Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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Two Questions about the Old Religion
I'm currently rereading Carrie's War, published in 1973 but set in around 1940. The action takes place in a rather dour South Welsh valley: the two evacuees around whom the book centres are billeted with a strict Methodist. However, they often escape to the friendly farmhouse at Druid's Bottom, where (as Carrie is told by the rather intellectual boy, Albert, who's been evacuated there) there was once an Iron Age settlement (at another point he says "temple"). He adds: "they've found similar temples in other parts of the world, the same sort of arrangement of stones, so they think this religion must have been everywhere once."

First question: who is "they"? Apart from Margaret Murray, perhaps? Who was arguing for that kind of universal prehistoric religion by 1940? (By 1973 I think plenty of people were.)

Secondly, Albert refers to both this ancient faith and the herbalist-wisdom-bordering-on-benign-witchcraft of the housekeeper at Druid's Bottom as "the old religion". I'm fairly sure that at the turn of the twentieth century that phrase would in most British contexts still denote Roman Catholicism. By 1973 its primary denotation was pagan. On which side of the divide does 1940 stand?
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Druid's Bottom amuses me because, apparently, I am actually 6...

Edited at 2015-10-17 03:55 pm (UTC)

It amuses no less than two generations of children in the book, too.

According to Ronald Hutton (The Triumph of the Moon, 1999) The phrase "old religion"- meaning surviving pagan/witchcraft traditions- originates with the American scholar G F Leland who was writing (about Italian witches) in the 1890s. Margaret Murray adopted the phrase and used it in her God of the Witches (1933)- which was a less scholarly presentation of a thesis first presented in her Witch Cult in Western Europe (1921.) Murray's ideas were popularised by fiction writers like John Buchan and popular historians like Theda Kenyon- and enthusiastically embraced by occultists like Dion Fortune.

I reckon a bookish boy in 1940 falls on the right side of the divide. The books were available and he could well have read them- or known adults who had.

Seems reasonable - he's clearly interested in this kind of thing. He's already noticed that the house's "Screaming Skull", reputedly belonging to an African slave boy who died of homesickness, is probably that of an adult woman. (The Red Lady of Paviland was identified as being actually male in 1912, so he may have been sensitized to the possibility by reading about that!)

Murray's ideas were popularised by fiction writers like John Buchan

Ah! I am reading Buchan's Witch Wood right now, and though I have only got as far as chapter three, what you say rings true. It was published in 1927, so he couldn't have read her God of the Witches, but could theoretically have read the thesis - or more likely accessed her ideas via articles, public talks or similar.

It's actually Auntie Lou who calls it the "old religion" first, when she's telling them about Druid's Bottom. "Full of the old religion still, people say -- not a place to go after dark." So that seems perhaps a bit less likely.

True enough. I wouldn't have her down as a big reader of Margaret Murray. Mr Evans wouldn't have The God of the Witches in the house!

The Dancing Floor (1926) also makes play with Murrayesque ideas.

Dang it. Now I want to reread Carrie's War, so I was pleased to see that my local library still has a copy of it -- in Korean! Ah, well, the university library has it.

I read it last only a few years ago, but I'm finding a fair bit I missed that time.


Ooh, thank you! That's actually really helpful for the lecture I'm writing at the moment. I've seen some of it in Bawden's autobiography, but this is actually put in a more useful way for my purposes.

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