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J., E. (1922). The Witch-Cult in Western Europe—A Study in Anthropology: By Margaret Alice Murray. (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1921. Pp. 303. Price 16s.). Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 3:254-256.

(1922). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 3:254-256

The Witch-Cult in Western Europe—A Study in Anthropology: By Margaret Alice Murray. (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1921. Pp. 303. Price 16s.)

Review by:
E. J.

The current view about witches is, we presume, that they were a collection of sour beldams and neurotic girls, unusually prone to lascivious halluçinations, who were the victims of terrified or malicious neighbours aided by ignorant and superstitious judges. It is a chapter in the history of mankind which we would rather forget, an epidemic aberration. In a monograph devoted to the subject the present reviewer attempted to give it some psychological meaning, particularly from the point of view of the unconscious signification of the mutual reactions. Miss Murray attacks the problem, i. e. that of meaning, from an historical standpoint, basing her study on her knowledge of anthropology and comparative religion, and she has produced an extremely valuable, original and illuminating work.

Miss Murray will have nothing to do with any pathological explanations and dismisses this aspect lightly with the words 'Much confusion has been caused … by the unfortunate belief of modern writers in the capacity of women for hysteria' (p. 231). It is no wonder that even with such an intelligible phenomenon as the anaesthesia and anaemia of the 'marks' inflicted by the devil she is reduced to saying 'I can at present offer no solution of this problem' (p. 86). But we cannot make this a matter of reproach to Miss Murray, for she has offered solutions enough of other and more weighty problems.

The main thesis of the book can be shortly stated. Witches and sorcerers are alleged to represent the survival of a pre-Christian fertility cult, to which the author gives the name of the 'Dianic cult'. Her view is that witchcraft was a definite organised religion which regarded Christianity as its natural enemy. Its main characteristics were various rites and ceremonies designed to increase fertility in human beings, animals and crops.

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