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Witches and Pagans: Women in European Folk Religion, 700-1100

Witches and Pagans: Women in European Folk Religion, 700-1100

by Max Dashu


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In this compelling exploration of language, archaeology, and early medieval literature, Max Dashu illuminates hidden cultural heritages. She shows that the old ethnic names for “witch” signify ‘wisewoman,’ ‘prophetess,’ ‘diviner,’ ‘chanter,’ ‘herbalist,’ and ‘healer.’ She fleshes out the oracular ceremonies of the Norse völur (“staff-women”), their incantations and “sitting-out” on the land seeking vision. Archaeological finds of their ritual staffs show that many symbolize the distaff, a spinner’s wand that connects with wider European themes of goddesses, fates, witches, and female power. They include Berthe Pédauque, also known as the “Swan-footed Queen,” whose spinning began at the proverbial beginning of time. Veneration of the Fates persisted under many titles, as the Norns, sudice, fatas and fées, Wyrd or the Three Weird Sisters.

Witches and Pagans looks at women’s sacraments in early medieval Europe, a subject that has been buried deep for centuries. Women set out offering tables for the Three Sisters or the “good women,” chanted over herbs, and healed children by passing them through ‘elf-bores.’ Spinning and weaving were ceremonial acts with divinatory or protective power, as bishops’ scoldings reveal. Churchmen also railed against the Women Who Go by Night with Diana or Holda or Herodias, in shamanic flight on spirit animals. This was the foundational witch-legend that demonologists seized upon in later centuries. But witch persecution was already underway, as a chapter on the sexual politics of early medieval witch burnings documents.

A thousand years ago, an Old English scribe condemned people who “bring their offerings to earth-fast stone and also to trees and to wellsprings, swa wiccan taeca∂—as the witches teach.” This indicates that people still regarded witches as spiritual teachers, and that they performed ceremonies of reverence to Earth. Many aspects of ethnic spiritual culture survived the state conversions to Christianity: ancestor veneration, crystal balls, amulets—and witches’ wands. Artists depicted Mother Earth giving her breast to serpents, animals, and children. Stories of ancestral women—the Cailleach and the Scandinavian dísir —were handed down over countless generations.

Gathering together forgotten strands from heathen European heritages, Witches and Pagans reweaves the ripped webs of women’s culture.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780692740286
Publisher: Veleda Press
Publication date: 06/27/2017
Series: Secret History of the Witches , #7
Pages: 408
Sales rank: 345,471
Product dimensions: 6.69(w) x 9.61(h) x 0.84(d)

About the Author

Max Dashu founded the Suppressed Histories Archives in 1970 to research and document global women's history, across the full spectrum of the world's peoples. She has built a collection of 40,000 slides and digital images, from which she has created 130 slideshows on female cultural heritages, including Indigenous traditions and with attention to the patterns of conquest. Dashu has been presenting her visual talks for 44 years, at universities, conferences, museums, community centers, bookstores, galleries, libraries and schools, in North America, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Bulgaria, Australia, Mexico and Guatemala. Her legendary slideshows bring to light female realities usually hidden from view, from ancient female figurines to women leaders, priestesses, clan mothers, philosophers, warriors and rebels. Her use of images to teach, scanning the cultural record-archaeology, history, art, orature, linguistics, and spiritual philosophies-makes this knowledge more accessible and bridges the gap between academia and grassroots education. Her daily posts on the Suppressed Histories Facebook page are followed by over 156,000 people, and some 40,000 more have viewed her articles on She also teaches via webcasts and online courses.

Dashu is internationally known for her expertise on ancient female iconography and female spheres of power; matricultures and patriarchal systems, medicine women, shamans and witches, and witch hunting. Her visual talks include titles such as The Cosmic Weaver; Dangerous Women: They Fight Back; Mother-Right; Rebel Shamans: Women Confront Empire; Ancient Treasures of African Women; Magna Mater and Isis of 10,000 Names: Syncretism under the Roman Empire; Deasophy; The Distaff: Goddess, Fates, and Women's Power; Racism, History and Lies; Taming the Female Body; Amazons and Women Warriors; Grandmother Stones of Megalithic Europe; Medicine Women of the Americas, and The Wu: female shamans of ancient China.

Max Dashu has keynoted at many conferences: Feminism in London (2015); Women's Voices for a Change at Skidmore, NY (2013); Association for the Study of Women and Mythology conference, Bangor PA (2010); the Pagan Studies Conference at Claremont Graduate University, CA (2008); Coalition for Battered Women conference at Rutgers NJ (2005); and the Institute of Archaeomythology conference in Rila, Bulgaria (2004), among others. She has presented at the Women's Centers of Northwestern University, Stanford, Princeton, University of California at Berkeley and many others, and at Trinity College in Dublin, the Museo de San Miguel de Allende, the Frauenmuseum (Wiesbaden), and the State Library of Queensland.

Table of Contents


The Webs of Wyrd


Names of the Witch



Cailleachan, Dísir, Hags

Witch Holda & her Retinue

Early Burnings





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