History 5 – Margaret Murray

Margaret Murray was a prominent British Folklorist, Egyptologist and Anthropologist, born in India in 1863. During her lifetime she published approximately 100 books and articles.

Margaret Murray began studies at University College London in 1894 as a student of linguistics and anthropology under William Flinders Petrie. In 1899 she was appointed Junior College Lecturer, and became an assistant professor by 1924. During this time she also worked cataloging Egyptian artifacts in various museums. From 1902 – 1931 she assisted Petrie at various excavations in Egypt, Malta, and Minorca. By 1935 she had retired from teaching at the age of 72 and returned to working again with Petrie at excavations in Petra and Gaza.

Due to her influential studies of European witchcraft, Murray became a fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute in 1926 and a member of the Folk-Lore Society in 1927, of which she held the office of President in 1953-1955.

In 1921 she wrote her first book “The Witch Cult in Western Europe” which is the book she is most famous for. This book officially identified Witchcraft as an ancient fertility religion that had no connection to Satan and devil-worship, thus challenging a common misconception still rampant in society today. In this book Murray claims that there was still a Pagan cult existing in Europe whose beliefs dated back through the neolithic and medieval periods. She followed this ten years later (1931) with, “The God of the Witches, in which she reiterated her theories in the earlier book and made claims that the religion remained in an unbroken line to this day (these claims have never been substantiated, and are controversial).

In 1954 Murray wrote “The Divine King in England” which made claims of a secret pagan conspiracy among English nobility. These claims were never taken seriously although her views have been used in various novels by other writers. Her writings continued to be considered controversial with accusations of only siting resources that supported her theories and ignoring those that did not.

In 1929 Murray was commissioned by Encyclopedia Britannica to write the entry on witchcraft, adding to the impact her writings had on a public level. Despite the controversy around her writings, Murray’s books are very popular today and are considered to have influenced Gerald Gardner in the founding of Wicca, who was also a member of the Folk-Lore Society. Many main Wiccan terms used today have been credited to Murray, such as, coven, esbat, the Horned God, the Old Religion and The Wheel of the Year.

Margaret Murray published her autobiography in 1963, “My First Hundred Years”, and died later that year.

Books by Margaret Murray:

Elementary Egyptian Grammar – 1905

Elementary Coptic Grammar – 1911

The Witch-Cult in Western Europe – 1921

Egyptian Sculpture – 1930

Egyptian Temples – 1931

The God of the Witches – 1933

Petra, the Rock City of Edom – 1939

The Splendour That was Egypt – 1949

The Divine King of England – 1954

The Genesis of Religion – 1963

My First Hundred Years – 1963

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