Murray, Margaret


Murray, Margaret
(1863-1963)
   An Egyptologist at University College London, who in middle life became curious about the origins of European *witchcraft. She evolved a theory that witches were members of a highly organized secret society whose purpose was to maintain a pre-Christian - indeed, prehistoric - fertility cult practising human sacrifice and worshipping a horned god. She imposed rationalistic interpretations on the material wherever possible; thus, references to flying were either about dancing or due to hallucinations, while the 'Devil' whom the witches revered was merely their human leader, wearing a horned mask.
   She set out her ideas in three books: The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921), The God of the Witches (1933), The Divine King in England (1954). Although they did not convince most historians or folklorists, they had great popular success, especially after they were reprinted in the 1960s, and have deeply affected the public perception of witchcraft. It was she who invented the ideas that witches were organized into *covens of thirteen, observed fixed annual festivals, were concerned with nature and *fertility, and worshipped archaic gods. None of these ideas can stand up to historical investigation.
   ■ Jacqueline Simpson, Folklore 105 (1994); Hutton, 1991: 301-6, 331-4; Hutton, 1999: 194-201, 377-8; Simpson in Davidson and Blacker, forthcoming.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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