ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
embraced Christianity. The great mass of people remained pagan, adherents of the Dianic Religion. This religion flourished in rural areas, especially in the less thickly-populated parts of the country. The Celtic festivals, such as Lammas, were bound up with pastoral matters, the herding of and tending of animals, suggesting that the original adherents of the Dianic Religion were pastoral rather than agrarian. The deity of the cult was incarnate in a man, woman, or animal, and was often described as wearing animal skins or as having animal attributes. In Italy, this god was the two-headed Janus or Dianus. In southern France and the English midlands, the feminine form of the deity, Diana, prevailed.
The adherents of the Dianic religion observed two chief festivals, May Eve and November Eve, in fertility rites, some of which involved erotic practices. The rituals were initiations followed by dances and feasts, the climax of which would be adoration of the deity. They also observed festivals on February 2, which the Christians called Candlemas, and on August 1, Lammas. The Candlemas festival was celebrated by rolling fire wheels down hills and performing whirling torch dances. There was no special ceremony for Lammas.
The Dianic religion was a fertility cult, according to Murray, and sometimes involved Bacchanalian revels, and, on occasion, human sacrifice. For these reasons, the witches were ill-regarded by Christians. According to Murray, Christianity won over the people of Western Europe by degrees over the course of Medieval times. As this occurred, the adherents of the Dianic religion became more and more secretive. This also accounts for the fact that there were few witch trials until the fourteenth century. By then, the church had become well established and was engaged in the persecution not only of witches but of the Albigensians, who were Gnostics, and the Jews. The witch hunt gathered momentum during the following centuries, resulting in the massacre of thousands of people charged and convicted of witchcraft, especially between 1500 and 1650. Subsequently, belief in witchcraft declined, as did the number of witches themselves. According to Murray they had vanished by the end of the eighteenth century.
Witches evolved a hierarchy of priests which was uniform throughout Western Europe. They met in congregations called covens at nocturnal meetings in isolated clearings in the woods or hilltops. The meetings were called sabbats The proper number of adherents in a coven was thirteen, one of which was the priest. He was often well-known in the community, and appeared masked and clad in black, and often, wearing a horned headdress. Christians insisted that he was the Devil. There was also a priestess, the Maid. According to Murray, the chief deity was usually male, only rarely a goddess. The witches had animal familiars, that is to say spirit agents in animal form who acted on their behalf. This is the origin of the stereotypical black cat who rides on the witch’s broom with her. Witches were believed capable of levitation and flight.
Murray identified the witches with fairies, who were a dwarf race. This, she maintained, was the origin of traditions of “little people” or sidhe, as they are called in Ireland. The stories about giants, she maintained, stem from the tall Germanic and Norse invaders seen from the viewpoint of a people who were