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Witchcraft and the Horned God
on 20 January 2012
The central thesis of this book - that witchcraft in Medieval and Early Modern Europe was a survival of a Palaeolithic religion of the Horned God, or god of nature and animals - has been refuted for a long while now.
So why am I recommending a book that has been shown to be wrong? Whether or not you accept her argument, Margaret Murray does give a fascinating overview of witchcraft, and of the belief in the Horned God, as a Lord of Nature and Animals, both in Europe and beyond. She also rightfully points out the extensive links between European witchcraft and the belief in fairies, which are not the twee beings we have to become used to since the 19th Century.
Her idea that fairies were a real, human people, and it is their cult of the Horned God and witchcraft that they passed on, is not in itself ridiculous. The Tuatha de Danann were seen as a people who later become supernatural beings after being defeated by the ancestors of the Irish. After Christianity, worship of them devolved into folk beliefs in fairies, beliefs which survived right up to the early 20th Century.
So, squint hard and you can almost accept her reasoning. However, surviving beliefs in fairies or witchcraft in Europe is not the same thing as a conscious survival of a cult dating back to the Stone Age, and certainly evidence from the witch trials shows that any witch cult that was practiced was heavily influenced by Christianity, and the evidence itself was often distorted by the Christian prejudices of the prosecutors themselves.
Despite all these reservations, it is still an essential read. Its influence on modern paganism and witchcraft can't be underestimated. And, surprsingly, she puts forward a good case that the life of Joan of Arc is not what it seems. Which isn't to say that Joan of Arc was a follower of an organised pagan cult, but her evidence does suggest that contempory French as well as the English thought there was something 'devillish' about her.
In short, a fascinating, if flawed book, that nevertheless should be read by anyone interested in witchcraft, paganism, and supernatural beliefs.
I read a paperback version of this book, so I can't comment on how it was translated on to Kindle