, meeting in covens of thirteen under a Master or High Priest who impersonated the God of Witches- the Horned Forest-God called Pan or Cernunnos.

The Church demonized this Deity into the Christian Devil and (according to Murray’s thinking) the rest of the Middle Ages (including the 300 years Burning Times) represented an on-going series of efforts on the part of the Church to destroy this stubborn Paganism. Murrray went on to elaborate upon her theories in two subsequent books- The God of the Witches and The Divine King in England.

Discussing Murray can be tricky, because she produced some penetrating insight into medieval history as it pertains to Witches (and therefore to the spiritual, if not actual genealogical, descendents of medieval Witches- modern Wiccans) . Her basic observation- that Paganism did not die out suddenly and completely at the Conversion of Europe, but actually continued for some time after, sometimes under threat of violence (Charlemagne proscribed death for any Saxons who continued to worship the sun, trees, and rocks) – was revelatory for its time, but is now understood as a given to researchers of the Middle Ages (especially researchers of the Pagan variety) .

Her insight that the European Devil represents a demonized version of the Horned Forest-God (known by many names, in endless local variations) was likewise a thunderbolt of perception, now also part of the bedrock of Pagan and Wiccan medieval understanding. For reasons such as these, the eminent and formidable historian Anne Llewellyn Barstow (in Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts Pandora Publishing, 1994, p. 83) credits Murray for her detection of “ancient ‘folk religious’ practices throughout the Western witchcraft material.”

Barstow also finds in comparative studies with Russian sources support for Murray’s basic theory that Satan represents in perverse form the “lost God (s) ” of Western Europe. Likewise, in his Introduction to Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath (Pantheon Books, 1991, p. 9) the brilliant researcher Carlo Ginzburg discerns a “core of truth” and a “correct intuition” to Murray’s work.

Be this as it may- Murray is now considered discredited in the academic and scholastic world. Every serious historian on the subject throughout the twentieth century has concluded that she pushed her theories far too far- well beyond what evidence supports. Beginning with Harvard professor Kittredge in the latter 1920s, and continuing through Robbins, Briggs, Cohn, Russell, Kors and Peters, and including Barstow and Ginzburg- all have found that Murray finally reached to absurd and unsustainable lengths.

The decisive nail was struck in the early 1960s, with Elliot Rose’s A Razor for a Goat: A Discussion of Certain Problems in the History of Witchcraft and Diabolism (University of Toronto Press, 1962) , wherein he systemically blew apart Murray’s thesis bit by bit.

For the better part of the twentieth century, however, Murray was widely held almost as a sibyl breathing discernment into the murky cauldron of medieval history- so much so that it was her article on “witchcraft” that appeared in the Encyclopedia Britannica in the 1950s, when Gerald Gardner was writing Witchcraft Today.

Desiring to include an account of what many at the time thought “true” Witchcraft history in his volume, Gardner turned to Murray’s works. Therefore (at a time when they were already called into question) , Murray’s theories and highly unique recounting of European Witchcraft made their way into the founding book of the current Wiccan and Neo-Pagan movement.

Through Gardner, tales of the Divine Sacrifice of William Rufus and the Witcheries of the Countess of Salisbury (mistress to the secretly Pagan Edward III) circulated into the publishing of Doreen Valiente and Patricia Crowther, thence outside the Gardnerian line to Sybil Leek and Alex Sanders, thence to the Farrars- thence to Wicca at large.

Despite the fact that Rose devoted a special chapter in A Razor for a Goat (in the 1960s, one notes) to Gerald Gardner’s assertions of medieval “Wiccan history” as regards Murray’s interpretations, Margaret Murray’s “Wicca Fantasy-Land” version of European history continues to circulate throughout American Paganism. How else to explain the presentation offered at a well-known gathering this summer, wherein one who advertised himself by his Third-Degree Initiatory Tradition status, as well as by (it must be admitted) his forth-coming Llewellyn publication, produced a talk chock-full not only of outright mistakes (he incorrectly placed Edward III and the Burning Times in the 1200s; Edward lived in the 1300s and the Burnings do not start until the 1400s) , but of pure, unreconstructed Murrayism- the same Murrayism discredited decisively since the 1960s.

Despite treating his audience to a opening establishing the unique and special quality of Third-Degree Initiates- indeed ho-ho-ho-ing the very idea that a non-Initiated Wiccan bereft of Initiatory Training even counted as a “Wiccan” (thereby specifically invalidating self-directed, self-Initiated Wiccans such as myself) and referring at one point to himself and his “peers” with a smug self-regard that frankly rankled me- and despite much reference to his forth-coming Llewellyn volume (apparently on a subject different from that of this particular talk, giving me every confidence that it will be a far-better researched project) – I found the gentleman’s presentation to be an alarming mish-mash of outright error and wild “Wiccan Faerey-tales, ” offered without substantiation as genuine history.

The Countess of Salisbury was a Witch! Edward III founded the Order of the Garter as a secret Witches’ Coven! He charged its knights with the protection of Witches against the Inquisition! – (Despite that fact that Murray’s fanciful re-interpretation of the Order of the Garter is one of the areas specifically disproved by Rose, with no one presenting persuasive evidence to the contrary since- and despite the fact that the Inquisition was never really that powerful in England- and despite the fact that few people actually cared about punishing Witches in the 1300s, in many ways the last truly Magical era of the Middle Ages.)

The gentleman continued- the Knights Templars were closet Ceremonial Magicians, preserving the Secrets of Magic from the Inquisition! – (Never mind that the Knights broadcast themselves as a Christian order akin to monks, and were perceived as such throughout Europe) . The Masons delivered the Templars from destruction, saving the ancient wisdom of Ceremonial Magic! (This last contains all sorts of mistakes.

It ignores the historical reality that the Templars were deliberately taken unawares, leaving very few to be “saved”; that the majority of the Templars were without question killed; that the reason for their assault was without question the seizure of their properties, rather than an effort to destroy Ceremonial Magic; that the Masons as such do not come into existence until the early 1700s; and finally that there is no need for the Templars to preserve Ceremonial Magic, as Ceremonial Magic is preserved very nicely in the medieval grimoires of Bacon and Agrippa and Paracelsus.)

The part of the man’s presentation that bothered me the most was his projection of modern (Initiatory) Wicca into the medieval past. Wiccan Witch-Queens wear garters- therefore one can tell that the Countess of Salisbury was a Wiccan Witch-Queen, as she wore a garter! (Never mind that many people of the fourteenth century probably wore garters as a means of keeping their leggings straight.) Initiatory Wiccans maintain Books of Shadow- therefore medieval Witches kept Books of Shadow! – Despite the fact that few medieval Witches could probably read or write.

These Books of Shadow were in constant danger of being destroyed by the Inquisition, erasing forever the secrets of Witchery- never mind that many, many grimoires are plainly in circulation and that the “secrets of the Witches’ Craft” (far from being so closely guarded as to be in danger of vanishing) are in fact well-known enough in Elizabethan England (I assume through the avenue of oral folk-culture) that playwrights such as Shakespeare and Jonson compose plays around them.

My point finally is not to diss a bad historical presentation, but to decry the situation whereby such outmoded stuff can be peddled as a “Wiccan History-lesson.” We Wiccans are in the kind of odd position that knowledgeable observers have actually discredited much of what we assert and allege as our “Historical past”. If our movement is to receive respect in the world, we need a history that can withstand scrutiny, as well as movement-participants educated enough to separate fact from plausible supposition from outright nonsense.

Regrettably this means we must abandon a lot of what our founding elders declared to us was our past; we must locate ourselves in the genuine records of medieval Europe established by scholars such as Kittredge and Robbins and Russell (et al) .

We must insist upon elders who can deliver a reasonable review of European Witch-History and we must foreswear the colorful (but unsupportable) Murayite/ Gardnerian “Wicca Faerey-tales” that have hitherto been our history tomes.

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Repudiating Bad Wiccan History

Repudiating Bad Wiccan History

Author:   Zan Fraser 

The problem is that we Wiccans have inherited two sets of history. One is the history shared by the persons of the world around us, recognized as an academic and intellectual discipline, and based upon consensus agreement as to demonstrable facts. The other is what I call the “Wicca Fantasy-Land” version of European history.

Wicca Fantasy-Land is without question a colorful and dramatic place, dominated as it is by a malignant and pervasive Institution of Villainy (the medieval Church) , countered by a bold and oppressed culture of Paganism, and by Pagans who band into defiant pockets reminiscent of the organizers of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising or the French Resistance during World War II.

There are English kings who secretly keep to the Old Pagan Ways and who sympathetically guard and preserve Pagans; there are even English kings who bravely end their own lives as a Magical Sacrifice to the Old Gods to preserve the Ancient Ways. There are gallant women like Aradia and Joan of Arc who lead armed forays against the evil forces of the Inquisition to liberate captured Pagans. And there are countless devout Witches who meet in covens of thirteen, under threat of mortal danger, to worship the Horned God of Witches and to count out the seasons of the year.

It makes a really good story, with the disadvantage of not being true- or at least not really true in the manner in which it is invariably presented.

Wicca Fantasy-Land made its way into our collective history at a time well before there was even Wicca.

Margaret Murray was a respected British Egyptologist at the turn of the twentieth century, whose notes and observations upon archeological digs in Egypt are apparently still thought worthwhile. In the 19-teens, she turned her attentions to European history, producing The Witch-Cult in Western Europe in the early 1920s. Here she offered the startling (for its time) opinion that those called “Witches” during the medieval period were actually continuing the old Pagan Faith of Europe, meeting in covens of thirteen under a Master or High Priest who impersonated the God of Witches- the Horned Forest-God called Pan or Cernunnos.

The Church demonized this Deity into the Christian Devil and (according to Murray’s thinking) the rest of the Middle Ages (including the 300 years Burning Times) represented an on-going series of efforts on the part of the Church to destroy this stubborn Paganism. Murrray went on to elaborate upon her theories in two subsequent books- The God of the Witches and The Divine King in England.

Discussing Murray can be tricky, because she produced some penetrating insight into medieval history as it pertains to Witches (and therefore to the spiritual, if not actual genealogical, descendents of medieval Witches- modern Wiccans) . Her basic observation- that Paganism did not die out suddenly and completely at the Conversion of Europe, but actually continued for some time after, sometimes under threat of violence (Charlemagne proscribed death for any Saxons who continued to worship the sun, trees, and rocks) – was revelatory for its time, but is now understood as a given to researchers of the Middle Ages (especially researchers of the Pagan variety) .

Her insight that the European Devil represents a demonized version of the Horned Forest-God (known by many names, in endless local variations) was likewise a thunderbolt of perception, now also part of the bedrock of Pagan and Wiccan medieval understanding. For reasons such as these, the eminent and formidable historian Anne Llewellyn Barstow (in Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts Pandora Publishing, 1994, p. 83) credits Murray for her detection of “ancient ‘folk religious’ practices throughout the Western witchcraft material.”

Barstow also finds in comparative studies with Russian sources support for Murray’s basic theory that Satan represents in perverse form the “lost God (s) ” of Western Europe. Likewise, in his Introduction to Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath (Pantheon Books, 1991, p. 9) the brilliant researcher Carlo Ginzburg discerns a “core of truth” and a “correct intuition” to Murray’s work.

Be this as it may- Murray is now considered discredited in the academic and scholastic world. Every serious historian on the subject throughout the twentieth century has concluded that she pushed her theories far too far- well beyond what evidence supports. Beginning with Harvard professor Kittredge in the latter 1920s, and continuing through Robbins, Briggs, Cohn, Russell, Kors and Peters, and including Barstow and Ginzburg- all have found that Murray finally reached to absurd and unsustainable lengths.

The decisive nail was struck in the early 1960s, with Elliot Rose’s A Razor for a Goat: A Discussion of Certain Problems in the History of Witchcraft and Diabolism (University of Toronto Press, 1962) , wherein he systemically blew apart Murray’s thesis bit by bit.

For the better part of the twentieth century, however, Murray was widely held almost as a sibyl breathing discernment into the murky cauldron of medieval history- so much so that it was her article on “witchcraft” that appeared in the Encyclopedia Britannica in the 1950s, when Gerald Gardner was writing Witchcraft Today.

Desiring to include an account of what many at the time thought “true” Witchcraft history in his volume, Gardner turned to Murray’s works. Therefore (at a time when they were already called into question) , Murray’s theories and highly unique recounting of European Witchcraft made their way into the founding book of the current Wiccan and Neo-Pagan movement.

Through Gardner, tales of the Divine Sacrifice of William Rufus and the Witcheries of the Countess of Salisbury (mistress to the secretly Pagan Edward III) circulated into the publishing of Doreen Valiente and Patricia Crowther, thence outside the Gardnerian line to Sybil Leek and Alex Sanders, thence to the Farrars- thence to Wicca at large.

Despite the fact that Rose devoted a special chapter in A Razor for a Goat (in the 1960s, one notes) to Gerald Gardner’s assertions of medieval “Wiccan history” as regards Murray’s interpretations, Margaret Murray’s “Wicca Fantasy-Land” version of European history continues to circulate throughout American Paganism. How else to explain the presentation offered at a well-known gathering this summer, wherein one who advertised himself by his Third-Degree Initiatory Tradition status, as well as by (it must be admitted) his forth-coming Llewellyn publication, produced a talk chock-full not only of outright mistakes (he incorrectly placed Edward III and the Burning Times in the 1200s; Edward lived in the 1300s and the Burnings do not start until the 1400s) , but of pure, unreconstructed Murrayism- the same Murrayism discredited decisively since the 1960s.

Despite treating his audience to a opening establishing the unique and special quality of Third-Degree Initiates- indeed ho-ho-ho-ing the very idea that a non-Initiated Wiccan bereft of Initiatory Training even counted as a “Wiccan” (thereby specifically invalidating self-directed, self-Initiated Wiccans such as myself) and referring at one point to himself and his “peers” with a smug self-regard that frankly rankled me- and despite much reference to his forth-coming Llewellyn volume (apparently on a subject different from that of this particular talk, giving me every confidence that it will be a far-better researched project) – I found the gentleman’s presentation to be an alarming mish-mash of outright error and wild “Wiccan Faerey-tales, ” offered without substantiation as genuine history.

The Countess of Salisbury was a Witch! Edward III founded the Order of the Garter as a secret Witches’ Coven! He charged its knights with the protection of Witches against the Inquisition! – (Despite that fact that Murray’s fanciful re-interpretation of the Order of the Garter is one of the areas specifically disproved by Rose, with no one presenting persuasive evidence to the contrary since- and despite the fact that the Inquisition was never really that powerful in England- and despite the fact that few people actually cared about punishing Witches in the 1300s, in many ways the last truly Magical era of the Middle Ages.)

The gentleman continued- the Knights Templars were closet Ceremonial Magicians, preserving the Secrets of Magic from the Inquisition! – (Never mind that the Knights broadcast themselves as a Christian order akin to monks, and were perceived as such throughout Europe) . The Masons delivered the Templars from destruction, saving the ancient wisdom of Ceremonial Magic! (This last contains all sorts of mistakes.

It ignores the historical reality that the Templars were deliberately taken unawares, leaving very few to be “saved”; that the majority of the Templars were without question killed; that the reason for their assault was without question the seizure of their properties, rather than an effort to destroy Ceremonial Magic; that the Masons as such do not come into existence until the early 1700s; and finally that there is no need for the Templars to preserve Ceremonial Magic, as Ceremonial Magic is preserved very nicely in the medieval grimoires of Bacon and Agrippa and Paracelsus.)

The part of the man’s presentation that bothered me the most was his projection of modern (Initiatory) Wicca into the medieval past. Wiccan Witch-Queens wear garters- therefore one can tell that the Countess of Salisbury was a Wiccan Witch-Queen, as she wore a garter! (Never mind that many people of the fourteenth century probably wore garters as a means of keeping their leggings straight.) Initiatory Wiccans maintain Books of Shadow- therefore medieval Witches kept Books of Shadow! – Despite the fact that few medieval Witches could probably read or write.

These Books of Shadow were in constant danger of being destroyed by the Inquisition, erasing forever the secrets of Witchery- never mind that many, many grimoires are plainly in circulation and that the “secrets of the Witches’ Craft” (far from being so closely guarded as to be in danger of vanishing) are in fact well-known enough in Elizabethan England (I assume through the avenue of oral folk-culture) that playwrights such as Shakespeare and Jonson compose plays around them.

My point finally is not to diss a bad historical presentation, but to decry the situation whereby such outmoded stuff can be peddled as a “Wiccan History-lesson.” We Wiccans are in the kind of odd position that knowledgeable observers have actually discredited much of what we assert and allege as our “Historical past”. If our movement is to receive respect in the world, we need a history that can withstand scrutiny, as well as movement-participants educated enough to separate fact from plausible supposition from outright nonsense.

Regrettably this means we must abandon a lot of what our founding elders declared to us was our past; we must locate ourselves in the genuine records of medieval Europe established by scholars such as Kittredge and Robbins and Russell (et al) .

We must insist upon elders who can deliver a reasonable review of European Witch-History and we must foreswear the colorful (but unsupportable) Murayite/ Gardnerian “Wicca Faerey-tales” that have hitherto been our history tomes.

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A Modern Perspective On Traditional Witchcraft

A Modern Perspective On Traditional Witchcraft

Author: Baudrons

One thing I’ve noticed in the pagan community over the past few years is the increase of people identifying themselves as “traditional witches”. Most of the time, they fail to claim membership in any specific tradition but are quick to point out that what they practice is good, old-fashioned “traditional witchcraft” and not some watered down pap like Wicca. As someone possessing a lifelong interest in witchcraft, these assertions piqued my curiosity. Just what could this dark stream of magic swirling through the shadows be?

After witnessing the deconstruction of Wicca by scholars, accredited and pseudo, I found the prospect of some genuinely old traditions of witchcraft free from the idiosyncrasies of retired British civil servants intriguing.

Although the clichéd granny stories that have circulated for years promise a glimpse into hereditary forms of witchcraft, they rarely, if ever, deliver. Most of the time, the witchcraft purportedly passed down from one’s elder family members turns out to be some eclectic form of Wicca. A romantic childhood memory aside, just because one’s grandmother was superstitious, had a penchant for burning candles, and was handy with the folk remedies hardly qualifies her as a witch. Considering that the grandmother in question is invariably unavailable and no one else in the family is around to substantiate these tales, most accounts of hereditary witchcraft tend to fall apart like cheap furniture. Alex Sanders, holder of arguably the best grandmother story of all time, later recanted as have others so it seems reasonable to indulge in a bit of healthy skepticism when confronted with an account of family witchcraft.

As so many non-Wiccan witches describe themselves as practicing traditional witchcraft, defining the term seemed a logical place to begin my investigation. Witchcraft is a notoriously slippery word. Categorizing witches is like filling a box with those little Styrofoam packing peanuts. You can get most of them in but there’s always a couple that wind up on the carpet.

Isaac Bonewits did a fair job sorting out various types of witches and witchcraft years ago but I found his categorizations a bit too broad to be of much use. The historical accounts of witchcraft I read usually portrayed witches as disaffected loners working malfeasant magic against a society that feared and rejected them. In stark contrast to the glamorous and powerful sorceress of mythology, the historical witch- overwhelmingly female- was an unfortunate wretch depending on charity and likely to seek vengeance when refused.

Others, the so-called “white witches”, acted as healers and midwives, using their skills to the benefit of others. Armed with a comprehensive knowledge of herbalism, divination, and healing methods as well as a keen insight into human behavior, their abilities were prized as truly magical. These cunning folk, however, were careful to refer to themselves by culturally specific terms like pellar, power doctor, root worker, or cuandero in order to avoid being confused with the witch, their diabolical counterpart. Often times, these practitioners were employed to reverse the effects of witchcraft leveled by their more evilly disposed brethren. In some cases, if paid enough, the more mercenary cunning folk would level curses themselves.

The people who caught my attention claiming traditional status were ostensibly of European descent so I narrowed the scope of my search and focused on the British Isles with its rich history of witchcraft. In my research, I discovered some uncanny similarities between the witchcraft of Europe and that described by the Scotch-Irish settlers in the Appalachian region so it made sense to turn my attention across the Atlantic. Having picked up the trail in Albion, I began to explore the long history of sorcery there. Another task was to explore the term “traditional” and how it relates to witchcraft.

Were I to ask random passerby what they traditionally associate with witches, I’m reasonably certain the response would include such things as pointy hats and black cats, bubbling cauldrons, and broomsticks, the classic Halloween stereotype modern witches simultaneously rail against and embrace. While this image of the witch owes its popularity more to The Wizard of Oz than historical precedent, it has its origins somewhere. The witchcraft popularized by Gardner is vastly different in its trappings and suggests a different source. To follow the spoor of traditional witchcraft, it was necessary to look past these 20th century influences.

When I first became interested in witchcraft, the party line was that it represented a link back to the halcyon days of pre-Christian Europe where matriarchal tribes sang paeans to their gods under ancient oaks. That pleasant myth has long been discredited but modern pagans cling to vestiges of it by refusing to abandon the idea of pre-Christian fertility and ecstasy cults entirely. The theories of Margaret Murray may have fallen by the wayside but more modern scholars such as Carlo Ginzburg, Ronald Hutton, Claude Lecouteux, Emma Wilby, Eva Pocs, and Owen Davies have since picked up the academic mantle for today’s witches to use as standards of scholarly respectability.

In addition to their work, superstitions, rural customs, folktales, legends, and songs get trotted out as evidence for traditions of witchcraft predating Gerald Gardner’s controversial claims. In an ironic twist, the hodge-podge of evidence used by Gardner’s detractors actually bolsters his position. Various elements present in Wicca can be demonstrated as having their origins in places other than the New Forest but there is also much to suggest the wily old goat was privy to things other than ceremonial magic and Margaret Murray. That witchcraft existed prior to Gardner there can be no doubt. But was it the same as what modern “traditional witches” make it out to be?

Probably not.

I’m no history major but I do know that the British Isles have been subject to the influences of outside influences since Roman times. The Romans themselves may have brought their gods with them when they invaded Britain but classical deities play a very minor role in traditional witchcraft. Indigenous Celtic deities have their place in traditional witchcraft but the pantheon championed by a good number of self-described traditional witches, the one exerting, the greatest influence arrived later with Saxons. These Nordic god forms took root in British soil and were imbued with Saxon influences, names, and influences. Gods such as Odhinn the All-Father and Dame Holda wield a profound influence on what some consider traditional witchcraft. Legends like that of the Wild Hunt, shamanic practices similar to those found in other Germanic lands, magical use of runes, and a shared cosmology are evidence that much of what is called traditional witchcraft has origins in the pagan cultures of northern Europe.

Yet, in keeping with witchcraft’s evasive nature, another crowd of traditional witches eschews the Teutonic for the Biblical. These practitioners hew more to an altogether different worldview and populate their craft with fallen angels as well as pagan nature deities. These fallen ones, Lucifer and the Watchers being chief among them, are regarded as Promethean figures and the original teachers of mankind. Rather than a source of suffering, they are thought to bring illumination, spilling their light into the dark recesses of ignorance. It is from these divine teachers that mankind first received knowledge of agriculture, metal craft, medicine, art and science. Quite often, Cain, the first murderer, is described as the primal source of “witch-blood”, the spiritual thread linking practitioners together through the ages.

Dragging the waters for more evidence of traditional witchcraft kicked up even more mud. As I peered back into pre-Gardnerian, post-Saxon England, I chanced upon an even more curious influence: Christianity.

England, Ireland, and the other regions of the British Isles have been Christianized for centuries. The Christianity in some regions serves as a thin veneer for indigenous forms of Paganism but, over centuries, the two have become so intertwined that there is no easy separation. Wicca is clearly Pagan in origin but Judeo-Christian symbolism has crept in around the edges. The same can be said for traditional witchcraft. Just about every charm spell I read pre-Gardnerian 19th century tracts call upon the power of one saint or another as well as that of Jesus Christ himself. The more-Pagan-than-thou among us, seeking to divorce themselves from Judeo-Christian influences in their magical practice, face an uphill battle because the whole of western occultism is shot through with it.

Many of those claiming to practice traditional witchcraft are influenced, directly or indirectly, by the work of such notables as Robert Cochrane, Nigel Jackson, and Andrew Chumbley. Cochrane and Chumbley, both deceased, claimed hereditary status, that their witchcraft had been passed down through previous generations. However, both of these gentlemen appeared in Gardner’s wake and their work contains elements found in Gardnerian Wicca leading to a chicken and egg dilemma.

In the case of Robert Cochrane, it has been demonstrated that much of what he had to say about himself was less than truthful and that he was himself either a Gardnerian initiate or, at the very least, had a mole in a Gardnerian coven. Chumbley, on the other hand, was in possession of genuinely old material and his works show clear influences of pre-Gardnerian cunning craft as well as post-Gardnerian constructs such as chaos magic. Chumbley’s pre-Gardnerian influences fall more along the lines of Biblically influenced rather than Pagan witchcraft and suggests ties to the cunning folk of the 18th and 19th centuries. Both men can be considered brilliant in their own right but, as with Gardner, other influences can be discerned in their work.

The explosion of Wicca’s popularity during the 1990s unfortunately led to a spate of substandard works being published in order to capitalize on the fad. As with all such cultural phenomena, there was the inevitable backlash. Disenchanted by the glittery marketing of purportedly Wiccan materials and linked together by the Internet, another witchcraft community formed. Taking its cue from historical imagery and sources, it formed its own conventions and aesthetics to link disparate sources together in a tenuous but somewhat cohesive form.

Initially, the most solidarity I’ve observed among self-described traditional witches came from a dismissive attitude towards Wicca and eclecticism. Yet as one digs deeper into both traditional Wicca and witchcraft, those hard and fast lines start to blur it becomes apparent and I began to see that, minus Gardner’s idiosyncrasies, Wicca is simply a regional form of witchcraft, similar to but distinct from that found in other areas of the British Isles.

What Gardner did was give the surviving fragments of witchcraft found in the New Forest a more defined structure by borrowing liberally from other sources. Had he settled in another area of England and made contact with witches there, contemporary Wicca might have taken a radically different form or may never have come into being at all. Indeed, it is a salient fact that Garner spoke only of witchcraft and witches he called the ‘Wica’. What has been spread across popular culture in recent years is simply not the same thing.

Some have taken exception to my conclusions but so far I’ve seen precious little evidence to convince me that I’m on the wrong track. The history of witchcraft is just that, history. It informs the practice of all modern witches, no matter what their identification. To claim one form of witchcraft as purer in substance as many are wont to do is a waste of time and effort and ultimately denotes insecurity rather than confidence. With witchcraft, tradition is a much poorer measure of validity than effectiveness.


Footnotes:
Nigel Jackson
Andrew Chumbley
Robert Cochrane
Gerald Gardner
Mike Howard
All the intelligent people I’ve had the pleasure of arguing this subject with

Origins Of Wicca

Origins Of Wicca

The history of Wicca is a much debated topic. Gardner claimed that the religion was a survival of matriarchal religions of pre-historic Europe (see V?), taught to him by a woman named Dorothy Clutterbuck. Many believe he invented it himself, following the thesis of Dr. Margaret Murray and sources such as Aradia: Gospel of the Witches by Charles Godfrey Leland, and the practices of Freemasonry and ceremonial magic; and while Clutterbuck certainly existed, historian Ronald Hutton concluded that she is unlikely to have been involved in Gardner’s Craft activities. While the ritual format of Wicca is undeniably styled after late Victorian era occultism, the spiritual content is inspired by older Pagan faiths, with Buddhist and Hindu influences. Whether any historical connection to Pagan religion exists, the aspiration to emulate Pagan religion (as it was understood at the time) certainly does.

Gardner probably had access to few, if any, traditional Pagan rites. The prevailing theory is that most of his rites were the result of his adapting the works of Aleister Crowley. There is very little in the Wiccan rites that cannot be shown to have come from earlier extant sources. The original material is not cohesive and mostly takes the form of substitutions or expansions within unoriginal material, such as embellishment of Crowley lines.

Philip Heselton, writing in Wiccan Roots and later in Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration, argues that Gardner was not the author of the Wiccan rituals but received them in good faith from an unknown source. He notes that all the Crowley material that is found in the Wiccan rituals can be found in a single book, The Equinox vol 3 no. 1 or Blue Equinox. Gardner is not known to have owned or had access to a copy of this book.The idea of primitive matriarchal religions, deriving ultimately from studies by Johann Jakob Bachofen, was popular in Gardner’s day, both among academics (e.g., Erich Neumann, Margaret Murray) and amateurs such as Robert Graves.

Later academics (e.g. Carl Jung and Marija Gimbutas) continued research in this area, and later still Joseph Campbell, Ashley Montagu and others highly esteemed Gimbutas’s work on the matrifocal cultures of Old Europe. Both matrifocal interpretation of the archaeological record, and the foundations of criticism of such work, continue to be matters of academic debate. Some academics carry on research in this area (consider the 2003 World Congress on Matriarchal Studies). Critics argue that matriarchal societies never actually existed, and are an invention of researchers such as Margaret Murray.

The idea of a supreme Mother Goddess was common in Victorian and Edwardian literature: the concept of a Horned God–especially related to the gods Pan or Faunus–was less common, but still significant. Both of these ideas were widely accepted in academic literature, and in the popular press. Gardner used these concepts as his central theological doctrine, and constructed Wicca around this core.

Burning ‘The Burning Times’

Burning ‘The Burning Times’

Author: Zan Fraser

It seems that there is a recent body of misinformation regarding the Burning Times making its way through the Wiccan/Pagan community, which amounts to a revisionist “take” on the Witches’ Holocaust. Being something of a debunking, this new school of thought asserts that the Burning Times is “over-hyped” and hysterically blown out of proportion. While as a rule, I am a huge fan of revisionist history, I find this development (which adds up to a sort of “Burning Times denial-ism”) a bit depressing.

Proponents of this new school of thought seem to me mistaken in a number of important ways. (1) They tend to describe the Burning Times as a sort of invention of Margaret Murray’s, the Egyptologist whose “pro-Pagan” interpretation of European history was so influential to the early Craft revival. (2) They challenge the conventional belief in huge numbers of Burning Times victims as overwrought, with the numbers inflated. (3) They question the interpretation of the Great Witch-Hunts as a “War on Women.”

Far from being a concept of Murray’s, among the broadest reaching of her theories, the first realizations of the Burning Times emanate centuries before her writing, expressed in horror by the period’s contemporaries. As early as the 1560s, Weyer was publishing denunciations of the excesses of German Witch-Hunting; Spee (confessor during the Wurzburg trials of the 1620s) , theology professor Meyfarth (in the 1630s) , and Junius (a torture-victim who generated one of the few Witch-Hunting documents told from the perspective of the tortured Witch) powerfully describe the hysterical panic of the populace and the agonized suffering of the accused. They leave no doubt as to the alarm and trauma that must have pervaded the German regions in the latter 1500s and early 1600s.

Burning Times revisionists make the vital point that the German cases (for their exceptional violence and cruelty) give us a skewed picture of the Hunt Periods. In the 1620s alone, some 600 persons were said to have been killed as devil-worshipping Witches at Bamberg, with some 900 more in Wurzburg. There are many reasons for this, notably that the German Prince-Bishops ruled as absolute authorities on both the secular and religious levels, and the particular Prince-Bishops during this period and in these regions appear to have been especially sadistic sorts. These numbers may be inflated to a certain degree (they probably don’t have a modern bureaucratic accounting system to keep track of such things) , but they clearly intend to describe large numbers of victims, with much resulting social terror and disruption. Revisionists are correct to point out that these levels of destruction are not matched elsewhere and tend to provide a somewhat distorted view of the Witch-Hunts.

(On more than one occasion, I have heard Wiccans describe the “Burning Times” in England as if the English Witch-cases were on a par with those of Germany, or to relate how English Witches “fled the Burning Times in England, ” to come to the New World of America in order to keep the “Old Ways” in safety. This ignores the reality that the English were relatively lenient in their regards to Witchcraft. Importantly they never accepted the idea of Witches as demonic- sparing themselves the hysterical “Satan panic” reactions experienced on the Continent- and they observed legal proprieties in their judgment of Witch-cases, as opposed to the German regions, which held Witchcraft to be such a subversive and lethal instrument that it justified abandoning basic legal protections for the accused. In an important difference, the English did not employ torture in Witchcraft cases.

This is not to say that on the social level the English never responded hysterically to fears or accusations of Witchcraft or that there were not English miscarriages of justice- but it is to say that the English made an effort to hold themselves in check regarding Witchcraft, which makes the Burning Times period in England of a different character than that in other parts of Europe.)

Conceding the point that the extreme degree of persecution in Germany leaves a lop-sided impression, it should be remembered that even in England, Reginald Scot was so alarmed over what he saw as the rise of “anti-Witch” prejudice that he published Discoverie of Witchcraft in 1584, decrying the stereotyping of elderly ladies as Witches (the English overwhelmingly imagined Witches to be elderly single women) ; according to Scot, this exposed defenseless old women to acts of violence. In A Briefe Historie of Wytches, , I collect from the period-drama several examples in which assault is thought justifiable if its victim is imagined to be a Witch.

In Sweden, Queen Christina was so dismayed over Witch-Hunting in her realm that in 1649 she ordered a series of reforms; this is the one instance in 300 years in which a European monarch so used the royal power, which Robbins finds “notable as the first legislation curbing witch hunts.” (Rossell Hope Robbins, The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, “Sweden, Witchcraft In”) In all of these cases, the individuals involved- Weyer, Spee, Meyfarth, Junius, Scot, and Christina- are identifying “Witch-Hunting” as a feature of life around them, expressing the first glimmerings of understanding that they were living through a “Burning Times.”

In the early 1800s, the famous novelist Walter Scott was studying the Scots Witch-cases, publishing his summaries in Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft. The eminent Wilhelm Gottlieb Soldan conducted another early scholarly review of the medieval Witch-Business, presented in 1843; this was followed by the majestic history collected by Joseph Hansen, published in German in 1900. We see here that identification and study of the Burning Times commenced well before Margaret Murray, who first published in the early 1920s.

One of her initial critics, Harvard professor George Lyman Kittredge, issued his fine volume Witchcraft in Old and New England in the latter 1920s. Although he hardly agrees with Murray, it is clear that the Burning Times is “set” in his mind as a historical phenomenon (p. 243) : “Such were the orgies of the Witches’ Sabbath as systematized in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries by the scholastic ingenuity of devout theologians and described in confessions innumerable wrung by torture from ignorant and superstitious defendants in response to leading questions framed by inquisitors who had the whole system in mind before the trial began.”

I believe that- far from being among Margaret Murray’s “theories”- the medieval Burning Times is indeed a well-documented and reasonably well-understood phenomenon.

Another assertion made by the promoters of this new reading of the Burning Times is that not really very many persons were killed. They will quite properly dismiss the hysterically overwrought 9 million citation, then quote “recorded data” as giving an extremely paltry number, with “many countries” reporting only 3-10 victims, or certainly less than 50.

I find Anne Llewellyn Barstow to be persuasive on the issue of numbers: Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts Pandora Books, 1994 (p. 19-23) . Acknowledging the woefully imperfect state of records (many lost or defective) , Barstow nonetheless finds herself compelled to keep careful count as she works her way through the dim documentation of the past. Although this pains-taking approach adds hours of extra work, and great though the temptation is to start rounding off numbers, she retains “each awkward figure, ” remembering Holocaust historian Joan Ringelheim’s observation: to drop numbers now was to kill that individual twice. Accordingly Barstow provides in her Appendix B “the most complete record available at this time.”

Barstow comments upon Levack’s work (p. 22) , crediting him with producing the “most careful totals made so far.” She finds his figures “reasonable, ” but “almost certainly too low.” Given the faulty state of records, with additional cases emerging “steadily, ” and given that posse-style murders and lynching-deaths will not be recorded, Barstow finds it judicious to expand Levack’s numbers to 200, 000 accused, with 100, 000 dead. She finds it interesting that- just after the “recently ended holocaust”- Voltaire estimated that about 100, 000 had been put to death.

Contrary to the assertion of Burning Times revisionists that “many countries” had less than 50 Witch-Victims apiece, Barstow’s Appendix B describes only Montbeliard (55+) , Vaud (90) , Labourd (80) , Champagne (50+) , Essex (74) , New England (35) , Estonia (65) , Russia (10+) , Logrono (6) , Catalonia (45) , and Navarre (50) with less than 100 murdered Witches. She finds some 50, 000+ to have been killed in the German states; some 5000 in France; some 1000 in England; 1, 337+ in Scotland; 1500-1800 in Scandinavia; and approximately 15, 000+ in Poland.

The third claim of this would-be up-ending of conventional Hunt-Period consideration is that in “many countries” the “vast majority” of victims were male. Scandinavia, Finland, and Iceland are listed as places where “nearly all of the accused” were men. From this, the interpretation of the medieval Witch-Hunts as a “Holocaust of women” is questioned.

Barstow notes that the trials in Finland, Estonia, and Iceland (“which did not have a true witch hunt”) offer the “rare phenomenon” of predominantly male Witches. (p. 86) Finns had traditionally presumed sorcery to lie with men and some 60% of Estonia’s accused were males, often with reputations as healers or magic-workers. (Barstow, by the way, notes that Witchcraft in Scandinavia and the Baltic regions- the areas isolated from Christianity the longest- is “deeply rooted in European folk customs”; Robbins observes that “heathen beliefs in natural and magical powers” lingered in Finland longer than anywhere else in Europe, as Christianity was not introduced until 1157. (Encyclopedia, “Finland, Witchcraft in”)

Interesting though that is, male Witches appear to be the exception rather than the rule. Barstow remarks that the figures show women to have been “overwhelmingly victimized, ” constituting roughly 80% of the accused and 85% of the executed. (p. 23) In places such as Essex, females make up 92% of the accused, as they do during a Hunt in Belgium. During a Scare in Basel, the percentage of women accused shoots to 95%. Barstow quotes the observation of historian Christina Larner, “the chronicler of Scottish witchcraft, ” who felt that there must have been periods in East Lothian or Fife when no woman could have “felt free from the fear of accusation.” She notes the two German villages finally left with but one female inhabitant apiece, and the Rhenish village where one person (generally female) out of every two families was killed. (p. 24)

Barstow feels that her statistics “document an intentional mass murder of women.” To not see that is to “deny the most persistent fact about the persecutions.” (p.26)

Burning Times revisionists conclude that the Burning Times is a farce, a “theory” of Margaret Murray’s run amuck, fed by pumped-up numbers and a hysterical view of a “Holocaust of Women.”

With all respect, I feel that:

(1) The Burning Times is established as a medieval phenomenon well beyond Murray.

(2) Anne Llewellyn Barstow provides extremely well-researched figures, pointing to some 200, 000 accused, with some 100, 000 executed, around 85% of whom were women.

(3) Far from men being the primary victims during the Burning Times (Iceland, Finland, and Estonia notwithstanding) , I believe that so many women were targeted that the Burning Times might well be understood as a Religious War on Women- predicated upon the interesting assumption that Witches are most likely to be Female.

It is for this reason that one of the rallying cries of the Modern Wiccan Witchcraft Revival is: Never Again the Burning Times.

Burning ‘The Burning Times’

Burning ‘The Burning Times’

Author: Zan Fraser

It seems that there is a recent body of misinformation regarding the Burning Times making its way through the Wiccan/Pagan community, which amounts to a revisionist “take” on the Witches’ Holocaust. Being something of a debunking, this new school of thought asserts that the Burning Times is “over-hyped” and hysterically blown out of proportion. While as a rule, I am a huge fan of revisionist history, I find this development (which adds up to a sort of “Burning Times denial-ism”) a bit depressing.

Proponents of this new school of thought seem to me mistaken in a number of important ways. (1) They tend to describe the Burning Times as a sort of invention of Margaret Murray’s, the Egyptologist whose “pro-Pagan” interpretation of European history was so influential to the early Craft revival. (2) They challenge the conventional belief in huge numbers of Burning Times victims as overwrought, with the numbers inflated. (3) They question the interpretation of the Great Witch-Hunts as a “War on Women.”

Far from being a concept of Murray’s, among the broadest reaching of her theories, the first realizations of the Burning Times emanate centuries before her writing, expressed in horror by the period’s contemporaries. As early as the 1560s, Weyer was publishing denunciations of the excesses of German Witch-Hunting; Spee (confessor during the Wurzburg trials of the 1620s) , theology professor Meyfarth (in the 1630s) , and Junius (a torture-victim who generated one of the few Witch-Hunting documents told from the perspective of the tortured Witch) powerfully describe the hysterical panic of the populace and the agonized suffering of the accused. They leave no doubt as to the alarm and trauma that must have pervaded the German regions in the latter 1500s and early 1600s.

Burning Times revisionists make the vital point that the German cases (for their exceptional violence and cruelty) give us a skewed picture of the Hunt Periods. In the 1620s alone, some 600 persons were said to have been killed as devil-worshipping Witches at Bamberg, with some 900 more in Wurzburg. There are many reasons for this, notably that the German Prince-Bishops ruled as absolute authorities on both the secular and religious levels, and the particular Prince-Bishops during this period and in these regions appear to have been especially sadistic sorts. These numbers may be inflated to a certain degree (they probably don’t have a modern bureaucratic accounting system to keep track of such things) , but they clearly intend to describe large numbers of victims, with much resulting social terror and disruption. Revisionists are correct to point out that these levels of destruction are not matched elsewhere and tend to provide a somewhat distorted view of the Witch-Hunts.

(On more than one occasion, I have heard Wiccans describe the “Burning Times” in England as if the English Witch-cases were on a par with those of Germany, or to relate how English Witches “fled the Burning Times in England, ” to come to the New World of America in order to keep the “Old Ways” in safety. This ignores the reality that the English were relatively lenient in their regards to Witchcraft. Importantly they never accepted the idea of Witches as demonic- sparing themselves the hysterical “Satan panic” reactions experienced on the Continent- and they observed legal proprieties in their judgment of Witch-cases, as opposed to the German regions, which held Witchcraft to be such a subversive and lethal instrument that it justified abandoning basic legal protections for the accused. In an important difference, the English did not employ torture in Witchcraft cases.

This is not to say that on the social level the English never responded hysterically to fears or accusations of Witchcraft or that there were not English miscarriages of justice- but it is to say that the English made an effort to hold themselves in check regarding Witchcraft, which makes the Burning Times period in England of a different character than that in other parts of Europe.)

Conceding the point that the extreme degree of persecution in Germany leaves a lop-sided impression, it should be remembered that even in England, Reginald Scot was so alarmed over what he saw as the rise of “anti-Witch” prejudice that he published Discoverie of Witchcraft in 1584, decrying the stereotyping of elderly ladies as Witches (the English overwhelmingly imagined Witches to be elderly single women) ; according to Scot, this exposed defenseless old women to acts of violence. In A Briefe Historie of Wytches, , I collect from the period-drama several examples in which assault is thought justifiable if its victim is imagined to be a Witch.

In Sweden, Queen Christina was so dismayed over Witch-Hunting in her realm that in 1649 she ordered a series of reforms; this is the one instance in 300 years in which a European monarch so used the royal power, which Robbins finds “notable as the first legislation curbing witch hunts.” (Rossell Hope Robbins, The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, “Sweden, Witchcraft In”) In all of these cases, the individuals involved- Weyer, Spee, Meyfarth, Junius, Scot, and Christina- are identifying “Witch-Hunting” as a feature of life around them, expressing the first glimmerings of understanding that they were living through a “Burning Times.”

In the early 1800s, the famous novelist Walter Scott was studying the Scots Witch-cases, publishing his summaries in Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft. The eminent Wilhelm Gottlieb Soldan conducted another early scholarly review of the medieval Witch-Business, presented in 1843; this was followed by the majestic history collected by Joseph Hansen, published in German in 1900. We see here that identification and study of the Burning Times commenced well before Margaret Murray, who first published in the early 1920s.

One of her initial critics, Harvard professor George Lyman Kittredge, issued his fine volume Witchcraft in Old and New England in the latter 1920s. Although he hardly agrees with Murray, it is clear that the Burning Times is “set” in his mind as a historical phenomenon (p. 243) : “Such were the orgies of the Witches’ Sabbath as systematized in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries by the scholastic ingenuity of devout theologians and described in confessions innumerable wrung by torture from ignorant and superstitious defendants in response to leading questions framed by inquisitors who had the whole system in mind before the trial began.”

I believe that- far from being among Margaret Murray’s “theories”- the medieval Burning Times is indeed a well-documented and reasonably well-understood phenomenon.

Another assertion made by the promoters of this new reading of the Burning Times is that not really very many persons were killed. They will quite properly dismiss the hysterically overwrought 9 million citation, then quote “recorded data” as giving an extremely paltry number, with “many countries” reporting only 3-10 victims, or certainly less than 50.

I find Anne Llewellyn Barstow to be persuasive on the issue of numbers: Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts Pandora Books, 1994 (p. 19-23) . Acknowledging the woefully imperfect state of records (many lost or defective) , Barstow nonetheless finds herself compelled to keep careful count as she works her way through the dim documentation of the past. Although this pains-taking approach adds hours of extra work, and great though the temptation is to start rounding off numbers, she retains “each awkward figure, ” remembering Holocaust historian Joan Ringelheim’s observation: to drop numbers now was to kill that individual twice. Accordingly Barstow provides in her Appendix B “the most complete record available at this time.”

Barstow comments upon Levack’s work (p. 22) , crediting him with producing the “most careful totals made so far.” She finds his figures “reasonable, ” but “almost certainly too low.” Given the faulty state of records, with additional cases emerging “steadily, ” and given that posse-style murders and lynching-deaths will not be recorded, Barstow finds it judicious to expand Levack’s numbers to 200, 000 accused, with 100, 000 dead. She finds it interesting that- just after the “recently ended holocaust”- Voltaire estimated that about 100, 000 had been put to death.

Contrary to the assertion of Burning Times revisionists that “many countries” had less than 50 Witch-Victims apiece, Barstow’s Appendix B describes only Montbeliard (55+) , Vaud (90) , Labourd (80) , Champagne (50+) , Essex (74) , New England (35) , Estonia (65) , Russia (10+) , Logrono (6) , Catalonia (45) , and Navarre (50) with less than 100 murdered Witches. She finds some 50, 000+ to have been killed in the German states; some 5000 in France; some 1000 in England; 1, 337+ in Scotland; 1500-1800 in Scandinavia; and approximately 15, 000+ in Poland.

The third claim of this would-be up-ending of conventional Hunt-Period consideration is that in “many countries” the “vast majority” of victims were male. Scandinavia, Finland, and Iceland are listed as places where “nearly all of the accused” were men. From this, the interpretation of the medieval Witch-Hunts as a “Holocaust of women” is questioned.

Barstow notes that the trials in Finland, Estonia, and Iceland (“which did not have a true witch hunt”) offer the “rare phenomenon” of predominantly male Witches. (p. 86) Finns had traditionally presumed sorcery to lie with men and some 60% of Estonia’s accused were males, often with reputations as healers or magic-workers. (Barstow, by the way, notes that Witchcraft in Scandinavia and the Baltic regions- the areas isolated from Christianity the longest- is “deeply rooted in European folk customs”; Robbins observes that “heathen beliefs in natural and magical powers” lingered in Finland longer than anywhere else in Europe, as Christianity was not introduced until 1157. (Encyclopedia, “Finland, Witchcraft in”)

Interesting though that is, male Witches appear to be the exception rather than the rule. Barstow remarks that the figures show women to have been “overwhelmingly victimized, ” constituting roughly 80% of the accused and 85% of the executed. (p. 23) In places such as Essex, females make up 92% of the accused, as they do during a Hunt in Belgium. During a Scare in Basel, the percentage of women accused shoots to 95%. Barstow quotes the observation of historian Christina Larner, “the chronicler of Scottish witchcraft, ” who felt that there must have been periods in East Lothian or Fife when no woman could have “felt free from the fear of accusation.” She notes the two German villages finally left with but one female inhabitant apiece, and the Rhenish village where one person (generally female) out of every two families was killed. (p. 24)

Barstow feels that her statistics “document an intentional mass murder of women.” To not see that is to “deny the most persistent fact about the persecutions.” (p.26)

Burning Times revisionists conclude that the Burning Times is a farce, a “theory” of Margaret Murray’s run amuck, fed by pumped-up numbers and a hysterical view of a “Holocaust of Women.”

With all respect, I feel that:

(1) The Burning Times is established as a medieval phenomenon well beyond Murray.

(2) Anne Llewellyn Barstow provides extremely well-researched figures, pointing to some 200, 000 accused, with some 100, 000 executed, around 85% of whom were women.

(3) Far from men being the primary victims during the Burning Times (Iceland, Finland, and Estonia notwithstanding) , I believe that so many women were targeted that the Burning Times might well be understood as a Religious War on Women- predicated upon the interesting assumption that Witches are most likely to be Female.

It is for this reason that one of the rallying cries of the Modern Wiccan Witchcraft Revival is: Never Again the Burning Times.