It's really frustrating with so much good scholarship out there
(Ronald Hutton, Roy Judge, John Forrest & Steve Roud, among others)
that this 'paganism' myth is so persistent. As a Morris dancer, the
most common assumption is that what we do is a 'pagan survival',
whereas the earliest evidence dates from 1448 in the records of the
Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in London, and in an inventory of
Caister Castle in the same year, after the death of its builder, Sir
John Fastolf. As records of Morris become more common, they become
associated more and more with church events, known as ales, held to
raise money to maintain the fabric of the parish church.
The Puritans were the first to say that Morris was a relic of paganism
- by which they meant it was a relic of idolatry, and therefore
inextricably linked with the Catholic Church, but not associated with a
non-Christian religion. This misunderstanding, 'idolatry=paganism',
has proved remarkably persistent.
There is absolutely no evidence for the survival of paganism as an
organised religion in England after the mid-eleventh century at the
latest (even allowing for the Vikings!), as opposed to superstitious
and magical practices with no theology to back them up.
Many of the 'factoids' put forward in the artice are new to me; for
instance, I've never heard of swans' feathers being associated with
'fertility', not even in Cornwall! The article contradicts itself,
anyway, in that the 'thousands' burnt for being witches the 'vast
majority' were innocent. There is much here that is supposition
dressed up as fact. Good for publicity, though, to mention the Celts,
paganism, witchcraft and just how unusual Cornwall is in one press
Recommended reading: Ralph Merrifield, 'The Archaeology of Ritual and
Magic', Ronald Hutton, 'The Rise and Fall of Merry England', and 'The
Stations of the Sun', or, for evidence of how Christianity pervaded
every aspect of life in the late middle ages or the early modern
period, Eamon Duffy, 'The Stripping of the Altars', or 'The Voices of
Morebath: Reformation & Rebellion in an English Village'.
That's my cage rattled - back to lurking!
>From: [log in to unmask]
>Date: 12/03/2008 11:01
>To: <[log in to unmask]>
>Subj: [BRITARCH] Swan Pelts and Magpie Corpses
>Any one out there got a take on this article from the Times:
>From where I'm sitting it doesn't provide evidence of continuity with
pre-Christian England. As a comment suggests it is perhaps evidence
>The pits appear to have been discovered in close proximity to a well
where the were offerings of rags etc.
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