Chapter

Wicca, Paganism and history: contemporary witchcraft and the Lancashire witches

Joanne Pearson

in The Lancashire Witches

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print January 2003 | ISBN: 9780719062032
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781700150 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7228/manchester/9780719062032.003.0011
Wicca, Paganism and history: contemporary witchcraft and the Lancashire witches

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This chapter provides a historical understanding of the recent past, looking at the way in which modern-day Witches, Wiccans, and Pagans have viewed the witch trials of the past. The idea that early modern witchcraft was a relic of an organized pre-Christian religion, consciously divorced from Christianity, remains remarkably prevalent despite having long ago been comprehensively discredited. During the middle decades of the twentieth century, reputable historians promoted the myth of the pagan witch. However, as the pagan hypothesis crumbled, it was taken up by parts of the emergent women's and pagan movements as a symbol of the historical persecution of women and religious dissidents, and also seized upon by some evangelical Christians as evidence that witchcraft was the product of anti-Christian forces. But this interpretation too is passing. The findings reveal an interesting and reflective variety of views about the relationship (or lack of it) between modern paganism and the witches of the past. As the saga of the Pendle cross indicates, it is the evangelical critics of paganism who are more inclined to see in it an organized continuity with the past. In the twentieth century, as in the seventeenth, witchcraft was as much the creation of its enemies as of its practitioners.

Keywords: modern paganism; Lancashire witches; pre-Christian religion; pagan hypothesis; pagan movements; evangelical critics

Chapter.  8132 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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