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Posts tagged ‘liminality’

The Archaeology of Folk Magic

In this article I hope to draw to the readers’ attention to a little known field of study known as the archaeology of folk magic. This is intimately related to what most people call witchcraft and involves the physical remains related to practices undertaken by the ‘white’ witch to protect people’s property from ‘black’ witches and also practices which lay-folk undertook by themselves for the same reason. There is a bias of material in my collection to the 16th and 17th centuries, this is because this is the focus of my PhD and also because it is when there was the most fear about witchcraft – hence more archaeology relating to protection. Where material is not dated assume that it comes from these two centuries. Before beginning with a description of the finds and theories about them, it is important that I set the context for the topic.

Historians are getting better at writing about witchcraft. About thirty years ago there was still a tendency amongst them to use exclamation marks when talking about the horrors of torture and to dismiss the belief in witchcraft as primitive heretical superstition or as over-enthusiastic religious faith. A classic and highly respectable work entitled The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology written by Robbins in 1959 has some of these hallmarks.1 While they were correct by our modern standards to be horrified by the tortures that occurred they did not attempt to compare the ‘witch-craze’ to Stalin’s purges or the holocaust or other comparable situations. Now we have books like Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas2 which details the practices of the village cunning-men and wise-women (the ‘white’ witches who were really slightly grey) and Early Modern European Witchcraft – Centres and Peripheries edited by Ankarloo and Henningsen3 which collects together major articles which deal, among other things, with spirit flight and Icelandic witchcraft.

The rest of this article by Brian Hoggard, which was published in White Dragon at Beltane 1999, can be read on the White Dragon website.

The Archaeology of Folk Magic

Abducted by the Faeries?

They came for Mary Rowlandson at dawn, a wild host that shrieked and yelled. Strong brown arms plucked her from the farm and took her away to their secret places in the wild country. She lay on a bed of dry leaves, watching the black shapes as they danced and sang; then the next day they set her to work, along with the other mortals who had been abducted. They themselves were too proud to work – they knew nothing of the crafts and skills by which ordinary people order their lives. This is hardly surprising. They were the Narragansett Indians, and Mary Rowlandson was a New England settler who had been taken captive in the wars of the 1670s.

Mary was a Puritan through and through. Her narrative of the eleven weeks spent with the Indians is threaded effortlessly with quotations and exhortations from the Bible, the one book she cared about. Fairy tales, one gathers, were not on the reading list. And yet her history corresponds, point for point, with those stories from the old country which tell how a woman was carried off by the fairies. There is the same capricious violence from the strange people, the same stealthy plundering of food and drink from the lonely farms, the same theft of women and children. Captives might be needed to replace Indian children; they might be set to work, or offered up to the Devil – ‘for aye at every seven years, they pay a teind to Hell’. The religious views of the Narragansett are not known, but Mary feared the worst, especially after they had selected one of her fellow-captives to be stripped naked. ‘And when they had sung and danced around her (in their hellish manner) as long as they pleased, they knockt her on head, and the child in her arms with her’ (Turner 1974: 322)

The rest of this article by Jeremy Harte, published in White Dragon at Lughnasa 1999, can be read on the White Dragon website.

Abducted by the Faeries?