Margaret Murray

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Margaret Alice Murray (13 July 1863 - 13 November 1963)[1] was a prominent British Egyptologist and anthropologist. Primarily known for her work in Egyptology, which was "the core of her academic career,"[2] she is also known for her propagation of the Witch-cult hypothesis, the theory that the witch trials in the Early Modern period of Christianized Europe and North America were an attempt to extinguish a surviving pre-Christian, pagan religion devoted to a Horned God. Whilst this theory is today widely disputed and discredited by historians like Norman Cohn, Keith Thomas and Ronald Hutton, it has had a significant effect in the origins of Neopagan religions, primarily Wicca, a faith which she herself was supportive of.

Her work in Egyptology took place largely alongside her mentor and friend, the archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie, whom she worked alongside at University College London. One of the earliest women to "make a serious impact upon the world of professional scholarship," she was also an ardent feminist, being actively involved in the Suffragette movement.[3] From 1953 through to 1955, she was the president of the Folklore Society, although since her death various members of the society have attempted to disassociate the organisation from her and the Murrayite theory of the Witch-Cult.[4]



Margaret Murray was born in Calcutta, India on July 13, 1863. She attended the University College of London and was a student of linguistics and anthropology. She was also a pioneer campaigner for women's rights. Margaret Murray accompanied the renowned Egyptologist Sir William Flinders Petrie, on several archaeological excavations in Egypt and Palestine during the late 1890s. Murray was the first in a line of female Egyptologists employed at The Manchester Museum, The University of Manchester. In 1908, she undertook the unwrapping of the Two Brothers, a Middle Kingdom non-royal burial excavated by Petrie in Egypt. It is regarded as the first interdisciplinary study of mummies and probably kick-started future scientific unwrappings, such as those of Keeper Professor Rosalie David completed in the 1970s. Her work and association with Petrie helped secure employment at University College as a junior lecturer. Murray's best known and most controversial text, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, was published in 1921. She was consequently named Assistant Professor of Egyptology at the University College of London in 1924, a post she held until her retirement in 1935. In 1926, she became a fellow of Britain's Royal Anthropological Institute. Murray became President of the Folklore Society in 1953. Ten years later and having reached 100 years of age, Margaret Murray published her final work, an autobiography entitled "My First Hundred Years" (1963). She died later that same year of natural causes.

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