ould there have been links between underground Pagans who were not peasants? Based on the well-known historical principle that rich people don't get perse-
cuted as much as poor people do, it has been suggested that throughout Europe and the British Isles it would have been possible for wealthy families and minor nobility to quietly continue Paleopagan practices as private "family business."
Tempting though this theory might be to those who long for Pagan survivals, it ignores the important fact that many Inquisitors chose rich or well-off victims precisely because they had wealth, which would then be split between the Church and the local secular authorities.
However, considering that even today these local leaders, who live in small cities and outside of large towns, are notoriously conservative about family customs, it is possible that some such survivors of the witchhunts might have prospered, while keeping their family secrets. Whether such families thought of themselves as being "witches" of any sort, or "Pagans," or just plain "family," cannot now be determined.
I have met people who claim to be descended from such families, and they have usually referred to themselves as witches. To describe these people — and to my everlasting regret — I coined the term Family Tradition Witches or "Fam-Trads," though one could also consider some of them merely "Neoclassic Witches" (see Appendix 3). Why do I regret coining the term? Because scores of dishonest people subsequently used the term to describe themselves in the Neopagan community and online, in order to impress the gullible and to avoid having to provide proofs of their claims.
Historically, however, the petty nobility, unlike the wealthier and more traveled major nobility, are often highly suspicious of outsiders — even those people from their own country, let alone foreigners. This is infertile ground from which a complex communication network, strung out across scores of European cultures, could have sprung, as hypothesized by Murray and her followers.
Thus, while it's possible that Fam-Trads exist today and have been practicing customs some of them now describe as "witchcraft" for centuries, there is no real evidence that the influence of any given family might have spread more than a hundred miles or so, at least not before the twentieth century. There is also no convincing evidence that the customs handed down by these families were (a) uncontaminated by later customs and/or (b) in agreement with the beliefs some Neopagan and Feminist Witches have concerning the postulated Witch Cult. On the contrary, there is a great deal of evidence against both of these possibilities, especially the former.
The witch persecutions went on for over three hundred years, finally petering out first in Western Europe, then in central and southern Europe, throughout the 1700s. In all that time, with all those murders, not one shred of proof was ever produced — that would stand up in a modern court of law, anyway — to show the existence of an organized Pagan or Satanic cult among the peasantry. (One possible exception was the Benandanti in Italy, discussed in Carlo Gin-zburg's Night Battles, which was an anti-witch cult with Mesopagan roots.)
One note of true irony is that the creation of Gothic Witchcraft by the Church did manage to produce actual Satanic groups — not among the peasantry, but at the Court of Louis XIV, King of France. Members of the highest ranks of the nobility, trying to relieve their royal boredom, reportedly engaged in hideous crimes and asinine theatrics, holding Black Masses and slaughtering infants just as the Church had told them was the way it was properly done. In 1662, their cover was blown, a scandal ensued, and many of the middlemen and women in the case were punished (though few of the nobles were, of course). In that same year, by a curious coincidence, Louis issued an edict that, in effect, restrained witchcraft trials throughout France.
Even today, however, there are Neogothic Witches: modern Satanists who are trying their very best to be everything the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches said (and say) they should be. Fortunately, only a few crazies go so far as to perform human sacrifice like they are "supposed" to. Though they represent only a tiny percentage of the people now calling themselves witches, Neo-gothics grab all the publicity they can get, in order to present themselves as more important than they really are.
Naturally, there are conservative Christian groups who are delighted to have the Neogothic Witches around to support their doctrine that "all witches worship the Devil." Some supposed ex-Neogothic Witches are now making lucrative livings as traveling evangelists, denouncing their former (imaginary) ways. If you meet any of them, you might want to ask why they are not in prison, if they really committed all the awful crimes they claim? After all, secular law does not recognize a supposed "Born Again"
experience as absolving criminals from paying for their crimes.
After the Burning Times finally ended, no one seemed very interested in witches anymore. Modern Europe was dawning and the powers of the churches dwindling, at least among the intellectuals of the day. Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, Theosophy and Spiritualism were sweeping over Europe and America, along with the mechanistic and dualistic worldview of Science (which became a new religion for many). All these new belief systems had drastic effects upon rich and poor alike.
Millions of peasants emigrated from Europe to the Americas, most of them the descendants of farmers and serfs. Others came as convicted criminals or indentured servants, working for wealthy landowners. It is possible, in some cases, that the rich émigrés could have been members of Fam-Trads, sent to earn their fortune, or to establish new holdings, or to escape quasilegal persecution at home.
During 300 years of settlement in the Americas, many Mesopagans — both peasants and purported Fam-Trad Witches — could have emigrated and continued with their Mesopagan ways out in the colonial boondocks.
If so, most likely it would have been those settlers originally from the wilder parts of northern and eastern Europe and the British Isles (where Paganism lingered longest) who would have had the most remaining bits of Pagan customs. These people might then have mixed their beliefs and magical practices with those of the Native American and African-descended peoples they would meet in the New World. Years ago, I designated these highly postulated witches Immigrant Tradition Witches or "Imm-Trads" (the latter admittedly not my most felicitous abbreviation).
The Classic Witches seem to have dwindled in prestige during this time, but if there were, in fact, Fam-Trad Witches existing, they would not have been so badly affected. Being, as postulated, better educated and more intellectual, they might have had a sophisticated enough set of metaphysics — and a better understanding of magic and psychic powers — so that new ideas would have been less traumatic. However, since Scientism was rapidly becoming the supreme religion in the West, it is reasonable to suppose that most members of Fam-Trads would have made efforts to conceal their "superstitious" beliefs and magical systems.
Some might have gotten involved in Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism in the eighteenth century, or Spiritualism and Theoso-phy in the nineteenth. All of these movements were more respectable than witchcraft, and would still have allowed the Fam-
Trads to practice occult arts, albeit with increasingly Christian and non-European spiritual and magical content.
It is a reasonable speculation that, as the years went by, members of the postulated Fam-Trads would have absorbed and incorporated more and more from these other sources, handing new information as well as old down to the next generations. They might have carelessly let their descendants think that a Rosicrucian spell or alchemical meditation was a legitimate part of the family's Pagan heritage. Thus, by today we would have Fam-Trad Witches who would be closer to being Theosophists or Spiritualists than to being Classic or Neoclassic Witches.
As modern medicine and pharmacology developed, fewer people would turn to any remaining Classic Witches for aid. Except in isolated villages, it appears that witchcraft in western and southern Europe slowly died out. Not much is known (in English books) about what happened to similar people in eastern and northern Europe.
I believe that the dying-out process was much slower there for two reasons: firstly, because material technology did not spread as quickly in those regions, especially outside the cities, so the pre-industrial skills of Classic Witches would have remained useful longer. Secondly, these areas were Christianized later than the southern and western regions, and so the people had more of their Pagan beliefs and practices left at the time religious authority collapsed in the face of scientific authority.
Indeed, in Lithuania and other Baltic states, Paleopagan and/or Mesopagan survivals were reported well into the twentieth century. It's possible, however, that these were the Mesopagan results of artificially created nationalist revivals of folk customs, similar to what produced the fraternal Mesopagan Druid movements in France and England in the eighteenth century (see Druidism: A Concise Guide for details).
Was this article helpful?
Tap into your inner power today. Discover The Untold Secrets Used By Experts To Tap Into The Power Of Your Inner Personality Help You Unleash Your Full Potential. Finally You Can Fully Equip Yourself With These “Must Have” Personality Finding Tools For Creating Your Ideal Lifestyle.