Pagan Witchcraft and Cunning Folk

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Paperpeer-review


Margaret Murray’s hypothesis of a European witch cult passing its practices down through the centuries was influential in creating modern pagan witchcraft, despite its flawed basis and creative use of evidence. In focusing her efforts on an imagined witchcraft cult, however, Murray ignored evidence that could have proven her hypothesis in a different way. Murray accurately identified what she termed Operative Witchcraft but dismissed it as being, “common to every nation and country… practised by the priests and the people of every religion.” She said that it was, “…of no practical value in the study of any one particular cult.” and focused her attention instead on promoting a pagan cult of 'Ritual Witchcraft', which she proposed should be called, 'the Dianic cult'. Murray was not the first to propose a relationship between witchcraft and a pagan cult, but publication of her books after the expansion of the regional press in Britain post 1850 ensured she had wider audience for her speculation than would have been the case pre-1850. This, together with her academic background, positioned her as a leading authority and the pagan cult of witchcraft was established.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Dec 2020
EventAmerican Academy of Religion: Annual Meeting - Virtual, Boston, United States
Duration: 29 Nov 202010 Dec 2020


ConferenceAmerican Academy of Religion
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


  • Witchcraft
  • Cunning
  • Pagan


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