Early Modern Reconstructionist Witchcraft
Getting quite frustrated about a trend in what could be called Early Modern Reconstructionist Witchcraft: a trend of taking particular ideas about reported historical practises in early modern and often also medieval Europe (and especially England and Scotland) and attempting to codify them as The True Witchcraft - often partially or completely devoid of the actual cultural and religious context of these practices (and without critical analysis of whether they *were* actual practices, when they come via trial reports), and often along with an American fetishisation of Europe. It’s giving me a thumping headache.
Look, being inspired by the imagery of witchcraft in early modern (& earlier & later) England, Scotland, Western Europe is great. Flying ointments, diabolical Sabbats, wild hunts & furious hosts and faery rades, familiar spirits, Diana and Habondia and their spiritual sisters - it’s great stuff, it’s juicy, it’s a real current in historical thought that’s affected our present day ideas. The image of the cunning wo/man (whether of the mystic-cottage-full-of-herbs variety or the canny sometimes-rip-off-merchant practising what Pratchett termed Headology one [and the two are not exclusive]) is fertile inspiration for modern practice. I draw on this stuff myself, obviously!
But please, please be wary of anyone trying to tell you that modern, developing practises derived from (often selective) historical reports and modern interpretations of them are What People Did And How People Thought/Believed Back Then! Especially if the same people are deriding twentieth-century witchcrafts inspired by people like Murray - because those witchcrafts were *also* based on (often selective) historical and archaeological information of their day and the contemporary interpretations of them. (And extra especially if those people have books or classes to sell!)
The reaching for ‘authenticity’ is an understandable urge, and can be a real spiritual and magical hunger for roots and meaning. But claims of *historical* authenticity in contemporary, reconstructed practices should always be treated with wariness - because there’s always more evidence to come along, new ways of looking at the past to develop, and what seems like an obvious historical survival today is going to look like Murray’s witch cult and Frazer’s Golden Bough in ten, twenty, fifty years’ time. (And hey, people can and do still draw valid personal inspiration from those, we just need to understand they’re not History Fact.)
Any practice that looks back to the past is necessarily a child of historiography as much as history. And historiography is a constantly evolving thing. So…just be thoughtful, okay? If stuff speaks to you, that’s great, work that current ‘til your arse falls off. Just be wary of believing - or making - claims that what you’re doing is More Real, More Accurate, More Authentic, More Historical than what other people are doing.