Pagan traces in medieval and early modern European witch-beliefs
By Gelsomina Helen Castaldi
Master’s Thesis, University of York, 2012
Abstract: The aim of this research is to explore how pre-Christian beliefs, cults and popular traditions may have indirectly survived in early modern and medieval European witch-beliefs. It will be attempted to show how witch-beliefs and medieval/early modern popular imagination may have reflected (through the filter of Christian demonology and by unwittingly drawing upon folklore and mythology), extinguished pre-Christian cults and beliefs.
Whether and to what extent such cults may have actually survived in Christianised Europe, however, is completely beyond my scope. This research is solely concerned with the origins of popular belief and imagination. Since valuable comparative studies of the subject are still relatively rare, it seems that lack of cross-disciplinary communication may have led scholars to neglect the examination of those aspects of evidence which do not appear to be directly linked with the witch-hunt but might nonetheless be relevant to the still ungrasped aspects of it.
This has resulted in the fact that many areas connected with the origins of witches’ confessions and witch-beliefs have remained unexplored. Here the attempt is made to show how witch-beliefs appear to have been fed from local variations of folklore and folk beliefs largely derived by the mixture of the two major influences over the European cultural heritage, the Celtic and the Classical, the latter echoing the Indian. This is achieved through viable comparisons between Southern European (mainly Roman and Greek) and Eastern (mainly Indian) religions and mythologies, in turn echoed in medieval/early modern European beliefs. Such comparisons also contribute in showing how much the strong symbolism present in witch-beliefs appears to overlap with symbol-related aspects of sapiential traditions such as Alchemy as well as of Shivaite and Dionysian cults.