Spinners of fate, threefold ancestral mothers, the distaff as a female wand of power: these aspects of European women’s spiritual culture survived state conversions to Christianity.
In a compelling exploration of language, archaeology, medieval art and literature, Max Dashu pulls the covers off ethnic lore known mostly to scholarly specialists. She shows that the old ethnic names for “witch” signify prophetess, knower, diviner, and healer. Wyrd and weirding-women, chanting over herbs, holy stones, crystal balls, weaving ceremonies, giantesses, sexual politics, and the Völuspá : this book uncovers some of the authentic ethnic roots of wyccecræft, reweaving the ripped webs of women’s culture.
Delving into the rich Norse orature, Max Dashu fleshes out the spiritual traditions of the völur (“staff-women”): oracular ceremonies, incantations, and “sitting-out” on the land for vision. She shows that their ritual staffs, uncovered in female burials by archaeology, symbolize the distaff, a spinning tool that connects with broader European themes of goddesses, fates, witches, and female power.
Witches and Pagans also plunges into the the megalithic taproot of the elder kindreds, through Irish legends of the Cailleach and places sacred to her. Drawing on Frankish and German sources, Dashu lays out the foundational witch-legend of the Women Who Go by Night with the Goddess, later distorted by demonologists in the witch hunts. Related tales of Holle, Perchta, and Swanfooted Berthe reveal sacraments of the Old Spinner Goddess, while the Anglo-Saxon “mystery-singers” shed light on ancestor veneration in early medieval Europe.