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God of the Witches, The

Product no.: 0-19-501270-4
Murray, the first to offer a scholarly look at the mysteries of witchcraft, shows that witchcraft as a religion is nearly as old as humankind itself.

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Publisher's Synopsis

This celebrated study of witchcraft in Europe traces the worship of the pre-Christian and prehistoric Horned God from paleolithic times to the medieval period. Murray, the first to turn a scholarly eye on the mysteries of witchcraft, enables us to see its existence in the Middle Ages not as an isolated and terrifying phenomenon, but as the survival of a religion nearly as old as humankind itself, whose devotees held passionately to a view of life threatened by an alien creed.

The findings she sets forth, once thought of as provocative and implausible, are now regarded as irrefutable by folklorists and scholars in related fields. Exploring the rites and ceremonies associated with witchcraft, Murray establishes the concept of the "dying god" - the priest-king who was ritually killed to ensure the country and its people a continuity of fertility and strength. In this light, she considers such figures as Thomas a Becket, Joan of Arc and Gilles de Rais as spiritual leaders whose deaths were ritually imposed.

Truly a classic work of anthropology, and written in a clear, accessible style that anyone can enjoy, The God of the Witches forces us to reevaluate our thoughts about an ancient and vital religion.

"Murray had an original approach to the witch trials; she decided to treat the testimony of the accused witches as ethnographic data. The ethnographic approach attempts to analyze the statements of the participants in a culture without prejudice, no matter how how illogical or repulsive they may seem to one's own cultural viewpoint. Eventually Murray put together a framework which explained all of the witchcraft testimony in a very literal way.

The puzzle she was trying to solve was this: why, in an age when there was no mass communication, was the testimony of the witch trials so consistent? Time and again, the women and men accused of witchcraft confessed the same bizarre story: that they had signed a pact with the devil (in person) which was sealed by being tattooed, that they had participated in orgiastic nocturnal ceremonies where they had ritual sexual contact with the devil and other witches, that they had magical powers such as levitation, control over the fertility of humans, animals and fields, and so on, with certain specific details repeated across social and geographic boundaries ad nauseum.

Until Murray, it was believed that this was the result of answers to leading questions, extracted under torture by the witch hunters. It was believed that the witch hunters were 'on the same page' because they all used certain texts such as the Malleus Malificarum (the Hammer of Witches), which is a perverse textbook describing how to ferret out witches. Murray, upon examination of the evidence, concluded that as barbaric as the witch trials were, they were conducted according to long-established legal procedures; that there was material evidence, witnesses corroborated each other, and (perhaps most tellingly) that not all confessions were extracted under torture. In some cases the accused testified willingly. They even went to their deaths unrepentantly insisting that their faith was the true religion and Christianity was false."               ~J.B. Hare

"Recruiting for the religion was not required while the cult was in its prime, but as the Church gained power and began to persecute there was difficulty in obtaining converts, and judging by the statements of the witches a Chief had often to use persuasion and bribery to secure a likely recruit. Once secured it was difficult for the member to withdraw, for discipline was strict within the coven.

In most places the Master ruled through the love which the members bore to himself as the Incarnate God, for as de Lancre puts it, 'the Devil so holds their hearts and wills that he hardly allows any other desire to enter therein'. This personal affection of the worshipper for the God must always be taken into account in considering the cult of the Horned God. 'The love of God' was no façon de parler among the witches but was a vital force in their lives."        ~Chapter III. The Priesthood

Author Murray, Margaret A.
Book Type Trade Paperback
Page Count 212 pp.
Publisher Oxford University Press 1970
Browse these categories as well: Wicca, Neopaganism and Occultism, Primitive and Derivative Religions, Indigenous Shamanism and Anthropology, The Matriarchy and Woman's Spirituality

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