Join 3,556 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Ritual and Witchcraft in Cornwall
October 11, 2008 11:25 PM   Subscribe

Witches of Cornwall. "Macabre evidence of age-old spells surfaces in an archaeologist's front yard." [Via]
posted by homunculus (44 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ten bucks says the property suddenly acquires a longstanding occult history.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:07 AM on October 12, 2008


I love stuff like this. There's a similar article I read somewhere where people had found "witch bottles" and similar stuff inside the foundation wall of an English house from the 17th or 18th century. Imagine breaking open a wall in the basement and finding a glass bottle full of fingernail clippings or hair...

Also, these things are awesome story starters.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:11 AM on October 12, 2008


We used to go on caravan holidays to Cornwall when I was a nipper, and I still recall a visit one day when it was too rainy for the beach to what was then the supremely cheap and tacky Museum of Witchcraft in Bocastle. The Duchy was obviously riddled with dabblers in the dark arts!
posted by Abiezer at 12:59 AM on October 12, 2008


I'm a little irritated by the fabulist approach to the find - "dark arts", "couldn't get more spooky", etc. It's the same as finding ritual remains in a Roman temple or prehistoric middens. Ascribing "dark" intentions and character is hokey, unprofessional, and diminishes the value of the reporting.

The people who did these things were much more likely to simply be trying to get by with the belief systems they'd held long before the persecutory rule they lived under during the period the find originated, no "darkness" intended. Their understanding of how the world worked made these practices seem reasonable and effective. Applying a prurient fantasy built on the histories written by the victors in the belief system dispute they were on the losing side of is very nearly childish.
posted by batmonkey at 1:58 AM on October 12, 2008 [18 favorites]


I'm a little irritated by the fabulist approach to the find

Yes, it's written like the kind of tripe you find in tourist pamphlets designed to drum up business for the local bed & breakfast trade. For example, people who like stew find it handy to have a big cooking pot, but if they said they found a piece of a broken pot, it wouldn't push the "Oooo, witches!" buttons that "cauldron" pushes. But it's only an Archaeology Magazine article.
posted by pracowity at 2:23 AM on October 12, 2008


On the other hand, the pits lined with swan skin and filled with bird eggs sound pretty ritualistic to me...
posted by pharm at 2:45 AM on October 12, 2008


I used to work cleaning the local bayou, and we'd often find prescription medicine bottles with pieces of paper in them that had long scribbled notes, and then several people's names, crossed out over and over. Once I found a urine-specimen bottle with someone's name deliberately (misspelled) backwards on a piece of paper in it.
posted by atchafalaya at 3:57 AM on October 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Was there any urine in the bottle with the paper? If so, that's a more or less ancient school method of trying to send a curse back on its presumed caster.

Having all of these strange sites so near an archaeologist is a Buffy-like start (And this was just buried? Right here?) to a Ken Russell film, but one even stranger than usual. I'm imagining a great deal of honking and flapping, with a nearly-naked Amanda Donohoe covered with white feathers over strategic portions trying to re-enact bits from Leda and the Swan with a terrified postulant abducted from a local convent.

I'll be in my bunk.
posted by adipocere at 4:35 AM on October 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


sound pretty ritualistic to me...

Yes, I'm sure some loons were doing daft things they thought would work miracles for them. It's the hints at dark forces and Halloween witches that make it a slightly crap article. Monster Chiller Horror Theatre. Oooo, scary! I'm sure it was really some fairly regular people collecting random bits of shit and hiding it in holes in the ground because it supposedly worked, just like otherwise normal people wear amulets around their necks to keep themselves safe on journeys, kiss representations of a bloody capital punishment victim, and secretly recount their evil deeds to a dark-clad spiritual intermediary.
posted by pracowity at 4:41 AM on October 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


Was there any urine in the bottle with the paper? If so, that's a more or less ancient school method of trying to send a curse back on its presumed caster.

It's also an ancient method of having to avoid going outside in the cold to take a piss.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:02 AM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


The bottle had been in the water too long to tell. There was liquid, but it was clear. I didn't open it. There's apparently a long tradition of Cajun folk-healing by traiteurs and traiteuses that people have written books about.
posted by atchafalaya at 5:10 AM on October 12, 2008


atchafalaya, your name and the mention of the bayou give me a pretty good guess as to the location, which makes me smile. When I was a girl, I got ahold of a copy of Gumbo Ya-Ya, which has a guide in the back to a number of Louisiana curses, potions and love spells. I spent so much time reading and rereading it, trying to work up the nerve to put a curse on that one kid in sixth grade.

The prose aside, I enjoyed this article, too. I only overdosed on the hokiness when I got to the bit about quartz-lined ritual pools that glowed in the moonlight, sacred for thousands of years. That's so Wiccan; it's too hard to swallow. Glowing in the moonlight? I think it would be fair to say to an experimental archaeologist: pics or it didn't happen.

(I feel bad for the homeopath's family, too.)
posted by Countess Elena at 5:12 AM on October 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


These people are playing a dangerous game. There's no poltergeist less agreeable than a swan poltergeist. They'll be sorry when ashtrays and cutlery are flying across the room at shin level and all that comes out of the TV is staticky honking.
posted by No-sword at 5:24 AM on October 12, 2008 [12 favorites]


Sarah Palin was in Cornwall?
posted by mattoxic at 5:47 AM on October 12, 2008


The trouble with "ritual" is that it puts things in a particular social context where they may not go. Case in point, consider these items in the Kid Charlemagne library of Medieval stuff:

First, a book that might just as well be called "Kitchen Secrets of Nostradamus", in which he tells you how to make various ointments and what not. The book is full of instructions like, "place this upon the fire and say ten Our Fathers". It seems ritualistic until your realize that what he's doing is telling you to boil for three minutes.

The other is called, "On Diverse Arts" and is by a German monk known as Theophilus. It's a DIY book for people who have a cathedral they need to decorate and in it he tells you how to make bells and stained glass and what not. The thing is, you can always tell what things Theophilus had experience with, what things he'd seen done but had no first hand experience with, and what things he had explained to him by an artisan who was mostly interested in keeping his trade secrets a secret. "Well you see Brother Theophilus, if you want to carve rock crystal (quartz), first you get yourself a goat, then you kill it and collect the warm blood in a bowl and then soak the quartz in the blood for a few hours. And then it's so soft you can almost shape it with your fingers. Yeah, that's the ticket."
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:47 AM on October 12, 2008 [16 favorites]


The notion that folks in the past were any darker/lighter or more superstitious than today is broadly unlikely. They just had a different set of understandings to wrap their heads around. As general knowledge progresses, I believe we have a more effective framework for seeing the world and taking action in it to effect change. But even that doesn't stop us from also having Q-Ray. Assuming we continue to progress forward in knowledge and understanding, there will be plenty of "dark and disturbing" notions from our lifetimes for future generations' prurient interests.
posted by meinvt at 7:08 AM on October 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Abiezer: I still recall a visit one day when it was too rainy for the beach to what was then the supremely cheap and tacky Museum of Witchcraft in Bocastle.

I was in Cornwall last month and went there, it was brilliant! Highlight of the day for me was seeing ye olde Cocke Rock (not my pic)... a phallic shaped lump of stone meant to increase fertility. The blurb says women are supposed to sleep with it under their pillow, but I have my doubts about that :-O
posted by afx237vi at 7:15 AM on October 12, 2008


ye olde Cocke Rock
I hope someone's told jonmc :p
posted by Abiezer at 7:28 AM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


No doubt this'll be in the next series of Bonekickers
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:41 AM on October 12, 2008


The trouble with "ritual" is that it puts things in a particular social context where they may not go.

Yeah, the archaeologist in the article even mentions this:
"Over the last 30 years I've been quick to dismiss ritual as an explanation for unusual archaeological finds," says Wood. "It usually means that the archaeologists can't think of anything better. So now it seems especially ironic that I end up with a site absolutely full of ritual."

In this case, though, I don't really see an alternate explanation. The swan/cat/dog pits in the article were clearly elaborate, rife with symbolism, assembled at great cost and trouble, and served no obvious practical purpose... sounds like ritual to me. The fact that the dates for the pits stretch from the 1600s all the way up to 1950 also strongly suggests ritual rather than anything practical.

As for the quartz pond full of personal objects, that also suggests ritual... as "enlightened" as we are, we still throw things into ponds, to the extent where there's hardly a man-made pond or fountain in the West (and much of the rest of the world, for that matter) that hasn't got coins at the bottom. Hell, if people still do it every day at the mall, it's not much of a stretch to suspect that they were probably doing it in Cornwall...
posted by vorfeed at 9:00 AM on October 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


Some of my neighbors place jars of water on their lawns to keep dogs away. A thousand years from now, how will archaeologists interpret this "ritual?"
posted by SPrintF at 9:07 AM on October 12, 2008


Some of my neighbors place jars of water on their lawns to keep dogs away. A thousand years from now, how will archaeologists interpret this "ritual?"

Probably not at all, because it does not have any of the trappings of ritual. Putting out a jar of water is a simple act which could have many different practical purposes; it's a long way from killing a swan, carefully skinning it, and putting the skin in a hole along with a number of claws, pebbles, and nearly-hatched eggs.

You'd be surprised how often archaeologists have to essentially say, "we have no Earthly clue why people did this". The use of "ritual" as a lazy catch-all for that sort of behavior has gone out of favor in recent years, for precisely the reason you brought up, but that doesn't mean that there's no such thing as ritual... just that we have to be careful in applying it to behaviors which might have an alternate explanation. This one simply doesn't, unless of course the local ladies passed down their special recipe for "swan skin, egg, claw, and pebble stew, left uncooked in a hole for millennia".
posted by vorfeed at 9:43 AM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Totally forgot to to say I otherwise very much enjoyed the details of the find and I'm so glad this was posted. The details available between the editorialising are truly fascinating and fills out more of the image of the people in that time.

Ritual != "dark arts" - there are definitely ritual elements here (swan-skin lined pits and eggs and people clippings, oh my!) and I'm absolutely not disputing that. I'm just pushing back on the whole "dark" & "spooky" thing.

...And I say that as a fan of the dark & spooky thing, in general. It's just not appropriate in describing the rituals of a long-ago human settlement who were quite unlikely to be putting any of that on their beliefs and actions. Their belief system "lost", as it is. No need to do it more harm by luridly painting a narrow-minded, modern interpretation onto what they left behind.


I'm chuffed I wasn't the only one to find that aspect of the article off-putting...I worry I'm jumping off a ledge every time.
posted by batmonkey at 10:30 AM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sarah Palin was in Cornwall?

Oh please. That's just disrespectful.

(to witches)
posted by heatherann at 10:31 AM on October 12, 2008 [5 favorites]


Many indian fairs in Bolivia have stalls selling magic objects, from llama fetuses to colored yarn, carved rocks, incense, etc. People offer them as sacrifices to the Virgin Mary/Pacha Mama/Earth Mother, as a form of supplication, usually by burning and burying. Seriously cool.
posted by signal at 10:46 AM on October 12, 2008


This is fascinating to me personally. During some point in the 90s I had a Cornish Wiccan high priestess for a neighbor who claimed to be practicing a hereditary tradition. Now, I took this with a grain of salt, as did many other Wiccans I've known - most of them freely admit that their "traditions" are variations of the practices laid out by either Gerald Gardner or, to a lesser extent, Alex Sanders, both of whom were instrumental founders of Wicca in the early 20th century. Most Wiccans I know have no problem admitting that although based in pre-Christian ideas, Wicca is a fully modern faith. People who claim to be following a hereditary tradition are usually taken figuratively - the widespread perscecution of pagans over the course of centuries, it is said, had fully eradicated any "traditions", leaving only a handful of basic practices, superstitions or children's songs.

I sat with my neighbor's coven a few times. Although I have sworn not to describe what their practices were like, I can attest that there were no swan pits or gravel ponds involved. They were a good group of people; warm, not too serious, fun-loving, and about as different from one another as any congregation. Unfortunately, my job moved me elsewhere. A shame, too, as I haven't run into any openly Wiccan folks since.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:39 AM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, these things are awesome story starters.

You should check out Ken Russel's The Lair of the White Worm, based on Bram Stoker's book about uncovering a giant worm skull in middle England. On second thoughts, don't, it's rubbish.
posted by hnnrs at 12:10 PM on October 12, 2008


The fact that the dates for the pits stretch from the 1600s all the way up to 1950 also strongly suggests ritual rather than anything practical.

And that's precisely what makes me suspicious. I am just about prepared to believe that these pits represent ritual practice of some kind (though I'm far from convinced), but to argue that these ritual practices continued in an unbroken tradition for more than three hundred years, right up to modern times, without coming to the attention of folklore collectors or leaving any trace in local memory .. that just screams out 'SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT'.

Jacqui Wood, the archaeologist responsible for these discoveries, is also the author of a novel, Cliff Dreamers, set in Neolithic times, about the adventures of a young girl with 'unusual magical powers'. This does not fill me with confidence. Nor am I convinced by her work on prehistoric cookery, in which she collects lumps of mud from clifftops and discovers faint horizontal lines from which she proceeds to reconstruct recipes for Sweet Bean Cookies and other tasty Neolithic treats.
posted by verstegan at 2:30 PM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Forgive me the long quote, but the article reminded me of it.
One deprives oneself of all means of understanding magical thought if one tries to reduce it to a moment or stage in technical and scientific evolution. Like a shadow moving ahead of its owner it is in a sense complete in itself, and as finished and coherent in its immateriality as the substantial being which it precedes. Magical thought is not to be regarded as a beginning, a rudiment, a sketch, a part of a whole which has not yet materialized. It forms a well-articulated system, and is in this respect independent of that other system which constitutes science, except for the purely formal analogy which brings them together and makes the former a sort of metaphorical expression of the latter. It is therefore better, instead of contrasting magic and science, to compare them as two parallel modes of acquiring knowledge. Their theoretical and practical results differ in value, for it is true that science is more successful than magic from this point of view, although magic foreshadows science in that it is sometimes also successful. Both science and magic however require the same sort of mental operations and they differ not so much in kind as in the different types of phenomena to which they are applied.
It's from the first chapter of Claude Lévi-Strauss' The Savage Mind. The linked book is a terrible translation, but it's still a remarkable book for all that.

It irritates me too that the practices of the people who used those wells were treated so sensationally in that article. It probably made as much sense to them to do that as the same kind of magical thinking does for some of the people I know who wash their cars to make it rain.
posted by winna at 2:39 PM on October 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Sandwiched between two of the rectangular pits was a round pit with a swan-feather lining. On top of the swan feathers nestled 55 eggs, seven of which contained chicks that would have been close to hatching.

.
posted by orange swan at 3:25 PM on October 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


to argue that these ritual practices continued in an unbroken tradition for more than three hundred years, right up to modern times, without coming to the attention of folklore collectors or leaving any trace in local memory .. that just screams out 'SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT'.

The article said that there was local memory about this:
"a conversation between a member of Wood's excavation team and some locals in a pub. They recalled that there was a family, the Burnetts, reputed to be witches, that lived near Wood's house. Two sisters resided there until the 1980s."

At any rate, I'm not saying it's real or not, but it's certainly not impossible for private ritual practices like these to have continued for a few hundred years in secret, especially during the time periods in question. Obviously, more investigation is necessary...

As for her book and cookery article: yes, you're right, we must never ever actually enjoy history or archaeology. *rolls eyes* If you'd said something about the papers she's published, that'd be one thing, but casting aspersions on her archeological work just because she's also written a book and made up a couple of recipes is a bit much. Someone else will verify the findings, or not, and then we'll know more... and they won't do it by saying "lol forget it she writes fantasy", either.
posted by vorfeed at 4:23 PM on October 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nor am I convinced by her work on prehistoric cookery, in which she collects lumps of mud from clifftops and discovers faint horizontal lines from which she proceeds to reconstruct recipes for Sweet Bean Cookies and other tasty Neolithic treats.

HI I'M ON METAFILTER AND I COULD OVERTHINK A PLATE OF NEOLITHIC SWEET BEAN COOKIES. OM NOM NOM NOM!

Sorry, I couldn't resist.
posted by homunculus at 4:42 PM on October 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing: "26I sat with my neighbor's coven a few times. Although I have sworn not to describe what their practices were like, I can attest that there were no swan pits or gravel ponds involved. They were a good group of people; warm, not too serious, fun-loving, and about as different from one another as any congregation."

That's really cool. Were they "sky clad"? No? Darn.
posted by misha at 5:02 PM on October 12, 2008


Having all of these strange sites so near an archaeologist is a Buffy-like start (And this was just buried? Right here?) to a Ken Russell film, but one even stranger than usual. I'm imagining a great deal of honking and flapping, with a nearly-naked Amanda Donohoe covered with white feathers over strategic portions trying to re-enact bits from Leda and the Swan with a terrified postulant abducted from a local convent.

That is an amazing visual.
posted by starfyr at 9:46 PM on October 12, 2008


also ..

You'd be surprised how often archaeologists have to essentially say, "we have no Earthly clue why people did this".

Took quite a few archaeological field classes in school, and one professor loved to tell us that "archaeology is essentially putting together a thousand piece puzzle with only five pieces." So much of it is a mystery ... but nothing's better than holding some ancient tool and thinking about the person who made it.
posted by starfyr at 9:51 PM on October 12, 2008


Ten bucks says the property suddenly acquires a longstanding occult history.

That's a pretty safe bet. The Wyccynnzz have seized on it already:

Mike Slater, a witch from a pagan community in Bristol, thinks the pits and pool offerings have an amorous motive. "It has long been known that swans pair for life. Also nail parings and hair are commonly used in love spells," he says.

"I know because a British postal worker named Gerald wrote it in a book in the 1950s! An it do none wilt harm an do wilt thou, or something!" More play-pretend Wiccacrap intermingling with real history, making it so actual European pagan traditions are confused with touchy-feely D&D crapola entirely made up by some dork who claimed to have ancient mystical knowledge in order to sell a trashy book for $24.95 in the "occult" sections of chain bookstores.
posted by DecemberBoy at 10:00 PM on October 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Burning Witches in Michigan
posted by homunculus at 10:41 PM on October 12, 2008


Someone else will verify the findings, or not, and then we'll know more

So, 'leave it to the experts', is that your view? Leave it to the experts, and let's not worry our pretty little heads about whether any of this stuff is, like, true or not? No, vorfeed, no, no, no. My opinion may only be provisional, but at least I can try to make it well-informed. And the fact that Jacqui Wood apparently has no academic qualifications (and believes that knowledge is most easily acquired 'if one is not impeded by any training in the skill to be researched'), that no professional archaeologist can be found to support her theories ('Experts are baffled by the finds'), that she is the author of a 'magical Stone Age adventure novel', that she owns the archaeological site and runs the digs on a fee-paying basis (so has a lot invested in their success), and that she owns the website on which one of the two linked articles is hosted .. all these seem to me to be extremely relevant pieces of information in forming an opinion on the reliability of her claims.

As for her book and cookery article: yes, you're right, we must never ever actually enjoy history or archaeology *rolls eyes*

Oh vorfeed, you couldn't be more wrong. Of course I enjoy history. I'm a historian, it's what I do for a living, and I love every minute of it. And when I visit Metafilter, when I find an article that sparks my interest and curiosity, when I join the discussion and share my thoughts .. well, I find it deeply pleasurable and enjoyable, and it's one of the reasons why I keep on coming back. If you want to cast me as a humourless spoilsport, that's your problem.
posted by verstegan at 1:52 AM on October 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


That's really cool. Were they "sky clad"? No? Darn.

Heh. I was an initiate of a coven that did practice skyclad for Samhain and let me tell you - naked outdoors at night in late October is mighty chilly until that bonfire gets going.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:52 AM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


most of them freely admit that their "traditions" are variations of the practices laid out by either Gerald Gardner or, to a lesser extent, Alex Sanders, both of whom were instrumental founders of Wicca in the early 20th century.

And didn't Alex Sanders eventually admit that the whole religion thing was really just a crafty excuse to get virgins naked so that they could be deflowered by ye olde king of ye witches?

It may have been one of his close collaborators who finally spilled the beans.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:25 AM on October 13, 2008


My opinion may only be provisional, but at least I can try to make it well-informed.

FWIW, verstegan, exactly the same buzzers went off in my head as went off in yours.

However, there are a couple of things that tempered the sound of the buzzer.

a.) My wife worked as an archeologist for a few years -- on a respectable Rescue Archeology project at Liverpool University. The director of that programme hadn't been formally educated in Archeology either. I believe he'd originally studied Art History.
b.) This woman served a three-year term of office on the Council for British Archaeology’s National Education Committee and was the secretary of the CBA for the south west region also for three years.
c.) She's also currently the Archaeological Consultant to the Eden Project in Cornwall. The Eden Project uses pretty serious and reputable scientists.

So yeah, her pages definitely set off some bells for me, she looks like a real self-promoter, and her personal economic advantage rang a bell or two:

1.) Nothing draws the suckers like Witchy stuff
2.) How convenient that she found this shit on her own land
3.) Where she runs an archeology holiday camp, that lets amateurs go and dig holes for moneyl.

So yeah, still sceptical, but it's not impossible that she's straight.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:54 AM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


So, 'leave it to the experts', is that your view? Leave it to the experts, and let's not worry our pretty little heads about whether any of this stuff is, like, true or not?

Apparently it's yours, since the fact that she "has no academic qualifications" and runs her own website is enough for you to conclude that her work is probably a lie. When your entire argument seems to be based on "how dare she not be an expert", why are you freaking out on me for suggesting that we should maybe let the experts look at her work before deciding whether it's true or not?

I'm all for scepticism -- after all, that's exactly what "someone else will verify the findings, or not, and then we'll know more" is -- but there's more to honest scepticism than drawing nasty conclusions based on zero evidence.

My opinion may only be provisional, but at least I can try to make it well-informed.

By what? A bunch of secondary issues which have absolutely no direct bearing on whether this is actually true or not? Her website, her book, and her qualifications do not change what she has found. For one thing, even if she's just a self-promoting woo-woo hobbyist, she would certainly not be the first self-promoting woo-woo hobbyist to find something really interesting. Archaeology is not quantum physics; you don't necessarily need academic qualifications to contribute to it, as PeterMcDermott points out.

If you want to cast me as a humourless spoilsport, that's your problem.

I don't have to "cast you" as anything, not when you continue to act as if writing fantasy novels should disqualify one from serious study. Historic fantasy novels, silly Neolithic recipes, and archaeology camps are the way we get young people interested in history and archaeology -- there is nothing shameful or disqualifying about them, even (perhaps especially) if they're not "credible". If you don't want others to think of you as a humorless spoilsport, maybe you should bring something other than "humph harumph cookies and magic bah humbug".

The fact that you cannot seem to judge this woman on the merits of her work in archaeology speaks volumes. I had my own suspicions about this, so I looked at her papers and archaeological career; why didn't you? So much for well-informed -- I guess her fiction e-book is way more relevant than the fact that she's been published in the European Journal of Archaeology and Cornish Archaeology, right?

Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if her discovery turns out to be total bullshit, but the simple truth is that I do not know whether it is, like, true or not, seeing as how I don't have academic qualifications in her field, myself, nor do I have access to her work. That means I have to rely on the physical evidence she has uncovered, and on qualified people's opinions of that evidence. So, yes, we do have to "leave it to the experts", mainly because that is precisely how archaeological work is verified.

Sorry to disappoint you, but it's not done by looking at people's websites.
posted by vorfeed at 11:24 AM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


And didn't Alex Sanders eventually admit that the whole religion thing was really just a crafty excuse to get virgins naked so that they could be deflowered by ye olde king of ye witches?

I'm not sure if Sanders actually admitted that himself, but I've heard that said. I knew very, very few Wiccans who considered themselves Alexandrian or Gardnerian - most followed other traditions. It amazed me at first how, within the span of a few decades, so many different "denominations" of Wicca had sprung up. But Elaine Pagels found in her research of early Christianity that, if anything, in the early years there were just as many if not more denominations of Christianity than there are today. With Wicca, the dynamic is even more fluid - there's no sacred text to squabble over; just some very basic ethical guidelines and a simple worldview. This leaves a lot of room for interprettation.

If there was a surviving tradition of pre-Christian nature magic/worship, it survived because of this flexibility. There were no texts to be discovered by church authorities, no temples to be torn down, no clergymen dressed in gold embroidered robes living in lush palaces. These factors might have helped a few hereditary traditions survive. Gardner himself claims he was initiated by a hereditary coven, and was fortunate enough to write his works shortly before the outlawing of witchcraft was repealed in Britain in 1951. This is what makes this discovery particularly exciting to me. I'd be thrilled to discover that these traditions did make it through centuries to present date.

I should contact my old pals and see what they have to say about this. I'd be curious to get their take on it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:47 AM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I love this stuff - reminds me of when I subscribed to the excellent UK journal, Fortean Times, which demonstrated that it is possible to have a scholarly approach without losing one's sense of wonder.

On all my trips to Cornwall, I never did catch a glimpse of the Beast of Bodmin, disappointingly.
posted by internationalfeel at 1:11 AM on October 14, 2008


« Older When Man on Wire won a Grand Jury Prize: at Sundan...  |  How will the financial mess af... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments