Margaret Murray and the Distinguished Professor Hutton.
By Jani Farrell-Roberts c2002
There has long been a debate among modern Western Pagans over whether they are part of the flowering of a new religion or of an old religion that never died. My own instinct was that our coven's quiet rituals and blessings in the British countryside were part of an ancient religious tradition. Our path was animistic – again an ancient path.
I had little doubt over this. The beliefs I shared required no church or temple, no book of rules or regulations, no set rituals, no ordained priesthood or hierarchy no pope or bishop or even guru, yet were our religion. The heart of my beliefs arose from experience and instinct, as did our magic. I delighted in the company of spirits, deities, or sacred natural energies. I sought a bonding with Deity. My religion lay in these relationships and in our honouring of them as sacred. My normal way of expressing this was Pagan although I knew there were many different vocabularies in which such ways and truths could be explained.I also shared with the Australian Aborigines, with whom I worked in the 1970s and 1980s, a belief that our sacred sites need to have our energy in every generation, or else they would fade and die. I felt there were always some who shared our beliefs, helped to maintain the sacred places and keep them alive.
When I returned to England in the late 1980s, I was introduced to the works of Pagan historians such as Dr Ronald Hutton. His works were praised — but disconcertingly I found in them the bold assertion that ALL Pagan religions had died out in the British Isles by the end of the 11th century. Had none of my ancestors shared my animism for 900 years? I did not need to have my beliefs vindicated by an historian as they were based on personal experience, but I still found this surprising. Yet I found nothing in his work to prove this. I found instead hints that the opposite might be true. He acknowledged that some had continued to honour sacred wells but he seemingly had dismissed these acts summarily as either Christian or as trivialities.” 
I could understand how he might have been annoyed by Pagans who had wrongly claimed that their rituals had been performed exactly the same for centuries— but such claims were irrelevant to my understanding of a “religion”, and presumably to Ronald Hutton’s, whose book The Triumph of the Moon would give a definition of “religion” as “a belief by humans in spiritual beings and a need for humans to form relationships with them.” A religion thus did not need to have set rituals or institutional structures.
In the mid-twentieth century many Pagans had been pleased that Murray, an Assistant Professor of Egyptology at London University, reported that a form of pagan witchcraft existed in medieval Europe. They thought their magic and Craft had ancient antecedents, but it was good to have the backing of a respected historian. Gerald Gardner thus asked her to contribute an Introduction to his influential 1956 work. Witchcraft Today. Her principal thesis, as presented in The God of the Witches (1933), and in other works, was that a coven-based witchcraft survived in Britain up until at least the 17th century. She based this on witchtrial testimonies. She held that some aspects of this cult, such as the worship of a horned god, were inherited from ancient times.  A century earlier Jacobs Grimm had similarly reported in his Deutsche Mythologie (Gottingen 1835) that witch beliefs were lingering relics of a systematic pre-Christian Teutonic religion.
In her Introduction to Gardner’s work, she gave him the credit for finding that modern witchcraft was ‘a true survival and not a mere revival copied out of books.’ She thought there was an instinctual link between aspects of past and present. She held in Europe ‘the feeling which underlies both the primitive and the civilized is the same’, that humans ‘worshipping together always devise a form of ritual, especially when the worship takes the form of a dance…the rhythmic movements, the rhythmic sounds, and the sympathy of numbers all engaged in the same action, induce a feeling of exhilaration, which can increase to a form of intoxication. This stage is often regarded by the worshippers as a special divine favour, denoting the actual advent of the Deity into the body of the worshipper.’ She concluded that rituals expressing intense gratitude towards God could be experienced in modern Christianity, in other faiths, and in ‘the jumping dance of the medieval “witches”. 
Murray’s work was pioneering but like all work of that period, is now dated. She also suggested that “under a slight change of name, much of the Old Religion still survives in Europe’. The animistic and other central belief-elements might have survived but the practice of the Wicca I know is very different from the medieval Craft she described, and so too is my own more personal Craft. I am thus sceptical about several of her specific claims. Her work is very rich in quotations and I have not checked many of her sources. But I believe her argument that England was not speedily converted but continued to have a significant Pagan population for some centuries requires a deeper study than that provided by Hutton in his work.
Hutton in his 1991 book, The Pagan Religions of the British Isles, said Murray’s thesis had been completely discredited by authors he endorsed. They had proved, he claimed, that she had omitted from the testimony of the witchtrial victims she cited anything that would have discredited them. Thus his attack was not just on her credibility but also the credibility of the witchtrial victims she cited. There was thus no need to take seriously their description of their Craft. Hutton is an eminent academic and his conclusions had a devastating impact on her credibility — and on that of these witchtrial victims. His conclusions soon became “established wisdom”.
At a conference I asked Hutton about the evidence on which he based his discrediting of Murray. This was just after we had listened to a speaker on the “real” Margaret Murray who had seemingly repeated Hutton’s line. He referred me to just two books, Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas and Europe's Inner Demons by Norman Cohn. I had hoped for more since I was unsure about the soundness of these works. He had singled them out earlier: “Two [authors] in particular, Keith Thomas in 1971 and Norman Cohen in 1975 exposed her misrepresentation of evidence”. His book had also listed without quotation or summary local studies that he alleged showed certain people persecuted, as witches were definitely not “practitioners of an Old Religion”. Again he had made a sweeping statement that begged the question of what was an old religion.
It seemed that he had taken on a mission to reform modern paganism by removing from it a false history and sense of continuance. He wrote that pagan proponents of false histories were his book’s “natural opponents”. This partly explained what he told me when I visited him at home to discuss his critique – and to warn him that Cohn’s research on Murray was highly flawed. He replied by telling me, to my surprise, that he had been angry when he wrote The Pagan Religions of the British Isles.
He normally did not hint at this – nor say if he had any personal religious commitments that might affect his objectivity. He is thus perhaps wrongly cited as an objective neutral and a “non-pagan” for he happens to be a very active member of the British Pagan community. In Pagan Religion he wrote; “In the case of Wicca, its initiates have paid no attention to the most important recent work upon either ancient paganism or the Great Witch Hunt.” He particularly severely criticised Vivienne Crowley’s work “Wicca” and Margot Adler’s “Drawing down the moon” for “taking some fleeting notice of Norman Cohn’s attack upon the Murray thesis, but only to dismiss it with a few general and quite inadequate remarks, ignoring the vast bulk of a detailed, meticulous and formidable book”.
He told me that he hoped I would find less angry his forthcoming work, Drawing down the Moon. But when I read it, I found that, while he allowed the possibility of some forms of modern witchcraft having an ancestry predating the 1930s, he still supported Cohn’s critique of Murray. He now stated that Cohn had “exposed the tactics by which Margaret Murray had distorted evidence to support” her thesis.
Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick in the A history of Pagan Europe, similarly relied on Cohn to provide their principal argument for dismissing Murray. They said Murray had omitted from accounts of witch-trial testimony “fantastic details such as shape shifting, flying through the air, making rideable horses out of straw and so on".
I had come across references to the two authors Hutton recommended in a work by the scholar Karen Armstrong. She wrote; "To deny, as male scholars like Norman Cohn or Keith Thomas have both done recently, that the Witch Craze bore any special malevolence to women is to ignore a substantial amount of evidence in the principal writers on witchcraft at the time of the craze." Hutton had also seriously under-rated the effect of the witchtrials on women when he protested that the numbers of women killed were “miniscule compared with those [men] killed on other criminal charges or in battle”. This comparison was invidious. Men killed in battle were afterwards honoured, not despised beforehand and ridiculed as creatures of the devil.
Cohn also alleged Murray omitted the following testimony to make a source credible. "I was in the Downie-hills and got me from the Queen of Fairie, more than I could eat. The Queen of Fairie is bravely clothed in white linen." But Murray quoted this at length. She also told how Aberdeen witches honoured the "Queen of Elfin" who “has a grip of all the craft”. In folk belief "downie Hills" or "fairy mounds" were the Otherworld homes of the "Little Folk" as well as ancestral sacred places or burial mounds. The fairies were said to be led by Queens or Goddesses. The Goddess Bride wore white. Professor Eva Pocs described many cases of "fairy witches" who honoured such spirits in her unique study of two thousand central European witchtrials entitled Between the Living and the Dead, published in 1999, the same year as The Triumph of the Moon.
There are many other scholars who follow the same line as Pocs. Max Dashu noted; “Hutton's failure to address the growing body of European scholarship on pagan cultural themes in the witch hunts, including such eminent writers as Giuseppe Bonomo, Carlo Ginsberg, Bengt Ankarloo, Gustav Henningsen, Eva Pocs and Tekla Dömötor, is a serious omission.” I would add that the eminent Professor Hans Kung, Head of the Theology faculty at Tubingen, a frequent target in the 20th century of the “Holy Office”, the renamed Inquisition, also found a strong pagan element existed among those accused in witchtrials.
Cohn also saw as damning to Murray’s research the following alleged omission; "All the coven did fly like cats, jackdaws, hares and rooks … rode on a horse that we would make of a straw or a beanstalk" - and that a witch allegedly turned herself into a horse. But Murray dealt at length with such testimonies, quoting many similar cases. There was an ancient and Europe-wide folk-belief in the magically adept's ability to so identify with other creatures that they could shape-shift and fly. This could also relate to dreams or experiences in trance. Magical straw horses were common symbols - and described in the ancient German grimoire quoted below. Pocs noted that the accused frequently claimed to fly to witch gatherings, and that flying was a symbolic expression of a journey to the other world.
Cohn quoted another quite terrible testimony as allegedly a Murray omission. It was that one of the accused dug up the corpse of a baby to eat its flesh. Again Cohn does Murray a great injustice. She wrote about it at length. (It should be remembered that cannibalism accusations were falsely also aimed at early Christians and Jews.)
Cohn also alleged she had omitted; "they [went] through at a little hole like bees and took the substance of the ale". He insisted, if Murray had not omitted this, it would have been obvious her source was lying. I could not find this particular quotation in Murray but this was a harsh judgement by Cohn. "Small holes" represent, in shamanic accounts, entries to the Otherworld. Cohn forgot that he himself had cited as authentic the ancient story that the followers of the Goddess entered houses through small holes to take food and drink left out for them while leaving presents or blessings. Feasting was commonly associated with witches' gatherings - as reported by Murray, Pocs and others.
I should stress that it is the defaming work of Norman Cohn that my criticism mostly focuses on as far as Murray is concerned - and the works of others insofar as they gave uncritical credibility to his defamation of Murray.
However I also found flawed the other author on which Hutton told me he relied. This was Keith Thomas of Religion and the Decline of Magic, whose whole thesis I found flawed. But specifically on Murray; Thomas quoted her as saying: "the only explanation of the numbers of witches who were legally tried and put to death in Western Europe is that we are dealing with a religion which was spread over the whole continent." He dismissed this by saying: "the absence of any organisation, co-operation, continuity or common ritual among witches makes it impossible to speak with Margaret Murray of a "witchcraft" let alone of the "old religion." However Pocs and other researchers have since shown that there was on the contrary a remarkable continuity of witchcraft belief and practice across Europe. Pocs based this on studies on witchcraft in France, England, Belgium, Germany and in Eastern Europe.
Thomas had presumed, as seemingly had Hutton, that a "religion" could not exist unless it was more tightly organised than demanded by the dictionary definition of "religion". Thomas also maintained, as would Hutton, that; "accused witches had no demonstrable links with a pagan past." Yet the very texts quoted in Cohn as “omitted” were evidence of such links.
Thomas' worldview was not that of the time of the witch-trials. I quote here Normal Cohn, with whom I do not always disagree! He wrote; "The early church already regarded all magical practices as manifestations of paganism". The Church thus regarded the witch's magic as essentially Pagan even if beneficial or couched in Christian terms. Pocs wrote of the "taltos" put on trial in this period, saying these were the equivalent of the pre-Christian shaman. She concluded; "the belief systems of European shamanism and witchcraft developed as twin siblings from common parentage and were closely bound to each other. This is how we see things in the light of both German and Slav documentation." She also suggested that shamanistic witchcraft traditions continued into modern times.
Carlo Ginsburg, in Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath, linked the witchtrial stories of witches' sabbats or gatherings back to ancient shamanic traditions, as did also Pocs and Doreen Valiente. Pocs summarised the evidence to “unambiguously refute” the suggestion that the witchtrial evidence on these gatherings was greatly distorted by torture. The same was said by the tortured and the untortured. She saw their testimony as based on remarkably uniform “visionary experience.” Pocs also found that the practice of “contacting the Supernatural through trance in order to achieve community tasks’, often with the help of a guide or spirit, was common both to European witchcraft and to Shamanism strictly so-called, or as practiced in Siberia.
The medieval grimoire described in Forbidden Rites: A Necromancer’s Manual of the 15th Century contained directions for creating illusions like to the flying straw horses mentioned by Murray. It’s author, Kieckhefer, commented that illusion spells "done for entertainment" sadly “became sources of Boschian nightmares of the witch-trials.”
I am not arguing here that Murray’s description of a Medieval Craft was accurate, but that her academic reputation has been wrongly damaged by unjustified specific allegations. My issue is that certain scholars of high repute have helped destroy the reputation of a woman of considerable achievement by relying on the work of Cohn without checking to see if he were accurate. I think her spirit deserves some apologies!
But Murray did make mistakes. I think one of the main ones was that she defined Pagan religion too narrrowly, ironically much as does Ronald Hutton. When she found something of the old fairy-honouring religion in Joan of Arc, she declared that Joan was Pagn in a much combative sense than she really was, as if she adhered to Religion diametrically opposed to Christianity, rather than having a religion that strong elements from both the Pagan and the Christian past. This Joan did not do. She seems to have honoured Christ while not obeying the bishops. She saw herself as owing her prime allegiance to her visions, to her conversations with otherworld beings.
The medieval Bishops thus saw witchcraft as adherence to an inner authority, to the inner voices, as giving primacy to inner knowledge and to our personal relationships with Deities or spirits, rather than acknowleging the right of external authorities to govern our spiritual lifes. If that is witchcraft, then that definitely is my path.
As far as I can judge, Murray did not argue that the Craft she found in witchtrial records was identical with that of the pre-historic past, but maintained that some elements of it were truly old. She also did not look for links to ancient shamanism - but then this was then little understood. She also did not investigate if other Pagan traditions might have survived in Britain.
Hutton maintained that such beliefs and practices did not constitute a religion. Was it that we defined religion differently? My Oxford Dictionary gives several alternate definitions. These were a belief in God or Gods, the honouring of these in worship or “a system of faith and worship”. The Latin origin for the word indicated a bond between God and Man. Religions seemingly had no need of hierarchical structures or institutions. There was also nothing to prevent a religion from including elements from other religions.
Perhaps his difficulty lay in the way he separated “Christian” from “Pagan” practices? If a vicar in a Derbyshire parish blessed a sacred well, keeping up a very ancient custom, is he being Pagan or Christian? Perhaps the honest answer is that he is being both - that his system of belief is not entirely inherited from Israel but incorporates local Pagan elements. But Hutton said these elements were no longer Pagan for "It is necessary to demonstrate that certain things, although now existing within a Christian structure, kept alive a memory of, and a reverence for, the old deities. Otherwise they were part of Christianity." I would suggest that honouring a well is not part of the Christian Revelation but a belief that comes from a far older origin. It keeps alive a reverence for the Sacred Earth, a Pagan belief that has existed from pre-Christian times.
The answer is, I think, that the religions of Europe have always mixed and matched. If we believe in a religion founded on a personal relationship with the Divine, then it lies beyond sets of doctrines or hierarchies. Labels can only limit. Nothing prohibits sharing. For me, my spiritual brothers and sisters are not those with whom I only share a label, but those with whom I share a relationship with the spirits and Deities of Nature.
This article is summarised from a small part of the author’s new book "The Seven Days of My Creation: Tales of Magic, Sex and Gender.
This book weaves the story of an extraordinary personal spiritual journey from a fey child who joined a near-medieval and very patriarchal, religious community but who secretly knew she had been labelled into the wrong gender, to Christian Priest, to excommunication, visted by Mother Teresa of Calcutta who tried to save her, to worker with Aborigines, among whom she came to celebrate her femalehood, finding that she had been gifted a very old shamanic path, and thus finally to her work as an investigative journalist on social justice issues, and as a witch and priestess in the ancient sacred places of the British Isles.
 There is much on Aboriginal magic and religion in my book The Seven Days of My Creation: Tales of Magic, Sex and Gender.
 Hutton Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles, Blackwell 1991, 293, 308.
 Ibid: 299-300
 Ronald Hutton The Triumph of the Moon, Oxford 1999.
 Witchtrial historian Jenny Gibson claimed that Gardner modelled his ritual texts on Murray’s work. There is, in my opinion, very little similarity. See http://www.summerlands.com/crossroads/remembrance/_remembrance/fire_in_head.htm
 Gerald Gardner Witchcraft Today (Rider 1956) 16
 Ibid. 306
 See The Scholars and the Goddess in Atlantic Monthly, 1 January 2001. Hutton is quoted in a critique of Wiccan and Pagan authors.
 See http://www.medeaschariot.com/history/index.htm. ‘Hutton is not Pagan, and puts his scholarship first. Consequently, he's the only person who has written a modern Pagan history who did not have the hindrance of politics.’
 Hutton 1991 340
 Hutton1999 362.
 Ibid. 302
 Karen Armstrong The Gospel according to Women 111. Diane Purkiss, author of The Witch in History, was similarly critical of Keith Thomas. “I wickedly suggest that his comprehensive lack of interest in the question of gender in early modern witchcraft might have some connection with his tendency to portray witches themselves as disempowered beggars.” She noted that some of the accused were not passively labelled by others as witches ‘but actively chose to be witches’.
The question of whether or not women did employ magic (and psychology) is dealt with at length in my book Seven Days. I conclude that women have long used magic as a means of self-protection and in matters of love, especially in matters relating to sexuality. I also examine why women were so singled out as a target of male suspicion, showing how this was based in part on the teachings of the early Church.
I deal elsewhere with the history of the devil, with Christian Medieval Ritual Magic and the witch-hunts– see Chapter 2-4 of The Seven Days of My Creation. Cohn’s treatment of the early period was valuable but contained a few notable errors, such as saying that the name of the ‘Cathars’ comes from their worship of the ‘cat’ – it’s root is the German for heretic but came to mean ‘The Pure Ones’ —and citing the Book of Hermes as a Christian book when it arose out of Greek paganism. Farrell-Roberts 2002 chapters 2, 4 and 6.
His later edition also added chapters on the evolution of the concept of the ‘devil’ and on Christian ritual magic – and contained much less on medieval witchcraft. I deal elsewhere with the former concepts. Here my focus is on his treatment of Margaret Murray – and fortunately for my purposes, the chapter on her is virtually identical in both editions. Despite his treatment of Murray, I found other parts of Cohn’s work most interesting and I hope these parts were more reliable.
A New or Old Western Paganism?
The controversy over Margaret Murray.
By Jani Farrell-Roberts c2003
This charge was initially made by Norman Cohn. He had justified his thesis that medieval witchcraft was entirely delusional by endeavouring, in Europe’s Inner Demon,s to discredit Murray by saying she had deliberately distorted the evidence she quoted from witch-trial records by omitting whatever would have discredited her sources. Other authors repeated this charge, quoting Norman Cohn rather than their own independent research. Thus Ronald Hutton as before cited, and thus James Sharpe, who merely commented in his Instruments of Darkness that Murray’s ideas were discredited “among serious scholars” because of Cohn’s effective “demolition job on her theories”’[Sharpe 1996, 8]. Even the eminent Carlo Ginzburg cited Cohn, and Cohn alone, not his own research, when he said Murray had falsified evidence. If it turned out that Cohn was wrong, then this was a terrible case of unjustified “Chinese whispers”.
I thus focus on the credibility of Cohn himself, since on this, and this alone, these charges stood or fell. I really expected this to be a simple matter. It was a matter of fact, not of opinion. All I needed to do was to investigate if he were right in saying that she had omitted the specific passages he quoted. If she had not, then he was clearly wrong. If he were right, then the argument was more complex. I would have to look at how discrediting these omitted phrases really were. On this stood, not just Murray’s credibility, but that of the many accused medieval women she cited.
I must admit I was surprised by Hutton’s response I thought I had conclusively proved that Cohn consistently falsely charged Murray. I had given the supporting references, showing that all but one of the allegations was completely untrue in that she had not omitted the texts – and, in the exception, it would not have discredited either her or the person she quoted if she had included it. I thought this meant Hutton would check and concede that Cohn was in error.
But no: he endorsed Cohn again and declared rather triumphantly that I had quoted the wrong book by Murray, that Cohn had been referring to omissions, not in Murray’s 1931 work The God of the Witches, but in her earlier 1921 work Witch Cult in Western Europe. Alas, Hutton had not read Cohn carefully enough. Cohn specifically said his critique of her “omissions” referred to both of these works.
I have tried to work out why Cohn made these errors. When I noted he seemingly had only checked her 1921 work, despite saying he was looking at both, I thought I had found the reason. But I found on further reading, that it was worse than this. He had even misrepresented the 1921 work, falsely alleging she omitted material when that book included it.
Her 1921 book is packed with learned citations from witch trials, in French, German and old English. She dealt with disreputable elements in great detail. The ‘exclusions’ Cohn noted were nothing more than her having separated out the various parts of testimonies thematically – for example, so she could put in one place all citations of witches’ feasts and in another all citations of witches kissing the devil. Cohn should have noted this.
In 1921 she was one of the first to note a similarity between English witchcraft and shamanism. ‘The best example of transformation by means of a magical object placed on the person is from Northumberland (1673), where Ann Armstrong stated that “Anne Forster come with a bridle, and bridled her and ridd upon her crosse-leggd, till they come to [the] rest of her companions. And when she light of her back, pulld the bridle of this informer's head, now in the likenesse of a horse; but, when the bridle was taken of, she stood up in her owne shape…”’ Murray commented, ‘This is again a clear account of the witch herself and her companions believing in the change of form caused by the magical object in exactly the same way that the shamans believe in their own transformation by similar means.’ [Murray 1921 Chapter 8]
She was greatly influenced by Sir Petrie, the Professor of Egyptology at University College, who ‘regarded contemporary customs as the remains of primitive religion’, and by the Reverend Professor Edwin James who wrote ‘The Cult of the Mother Goddess’ and who was, like her, also influenced by Frazer’s Golden Bough. Her theories were also influenced by oral traditions she gathered from country people in Ireland and Britain. Oates and Wood of the Folklore Society recorded that many remembered her with fondness as ‘Ma’ Murray, a woman with an excellent sense of humour, although on at least one occasion she was ‘vitriolic’ in reviewing work with which she strongly disagreed. [Oates and Wood 14-22, 35]
In these works she treated the testimony of accused witches as ethnographic data, not excluding anything that conflicted with modern values, endeavouring to construct a framework to explain all the testimony. This far so good, but, she increasingly made her framework over literal, basing it on too few examples, trying to make it fit even testimony unduly shaped by the prosecution. But despite these shortcomings, what she gathered is very useful data – much as I also find most valuable the information that Hutton assiduously collects, even if I disagree with his interpretation.
Hutton claims that I made “no attempt to sustain” my critique of Keith Thomas’s theory that there was no “continuity” across Europe, of either a “witchcraft” or of a witchcraft religion. Hutton does not read me with care. I answered him by referring to Eva Pocs’s seminal work, revealing evidence of continuity of witchcraft across Europe, Between the Living and the Dead, 1999, based on a study of 2,000 witch trials. She found witchcraft central to a Europe-wide belief-system closely related to a form of shamanism –and to animism. The issue is then whether or not this “belief-system” can be treated as a religion. I argued that it could be.
I was astonished by Hutton’s accusation that I seemingly had not “read a single work of medieval history.” I thought my article indicated quite the opposite. If he had done me the courtesy of consulting the book of mine I cited (which he could get at no cost from his library) he would have found it rich in its use of medieval sources. It also deals with the persecution of witchcraft in pre-Christian Europe – a topic that he introduced in his Response.
But I have a deeper issue with Cohn and Hutton. This came plain when I sought to discover why it was so important to Cohn to demolish Murray’s reputation. The answer was that Murray placed medieval witchcraft in the real world while Cohn’s thesis was that it was entirely delusional. He hoped by demolishing her, he could convincingly claim that a real witchcraft had not existed in medieval Europe. Cohn’s conviction is witnessed to by the changes he made to his book. It went from admitting in 1975 that “diverse elements” including fantasy made up the image of the medieval witch to deleting “diverse elements” and keeping “fantasy” in his 1993 edition.
Hutton similarly interpreted the Europe-wide belief in a Wild Hunt as having nothing to do with Paganism, being only the product of ‘a vivid medieval realm of imagination which extended across the whole of Europe.’ But imagination, personal visionary experiences and spiritual healings have long played a major role in the reality of many individuals and religions. On such their reality is often based.
Such scholars as Pocs and Ginzburg hold that the records of the witch trials contain a wealth of information on the belief-systems underlying witchcraft practices in Europe, and their role in the lives of many communities.. Nevertheless Cohn tried to recruit Ginzburg as a supporter of his theory that witches ‘sabbat’ accounts were totally delusional., but Ginzburg responded: ‘Equally unjustified… is the assurance with which N. Cohn, in polemic with Russell (and also because of a misinterpretation of my book) concluded that the “experiences of the benandanti [an Italian group that apparently carried out crop fertility rites] … were all trance experiences.” ‘On the basis of the available documents, the existence or non-existence of an organised sect of witches in fifteenth-to-sixteenth Europe seems to be indeterminate.’ He thus did not exclude the possibility of real activities and real witch meetings took place, as the accused had claimed, although so far evidence from non-witch-trial sources was lacking.
Hutton in Triumph of the Moon misinterpreted Ginzburg similarly, saying he held ‘pretty well the opposite’ of the Murray thesis ‘that Witches’ sabbats were real and material events’. Hutton even suggested that Ginzburg was ‘fulfilling Cohn’s agenda’ by showing how a ‘new set of fantasies was created at the end of the Middle Ages’. He clearly had not noted Ginzburg’s clarification. Hutton had however noted that Ginzburg held there was a ‘kernel of truth’ in Murray’s theory, repeating this in two books, saying he kept to this opinion despite the risk of being called a “Murrayist”. Hutton deeply deplored Ginzburg saying this, saying it had ‘caused tremendous confusion among modern British witches’! This “confusion” perhaps was a perfectly legitimate questioning of Cohn and Hutton’s theories.
Finally on my own status, since it is challenged by Hutton. In his response he slighted me as having the bad manners of a “self-employed investigative journalist.” The alleged ill-manners was reporting what he said on Murray at a meeting he claimed had no relationship to Murray. His recollection is at fault, but it was 4 years ago. The meeting was sought by the late and much missed High Priest of our coven, Richard Swettenham, at my request specifically to let Hutton know of the weakness in Cohn’s critique. On the night I was mostly sidetracked by a general wish to discuss broader topics, including Craft matters, but I have kept my comments solely to what he said after I summarized the issue.
I wear the badge of a freelance investigative journalist with pride, as well as that of a high priestess. Hutton knows of the character of my journalism, because last year, when I apologised for a week’s delay in answering an email on Margaret Murray, over which delay he had threatened academic hostility, I explained I was completing an investigative piece for a major newspaper on biological weapons. Hutton then responded graciously, saying that such work was currently the more important. My investigative work over thirty years has focussed on human rights and corporate responsibility, and been funded by numerous well-known charities – and by the BBC and Channel 4. Two years ago I testified at a US Congressional Hearing on Human Rights. Currently I am working with Survival International on behalf of the evicted Bushmen of the Kalahari. I am even more proud of having worked for well over a decade with many Australian Aboriginal civil rights organisations. It is the same sense of justice that then motivated me that now moves me to defend Murray. I thought someone had to put to rest these false charges, and, believe me, taking on Ronald Hutton academically is a fearsome thing!
It is not that I lack academic qualifications. I hold a Masters in Theology (thus my critique of Hutton’s definition of religion) as well as a Summa Cum Laude in Philosophy and a B.Sc. Hons. in Sociology, the latter from the London School of Economics. I have also written and produced award-winning documentaries on historical and contemporary issues shown on the ABC, BBC2 and Channel 4, and have authored three very well-received historical works published in Australia.
Note. The author’s next book is on human rights in the diamond mining and cutting industry and entitled “Glitter and Greed”. It is the story of an investigation that took her to five continents, including her discovery of horrific conditions inside African diamond mines from which De Beers had banned her. It is being launched in the United States this October. Her film series on this topic was entitled “The Diamond Empire” and shown on BBC2 in 1994.
And, just as a reminder, her recent very unusual memoir, woven with a detailed history of mysticism, gnosticism and the Craft – as well as of gender and sexuality, is available from www.amazon.co.uk and entitled “The Seven Days of My Creation: Tales of Magic, Sex and Gender.”
> Re: An article on Margaret Murray
>> Dear Ron,
>> Long time since I’ve seen you. Trust you are well. I remember spending a
>> very pleasant evening with you one day with Dick (Swettenham). have been away writing my
>> book – and renovating Dick's old boat Leonid. She looked wretched but now is
>> again afloat again in Bristol Marina and looks wonderful, quite belying her
>> 97 years. I met the wonderful Welsh Alison who (knows you) ... on Monday night – so, thinking of you, thought
>> it might be a good time to be back in touch.
>> My new book is just out published in America. It is cheekily called The
>> Seven Days of My Creation: Tales of Magic, Sex and Gender” - and is
>> available at www. Amazon.com...
>> Which brings me to why I have enclosed an article. I sent this to Pagan
>> Dawn over a year ago, last August. The previous editor loved it and planned
>> to print it in the Imbulc or Beltaine issue this year but has not appeared.
>> I had hoped that it would enliven a debate over Margaret Murray – and was
>> planning to draw it to your attention when I knew when it would appear...
>> But it instead fell into a hole and has never appeared.
>> Would you mind reading it? I would love to have your comments. As you may
>> have guessed, it takes a very different line to your own but I hope you find
>> that it is academically sound and useful. If you like it – well between us
>> we might be able to get it published, perhaps with a response by yourself?
>> With blessings on the winds that rock my boat, Jani Farell-Roberts
Thank you for your letter and enclosures. I am glad that things are
going well for you and very willing to read your article. This is a very
hectic time of term, so it may take a while, but I shall put it into the
pile of work that people have sent me to read (on average I receive,
without warning, an article or manuscript book every single working day)
and get to it as soon as I have commented on the items before it....
fully stretched by the present crisis in British universities; yet I
shall do my best.
With all good wishes,
> Dear Jani,
> To my pleasure, I have been able to read your piece at once, having
> printed it out from your attachment. It was much shorter and simpler
> than I had expected, and so I can reply without putting it in the pile
> of longer and more detailed work that needs extended reading.
> First, thank you for your kindness and courtesy in sending it to me
> - even if belatedly - and inviting me to join a debate with you on it.
> The piece as it stands divides into three sections:
> (1) Margaret Murray. Here I shall need to reread her works and Cohn
> to see where they fail to connect, and whether your case stands up,
> which will take time at this stage of term. However, the more
> important point is that Cohn's work has now been thoroughly overtaken,
> and is obsolete, as is my own of a dozen years ago. To get some sense
> of where studies of the witch trials now stand, and with them the
> Murray thesis, I recommend the following:
> -P.G. Maxwell-Stuart, "Witchcraft in Europe and the New World,
> 1400-1800" (Palgrave, 2001)
> -Geoffrey Scarre and John Callow, "Witchcraft and Magic in Sixteenth-
> and Seventeenth-Century Europe" (Palgrave, 2001)
> -James Sharpe, "Witchcraft in Early Modern England" (Pearson, 2001)
> All are short cheap summaries of current thought. To get deeper into
> the subject you then need to look at some of the classics of the
> -Robin Briggs, "Witches and Neighbours" (HarperCollins, 1996)
> -James Sharpe, "Instruments of Darkness" (Hamish Hamilton, 1996)
> -Diane Purkiss, "The Image of the Witch" (Routledge, 1996)
> -Stuart Clark, "Thinking With Demons" (Oxford University Press, 1997)
> It is worth looking also at Owen Davies's groundbreaking studies of
> witchcraft beliefs in the later period 1750-1950:
> -"Witchcraft, Magic and Culture 1736-1951" (Manchester University
> Press, 1999)
> -"A People Bewitched: Witchcraft and Magic in Nineteenth-Century
> Somerset" (Published by the author, Bruton, 1999)
> It is on these, not Cohn, that the rejection of the Murray thesis
> now stands, and to cite them is only to take a selection of the books
> by English authors. It ignores some of the latter, all of those from
> the Continent, and the huge body of research in article form. For
> example, Julian Goodare, 'The Aberdeenshire Witchcraft Panic of 1597',
> "Northern Scotland" 21, 2001, pp. 17-38 is a detailed analysis of one
> of the best-recorded of the Scottish witch trials on which Murray drew
> heavily for information.
> (2) Your equation of medieval and early modern fantasies about
> witches, spirits and night-flying with an actual cult or religion. I
> drew a clear distinction between the two in "Pagan Religions", pp.
> 306-07, and Cohn developed the theme far more elaborately. What you
> have done with his work, out of date though it is, is to try to catch
> him out in his treatment of Murray's work, ignoring the alternative
> explanation for the witch trials - the bulk of his book - that he
> provides. Carlo Ginzburg's "Ecstasies" is devoted to this aspect of
> the subject, but the most influential recent treatment of it is
> Wolfgang Behringer, "Shaman of Oberstdorf" (University of Virginia
> Press, 1998). For a world context of European witchcraft beliefs and
> prosecutions, showing how the same imaginary stereotypes and the
> same responses to them are found in every continent, see my essay 'The
> Global Context of the Scottish Witch Hunt', in Julian Goodare (ed.),
> "The Scottish Witch Hunt in Context" (Edinburgh University Press,
> (3) Until now in your piece the focus has been on the Murray
> thesis- that the people prosecuted for witchcraft in early modern
> Europe were practitioners of a surviving pagan religion. Now you
> change the focus and semantics of the debate. You equate paganism with
> shamanism (on the problems of which see my recent book, "Shamans",
> Hambledon and London, 2001. You equate paganism with wells and trees
> that have been rededicated to Christian saints. You equate paganism
> with folk customs, and with Christian ritual magic of the late middle
> ages. You cite the 'finding' of 'people' 'in the Pennines' who
> venerated pagan deities by a BBC team in 1977, when actually it just
> interviewed one woman, who has repeatedly since then given interviews
> about her tradition while always refusing to produce evidence to
> substantiate it or introducing anybody else from it. My point here has
> always been two-fold. First, that from the mid-twentieth century we
> have good evidence of the existence of religions that are
> self-consciously pagan and honour pagan deities within a framework of
> traditionally-established ritual. Second, that there is no evidence as
> yet for such religions in Britain between the eleventh century and the
> 1940s. You may not think that honouring a well is part of the
> Christian Revelation, but medieval Christians most certainly did; and
> by contradicting them you are engaging in a totally different argument
> than one with the point made by myself. If you have a book coming out
> - which I look forward to reading - then I also am moving on, and am
> about to deliver another 140,000 word one, "Witches, Druids and King
> Arthur", to Hambledon Press for publication next year, which tackles
> with new evidence and tighter definitions some of the arguments that
> you raise here.
> That is a quick summary of the issues and some of the sources that
> I would employ in a reply to you in a Pagan magazine. I don't think
> that your piece is at all academically sound, for the reasons given,
> the main one being that it is very badly under-researched, although
> it is beautifully and inspiringly written. I do think however, that it
> might be a useful way of getting these matters aired and debated,
> especially as you have been putting your case on them around PEWC,
> and in your book, and attempted to get it into "Pagan Dawn", so
> sooner or later I would have to do something about it. The obvious
> forum for us is "The Cauldron", which privileges pieces that defend
> the concept of the Old Religion' and is eager for copy. My problem is,
> again, one of time and commitment. I have one of the three heaviest
> teaching and marking loads in the department this year, am a member of
> the admissions committee, am putting together a major bid for funding
> from a research council, am committed to finishing an article on the
> relationship between religion and magic in Europe for an academic
> journal before Christmas, and have to answer forty emails and letters
> every day as well as coping with the unpublished material that Pagans
> keep landing on me. How on earth I fit a side-step into a reply to you
> into all this, I just don't know; but I would try.
> With all good wishes,
I responded to him immediately -
But if you have not, it is irrelevant to say that I am out of date. It is also scarcely relevant to argue that I should cite works that you chose not to cite when you penned the passages in the Triumph of the Moon that deal with Margaret Murray. In your attack on her credibility, you quote and rely entirely on the work of just two authors, the two I cited, Cohn and Thomas.
Finally, you misquote me seriously, when you allege that I "equate paganism with shamanism". Of course I do not - and did not. They are clearly not the same.
Nor do I "equate paganism with wells and trees that have been rededicated to Christian saints." To do this would be ridiculous.
Nor do I "equate paganism with folk customs, and with Christian ritual magic of the late middle ages".
Nor did I say that the people prosecuted for witchcraft were all "practitioners of a surviving pagan religion." Again you misquote me.
I fear that in your rush you are judging me by a yardstick that exists solely in your mind. But still, it is good to have an open debate on these matters. I hope it leads to some changes.
I should add that on other topics, I have found the encyclopaedic aspects of your work invaluable.
With the best of wishes, Jani.
I have just been relieved of a major task that has suddenly become less necessary, and so find some time spare, to write to you more patiently to try to explain some of the misunderstandings between us. First, you demanded the reference of anything that I had recently written on Margaret Murray. Actually, you had it all the time: on pp. 377-80 of Triumph and the sources to which the paragraphs there are footnoted. You will find there a number of the books to which I recommended you in my last email. Between them they construct a vision of early modern England, and the place of the witch in it, that render the Murray thesis untenable, and many refer to the latter to explain why it has collapsed. That is why the work of Cohn and Thomas was redundant after the mid-1990s, as the demise of the thesis no longer rested on it. Even when referring to those two historians, however, I did not think that the collapse of scholarly faith in Margaret Murray rested on the few pages in which they directly addressed her work. I took the arguments put in the whole books as relevant, as they build up between them a well-researched portrait of witchcraft beliefs that leave her theory redundant. That is why I am in no hurry to check your allegations about Cohn, as even if they were sustainable, they would not save that theory. You might have more mileage in suggesting that although wrong, she dealt with sources better than some historians have suggested, but would then have to reckon with other criticisms of her in this regard, published in Folklore in 1994 by her colleague Jacqueline Simpson; and there are some of my own in both Pagan Religions and Triumph that are not dependent on Thomas and Cohn. Your article, however, seemed to suggest that to give Murray more credit gave more credit to the concept of the Old Religion, and I am trying to explain why to do that you need now to do some more reading. I supplied the list of books, which are either easily bought or easily ordered through public libraries. If you find holes in their reasoning and data, well and good; then perhaps you could, single-handedly, rescue Margaret Murray’s reputation. That is why I both encourage you to the work and supply the titles, which would bring you up to reasonable date with the subject.
My second problem is that inside the academy it is not usual to attack textbook-writers, and Pagan Religions was a textbook, a broad work of synthesis. If you had found that both Thomas and Cohn praised Murray instead of criticising her as I had suggested, then I would have been a legitimate target, but your quarrel is with them. You might easily have framed a workshop or article which concentrated on them alone or referred in passing to the fact that I (among others) have accepted their arguments. Instead you reverse the emphasis and use them as a means of attacking my work- and your whole article is more devoted to questioning assertions and definitions in my own books than to gunning for Cohn or Thomas. As a result, I feel that you have picked a direct argument with me where you might easily have undercut me by going for my sources or speaking of your own vision of the past to provide a different perspective from my own. Inside the academy we avoid quarrels by adopting these tactics all the time, and they work. Instead you went for me directly, in a way that was bound to force a confrontation between us, and which I just don’t think was tactically necessary.
My third problem is that you have come to me rather late. Had you drafted an article after carrying out your research, and sent it to me for comment and for suggestions of a forum for publication, I would have responded with less impatience and more gratitude. As it was, you gave a workshop on the subject ..., submitted the same piece to Pagan Dawn without letting me see or hear any of it, and only appear to be behaving courteously now because you got foiled in publication and want to know where else to put it.
You have explained to me your viewpoint on the issue, which I understand. Please understand in turn from the above that I feel that you have been pushing me into an adversarial position where other methods would have worked better. I have never myself attacked you or anything that you have done, I supported your relationship with Dick, entertained you in my own home, and dealt graciously with you at conferences. Above you will see two different ways in which confrontation could be still avoided. One needs more work but is more glorious: to do the extra reading on what the top experts think, and then tell readers why you don’t agree (if you can). The other is to focus on Cohn and Thomas and refer to me only in passing as one of the historians who has accepted them uncritically. A third, implicit in my last email, is to recognise that different people may legitimately read the same texts in different ways, and adopt different definitions when considering the past. What you seem to be bent on doing instead is forcing me into a situation in which I have to face up to you directly, and in public, and either to surrender to you completely or to fight you for all I am worth. It isn’t needed, but if you insist on doing it then I shall have no alternative but to explain to the public, as eloquently as I can, why I consider the article that you sent me to be flawed.
Until now this exchange has been conducted on entirely your own terms. I was pleasant to you and left you alone while you prepared your workshop and article. When you emailed me asking for criticism of the article I gave it, privately. It was only your reaction to it that made me feel that for the first time I was going to stop performing in the role that you have forced on me and try to explain that we just have different preoccupations, priorities and contexts, and you can secure your own ends without needing to drag me into the process as an adversary. I shall check your reading of Cohn and Murray, but I have done my best to explain first why I don’t think that it is important any more, and second why I don’t think that it need involve me. If you can understand either of those two points then I shall find a formula by which I can support and assist your work instead of being turned into an opponent of it. By such means are friendships preserved in the university system, where we are drawing different conclusions from the same research all the time, and publish conflicting results without head-on collisions
With all good wishes,
Thank you for your reply. What I was trying to do was to equip you
with the means to cover the subject properly, and so become a yet more
effective writer on it. Most of your article was not, in fact, about
Margaret Murray or the treatment of her, but on possible approaches to
the question of the Old Religion in general, which is why I treated it
as such. It is very obvious that I have wasted my time by trying to give
an interim opinion of it so I shall wait for you to publish it and then
publish a reply in turn. If I find that you have read Murray and Cohn
accurately I shall say so, but the question of Murray's accuracy has
moved on way beyond that point of the debate, and readers are likely to
be more interested to know where it is now.
But it occurred to me that you might not have took into consideration that the article I sent you was extracted from a 600 page book( The Seven Days of My Creation available from Amazon). I had to cut the article to a length appropriate to Pagan Dawn so it necessarily summarises, especially in its second half. In the book I quote more sources etc - and draw on your work. The chapter from which it was extracted was several times its length.
It also may not have occurred to you re Margaret Murray that I might be genuinely upset by an attack on her creditability that was principally based on unchecked flawed work by Norman Cohn or at least that is what your work suggested. I hold no charter for her. It simply affected my sense of fair-play. I nevertheless think her work flawed.
You ask why should I not then focus my critique on Cohn. Because your work has given him much greater credibility in the pagan community... You are much more widely read than he is.
I did give you due warning. When I came to see you with Dick I conveyed to you my disquiet over this - that was before Triumph of the Moon appeared. - I was then dismayed to find in this that you re-iterated what you had said earlier. You encouraged me to publish my views - but seemingly did not check to see if I were right.
I devour all books I come across that are relevant. I could not find Ginsberg's, I was told his works were out of print. (note - I had found them by the time I wrote the articles)
But - please do read mine. Like to get your reactions. And, if you have time, and are around the docks, do call in. It would be good to see you. I am on quite a beautiful boat, Leonid, near to the SS Great Britain in Bristol Marina.
Every good wish, Jani
> Dear Jani,
> I have now received a reply from Mike Howard, who says that he
> would be very pleased to print your article and my reply to it
> together in "The Cauldron". He adds that he would need to see your
> piece before guaranteeing to accept it, but as I have told him, I
> think it well written enough to convince him of its worth as Marion
> Pearce was before. As you have told me with absolute confidence that
> my criticisms of it are all irrelevant, you have apparently got
> nothing to fear by having it appear in this form. In your original
> email you asked me for my opinion on it, and my help in suggesting a
> periodical that might take it, and I have now assisted you in both
> respects to the best of my ability, and although your request came
> without warning at a busy time. You have challenged me to a debate,
> and have now got one, in a periodical read mostly by people who are
> naturally sympathetic to your ideas.
> Should you fail to reply to me, as you have apparently done for the
> past week - though this may itself have been for perfectly good
> reasons - then I am left with a number of options, spread across a
> spectrum between two extremes. I am now certain that I have to write
> something on the subject, in a form rapidly published and accessible
> to Pagans, and almost certainly for Mike now that I have approached
> him on our behalf. One extreme position is to tackle your arguments
> directly, treating you as an opponent to be defeated, and referring
> readers to your book, point by point while informing them that you
> declined to enter into a direct debate with me. At the other, I can
> ignore you and your book completely, while covering the points that
> you make in it. I would prefer, as I indicated, to be able to deal
> with your arguments in a friendly manner, and to recommend your book
> in general, but for that I do need your co-operation.
> With all good wishes,
> Ronald Hutton
No I haven't forgotten you - and nor have I forgotten your suggestion of Cauldron. I had thought of that publication before you mentioned it. I was holding out for Pagan Dawn since I thought it had the larger audience and I used to write for it, but Cauldron was my second choice although I did receive an invitation from Marion Pearce to send it to her new magazine.
Thank you for acting on my behalf with Mike - but Howard and I do know each other. Howard and I spent several pleasant hours together on one of my trips to Wales and he had invited me to write for them. I am also a subscriber to his admirable publication.
I am sorry to give you any anxiety - the article with some clarifications made itself into an envelope addressed to Mike at least two weeks ago. I am sorry I had not yet got to post it. I had not realised you were so concerned - I had every intention of posting it sooner.
The reason for the delay may be suggested if you happen to see tomorrow's Financial Times - I have a story on biological weapons and the UK in it, probably on its frontpage with an inside piece as well.- this is the second piece I have sold them in the past weeks. I thought it necessary to do something in the light of the current war fever over bio weapons and Iraq I thought the hypocrisy of the current UK/US policies needed any exposure it could get. This is why I have given it priority... As has also Jean Williams - she seems to have been quite inspired by Starhawk's talk at Glastonbury. I also needed to do some paid work - unfortunately I do not have an Academy salary..
I have also written a piece published in Corporate Watch on a major health risk and the company responsible..
My book "The Seven Days of My Creation. Tales of Magic, Sex and Gender " incidentally is out - it can be purchased from Amazon. If you get it, I hope you enjoy it. None of the rest of its 620 pages is on Margaret Murray! The Amazon website contains its table of contents.
-- I have to focus on the Financial Times today but will answer you much better later.
And I will try to find that envelope...
“I found that Hutton had in fact summarized Cohn when he alleged that Murray “ignored or misquoted evidence that indicated that the actions attributed to alleged witches were physically impossible. Or she rationalised it by suggesting, for example, that an illusion of flying was created by drugs”.
If indeed you did not say it – many apologies – but I must have copied it from somewhere. I wrote this some 3 years ago while Dick was still here.
I would not ask if I were not hectically busy I now have pieces appearing both in tomorrow’s Financial Times and a longer in Friday’s
Every good wish, Jani
Thank you for your two emails. To answer your question below first,
the quotation is a paraphrase of a passage on p. 302 of "Pagan
I applaud your journalism as thoroughly worthwhile, as it suits my
own politics, and can well understand why at present it should take
priority. I shall just sit back for Mike to confirm that he is
accepting your article for publication and to send me a copy of the
final version. You don't have to answer me later, as our debate will
henceforth be in the public domain; just carry on with the good work
of doing combat with larger issues of injustice.