was with great interest that I read the article
from Ralph Bradbury in the December issue of the
Berkshire Family Historian entitled 'The X-files'.
As both a family historian and a practising pagan
I found his idea of a 'Pagan Index' intriguing
and, given that he has treated the subject of
alternative religions seriously and sensitively (for
which I am grateful), would like to reply through
the pages of the magazine.
idea has considerable merit in that it could add
a great deal to our knowledge of the way our
ancestors lived in their communities: their
interactions with neighbours, the distances they
were able to travel comfortably, their
relationships within the social hierarchy and
their influence over local events could doubtless
be deduced from information contained in the kind
of index suggested. However, what must be
considered - as with every other aspect of family
history - is the reliability of the source
evidence. Much of the evidence would necessarily
come from Church or State records in order to be
considered sufficiently authoritative; we have
all been mislead by family legends, however
attractive, and it cannot be over-emphasised that
one should always verify one's references. It is
here that the major problem, from a family
historian's point of view, arises. The very
documents to which we would normally turn for
evidence cannot be taken as factual. What Church
and State records exist for evidence of paganism
(mainly witchcraft) is in the form of witchcraft
trials, events hardly renowned for their
fairness and unbiased judgements. People were
accused of witchcraft on the flimsiest of
pretexts, so those who practised the Old Religion
tended to conceal the fact. Thus, one could be a
pillar of the religious (ie Christian) community
whilst slipping off to the Sabbat once a month
with no one the wiser.
a pagan's point of view Mr. Bradbury's index
would be unworkable for the following reasons
taking the points in the order of his letter:
A list of those who organised covens. The
coven is headed by one person, sometimes
referred to as 'The Black Man' (whether male
or female); whose identity is unknown to the
Each coven is autonomous and has little or no
contact with other covens in the vicinity:
hence if one member of one coven is
discovered and tortured, as few members of
the pagan community as possible are revealed.
Where covens took place. This would be at a
location known only to the coven members.
Full details of what went on. These are
revealed only to initiated witches, according
How they dressed. In ordinary, dark clothing
for the most part, to blend in with the dark
countryside (No pointy hats, please note).
Details of burnings (only in Scotland);
hangings (most frequent); hanging, drawing
and quartering was reserved for traitors.
Witches (or suspected witches) were merely
subjected to the most abhorrent torture the
human mind can devise before being hanged.
Prophecies - search for the sayings of Mother
Shipton in any good book on English Folklore.
Curses - known only to the perpetrator and
used only once.
readers might not be aware that the
Witchcraft Act was only repealed in 1951 (to
be replaced by the Fraudulent Mediums Act),
but that repression of paganism was still
rife until the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights (1945) was ratified in 1998.