ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
of short stature. Therefore, the witches were the fairies, while the invaders from Germany, Friesland, and Scandinavia were the giants.
There is little doubt but that belief in the sidhe or “little people” of Ireland, the kelpies of Scotland, and the pixies of the English west country flourished until the early years of the present century. These beliefs, according to Murray, were bound up with witchcraft.
Murray’s arguments at first convinced most scholars and, indeed, Encyclopedia Britannica invited her to write their article on “Witchcraft.” From the early 1920s, when her The Witch-Cult of Western Europe came out, through the 1950s, her interpretation prevailed over that of Pennethorne Hughes, for instance, who argued that witchcraft had been a Christian delusion.
However, during the late 1950s, some scholars became skeptical of her reading of the evidence, and others found her research faulty in other respects. During the 1960s and 1970s, some British archaeologists such as Richard Hutton and Colin Renfrew made careful studies of British sites, and from these, as well as from their interpretations of written documents such as Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of England, challenged Murray. The evidence suggested that, while pagan temples were destroyed along with statuary, there had been no persecution of pagans themselves. Instead, they had been persuaded to embrace Christianity by missionaries who shrewdly Christianized folk customs such as well-dressing, but did not suppress them. There had been no pagan martyrs, at least not in Britain. Indeed, by the eighth century, Britain had been effectively Christianized. Paganism enjoyed a revival when the Danes invaded, but by the tenth century, the Church had triumphed once again. In short, Murray had been wrong in her assertion that only the royals and nobles embraced Christianity, and that the deepening of that faith among the common people had been very gradual and, indeed, only partially achieved by as late as the seventeenth century.
More such studies continued to appear during the 1980s and 1990s, and the present position is that paganism, being very localized and lacking organization, vanished very quickly. Thus, according to Hutton, Murray’s thesis had been eagerly adopted by scholars with a strong anti-Christian bias which had distorted their interpretations. This had been true also of those who argued for the Bronze Age Mother-Goddess religion. Both were discredited by the new school of archaeologists during the 1960s.
What has emerged is far less interesting than what Murray and the diffusionists proposed. It appears that there was a proliferation of very local religious cults in Neolithic and Bronze Age Europe, most of them probably centering around the chiefs who, in the British Isles, were buried in long barrows. There was never an organized Dianic religion. Instead, the Wicca were simply local healers and people of both sexes who worked charms. Virtually all of them became Christians. The Church tolerated the continuance of folk practices, which indeed persisted until the late nineteenth century. At that time, the witches and “cunning men” vanished because of the breakdown of village life.