People of Wicca

Margaret alice murray (1863–1963)

For decades, Margaret Murray's The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) was the definitive work on witchcraft and undoubtedly inspired such individuals as Gerald Brosseau Gardner to revive the Craft in the modern era. Murray's thesis was that witchcraft hearkened back to ancient, pre-Christian goddess worship and continued forward in unbroken lineage to contemporary times. The witch craze that seized Europe in the period from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries and that led to the persecution and deaths of thousands of those women who practiced witchcraft was nothing more or less than the attack of the patriarchal establishment on an ancient, woman-centered religion. In her opinion, based on her extensive research, the practice of witchcraft had nothing to do with the worship of Satan, an entity of evil that had been created by Christianity.

Although Murray shall probably always be known in the popular mind as the author of two seminal books on witchcraft, the aforementioned The Witch-Cult in Western Europe and The God of the Witches (1952), among her peers at the University College in London she was a respected scholar and specialist in Egyptian hieroglyphics. Because it was difficult in her day for a proper Englishwoman to become an archeologist, she first obtained a degree in linguistics, which led in turn to the study of Egyptian hieroglyphics and Egyptology. In the late 1890s, her work had been noticed by the eminent archeologist Sir Flinders Petrie (1853–1942), who permitted her to join him in his excavations at Abydos in Egypt. Because she distinguished herself on this expedition, she was invited to join the staff at the University College.

Murray was known as an ardent feminist, and her passion for the political advancement of women may well have influenced her interpretation of the European witchcraft trials as being organized campaigns of terror against those women who still practiced the old goddess-centered religions. Since her books on the history of witchcraft created little uproar among the academics of her day, there was no taint of sensationalism that prevented her from becoming a fellow of Britain's Royal Anthropological Institute in 1926. In 1931, Murray published The Splendor That Was Egypt, a book centered on Egyptology, her special field of interest. From 1953 to 1955, she served as president of Britain's Folklore Society. Remarkably, in 1963, at the age of 100, Murray published her autobiography, Centenary, and The Genesis of Religion (1963).

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