“Witches and Pagans”, by Max Dashu
Reviewed by Carolyn Lee Boyd
“Weave and spin, weave and spin. This is how our work begins…”
- from a song popular at modern feminist spiritual gatherings
Max Dashu began her Suppressed History Archives in 1970, gathering documentation through archeology, photos, literature, linguistics, folkways and more of the goddesses, priestesses, female shamans, wisewomen, and other women practitioners from around the globe and throughout history. By creating a mosaic of these disparate bits of information, Max has shown that women have, throughout time and across the planet, held tremendous religious and spiritual power that is the birthright of all modern women.
Those of us who have attended her slide shows, taken her web courses, studied her website and articles, and followed her Facebook and blog posts have been waiting for the immense knowledge she holds to be shared in book form. The recently published Witches and Pagans is the groundbreaking and astounding first volume of a planned fifteen-book series focusing on Europe. It explores “Women in European Folk Religion” from about 700 to 1100.
Witches and Pagans conjures for us a Middle Ages in which both women and men across the European continent practiced an Earth-based, culturally and spiritually rich religion, frequently turning to witches and female healers and diviners for counsel and praying to goddesses and other female spirits and deities In these times, wisewomen and goddesses did not simply foresee the future, they created it. The people gathered at sacred wells. They relied on the witches’ herbs and charms to save them from sickness and death. They buried holy women with the distaffs, amulets and herbs of their high position. They placed statues of Mother Earth, fate goddesses and more in their churches. They revered the Norns, Cailleachan, Holda, and goddesses with many other names, many now lost, and believed in women who rode through the sky with Diana. A recurring theme is the spiritual importance of women, female spirits and goddesses who weave and spin fate, showing that this was not a religion that took place outside of everyday life, but made sacred women’s most daily tasks.
Much of the evidence Max has gathered comes from church leaders denouncing the ancient practices and judicial records of witch trials. A chapter on “Early Witch Burnings” shows that the clashes between the old and new religions that cost so many women their lives and almost obliterated traces of the ancient ways began much earlier than many scholars say, in the 500s, and targeted women. It is an amazing testament to women’s strength and perseverance that, even after 1500 years of persecution, enough vestiges still exist to tell their story.
Witches and Pagans gives us back our history. “Weave and spin, weave and spin… this is how the work begins…” Just as the popular women’s circle song says, we must draw upon our historical spiritual power to navigate these very dangerous and disturbing times. Witches and Pagans is an invaluable resource for all of us, and it is just the beginning.
Witches and Pagans is available from Veleda Press.