ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
of priests and nobles. By 1500, the Christian ruling class had become strong enough to stamp out the “Old Religion” and did so in the Great Witch Hunts which raged from 1500 to 1650. Thousands of goddess worshippers, mainly women, were massacred. That they were massacred is true. However, that it was because of the Old Religion is not.
As Hutton shows, Romano-British paganism had died out by 750 C. E., as Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of England illustrates. To be sure, magic prevailed until the disappearance of English village life in the late nineteenth century, and, like an elderly lady I was introduced to in an Oxford village, there were still a few “cunning men” and “wise women” around. All, however, were Christians. The church never made any great effort to stamp out magic, which, in any case, was not considered to be connected with religion.
Murray, Leland, and Gardner
Until the early years of the twentieth century, historians of witchcraft were chiefly concerned with the legal aspects of the witch trials. The received standard opinion was that the witches were deluded neurotics and hysterics whose bizarre behavior attracted unwelcome attention from their neighbors. Folklorists, of whom Christina Hole is a recent example, held that witches were harmless but ill-tempered and unpopular eccentrics who were versed in folklore. There were also occultists, such as the poet W. B. Yeats, who were preoccupied with what they called “the Celtic Twilight” and who regarded witchcraft as a form of occultism involving practices such as second sight. Finally, there was the demonological school of Aleister Crowley, mentioned earlier, the strange figure who was involved with an occult society called the Golden Dawn and later, founded Argenteum Astrum.
In 1921, Margaret Murray published Witchcraft in Western Europe. On very dubious grounds, she concluded that an organized pagan religion flourished in Britain (and also on the continent) during medieval times, the “Old Religion,” as it was called by Charles Leland, an adventurer who wrote imaginatively about it during the 1890s.
Leland claimed to have encountered strega or Italian witches in Tuscany and to have learned from them the secrets of an ancient cult which was based on the worship of a triune deity Diana, the mother, Aradia, the daughter, and the Crone, or grandmother. Investigators have found no evidence whatsoever of such a cult, and it is certain that the whole thing was Leland’s invention.
Murray eagerly seized Leland’s theory, and incorporated it into her own. Further fuel was added by the novelist Graham Greene in his The White Goddess based on a Welsh tale called the Mabiogen. These writers supplied the sources of the Wiccan ideology.
According to Murray, the witches were adherents of a pre-Christian fertility religion which persisted through the seventeenth century, at which time it was effectively suppressed by witch-finders such as Matthew Hopkins in England. Murray believed that only the kings and a few members of the ruling elites