Margaret Murray : biography
Margaret Alice Murray (13 July 1863 – 13 November 1963) was a prominent British Egyptologist and anthropologist. Primarily known for her work in Egyptology, which was "the core of her academic career,"Hutton 1999. p. 194. she is also known for her propagation of the Witch-cult hypothesis, the theory that the witch trials in the Early Modern period of Christianized Europe and North America were an attempt to extinguish a surviving pre-Christian, pagan religion devoted to a Horned God. Whilst this theory is today widely disputed and discredited by historians like Norman Cohn, Keith Thomas and Ronald Hutton, it has had a significant effect in the origins of Neopagan religions, primarily Wicca, a faith she supported.
Her work in Egyptology took place largely alongside her mentor and friend, the archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie, whom she worked alongside at University College London. One of the earliest women to "make a serious impact upon the world of professional scholarship," she was also an ardent feminist, being actively involved in the Suffragist movement. From 1953 to 1955, she was the president of the Folklore Society, although since her death various members of the society have attempted to dissociate the organisation from her and the Murrayite theory of the Witch-Cult.Simpson 1994.
Margaret Murray was born in Calcutta, India on 13 July 1863. She attended the University College of London and was a student of linguistics and anthropology. She was also a pioneer campaigner for women’s rights. Margaret Murray accompanied the renowned Egyptologist Sir William Flinders Petrie, on several archaeological excavations in Egypt and Palestine during the late 1890s. Murray was the first in a line of female Egyptologists employed at The Manchester Museum, The University of Manchester. In 1908, she undertook the unwrapping of the Two Brothers, a Middle Kingdom non-royal burial excavated by Petrie in Egypt. It is regarded as the first interdisciplinary study of mummies and probably kick-started future scientific unwrappings, such as those of Keeper Professor Rosalie David completed in the 1970s.
Like most female academics of her generation, Murray had received no formal training, instead being taught Egyptology by Flinders Petrie.
Her work and association with Petrie helped secure employment at University College as a junior lecturer.
Associate Professorship and the Witch-Cult theory: 1914–1931
During the First World War, the Egyptology department was out of action and so Murray turned her attention to another subject, the history of witchcraft in Europe. In 1921, Oxford University Press published her first book on the subject, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe. Many reviews in academic journals were critical, with historians claiming that she had distorted and misinterpreted the contemporary records that she was using.Simpson 1994. p. 90.
She was consequently named Assistant Professor of Egyptology at the University College of London in 1924, a post she held until her retirement in 1935. In 1926, she became a fellow of Britain’s Royal Anthropological Institute.
In 1929, she was commissioned to write the entry on "witchcraft" for the Encyclopaedia Britannica. She used the opportunity to propagate her own Witch-Cult theory, failing to mention the alternate theories proposed by other academics. Her entry would be included in the encyclopedia until 1969, becoming readily accessible to the public, and it was for this reason that her ideas on the subject had such a significant impact. Murray reiterated her Witch-Cult theory in her 1933 book, The God of the Witches. From this publication, she cut out or toned down what she saw as the more unpleasant aspects of the Witch-Cult, such as animal and child sacrifice, and her use of language became "emotionally inflated and coloured with religious phraseology."Simpson 1994. p. 93.