Margaret Murray was an anthropologist who upset the comfortable consensus of her day with the idea that Western Europe did not convert 'en masse' to Christianity. Using contemporary accounts she was able to show that, while European rulers and nobles were successfully targeted by Christian missionaries, the majority of the population held tenaciously to the Old Religion. These far older beliefs centred upon the worship of Cernunnos, the figure of a male, horned god. The result was centuries of conflict between Christianity and 'Paganism' in which the adherents of the Cross gradually gained the ascendant. And following the general principle that 'the God of the old religion becomes the Devil of the new', the Christian 'Evil One' was given the characteristics of the pagan deity - horns and all. Those who stubbornly held to the Old Ways were seen as devil-worshippers, witches, followers of the left-hand path who fully deserved the stake and death by purging fire. Margaret Murray gives a convincing account of this God of the witches, and shows how many famous characters in European history - among them William Rufus, Joan of Arc and Thomas à Beckett - must be counted as members of The Old Religion. A book for all those interested in the roots of Wicca and neo-paganism.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Another reviewer indicated that 'modern' research has moved beyond the guess work, wishful thinking and history-bending that the author of this work is accused of using. Well, it has not. Perhaps this book gave way to the 'New-age' practice of faking history which pervades modern paganism. But this book has one thing that the others do not. Support for the possibility that witches, if any, may have worshiped a God not a Goddess. (Heaven forbid!)If you really want to know the truth you have to read both sides of the story. If you have not read this you are not prepared to debate the issue. Right or wrong, this book can not be any worse for ware than any modern author, most of which have invented the religion to suit their own delusions. Go Murray!
I guess on the plus side you could say that this book eventually sparked a more scholarly investigation into medieval paganism, but the book itself is far from scholarly or truthful. As a researcher who has translated the document which this book uses as the basis for its section about Joan of Arc (near the end of the book), I thought I would comment on that subject first. It's a little hard to believe that the author bothered to read that transcript in translation, much less in the original language, since the book's version of the subject bears so little resemblance to the actual documents; for instance, the claim is made that Joan never used the phrase 'Our Lord' in the original language and never identified 'the King of Heaven' as Jesus Christ, both of which are patently false: all 5 surviving copies of the original transcript do, in fact, quote her as saying 'Our Lord' ('Nostre Seigneur' in medieval French) when speaking to the clergy, and if you look at Article XXII you will see a copy of a letter in which she not only places the names 'Jesus' and 'Mary' at the top, but also identifies the King of Heaven as, quote, 'the son of Saint Mary' (i.e., Jesus Christ, whom Christian theology considers the son of Saint Mary (the Virgin Mary)). The other surviving letters which she dictated (found in other documents aside from the trial transcript) are just as specific: one of these, dated July 17, 1429, contains the phrase 'King Jesus, the King of Heaven'; another, dated March 23, 1430, orders the Hussites to return to the Catholic faith, which she describes as, quote, 'the original source of light', thereby removing any doubt as to her religion. The author replaces all this with her own fictional spin on things, such as the invention of fictional 'rules' of Christianity which Joan allegedly violated, and the attempt to confuse the modern and medieval usages of the term 'Lorraine' in order to link her with a region allegedly associated with witchcraft, and so forth. As a final note on the subject, the book completely ignores all of the other documents which deal with Joan's life: military chronicles, letters, and the transcript of the Rehabilitation trial in which it was shown that the transcript of the original trial had been falsified at a number of crucial points in order to make the charge of heresy seem more plausible, a tactic which is also employed by this book. On other fronts, the book has been rightly criticized by several generations of scholars for similar misrepresentations of evidence and outright invention on numerous topics; citing all of these would make for a fairly large book in itself, but in a nutshell the author has simply taken her knowledge of ancient religious practices, modified those practices wherever needed, and then inserted these beliefs into medieval European history, rewriting or concocting whatever evidence is needed to promote that view. It's refreshing to see that modern scholarship on this subject is moving away from the methods used by this book, although it remains to be seen whether a truly substantial view of medieval pagan beliefs will emerge. Hopefully it will.