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Witch Cult in Western Europe: A Study in Anthropology

14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0766144552
ISBN-10: 0766144550
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Margaret Alice Murray was an eminent and respected Anthropologist, Archaeologist and Egyptologist. In the 1920’s she began writing about her theories on the origins and organization of witchcraft predating Christianity. At the time many of her colleagues ridiculed her work, yet today some of her books have gained classical status. These include: The Witch-Cult in Western Europe - published in 1921, The God of the Witches - published in 1933 and The Divine King in England – published 1954. Margaret Murray was born in Calcutta, India, on the 13th July 1863, and was the younger daughter of James Charles Murray and his wife, Margaret Carr. James, whose family had been in India for several generations, was by then the managing partner of a firm of Manchester merchants, while his wife came from a religious Northumbrian family and initially had gone to India as a missionary and social worker, working to better the circumstances of Indian women. Margaret spent much of her early life flitting between India and England, with a brief period 1873–5 spent in Bonn, Germany. She was educated mainly by her mother in India, but when visiting family in England she would often stay with her uncle John Murray, the Vicar of Lambourn in Berkshire, and later the Rector of Rugby, who helped to flesh out her education. Indeed it was from him she acquired an interest in ancient history and monuments. However, back in India her first career choice was in nursing. In 1883, she trained for three months—the most her father would permit—at the Calcutta General Hospital as the first ‘lady probationer’ in India, and acted briefly as ‘sister-in-charge’ during an epidemic. On her return to England in 1886, she was forced to give up her hopes of a nursing career due to her stature, being a mere 4 feet 10 inches tall, she was considered too small to qualify. She next tried a career in social work, first in Rugby and then in Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire, where her parents finally settled in 1887 after their return from India. It was not until January 1894 that Margaret entered University College London and started on the career for which she is best known. However, because it was difficult in those days for a woman to receive advanced degree’s in specialist subjects such as Archaeology, her main choice of study, she had to approach it in a roundabout way and take a degree in Linguistics instead. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Kessinger Publishing, LLC (March 31, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0766144550
  • ISBN-13: 978-0766144552
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 0.6 x 11 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,607,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By simone on November 8, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the groundbreaking works in the study of witchcraft, Margaret Murray's _The Witch-Cult in Western Europe_ argues that accounts of the witch trials of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Britain provide evidence of a pre-Christian fertility cult persisting underground through the millennium of Christian domination, a cult wrongly persecuted by Christian authorities as Satanic. At the center of this cult was the worship of a god, and the cult itself Murray describes as worshipping "in well-defined rites; the organization . . . highly developed; and the ritual . . . analogous to many other ancient rituals" (p. 12). It is from the contemporary accounts of the witch trials that Murray extracts her picture of the rites and practices of the witch-cult, a cult apparently engaging in, among other things, worship of the Devil, the working of nefarious magic, child and animal sacrifice, and sexual orgies.

Is it possible that these activities were not what they seemed on the surface to be, but were instead the survivals of a more ancient religion? You would expect that if this were the case, two things would be in evidence: One, that Murray would draw her conclusion based on the similarity of the witches' activities to exant descriptions of the pre-Christian religion of the British Isles, and two, that reports of this cultic activity would surface with regularity before the time of the great witch-craze. Inconveniently, though, neither holds true. Murray herself admits at the outset, "Of the ancient religion of pre-Christian Britain there are few written records, but it is contrary to all expectation that a cult should die out and leave no trace immediately on the introduction of a new religion" (p.19).
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful By R. Landrum on January 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Readers should be warned: this book, and the "Murray thesis" itself, have been thoroughly discredited for a generation. This book is most useful as a demonstration of the power of dishonest scholarship and the willingness of people to believe a collection of lies. Murray, an Egyptologist, has been shown to have misquoted, misused and abused the sixteen sources that make up the basis for this study. Her methods have been discredited, her deliberate ignorance of contradictory evidence has been illuminated, and her refusal to consider that the confessions of convicted witches were gained through torture and were scripted before the fact mark her as a dangerous and unprincipled scholar. In Witch Cult, Murray founded a myth of an earth-based cult, surviving alongside the official Church, sustained in the covens of witches who worshiped at the "sabbat." This picture, conjured from the scripted confessions of witches, had and has a powerful appeal to Wiccan and other neo-pagan groups, who gained through it a historical provenance that simply does not exist. So powerful was its appeal that Murray rode this book to a sort of scholarly noteriety, gaining print-space for a few years in the Encyclopedia Britannica as cutting-edge witch scholarship. It wasn't long, though, before real historians began a re-examination of Murray and her sources. One cannot now find a serious scholar who still accepts the Murray thesis, nor can anyone who has seen the archival records accept that the poor individuals who died a very painful death for the crime of witchcraft be guilty of adherence to an alternative religion. I have no problem with neopaganism or any of the other harmless groups who claim to have magical powers or some deep connection with earth-based wisdom.Read more ›
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25 of 32 people found the following review helpful By J. W. Kennedy on January 17, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is of interest mainly because HP Lovecraft put it on the bookshelves of occult scholars in his stories (alongside the "Necronomicon," Frazer's "Golden Bough," and the "Unausprechlichen Kulten" of Von Juntz.) Readers will realize early on that this book was an inspiration to Lovecraft. Undoubtedly this is where he got the idea for the international Cthulhu cult in "Call of Cthulhu," and he probably turned to it often as a reference to give an air of authenticity to witchcraft rituals and 17th-century pastiches in his stories.

However, even to the obsessive fan hellbent on tracking down HPL's sources, this book has limited appeal. Unlike the "Golden Bough," "Witch Cult" does not have a strong thesis and doesn't seem to have any purpose beyond presenting fragments of court records from witch trials and grouping them together in chapters based on their thematic content. Many of Ms. Murray's sources are French, and she presents them in French, without any translation. You get the feeling that you just missed something potentially interesting, in some spots probably someting salacious or naughty, unless you can read French. I can't, so I wound up frustrated a lot.

The rest of Ms. Murray's sources are in "English," but they were written in the glorious days of the 1600s, before standardized spelling, and apparently before grammar had been invented. One example that pops into my mind: "quohome" as a way to spell "whom." If you have trouble reading the King James Bible, if Shakespeare leaves you shrugging your shoulders in pure bafflement, then avoid this book like the plague. You won't comprehend 50 percent of it.

For some reason Ms.
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