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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Margaret Murray

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Flame Between the Antlers

Let me tell you a secret.

You know King Arthur, him we call Artos the Bear?

Well: at the heart of his story throbs the Witches' Sabbat.

Really.

I first read Rosemary Sutcliff's flawed amethyst of a masterpiece Sword at Sunset when I was still in elementary school—too young, really. It was my first Arthurian novel, and—quite frankly—it ruined me for anything else. Mallory's knights in shining armor, White's sly satirical anachronisms, Bradley's horrible nun-priestesses: none of them quite stack up in comparison to the real thing.

Because that's what you think when you read Sword: this is exactly how it must have been.

Sutcliff's Artos—our Artos—is a Dark Age Keltic chieftain in a gritty post-Roman Britain where Old Gods and Old Ways are still vibrantly, resoundingly alive, a world in which a grizzled old horse-herd, after a lifetime of work in the breeding-runs, can believe that the Horned One has finally sent him the perfect horse. A world in which Artos the Bear is raised to kingship in an impromptu coronation (after a resounding victory in battle against the Saxons) on the Eye of the White Horse of Uffington.

Sutcliff knows three things supremely well: the land of Britain, the history of Britain, and the Old Ways of Britain. In Sword at Sunset, these three knowledges, which are one knowledge, converge in one splendid, shining tale of fierce battles and piercing loves.

And at its very heart burns the blue-dark flame of the Witches' Sabbat.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    I ordered a book. Haven't gotten it read yet. Thanks for the recommendation.
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    While I've come to love Mallory for his language and mystery, despite his medievalism, I find both Stewart and Paxson's Arthurian
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I took a class in Arthurian Literature in college back in the 80's. I had read some of Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy as a teenage

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
God of Both Ways

They say that the god of the witches has two faces.

Bifrons, they call him: old Two-Face.

Ianiformis, they call him: shaped like Ianus, the old Roman god of Time.

Two faces, fore and aft. But of course what's before and what's behind is all a matter of where you're standing, isn't it?

For this, Margaret Murray named him Dianus = Ianus, lord of beginnings and endings, like the month that bears his name.

Two faces, and when you arrive at the sabbat, you greet him with a kiss on both sets of lips.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Ooser

Ooser (“Rhymes with bosser, not boozer,” I always tell people) is a term from what Sybil Leek would call the Language of Witchcraft. It denotes a carved and horned wooden head-mask of the God of Witches.

It's a dialectal word, of unclear etymology. Doreen Valiente suggests an origin from ós, the Old English cognate of Old Norse áss, “god,” better known to English-speakers in its plural form aesir. An ooser, then, would be a “god-er,” which, since it bears the god and is worn by his personifier at the sabbat, makes sound theological (if not etymological) sense.

The famous and mysterious Dorset Ooser is the best-known example. Also known, from its bull-horns, as the “Yule Bull,” it frightened generations of Dorset children until it was stolen from its hereditary keeper in 1897 and never recovered. Old Craft scuttlebutt would have it that it was “took” to get it out of cowan hands, and that it has since remained in ongoing, if private, use among witch-folk to this day.

Well, so they say. In its own way, it's even a true story.

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A Yule Carol by (I Kid You Not) Margaret Murray

Early 20th-century maverick archaeologist Margaret Murray (1863-1963) needs no introduction, her 1921 Witch-Cult in Western Europe having been instrumental in getting the whole witchcraft-revival wheel turning.

Before becoming a revisionist historian, however, she was first and foremost an Egyptologist. Her somewhat libertarian translation of a 19th Dynasty hymn to the Sun’s rebirth makes a charming (if rather ponderous) addition to the repertoire of Yule carols, especially for those of us weary of “little Lord Sun God, asleep in the hay”-type rewrites.

For the non-Egyptians among us, I've appended a de-Kemetized version as well.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Haley
    Haley says #
    But, of course! Thank you.
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Good question, Haley. Judging from the lyrics, I could imagine something joyous, triumphant, maybe a little bombastic, rather like
  • Haley
    Haley says #
    Thank you, Steven. What sort of tune do you have in mind with this?
Murray Revisited, or Throwing Out the Baby with the Broth Water

Yeah, yeah, I've read the books, I've heard the arguments, I know all about flawed methodology and bogus historiography. Who takes Murray seriously these days, anyway?

An important element is missing here. People believed Murray's theories for years because they're convincing. They have the ring of likeliness to them.

OK, here we are, medieval peasants. Life is hard. We work our butts off sun-up to sun-down nearly every day, and in a good year we raise enough to get us through to the next harvest. Often enough, we don't, and then we starve. Even in good years, the seigneur and the priest have automatic authority over pretty much every aspect of our lives.

We grew up hearing fireside stories, half-remembered, about the Old Ways and the Guy with the Horns. Yeah, I know Father Guillemet says he's bad, but the priest doesn't know everything, anyone can see that. He's a priest, what does he know about real life?

What is more likely than that on the old days you'd go off to the bonfire in the woods, get drunk, dance and screw your neighbor's wife (or husband) in the bushes? Pleasure is rare enough in life, and you have to take it when you can get it. And part of the fun is poking fun at Authority, especially Authority—like the church—about which you really can't help but feel a certain amount of ambivalence. Mix bits and pieces of decayed paganism with the only rituals that you know—those of the church—and voilà: spontaneous folk-diabolism.

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  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis says #
    Amen!
  • Sylvie Kaos
    Sylvie Kaos says #
    My sentiments exactly!

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Nisse

I was standing at the till of our neighborhood Scandinavian store. (I live in Minneapolis, where we have such things.) The cashier was ringing up my purchase when the cash register ran out of receipt tape.

“This will take just a second,” she said, and began to put a new roll in.

It didn't take just a second. She fiddled and fiddled with it, and the tape just would not go in.

“What's wrong with me today?” she said. “I've done this hundreds of t—“

She stopped. Her squinched features relaxed into understanding. In an undertone, more to herself than to me, she said: “The nisse.”

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