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Witches and Pagans by Max Dashu

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Witches and Pagans gathers strands to reweave the ripped webs of European women’s culture. A compelling exploration of archeology, art, literature and language. 40 years in the making!

In this compelling exploration of language, archaeology, and early medieval literature, Max Dashu illuminates hidden cultural heritages. She shows that the old ethnic names for “witch” signify ‘wisewoman, ‘ ‘prophetess, ‘ ‘diviner, ‘ ‘chanter, ‘ ‘herbalist, ‘ and ‘healer.’ She fleshes out the oracular ceremonies of the Norse völur (“staff-women”), their incantations and “sitting-out” on the land seeking vision. Archaeological finds of their ritual staffs show that many symbolize the distaff, a spinner’s wand that connects with wider European themes of goddesses, fates, witches, and female power. They include Berthe Pédauque, also known as the “Swan-footed Queen,” whose spinning began at the proverbial beginning of time. Veneration of the Fates persisted under many titles, as the Norns, sudicefatas and fées, Wyrd or the Three Weird Sisters.

Witches and Pagans looks at women’s sacraments in early medieval Europe, a subject that has been buried deep for centuries. Women set out offering tables for the Three Sisters or the “good women,” chanted over herbs, and healed children by passing them through ‘elf-bores.’ Spinning and weaving were ceremonial acts with divinatory or protective power, as bishops’ scoldings reveal. Churchmen also railed against the Women Who Go by Night with Diana or Holda or Herodias, in shamanic flight on spirit animals. This was the foundational witch-legend that demonologists seized upon in later centuries. But witch persecution was already underway, as a chapter on the sexual politics of early medieval witch burnings documents.

A thousand years ago, an Old English scribe condemned people who “bring their offerings to earth-fast stone and also to trees and to wellsprings, swa wiccan taecad–as the witches teach.” This indicates that people still regarded witches as spiritual teachers, and that they performed ceremonies of reverence to Earth. Many aspects of ethnic spiritual culture survived the state conversions to Christianity: ancestor veneration, crystal balls, amulets–and witches’ wands. Artists depicted Mother Earth giving her breast to serpents, animals, and children. Stories of ancestral women–the Cailleach and the Scandinavian dísir –were handed down over countless generations.

Gathering together forgotten strands from heathen European heritages, Witches and Pagans reweaves the ripped webs of women’s culture.

Description

Witches and Pagans: Women in European Folk Religion 700 – 1100 by Max Dashu
Secret History of the Witches, Swa wiccan taecað, “as the witches teach”

In this compelling exploration of archeology, art, literature and language, Max Dashu pulls the covers off of heritages known to few but scholarly specialists. She shows that old ethnic names for “witch” signify wise-woman, prophetess, diviner, healer, and dreamer. Scandinavian völur “staff-women” held oracular ceremonies with incantations, and “sitting-out” on the land for wisdom.

“So, an Old English scribe let us know that witches counseled the people to “bring their offerings to earth-fast stone, and also to trees and to wellsprings.”

Archaeology shows that ritual staffs symbolize the distaff, a spinning tool that connects with broad cultural themes of goddesses, fates, witches, and female power.

This book deeply explores the megalithic taproot of the elder kindreds, and traditions of the Cailleach. Drawing on Frankish and German ecclesiastical sources, “Secret History of the Witches” lays out the founding witch-legend of the Women Who Go by Night with the Goddess, “the witch Holda,” also known as Holle, Swanfoot Berthe and Fraw Percht.

Chapters look at Wyrd, weaver of destiny, “mystery-singers,” ancestor veneration, herb-chanters—and sexual politics, including early medieval witch burnings. Witches and Pagans gathers strands to reweave the ripped webs of European women’s culture. ©2016 Max Dashu

Excerpt – Chapter 7

“In the year 1000, despite their centuries-long campaigns, churchmen still confronted regional ethnic cultures saturated with heathen belief and custom. Bishops and abbots continued to attack them with missionary zeal to ferret out beliefs and customs disapproved by the church. Priests questioned villagers about their adherence to the forbidden folkways, laboring to stamp out veneration of goddesses and their nature sanctuaries, incantation, divination, herbcraft, contraception, tying-on of herbs and amulets—and beliefs in women who journeyed in the spirit…”

“Your scholarship and the breadth of your knowledge is absolutely prodigious and you convey your findings in such a detailed fashion that it’s inspiring. I can’t wait to read subsequent volumes. In reaction to the unfair outcome of this election we have to all do what you’re doing – laying bare the substratum of the unfair treatment of women by writing about it, as you are doing, by displaying it artistically (as you also have done) and as I am doing. You have inspired me to step up my pursuit of finding a site for my Goddess Mound.” Cristina Biaggi

Abstract female stone, neolithic Sudan archived by Max DashuMax-Dashu-Deasophy-Lecture.jpgMax Dashu founded the Suppressed Histories Archives in 1970 to research and document women’s history from an international perspective. She has photographed some 15,000 slides and created 100 slideshows on female power and heritages transhistorically. For nearly 40 years, Max has presented hundreds of slide talks at universities, community centers, bookstores, schools, libraries, prisons, galleries, festivals and conferences around North America.

Her work bridges the gap between academia and grassroots education. It foregrounds indigenous women passed over by standard histories and highlights female spheres of power retained even in patriarchal societies.

Max is known for her expertise on ancient female iconography in world archaeology, goddess traditions, and women shamans. She has also done extensive research on mother-right cultures and the origins of domination.

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