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Article ID: 4569
Age Group: Adult
Posted: August 14th. 2000
Wren's Bird Call 3
Wren's Bird Call of The Week is a "caaa-ll" for the folks at Britannica.com to stop glorifying their own past accomplishments in educating the public and step on in to the present day where they are not doing nearly as well. TWV has received dozens of outraged emails from pagans this past week concerning the definition of witchcraft as it currently resides on the Britannica web site. While we realize that throughout many different cultures and centuries, witchcraft has been defined in negative terms, the definition of witchcraft as it is experienced today requires that a new chapter be written. Witches and witchcraft have been studied by academics and theologians as a societal aberration and a religious heresy, but it is only in the last few years that serious study has been done of the rise of modern pagan beliefs or of neo-paganism.
Lest we fall once again into the mythical trap of claiming that all of the victims of previous witchcraft persecutions practiced various pagan religions, or even followed a set of local customs that are essentially the same as those celebrated by the Witches of today, we must concede that the 'witchcraft' of the past has its own history which may or may not be truly the basis of our own modern Witch community's roots. To put it bluntly, some of those existing definitions ARE true concerning what witchcraft was -or perceived to be- in those varied places and times. But the real question has never been-Were the 'Burning Times' victims really Witches (or witches) and really practicing the remnants of a pagan religion?-but rather what caused people to rise up against and openly persecute certain segments of their own populace? (That is the very real question that still needs to be answered today.)
HOWEVER, that was then and this is now. The bibliography which follows the Britannica study of witchcraft contains no cited references newer than 1984, with most being considerably older than that. The absence of any contemporary works by pagan authors or historians is not only noticeable, it points to a sad perception on Britannica's part that the case for or against a more positive revisiting of the subject of witchcraft is a closed book. But even these suppositions and the commentary above cannot dismiss the less than 'trilled' reaction to the following-and indeed, the only- reference which addresses the modern practice of Witchcraft (witchcraft):
"The incorrect use of the term (witchcraft) refers to persons claiming to be witches and reported to belong to covens, who assemble on appropriate calendrical occasions for Sabbaths at which they perform rituals according to a tradition that the coven leaders claim descends from earlier witches. This kind of "witchcraft," judging by the way in which its participants freely acknowledge their adherence, seems highly respectable compared with the activities of the despised and hated miscreants of earlier periods in our own society or of contemporary non-literate or peasant communities. These so-called witches claim to be adherents of an ancient religion, the one to which Christianity is regarded as a counter-religion, and in this way they seek to secure public recognition of their eccentric activities by appealing to the cherished modern value of religious toleration. If that above segment strikes you as being more of an opinion piece and less of a scholarly hypothesis of modern Witchcraft (witchcraft), then you are not alone in that viewpoint. Wiccan Knowledge has put up a call to action page and the email lists have been very active in recognizing the need for some sort of change-at least for the modern definition of Witchcraft (witchcraft)- to be entertained by Britannica. The Pagan Educational Network (PEN), in December of 1997, organized such a project and contacted the dictionary and other reference publishers to at the very least consider the inclusion of more contemporary definitions of Witchcraft and neo-paganism in future publications. Many good reference materials are available from the PEN site. If you would like to address this with Britannica yourself, the contact info is: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
These practitioners usually turn out to be entirely sincere but misguided people who have been directly or indirectly influenced by Margaret Murray's article "Witchcraft," published in the 14th edition of Encyclop¾dia Britannica (1929), which put forth in its most popular form her theory that the witches of western Europe were the lingering adherents of a once general pagan religion that has been displaced, though not completely, by Christianity. This highly imaginative but now discredited theory gave a new respectability to witchcraft and, along with the more practical influence of such modern practitioners as Aleister Crowley and Gerald Gardner, contributed to the emergence of self-styled witches that are sometimes featured in the sensationalist press." -- (Britannica, witchcraft, the modern, secular society, http://www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article/1/0,5716,115001+10+108515,00.html)
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