exWitch Australia
Glossary of Wiccan, Neo-Pagan and Occult Terminology

MURRAY, Margaret Alice (1863-1963)

Margaret Murray was an eminent Anthropologist, Archaeologist and Egyptologist.   In the 1920's she began writing about her theories on the origins and organization of witchcraft predating Christianity.   While many accepted her work it has since been shown to been more the result of wishful thinking than genuine anthropology and archeology.   These include: Witchcraft, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe - published in 1921, The God of the Witches - published in 1933 and the Divine King in England - published 1954.

Margaret Murray was born in Calcutta on the 13th July 1863.   She was educated at University Collage in London and later named a fellow of the same collage.   In her early days at college she studied anthropology and was a pioneer "Suffragette" speaking out on women's rights.   She took part in many archaeological excavations working with the likes of Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, the renowned Egyptologist.   They worked together in such places as Egypt, South Palestine and England.   Under his guidance she later specialised in Egyptology and was made a junior lecturer of the college.

Rumour has it that Margaret's interest in witchcraft began around 1915 after she became ill while working an excavation in Egypt.   Returning home to England she convalesced at Glastonbury.   Her autobiography My First Hundred Years (1963) states: "I chose to convalesce in Glastonbury, and one cannot stay in Glastonbury without becoming interested in "Joseph of Arimathea and the Holy Grail".   As soon as I got back to London, I did some careful research.   This led to a paper on: Egyptian elements in the Grail Romance."

Her interest ignited Margaret began a serious study of witchcraft.   She started working from contemporary records of witches and witchcraft trials, then moved on to researching medieval and renaissance documents, including those related to the trails of Joan of Arc and Gilles de Rias.   At the same time she conducted field studies throughout Europe.   This led to the publication of her first book: Witchcraft: The Witch Cult in Western Europe, (1921).   Her theories concluded that witchcraft was widespread and rooted in European Pagan fertility cults that extended back to the Palaeolithic era.   However, there is no evidence to support this belief, and much so-called 'evidence' that has been put forward to support Murray's contentions has been found wanting when examined objectively.

Apparently unwilling to let facts interfere with a good theory, Margaret continued to study witchcraft as a sideline to her main career.   She was a shrewd and critical scholar and her work in Archaeology and Egyptology did not go unrecognised.   The University Collage in London made her Assistant Professor of Egyptology in 1924, a post she held until her retirement in 1935.

Her second book: The God of the Witches, (1931), concerned the Horned God and her theories on how this figure dated back to Palaeolithic times as a fertility god.   The book was almost totally ignored until after the Second World War and the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in the UK (1951).   The following year the book was jointly reissued by the Oxford University Press in New York and Faber and Faber Ltd in London, after which it soon became a best seller.

In 1953-1955, Margaret was made President of the Folklore Society, another distinguished accolade and an incredible achievement at the age of 90.   She followed this with her third and perhaps most controversial book: The Divine King in England (1954).   In this book she advanced the theory that many early English sovereigns, those dating back from William the Conqueror in the 11th Century through to James 1 in the early 17th Century had died by ritual murder.   This in keeping with the ancient sacrificial themes of the "Slain God" and "Divine King's" of old pagan religions.   Even Murray's most ardent supporters began to suspect that she was now, at least, a "little bit potty".

Today all serious scholars and historians dismiss her books as nonsense.   Yet Margaret Murray's books, like the books of Sir James Frazer and Charles G. Leland, were the guiding inspiration used by Gerald B. Gardner and others when shaping the modern form of Neo-Pagan Witchcraft known as Wicca.

Margaret Murray died peacefully in 1963 after completing her final achievement.   At the age of one hundred years she wrote and had published her own autobiography.   This she entitled: My First Hundred Years (1963).   In it she recorded her belief in reincarnation, her faith in the human soul and the soul's survival after bodily death.

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One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.

Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one definition may be universally accepted by all Pagans.   Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.

Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church.   Take for instance the differing practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.

- Jean-Luc
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