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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
Max 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.