Margaret Murray


Margaret Murray : biography

13 June 1863 – 13 November 1963

It was likely because few experts in the witch trials actually bothered to counter her arguments that many Britons, including several historians not familiar with the witch trials, simply assumed that Murray’s view was the consensus as to the nature of European witchcraft, and included her ideas in their own works. For instance, the historian G.C. Coulton, an expert on Mediaeval monasteries, included her theories in his work, Five Centuries of Religion, Volume One (1923), as did the novelist John Buchan, who included it into his Witch Wood (1927).Hutton 1999. p. 199.

In 1962, Canadian historian Elliot Rose published A Razor for a Goat: A Discussion of Certain Problems in Witchcraft and Diabolism, in which he provided one of the first popular history books to openly criticise Murray’s interpretation. Later commenting on A Razor for a Goat, Richard Kieckhefer noted that when the book was first published "it was recognised as a biting critique of the views of Margaret Murray… Now, forty years later, Rose’s book may perhaps seem more of a revisionist work within Murray’s school of interpretation. So much has happened in the historiography of witchcraft that what seemed at first a wide gulf between Rose and Murray now seems narrower, and factors shared by the two have become clearer."Kieckhefer 2003. p. vii


Following Murray’s death, critics began to attack her theory more openly and voraciously. Norman Cohn, in his book Europe’s Inner Demons, also accused Murray of falsifying her evidence by selectively quoting from the testimony of accused witches, deliberately leaving out fantastical elements to support her claim that real events were being described rather than fantasies; such elements include testimonies of flying to meetings, transforming into animals, or seeing the devil disappear and reappear suddenly. Jani Farrell-Roberts has argued that Cohn is misrepresenting Murray, for she did indeed discuss such fantastical elements at length, and many of the supposedly omitted passages can be found in her books.Farrell-Roberts, Jani (2003) in The Cauldron, May 2003. Ronald Hutton is in agreement with Cohn. Carlo Ginzburg, on the other hand, regards Cohn’s views as a polemicGinzburg, Carlo (1990) Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath. London: Hutchinson Radius. p. 8. and believes that although Murray was too eager to accept all testimonies as accurate, and failed to critically differentiate those elements introduced by the interventions of judges, inquisitors and demonologists, she still had a "correct intuition" in identifying the remnants of a pre-Christian ‘religion of Diana’, and in believing that witch-trial testimonies did at times represent actual or perceived experiences.Ginzburg, Ecstasies p. 9.

In 1994, folklorist Jacqueline Simpson published an article in the Folklore journal entitled "Margaret Murray: Who Believed Her, and Why?" in which she took a particularly critical approach to the Murrayite theory, explaining its faults, and looking at the history of the hypotheses’ criticism; within it she remarked that "No British folklorist can remember Dr Margaret Murray without embarrassment."Simpson 1994. p. 89. Similar criticism of Murray came from the historian Ronald Hutton, in both his 1991 book on ancient paganism, The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy and in his 1999 study of Wiccan history, The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. However, one practising Wiccan, the transgender activist Jani Farrell-Roberts subsequently entered into a publicly published debate with Hutton on the issue in a series of articles published in 2003 in the occult-based magazine The Cauldron.


Murray’s works were to become popular bestsellers from the 1940s onwards and were popularly believed to be accurate. Indeed, Murray’s influence is still massive in popular thought, though, as noted above, academics have since cited major flaws in Murray’s works that call her conclusions into question.Trevor-Roper, Hugh. The European Witch-craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, 1969.Russell, Jeffrey. A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics, and Pagans, 1970.Simpson 1994, pp. 89–96.Hutton, Ronald. The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 1991.Hutton, Ronald. The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999Kitteredge, G. L. Witchcraft in Old and New England. 1951. pp. 275, 421, 565.