Margaret Murray

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Margaret Murray : biography

13 June 1863 – 13 November 1963

In Wicca and Paganism

Murray’s Witch-Cult theories would provide the blueprint for the Contemporary Pagan religion of Wicca.

Murray’s ideas proved highly influential over the ideas of Gerald Gardner (1884–1964), an English Wiccan who founded the tradition of Gardnerian Wicca in the 1950s before authoring the books Witchcraft Today (1954) and The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959). Gardner was the only member of the Folklore Society to "wholeheartedly" accept Murray’s Witch-Cult hypothesis.

The phrase "the Old Religion," used by Wiccans and Neopagans to describe an ancestral pagan religion, derives from Murrayite theory.Simpson 1994, pages 89, 92, 93, 95 Other Wiccan terms and concepts like coven, esbat, the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, and the Horned God are, it has been suggested, influenced by or derived directly from Murray’s works. Her ideas also inspired other writers, ranging from horror authors like H. P. Lovecraft and Dennis Wheatley to Robert Graves. The character of the obsessed academic Rose Lorimer in Angus Wilson’s 1956 novel Anglo-Saxon Attitudes is said to have been inspired in part by Murray and Frances Yates.

In academia

In a 1994 academic paper, the folklorist Jacqueline Simpson noted that British folklorists remembered Murray with "embarrassment" and a "sense of paradox." Considering Murray’s reputation to be "deservedly low" in academia, she argued that Murray’s status as President of the Folklore Society had harmed the society’s reputation and was a causal factor in the mistrustful attitude that many historians held toward folkloristics as an academic discipline.Simpson 1994. p. 89.

Personal life

One of her friends, the antiquarian Hilda Davidson, who knew Murray in her old age, described her as being "not at all assertive … never thrust her ideas on anyone. [In relation to her Witch-Cult theory,] She behaved in fact rather like someone who was a fully convinced member of some unusual religious sect, or perhaps, of the Freemasons, but never on any account got into arguments about it in public."Davidson, quoted in Simpson 1994. p. 89.

Raised a devout Christian by her mother, Murray had initially become a Sunday School teacher in order to preach the faith. However, after entering the academic profession she rejected religion, gaining a reputation amongst other members of the Folklore Society as a noted sceptic and a rationalist.Hutton 1999. p. 200.Simpson 1994. p. 89. Despite her rejection of religion, she continued to maintain a personal belief in a God of some sort, relating in her autobiography that she believed in "an unseen over-ruling Power," "which science calls Nature and religion calls God."Murray 1963. pp. 196–204. She was also a believer and a practitioner of magic, performing curses against those whom she felt deserved it: as Ronald Hutton noted, "Once she carried out a ritual to blast a fellow academic whose promotion she believed to have been undeserved, by mixing up ingredients in a frying pan in the presence of two colleagues. The victim actually did become ill, and had to change jobs. This was only one among a number of such acts of malevolent magic she perpetrates, and which the friend who recorded them assumed (rather nervously) were pranks, with coincidental effects."Hutton 1999. pp. 200–201.