Chapter The Early Anthropologists Step into the Debate

f^SfJg rom 1860 to 1880, a scholar wW^m named J. J. Bachofen conjectured, from predominately speculative etymological evidence, that an "Age of Mother Right" had existed early in human history. By this he meant a time in which women were more powerful than they were in the Christian era. Indeed, we know today that northern and western European Paleopagan women did have more egalitarian relations with their men than their unhappy Christian de-scendents had. Bachofen's thinking, however, was based on Hegelian logic and Social Darwinism, both then quite fashionable.

An obscure writer named Karl Marx quickly adopted and expanded the idea of this "Age." Marx thought it logical that an "inferior" society run by women would have naturally preceded the innately "superior" ones run by men. Eventually, this concept of a "matriarchal age" became an integral part of Marxist Social Evolution theory. Though hardly anyone except feminist or Marxist theoreticians talk about it anymore, it was an extremely popular idea among the intellectuals of the day.

From 1880 to 1900, much important work was done in the archeology of the Mediterranean and in comparative mythology and folklore (the study of other people's religious beliefs). Sir James Frazer published the first volume of his monumental Golden Bough in 1890, proposing his theories about the presence of the "Divine King" and goddess worship in most European cultures. In 1897, Karl Pearson published a speech he had given six years earlier, "Woman as Witch," as an essay in The Chances of Death and Other Studies. Pearson had investigated European folklore and the witch-hunts and had concluded that the "witches" had been holdovers from Bach-ofen's Age of Mother Right.

Bachofen and Pearson provided the theoretical framework that would be used by major figures in the soon to come Mesopa-gan witchcraft revival (see Chapter 8). They also influenced those scholars who interpreted the "Venus" figurines (found by ar-cheologists in various parts of Europe and called such in ridicule) as evidence for a universal Goddess Cult entrenched within a postulated Near Eastern and European matriarchal society.

In 1899, the respected folklorist Charles Leland published Aradia: or the Gospel of the Witches of Tuscany. It was a study of the folklore of members of a peasant culture in northern Italy about what they supposedly called the "Old Religion." The book contained stories, legends, rites, and traditions concerning a goddess named Aradia, who was the messianic Queen of the Witches, having inherited her powers from her mother, Diana — and her father Lucifer! It shows a heavy Christian influence and the customs contained do not seem to go directly back further than the seventeenth century or so. But Aradia does show that at least some peasants might have retained (or regained) self-images as Pagans even unto the turn of the twentieth century.

Leland's source for the book was a woman (some say his mistress, though why that would matter I have no idea) named Maddalena. She was apparently a "cunning woman" (amateur healer and curse averter) who had been collecting folklore materials for him for several years, most of which depicted witches as evil. Leland had heard rumors about a secret book that described a religion of witches and, after much urging, Maddalena produced a manuscript for Le-land. It has been suggested (and hotly debated) that she may have written it herself in order to please Leland; but Leland thought it reasonably authentic in that it repeated at greater length things she had already told him verbally. However, Leland edited this book, as he had two previous ones based on materials supplied in part by Maddalena (Etruscan Roman Remains and Legends of Florence), with his own heavy assumptions about surviving Paleopagan beliefs and practices. He also mixed references to cunning folk and witches, despite the former occupation's hostility to the latter.

If the document was authentic, it is amusing to think that in 1899, but a stone's throw away from Rome, there was a Meso-pagan cult of Diana worship still active. Could this have been a direct survival of those "abandoned women" the Church said believed that they flew through the night with Diana? Perhaps.

However, there had been enough of an obsession with Greek and Roman mythology by Renaissance artists and scholars that Pagan beliefs could have been resurrected (in a highly mutated form) by the gradual sifting down of data to the peasants. Perhaps some started worshiping Diana just to spite the Christian clergy. Centuries later, their descendents might believe that they had worshiped Her continuously. This, of course, is pure speculation. It is entirely possible that among the wild hills of Tuscany (and elsewhere in Italy and Sicily) genuine Paleopagan traditions might have survived, including a cult of Diana. Yet if that is the case, what happened to the cults of all the other Roman and Etruscan gods and goddesses? After all, the "Old Religion" in Italy had many deities!

From 1900-1920, the fields of comparative religions, mythology, folklore, anthropology, archeology, sociology, and psychology began to develop as "real" sciences in Europe and America. A tremendous glut of conflicting data and theory was amassed that would be mined for decades, heavily influenced by academic and cultural fashions reaching back to the eighteenth century. Tons of books were published on the beliefs (real or imagined) of Paleopagan cultures, folk societies, and non-literate tribes around the world. The power of tribal magical systems became evident to researchers, though many (for racist, creedist, and ethnocentric reasons) preferred not to admit this. Mono-thesisism was the order of the day.

During these same years, the public became more aware of psychical research. Both Spiritualism and Theosophy became popular, and ceremonial magic was being revived in England and Europe. In the British Isles, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn had attracted influential artists, poets, and other mystically inclined intellectuals, from its beginning in 1888 to its schis-ming in the early twentieth century.

World War I put an end to the isolation of many villages in Europe, forcibly bringing the survivors into the twentieth century. Many peasant cultures, with whatever

Mesopagan customs they might have had, were irrevocably disrupted.

In 1921, Murray published The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, (see Chapter 5). Sometime between 19201925 in England (according to personal conversations with Sybil Leek and Gavin Frost), a few folklor-ists seem to have gotten together with some members of the Golden Dawn, as well as Mesopagan Druids, Rosicrucians, Theoso-phists, and a few supposed Fam-Trads to produce the first modern "covens" in England. It seems clear that they were grabbing eclectically from any source they could find in order to try and reconstruct the shards of their imagined — and highly romantic — Pagan past.

Murray's next book, The God of the Witches, came out in 1933. By this time, ar-cheologists and anthropologists had disproved the theory of a universal "Golden" matriarchal age — though today neither Marxists nor some feminists will admit it. Folklorists and other scholars had begun to show the enormous variation of folk beliefs throughout Europe and had torn the theories in Murray's first book to shreds. Nonetheless, Murray went even further out on her limb, claiming that witches throughout the continent had worshiped the same Goddess and Horned God, following Frazer's theories exactly, and had set up a political underground as well as a religious one.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Enneagram Essentials

Enneagram Essentials

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.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment