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Author Topic: Balkan Traditional Witchcraft  (Read 21783 times) Average Rating: 5
Vale
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« Reply #15: April 18, 2010, 12:40:03 pm »


Have you read Hutton at all?

Brina

Yes I've read Hutton.  My book case is full of his works. His work however is not really relevent to TW.


 
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« Reply #16: April 18, 2010, 12:54:45 pm »

Unless you're using the term to mean something radically different from anything I've heard before, I think we're on the same page as far as terminology.  And as to how TW differs from Wicca, I'm less concerned with the differences than the overlap, and whether or not these commonalities were ever historically practiced.  This is the portion that fails to convince me of antiquity.  I'm not trying to debate or debase your beliefs.  I'm just saying I've never seen any proof that a cohesive belief system resembling what people generally call "Traditional Witchcraft" existed pre-Gardner.  And as you haven't presented anything academic on the subject, I remain unconvinced.

Have you read Hutton at all?

Brina

To elaborate slightly

To answer you references re academic support  - Ralph Merrifield  was Deputy Director of the Museum of London, a noted and well respected archeologist and awarded an honoury doctorate by the Univerisity of London in recognition of his outstanding historical contribution.

Traditional Witchcraft is not a belief system in the way Wicca is. It is practiced by many of different beliefs and by many who recognise no gods at all.  I have not said anything about my own beliefs as they are simply not relevent to my practice of the craft.

Going back to my first point. Those who practice traditional witchcraft will enjoy this book.

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« Reply #17: April 18, 2010, 05:54:32 pm »

To answer you references re academic support  - Ralph Merrifield  was Deputy Director of the Museum of London, a noted and well respected archeologist and awarded an honoury doctorate by the Univerisity of London in recognition of his outstanding historical contribution.

Merrifield's honorary doctorate seems to have more to do with his studies of Roman London than in anything to do with witchcraft.  I'm not finding any scholarly, peer-reviewed work from him on the subject of witchcraft.  If you know of any, please let me know.  And no, Folklore Society stuff doesn't count.

Quote
Traditional Witchcraft is not a belief system in the way Wicca is. It is practiced by many of different beliefs and by many who recognise no gods at all.  I have not said anything about my own beliefs as they are simply not relevent to my practice of the craft.

It's relevant if you claim your flavor of witchcraft existed anywhere close to the way Margaret Murray laid it out.  At least in the context of this discussion.

Quote
Going back to my first point. Those who practice traditional witchcraft will enjoy this book.

Okay, I admit to being a bit of a debunker when it comes to matters of pagan history.  That's part of the reason I love Hutton so much.  I'm reading this review of the subject of this thread and seeing the same old discredited theories trotted out again.  You also said:

Quote
This is the true European folk magic and far removed from the fluffy Llewellyn stuff.

If the review I linked to is accurate, I'd have serious issues with the historical veracity of the book in general.  You say you've read Hutton.  He talks at length about the stark contrast between cunning folk and anything that resembles a witch cult.  What are your thoughts on this?

Brina
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« Reply #18: April 18, 2010, 08:12:43 pm »

Merrifield's honorary doctorate seems to have more to do with his studies of Roman London than in anything to do with witchcraft.  I'm not finding any scholarly, peer-reviewed work from him on the subject of witchcraft.  If you know of any, please let me know.  And no, Folklore Society stuff doesn't count.

It's relevant if you claim your flavor of witchcraft existed anywhere close to the way Margaret Murray laid it out.  At least in the context of this discussion.

Okay, I admit to being a bit of a debunker when it comes to matters of pagan history.  That's part of the reason I love Hutton so much.  I'm reading this review of the subject of this thread and seeing the same old discredited theories trotted out again.  You also said:

If the review I linked to is accurate, I'd have serious issues with the historical veracity of the book in general.  You say you've read Hutton.  He talks at length about the stark contrast between cunning folk and anything that resembles a witch cult.  What are your thoughts on this?

Brina

This is going to be my last post on the subject especially as the book that started this is in the magic book section rather than the academic section.

I followed your link - who is R L Thompson? I admit I have never heard of him so I don't know if his opinions are valid or not. It is not surprising that there are similarities between folk witchcraft though.  The mechanics of the craft are going to be the same whichever culture practices it and although the trappings will be different, the core practices will have more similarities than differences. This is a far cry from the Murray "Witchcraft Cult" .

Hutton of course has his own agenda.  He has gained himself a reputation as a debunker which is fair enough; there is plenty of rubbish written  (and just because it was written by an academic doesn't absolve material from being rubbish. Margaret Murray was a respected hstorian before her reputation was fatally damaged - although I understand that her work is now being re-examined in the light of new research. Can't remember where I read that now or I'd cite it for you)

I have read Hutton's work on the cunningmen, also works by  Emma Wilby and Owen Davies. Are they academic enough for you? If your reading is solely Hutton on this topic you are getting a rather one sided view.

Merrifield's book incidently is about factual  proven archeological findings  of traces of witchcraft - mumified cats, witch bottles, shoes etc in and around London. His book was written  with the co-operation  of some of the finest museums  ( Prof Sir Barry Cunnliffe  is thanked by name for his contribution) and is extensively indexed and referenced. That a book published over 30 years ago does not have peer reviews published on the internet does not really worry me. 

Balkan Witchcraft is an overview of the aborgineal practices of the Balkan area. You cannot divorce folklore from this.  Folk magic predates Gardner by centuries  - presumably you accept the academic dating of the contents of the bellarmine  witch bottles found? There are plenty of other datable finds too but the witch bottles are the best known.

Presumably you are also aware of the various folk charms  found in many European cultures and also in Appalachian witchcraft? These are recorded well before Gardner was born - there are pre 20th C books  with collections of these charms, spells and practices. These charms and practices are passed down not as part of some mythical witch cult but as folk history. It is accepted by the authors I refer to above that  some of these are very old and have had the trappings of christianity rather awkwardly bolted on to them.

Marie Trevelyan in 1853 published a collection of such folktales, charms and spells . These were collected by her and record a way of life that even then was disappearing fast. We are fortunate in the UK that there were a number of Victorians  like her who took an interest in folk customs and have preserved them. 

 

 

 
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« Reply #19: April 19, 2010, 01:49:13 am »

This is going to be my last post on the subject especially as the book that started this is in the magic book section rather than the academic section.

<sigh>  Most people confronted with this shut down and decide they're "not going to talk about it anymore".  It's kind of exhausting, to be honest.

Quote
I followed your link - who is R L Thompson? I admit I have never heard of him so I don't know if his opinions are valid or not. It is not surprising that there are similarities between folk witchcraft though.  The mechanics of the craft are going to be the same whichever culture practices it and although the trappings will be different, the core practices will have more similarities than differences. This is a far cry from the Murray "Witchcraft Cult" .

I don't have any idea who R. L. Thompson is.  The fact that he talked about pan-European witch cults is what interested me, given there's little to no proof of them.  If that's not the case in regards to the subject text, please refute.

Quote
Hutton of course has his own agenda.  He has gained himself a reputation as a debunker which is fair enough; there is plenty of rubbish written  (and just because it was written by an academic doesn't absolve material from being rubbish. Margaret Murray was a respected hstorian before her reputation was fatally damaged - although I understand that her work is now being re-examined in the light of new research. Can't remember where I read that now or I'd cite it for you)

Who but Murray initially marred her reputation?  You talk about agendas--do you assume Murray had none?  The only people reexamining her work are those with a vested interest in proving it true (mostly of the neo-pagan stripe).  Hutton's examination of the subject found it wanting in academic rigor.

Quote
I have read Hutton's work on the cunningmen, also works by  Emma Wilby and Owen Davies. Are they academic enough for you? If your reading is solely Hutton on this topic you are getting a rather one sided view.

Hutton took much of his information on cunning folk from Davies and Wilby.  And his conclusions on the subject seem straightforward enough.  If there are specific inaccuracies, I definitely want to hear about them.

Quote
Merrifield's book incidently is about factual  proven archeological findings  of traces of witchcraft - mumified cats, witch bottles, shoes etc in and around London. His book was written  with the co-operation  of some of the finest museums  (Prof Sir Barry Cunnliffe  is thanked by name for his contribution) and is extensively indexed and referenced. That a book published over 30 years ago does not have peer reviews published on the internet does not really worry me. 


Merrifield offers little to no provable provenance.  Of course there are traces of superstitions and what could be interpreted as witchcraft all over the place.  That says little about where they come from or what they originally meant.  You claim to have read Hutton, but I wonder what you take from him.

It's not about what we don't know.  It's about what (given current archeological evidence) we can't know.  We can engage in all the supposition we want, that doesn't make it historically accurate.  That's all Hutton has says:  we don't know.  I'm not interested in personal beliefs here.  I'm interested in provable history (or lack thereof).

Brina
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« Reply #20: April 19, 2010, 08:10:46 am »

Who but Murray initially marred her reputation?

As I recall, Murray's Witch Cult ideas were shown to be probably incorrect within 10-15 years of their initial publication by others in the field. They were known incorrect in the academic community by the 1940s or so,, it just took much longer for that to filter out to the rest of us.

Quote
It's not about what we don't know.  It's about what (given current archeological evidence) we can't know.  We can engage in all the supposition we want, that doesn't make it historically accurate.

This is what annoys me about much of historical "scholarship" in Pagan books. It often jumps to unsupportable conclusions given the tiny amount of evidence available. Yes, lots of things could be interpreted as "witchcraft" as we think of it today.  However, just because they can be so interpreted does not mean that that interpretation in correct. In most cases, we have no way of knowing if it is or is not correct so claiming these traces of possible witchcraft as proof of witchcraft is, at best, just poor scholarship. History in most Pagan 101 books is unfortunately full of unsupported supposition stated as if it were fact.
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« Reply #21: April 19, 2010, 09:10:24 am »

As I recall, Murray's Witch Cult ideas were shown to be probably incorrect within 10-15 years of their initial publication by others in the field. They were known incorrect in the academic community by the 1940s or so,, it just took much longer for that to filter out to the rest of us.

Wanton denial driven by the specious nature of the research made it hard to kill.  When it couldn't be taught legitimately in history classes any longer, it migrated over to women's studies and became entrenched there.  Everyone who didn't believe was engaging in nouveau witch hunting and could be dismissed as another persecuter in a long line of persecuters.  As both a feminist and a pagan, I just can't listen to it without comment.  Lies and misinformation serve no one.

But honestly, the most frustrating aspect for me is that most of the pagans who believe this stuff think people like the Young Earthers are ridiculous, while engaging in unsupportable "history" themselves.  Hypocrisy (no matter its focus) is the surest way to get my hackles up.

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This is what annoys me about much of historical "scholarship" in Pagan books. It often jumps to unsupportable conclusions given the tiny amount of evidence available. Yes, lots of things could be interpreted as "witchcraft" as we think of it today.  However, just because they can be so interpreted does not mean that that interpretation in correct. In most cases, we have no way of knowing if it is or is not correct so claiming these traces of possible witchcraft as proof of witchcraft is, at best, just poor scholarship. History in most Pagan 101 books is unfortunately full of unsupported supposition stated as if it were fact.

Except that Vale isn't just reading 101 books.  She's reading Hutton and dismissing him because she doesn't want to hear what he says.  She's not duped, she's in denial.  The facts (or, more accurately, the lack of them) are right there and she's refusing to look...to the point of sticking her fingers in her ears and walking away from this thread.

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« Reply #22: July 01, 2010, 05:15:10 am »

I'm aware of that.  I'm also aware of the fact that while Wicca has some similarities to folk magic traditions, the basic framework is completely different.  Any mention of Wicca-specific practices/beliefs would make me suspect the antiquity of Balkan witchcraft (as it may or may not have been presented in this book).  I'm also (so far) unconvinced that what gets passed off as "traditional witchcraft" these predates Gardner.

As I said, I haven't read the book.  That's why I'd be curious to know.

Brina

I haven't read the book either, but I am interested in getting the book. From what I'm gathering from what was posted, I don't think he's implying this Balkan TW is a system, similar to perhaps TW here in the US or the UK, but rather a collection of folk practices that have existed, whether unmolested or no since before Christianity in that area, for quite a long while (probably where "traditional" came from for the title), and has similarities to what we see as "witchcraft" over here in the Western world.

Of course, I'm unconvinced that there are cohesive systems that have remained whole, coming down to us in the modern century, although perhaps the chance would be higher in places where conversion wasn't as.. hmm.. aggressive or dramatic as say in Greece or Rome? However, I think its likely folk practices DID remain with certain peoples, some perhaps more "pure" than others. I think we know very little, especially of Eastern European countries and the like, of how they adapted, and what has remained down to us today?

I'm curious though if this book is called "Balkan Traditional Witchcraft" in Serbia, or has a different title name? Might shed some light on this.
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« Reply #23: July 01, 2010, 06:03:11 pm »

I think we know very little, especially of Eastern European countries and the like, of how they adapted, and what has remained down to us today?

I agree.  Moreover, what does remain is often so detached from its roots as to be practically context-free.  It's easy to see why extrapolating about meaning is so popular.  One is often working from a virtual blank canvas...to which any artist would be tempted to add his own colors.

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« Reply #24: July 02, 2010, 11:06:15 pm »

No, I haven't.
I had very bad experience with black witchcraft when I was 7, I almost died, so I avoided anything connected to traditional craft...
People in Balkan abuse magickal knowledge.
Many families in every city have hell of life because someone casted spells upon them...
It is just unimaginable how those witcheries are able to ruin people's lives!
Many many marriages are not committed in name of love, instead, woman do special rites to bound man, so he will be forever hers.
People loose all heritage, have accidents, can't have children, live terrible life, have poor health, dies, divorce etc.
Rituals are horrific... Often, dirt from fresh grave is taken, or bones from dead body, etc...
Traditional craft in Balkan is very malicious.
Just few people dedicate themselves to white magick, healing, and breaking dark spells.

I find this very interesting, Anteros. Thank you for sharing your experience of life in the Balkans.  I am in the middle of reading Balkan Traditional Witchcraft.  I am not someone who knows a lot about either Wicca, or Traditional Witchcraft, so I can't speak to those issues of comparison as others have.  I can just give my impression of the book.  One of the main things that stood out for me about the book, was in how many ways it described certain practices that could be correlated to "stereotypes" about witches (eg fairy tale stereotypes).  For instance, the stereotype that witches gather naked in some remote place to worship "The Devil", we have a real practice of gathering naked in a wild place to worship a "Horned God"(not the Devil, but to some people, looks like him...)  To the stereotype that witches fly on broomsticks, we have the real practice of flying, via astral projection or trance, on a broomstick.  To the stereotype that witches fly out the chimney, we have the real practice of flying out the chimney during the astral projection or trance.  To the stereotype of mixing up a brew of miscellaneous animal parts in a cauldron, we have the real practice of mixing up animal parts in a cauldron, sometimes even placing a live cat or hen in a cauldron to create an amulet.  To the stereotype of killing a black animal, we have the real practice of killing a black colored animal by placing it in a cauldron of boiling water to deflesh it and create an amulet of its bones.  To the stereotype of doing spells that harm others, we have some instances of doing spells that harm others, though the author claims this is done by a minority of Balkan witches. 

The other thing that stood out for me, was that Balkan witches would tend not to consider someone a witch, unless that person could do trance work or astral projection.  (p 59) Anyone who could or did not do that was not considered a witch, but rather a (mere) folk magician.  Quite interesting. 

The third thing that stood out was that although these witches consider themselves "Hereditary Witches", they do not see initiation as coming from any other person, but rather, (p 56):  There is no tradition of one person intiating another...[, rather] all initiations were received from Supernatural creatures."

I didn't find the type of Witchcraft explored in this book to be that relevant to my own practice, except for the herbalism aspect, and there is a nice herb and tree section in the book.   
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« Reply #25: July 03, 2010, 09:12:17 am »

<sigh>  Most people confronted with this shut down and decide they're "not going to talk about it anymore".  It's kind of exhausting, to be honest.



Fine - you wish to continue beating this dead horse then OK I'll bite. Personally I'd rather be practicising my arte but still...

I don't have any idea who R. L. Thompson is.  The fact that he talked about pan-European witch cults is what interested me, given there's little to no proof of them.  If that's not the case in regards to the subject text, please refute.


As you brought him into the debate  I consider it is up to you to establish his bone fides. The book  talks specificaly about Balkan rites.  I have no idea how you made the jump to a pan European witch cult from that. perhaps you could explain?


Who but Murray initially marred her reputation?  You talk about agendas--do you assume Murray had none?  The only people reexamining her work are those with a vested interest in proving it true (mostly of the neo-pagan stripe).  Hutton's examination of the subject found it wanting in academic rigor.


Again you brought Margaret Murray into the debate. I didn't. EVERYONE has an agenda. Just because Hutton is currently popular with the Pagan internet community doesn't mean that his work may not be as thoroughly debunked in the next 50 years in light of evidence yet to be found. 


Merrifield offers little to no provable provenance.  Of course there are traces of superstitions and what could be interpreted as witchcraft all over the place.  That says little about where they come from or what they originally meant. 

Have you now actually read him? and what do you consider proveable provenace?  Plenty of items have been discovered in situ all over southern Britain by reliable individuals.  Also here is a link for you about the recent opening of a with bottle under lab conditions.  http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/halloween/opening_witch_bottle/ . That article also refers to a document describing witch bottles from 17 Century. You might also find the link on that page to Witches of Cornwall interesting. Jacqui Wood is a well known and respected archeologist btw. Presumably you will accept her discoveries as a genuine provenance.



It's not about what we don't know.  It's about what (given current archeological evidence) we can't know.  We can engage in all the supposition we want, that doesn't make it historically accurate.  That's all Hutton has says:  we don't know.  I'm not interested in personal beliefs here.  I'm interested in provable history (or lack thereof).


I will be seeing Ronald  Hutton on 11th July. Is there anything  you'd like me to ask him?





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« Reply #26: July 03, 2010, 12:20:04 pm »

Fine - you wish to continue beating this dead horse then OK I'll bite. Personally I'd rather be practicising my arte but still...

I stopped discussing this topic two and a half months ago.  See the post you're responding to.  If that counts as dead horse beating, I guess I need a lot of breaks...

Quote
As you brought him into the debate  I consider it is up to you to establish his bone fides. The book  talks specificaly about Balkan rites.  I have no idea how you made the jump to a pan European witch cult from that. perhaps you could explain?

The jump came from a few hints--the review I posted way back when seemed to indicate that we might be dealing with the Murray Myth.  I'm not going to rehash.  I already posted what I found.  I was trying to figure out if this allegedly ancient form of witchcraft had any connection with Murray and, by extension, Wicca.  Nothing was established definitively, but there are certainly hints.

And Hutton's bona fides are already established.  He writes peer-reviewed work for an academic audience.  He must adhere to fairly rigorous academic standards that earlier historians, archeologists, an anthropologists did not.  For someone who claims to understand this process, you seem to have trouble grasping it.

Quote
Again you brought Margaret Murray into the debate. I didn't. EVERYONE has an agenda. Just because Hutton is currently popular with the Pagan internet community doesn't mean that his work may not be as thoroughly debunked in the next 50 years in light of evidence yet to be found. 

I never suggested otherwise.  I will, however, happily suggest that such proof is about as likely as finding proof of the Tooth Fairy.  And no amount of wishful thinking will make it otherwise.

Quote
Plenty of items have been discovered in situ all over southern Britain by reliable individuals.

I feel like I'm talking to a wall.  Of course there are old objects all over the place.  Some of them seem to indicate at least the potential of a recurring theme (Rubenesque, faceless statues, f'ex), but we have zero idea what those items were really for.  Even in the nearer-past, without some additional documentation or context, it's nearly impossible to tweeze out the bigger context of an object.  And anyone claiming they can is engaging in speculation.  There's nothing wrong with speculation, but it's not science.  It's not archeology.  It's guessing.  And, more often than not in the case of neopagans, it's wishful thinking.

Quote
Also here is a link for you about the recent opening of a with bottle under lab conditions.  http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/halloween/opening_witch_bottle/ . That article also refers to a document describing witch bottles from 17 Century. You might also find the link on that page to Witches of Cornwall interesting. Jacqui Wood is a well known and respected archeologist btw. Presumably you will accept her discoveries as a genuine provenance.

That these bottles exist isn't in question.  That the are protective talismans of one sort or other is also largely undisputed.  That they are a continuation of Murray's Witch Cult is the issue here.  I'm getting really frustrated with the way you continually ignore my singular, salient point.

Quote
I will be seeing Ronald  Hutton on 11th July. Is there anything  you'd like me to ask him?

Whoopity for you...?  Did you really think name-dropping would earn you any respect?  What does that have to do with anything?

Do tell him I'm his biggest fan, though.

Brina
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