In recent years, I was lucky to attend a Harvard Extension School class on the History of Witchcraft and Charm Magic. Led by Professor Stephen Mitchell, Witchcraft was a true thought shifting class for me. It demonstrated an intellectual honesty and curiosity not defanged by rigid or dismissive thinking. Professor Mitchell’s class was lively and energetic, living up to its mission to demonstrate the “magical world view” that flies in the face of moribund monotheistic thinking.
In Witchcraft we were immersed in all facets of European folklore and magic, with focus on Scandinavia, that showed the transition from the pagan world and its belief systems, often socially at odds with the Christian conversion view, was not as cut and dry as we’ve come to believe. Yes there are remnant Christian holidays and day names, but the roots of the witchcraft hysteria in Europe and America, the ideas or beliefs lost in time and turned into the devil’s handiwork jumped to life for me.
What I came away with from Witchcraft was an even more open minded view of our hazy collective past. The importance of folklore and mythology of converted populations require greater study and nuanced understanding. We can be inspired by the folk tales of the converted, before they fell to monotheism, to create more broad minded fiction free of moralistic lectures or stale cliches. These forgotten worlds of agrarian and fertility cults, the dismissed Golden Bough or the innovative work of Carlo Ginzburg (whom I think I shall return to in a future post) showed me asymmetric thinking and creativity are possible and rewarding.
Besides, any class that starts with Necropants and Icelandic incantations can’t be a bad thing.