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Resurrecting the "Origins of Modern Witchcraft" Topic

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  • Resurrecting the "Origins of Modern Witchcraft" Topic

    Since it's been three years since anyone posted in the old topic, I thought I'd see if we could kick it up again in a new thread.

    Of the literally hundreds of books that I've read on the craft, it's history, and various other occult topics, Origins of Modern Witchcraft may well be the single most influential thing I've read.

    So many other books make reference to the peoples and practices of India that I was already convinced that western European traditions had been influenced by Indian ways. When I discovered and read Origins of Modern Witchcraft it seemed a stunning revelation... yet one that made so much sense in the light of things I'd already read.

    I'm not one to just automatically believe everything that I read... especially when the conclusions are so striking. As time permits, I'm planning to read the supporting material cited in the bibliography and draw my own conclusions.

    I'd like to hear some more current views from people who have read the book. What did you think?

  • #2
    Some of her history leans a lot on Murray's work which was debunked back in the 70s and is somewhat chuckled at in some historical circles today as I understand it. There are better books on pagan and witchcraft history out there but kudos for her attempt. I do rather like her Green Witchcraft series though on the practical level. Those were more influential to me than her history.


    • #3
      I haven't read her book, however indo-european influence in general tends to be overlooked.
      Do we see things of indo-european origin that become part of religious concepts, ideals and centers which find their way into witchcraft? yes...
      However it is important to look at each peace for what it is, to talk about which aspects of praxis or ideas we are talking about and go from there.
      It is also crucial to define what is meant by modern witchcraft, the definition of which if taken as usually is would be a bit troublesome for the author.
      You'd have a better case if you went back before the modern revival or focuses on aspects thereof which are older.

      I'm reminded of Grimassi here, whose account of history i don't exactly agree with. with him, he is on the right track at times but stops short, and at other times limits his range of influences do to his own bias.
      Nontheless you might be interested in that part of his book "Wiccan mysteries". On the one hand he talks about Indo-European influence and then on the other-hand dismisses much of it for a more European centic core development.
      Personally I do not really see the need to to that, the timeline is big enough to account for Indo-European influence while still accounting for European development and identity.
      You can trace the Old-English wicce back to indo-eurpean roots, but of course even having it right in front of you it is going to be controversial.

      Originally posted by Amberhawk View Post
      Some of her history leans a lot on Murray's work which was debunked back in the 70s and is somewhat chuckled at in some historical circles today as I understand it. There are better books on pagan and witchcraft history out there but kudos for her attempt. I do rather like her Green Witchcraft series though on the practical level. Those were more influential to me than her history.
      Do not be so quick to dismiss Murray. She may not have gotten everything right but she deserves a lot more credit than she gets. The work she was doing never got a fair review being scoffed and belittled from the get go, by many who were less qualified than her.
      Read her work for yourself and come to your own conclusions. it is all to common to cite someone else's word that her work dated and debunked without actually looking at what she presents.

      I don't recall her having a green witchcraft series, in fact that sounds after her time....?

      let's consider the two main arguments for debunking her.

      a) the use of the word devil. here is the thing, first of academically speaking that could mean anything in way of anthropology which also misuses the word shaman. Secondly, while the use of the word devil today in association with witchcraft would be considered politically incorrect by many, this isn't the case historically. We see many instances where local folk-characters such as the Bucca, Pan (whatever depending on wherever you are from) have become associated with the devil. We also know that when a new pantheon or mythology set comes into town, the new names tend to be adopted even if they have or come to have negative associations, it is still a way to keep associations alive despite not being able to talk about the elder paradigm. We've record this phenomena with Santeria which is an excellent example of it.

      To be honest, Murray is kind of a victum of modern Pagans distancing themselves from the word devil, however but if you'll notice this isn't an usually an issue in traditional craft.Now one can say, well.. "they read Murray" but, i don't know about her being that widely read...
      Even so, it was understood that it wasn't Satanic, certainly not in the manner in which people see Satanism today... the historical timing is a bit off for that.

      b) the second criticism put on her is regarding her statement "survival of a pagan religion despite persecution" or something to that end. let's be fair here and admit that's a pretty vague claim as is, it doesn't say how or to what degree.
      i do not believe she was implying that it was of "unbroken form". You hear the critics say that most people who were executed weren't witches. No they weren't yet why is it assumed here she is assuming they were?
      No, persecution is often more subtle and treacherous than that. you don't burn indigenous ways, you assimilate and re-mold them to fit your invading paradigm. You make it illegal to talk about or teach your religious world-view and
      you indoctinate, indoctrinate, indoctrinate. the formula hasn't changed. it is the same today as it was then.

      What she talks about isn't unreasonable, it's not unlike the situation Native Americans were in, in the 70's and prior.
      Very few people realize that our religious ceremonials were deemed illegal. we had to celebrate them when it got dark and noone was around.

      3) she talks of a Coven structure, and that puts her under ridicule because there's a general consensus that Covens as we know them are a more modern concept. However every line around during Gardner's time, that also includes Chochrane and others, have stated that at that point there had been covens prior. it wasn't just Gardner and Cochrane, they are simply the ones that get talked about. Evidence actually does suggest that Gardner was brought into a coven and that there were other covens around prior to him coming on the scene. Now that doesn't mean they go much further back, there's less and less evidence within a short time-frame the further back you go. We can't really say it was much earlier, that does not mean weren't any... it just means they are off the historical radar, the radar picking stuff up not too long before Cochrane and Gardner. That certainly makes them seem recent. Now i could give various reasons why we don't see anything earlier on the radar other than 'they didn't exist" which is debatable, not proven however that is another thread. Though to get an idea of Gardner's roots look into the Order of woodcraft Chivalry and see how you feel about that trail.

      Here is the point though with, her witch-cult book came out in 1921 yes? too early for Gardner but within the same century. It is possible there were covened groups or the proto-model for them emerging. Crowley himself said he had done some work with a witches coven, around or presumably prior to his work with the Golden Dawn. This tells us something, that certainly the idea of it was around in the magc(k) community, and that groups may have been experimenting with this around the 1920's. Certainly there was enough of the literature to be inspired by.
      So it is possible that Murray may have known about one of these groups. Even if they were recent invention, they would have very much been seen and considered remnants in their own way, a re invigoration of folk tales and beliefs via recent literary work coupled with accounts of fam-trads which she wouldn't really have had any reason to doubt or means to verify. Certainly there was an identity preserved there, and it would be unreasonable to expect the genuine article not to be spotty in its records as it were, due to the nature of what it was that she was investigating. Some of her conclusions may have been off, some things needed some speculative filler to make a cohesive presentation though it is unfair to say her accounts are complete rubbish. some things in there i would argue she got right, that much of the nitpicking has to do with the nature of anthropologists than anything - that she gave an overview as she understood it and as it was likely given to her by someone doing much of what she describes. To be fair i do not recall her ever saying that remnant practitioners as they were, accurately represented any ancient pagan mystery tradition. merely that, such was how these modern people interpreted a tradition handed to them, a tradition of pagan thought, now very distant from its origin, having become what she described in her book. Not an unbroken linage or group that had always done things the same way, rather the continuation of people whom still considered themselves pagan in that manner but just like Christianity is not the same as it was when it entered Europe, neither will depictions in the 'witch-cult" look anything like recon. paganism. That's not what it is, not what it was claimed to be.

      Her book could be worse, it could be written by Gardner.
      That poor poor man.
      Last edited by Humming Bird; October 10th, 2015, 07:48 AM.
      Tsalagi Nvwoti Didahnvwesgi Ale Didahnesesgi
      (Cherokee medicine practitioner of left and right hand paths) - The Anikutani Tradition


      • #4
        Ooh I am not going to dispute the indo-european influences concerned. Those connections are clear enough that I won't touch those ideas. I don't really want to get into the etymology of a word because when it goes from being describing what a person does a proper noun such as being used as the name of a religion then it somewhat changes the rules and the meaning a bit simply by the way its used. Though I do understand where the root of the word comes from. I would be willing to bet that is part of why it can be controversial as some people will argue it makes a great amount of difference while others don't care one way or the other as it is now used as a name. I think the parts that stand out most in my mind have to do with her ideas at the time of more ancient practices.

        And by the by... If I thought I was going to be put on trial, that this was a case to be tried, I might have laid out a more properly form discussion and debate but I was just voicing an opinion that is fairly common with many of the historians, more recent ones, in that particular circle of study.

        I won't comment on Grimassi as I cant recall what he wrote in his books. I don't know if his Wiccan Mysteries book and the Wiccan Magick book were just unremarkable for me or if it is just that enough time has gone by that I just lost the information. It has been somewhere around 15 years give or take since I read those.

        My mistake on the Green Witchcraft series staement. I wasn't clear in my post. Those are Anne Maura's books, not Murray's. I really shouldn't post before I get at least one cup of coffee in me. And bad me for thinking I could just drop an opinion bomb and get away with it.

        Murray I don't dismiss entirely. I cant. I give her a lot of credit to for diving into that area of history to begin with. Without her studies I doubt we would have as many people involved with Witchcraft and paganism in general as we do today. I did say some of her history was shaky, not all, and quite honestly jury is still out for me as to just how much of that history really was debunked or disputed. I don't dispute all of what she did put to print. I only question that she did have some large leaps of logic that she did make as said by other historians. Not just those of her time period but even more recent historians, some held in higher regards, do question some of her statements. I did not read her whole book but I do remember reading fair sized essays and studies on the disputed claims years ago. Please don't make me try to find my notes on those things as its been too many years and I'm not even sure I have them anymore. I always did intend to get the Witch Cult book and read the whole thing myself though. I might have by now but I bought a house and have been pretty strapped for cash. My book fetish has suffered drastically.

        I am going to leave the Satanism comments out of this as I really don't wish to get into the Christian ideals of the area and time period that she worked her studies.

        I think the idea that there was an unbroken line was more than just implied by not only her but also by those who believed her studies lock, stock and barrel. Part of the reason it still persists in Wiccan specific histories today is because it was carried over from her statements. As to the witch hunts and persecutions, the inquisitions and the like, there were quite a number of people accused of witchcraft in a pile in the upwards of 100 different charges. The logic was that if someone was guilty of one thing then lets throw as many things at them, no matter how minute, and see how many different things we can get to stick. Joan of Arc was accused of some where around then number of 170 charges, witchcraft among them but that specific one didn't stick. Still quite a number of the others did. The largest number of those punished or put to death were usually marked most often as heretics.

        I think the largest part of the historical studies that I try to keep in mind is that the farther back we go the more chance we have of misinterpreting some of the things we see in readings or the archaeological studies, and some accounts that we actually do have are often from those outside of the cultures that they were written about and at this point some things we pretty much have to form our own opinions on. However I've noticed many don't actually try to dig farther back once they read the tidbit of history in the front of the pagan or Wiccan related books they do get their hands on and few even realize that the validity of some of those histories were debated at all. I did read some of Gardner's history and his books so I'm quite aware witchcraft had been illegal until... what was it... 1953 or there abouts? I'm horrid with dates, numbers in general really, so forgive me if I remember wrong.

        Now I'm not going to get very far into ceremony and ritual discussion. I took these studies on as a solitary pagan and never really was interested in practicing with high ceremony or in a group setting. That aside, ritual practice shifts and changes depending on who decides to make them prominent in the religious structure, how those practices are worked and why. That's pretty true regardless of religion we are talking about or even the sect within that religion. I'm aware Murray was before Gardner and Crawley's time. How do you think they got a hold of those histories? Her book was in print so it stands to reason both of them would have read it as well as a number of other people after her time who were interested. As far as that goes either of their grandparents could have read Murray's work as it came out. It was likely pretty big news at the time. Mysticism and spiritism was pretty big around that time too so who knows what was spread around and peddled as original. You do have to admit there were a fair number of charlatans at the time who could and would have done just that.

        I don't know about throwing Crawley into the mix, though, as he was known to like the rumors and hooplah that surrounded him. He relished in the whole "Wickedest man in Europe" publicity he got though he admitted not all of it was entirely true. I don't recall seeing anything that really ripped into what was true or false though I'm sure someone somewhere did some interview or has note on one. Besides, there is still some debate as to how much contact he and Gardner had before Crawley passed and just how much of that actually went into Wicca directly.

        Alright. That is more off the top of my head thinking I've done in one sitting for a very long time. I think I need a tylonal and a nap.


        • #5
          It was Ann Moura who did the Green Witchcraft series, which I also like.

          However, a more reliable history is Hutton's Triumph of the Moon, I lost my copy sadly. Loaned it and it never came home.

          I actually repurchased this and it's in my Kindle files now. It's an excellent read and I highly recommend it.
          Last edited by Autumn; October 26th, 2016, 09:17 PM. Reason: New information!!