Scholarship and Margaret Murray: A Response to Donald Frew.
Ethnologies 2000, Annual, 22, 2
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In the 1998 issue of Ethnologies, Donald Frew expressed strong criticism of recent writings on the work of Margaret Murray and on the beginnings of Wicca (Frew 1998). I would like here to answer some of the specific issues he raises with regard to my own article on Margaret Murray (Simpson 1994); what he says about the work of others is outside my scope of reference. At the outset, Frew challenges folklorists to take on board David Hufford's warning that those who study religious groups and individuals must examine what assumptions of their own may colour their approach (Hufford 1995: 1-11). I fully agree with the general point that one should display sensitivity and self-awareness and avoid ethnocentricity when considering religious material, and that this tact would be relevant to any analysis of Wicca itself, as a body of present-day religious beliefs. However, this was not my subject; I was discussing Margaret Murray, not Wiccan religion, and I must stress that Murray never presented her writings as expressions of religious faith. On the contrary, she insisted that her work was that of an anthropologist and a historian; despite the emotional language in her later books, she regarded them as objective and factually based investigations of past events. Her personal beliefs, if any, are unclear; those who knew her in her old age as a member of the Folklore Society have told me that she was a complete rationalist and sceptic, but there is also some evidence that she believed in "an unseen over-ruling Power" and in an afterlife, and possibly also in the validity of magic (Hutton 1999: 200-1). The question is, in any case, irrelevant to discussion of her books; she wanted her theory to convince as scholarship, and it is by the standards of scholarship that she must be judged.
- Category: Social Science
- Published: 01 January 2000
- Publisher: Ethnologies
- Print Length: 12 Pages
- Language: English