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What the scientific world could not forgive Egyptologist, feminist and creator of the theory of the cult of witches Margaret Murray
What the scientific world could not forgive Egyptologist, feminist and creator of the theory of the cult of witches Margaret Murray

The discoveries she made were attributed to others - men, of course, that was the time. But even despite all the obstacles that Margaret Murray met on her way, she managed to become a noticeable figure in science. Observed in different ways: if her successes became common achievements, the failure was, of course, attributed to her alone. And some of the assumptions made by Murray, the scientific world has not forgiven.

How to become a female archaeologist in a world where there are no female archaeologists yet?

Margaret Alice Murray lived for exactly one hundred years. She found both world wars, the redistribution of the political map of the globe, but most importantly, she was present at the birth of new directions in science, moreover, she helped their birth. She herself was born in 1863 in India. His father belonged to wealthy businessmen, his mother once came to Calcutta to preach Christianity, not leaving this occupation even after marriage and the birth of two daughters.

Margaret Murray

Margaret received a good education at home, and trips to Europe helped to broaden her horizons and find a truly interesting occupation. For some time, both Murray sisters lived with their uncle John in England, a man with a patriarchal outlook on life, but educated and knowledgeable about history. And if the philosophy of the superiority of men over women in Margaret's heart did not find a response, then love for the ancient world, about which the girl learned a lot on European soil, arose even then and remained for life. which took shape in a scientific direction, but rather boiled down to admiration and appropriation: mummies and papyri, ancient utensils and statues found in tombs, were taken out of Egypt by whole ships. All this became a decoration of living rooms, but did not shed much light on the past of mankind. But Margaret Murray was on fire with the idea of ​​devoting herself to the study of that ancient civilization.

Flinders Petrie

In 1886 she finally moved to England and after a while she entered to study at the University College London at the newly opened Faculty of Egyptology. No choice had to be made: it was the only higher educational institution in the capital where women were admitted. The faculty was headed by Flinders Petrie, the main English Egyptologist at that time. Murray did the work of an illustrator and copyist for Petrie - a huge number of artifacts discovered during excavations required careful systematization. Even if Margaret could not boast of a classical education, her desire for work, a lively and quick mind, diligence in performing the most routine tasks of a scientist were appreciated. … Since 1898, she already taught at the College - she taught students the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and the Coptic language. And in 1902 she went with Petrie and his wife Hilda to her first excavations - to Abydos.

Osirion discovered by Margaret Murray

Egyptologist Margaret Murray

In addition to copying ancient texts inscribed on the walls of tombs, Margaret had the opportunity to act as a leader. This met with resistance: the male workers refused to see the woman as the boss. However, Margaret Murray is credited with discovering Osirion, an ancient temple dedicated to Osiris.The next season - 1903 - 1904 - she spent on excavations in Saqqara. And in 1907 she opened the so-called "burial place of two brothers" in Deir Rifeh. Two mummies, whose bodies used to belong, apparently, to priests, were buried in one cell.

Two sarcophagi contained the remains of ancient Egyptian priests. According to recent DNA research, they were indeed brothers to each other

One, during the very first manipulations, crumbled to dust - it dried up so much over the millennia that have passed after the embalming, but the second has been preserved quite well. Despite the fact that all the laurels of the discovery of the tomb, predictably, belonged to the head of the excavation, that is, Flinders Petrie, he helped his longtime protégé to reach a new level of recognition in the scientific world. It was Margaret Murray who, during the presentation of the mummy to the community of English scientists, performed the sacrament of unfolding, uncovering the ancient Egyptian remains. Needless to say, this was also the first time in the history of science to be done by a woman?

In front of the scientific community, Murray removed the covers from one of the mummies

The outbreak of the First World War closed the British archaeologists' access to Egyptian soil, but the work did not stop: for several years, Murray with colleagues and students was engaged in cataloging and systematizing what had been found earlier. Then her interest was attracted by the history of European culture, and in the twenties, Margaret, who had already celebrated her sixtieth anniversary, started excavations in Malta, where she discovered the remains of ancient megaliths - temples more than four thousand years old.

Excavations in Malta Murray conducted in the Borg-in-Nadir area

It would be a serious omission to keep silent about the fact that from a very young age, Margaret, despite her privileged position both in society and in academia, seriously and actively supported the suffragette movement. The struggle for the rights of women, equal with men, has become one of her main goals in life. Another goal appeared later - and did not receive, unlike the first, recognition, even now. It's about the fascination with witch cults in Europe, which gripped Margaret Murray at the height of the First World War.

97-year-old Margaret is interviewed by the BBC

What does the witches have to do with it

After being treated in one of the English abbeys, Murray became interested in his history, then switched to English folklore in general, and eventually came to interesting conclusions: in her opinion, in the pre-Christian era - very many years ago - there was a pagan cult in Europe, very widespread and later subjected to fierce persecution by the Christian church. She made these conclusions, analyzing the records of medieval (and later) trials of "witches", but, however, according to the scientific world, most of the information Margaret received was not scientific methods, but through their own imagination. Murray's first book on this topic, published in 1921, The Witch Cult in Western Europe, was seriously criticized. The theory, however, was too interesting to go unnoticed.

Already a renowned Egyptologist and archaeologist, Murray became interested in English folklore and, as it was believed, went a little off the path of science

According to Margaret Murray, the practitioners of this religion organized regular meetings - sabbaths, during which they sacrificed people and animals (hence the "confessions" in church documents regarding Christian babies), and worshiped a certain "horned god" who died and was resurrected. settling into the body of a person who plays the role of a bodily shell for a deity. Perhaps he also wore special shoes during various sacraments, which later led to standard descriptions of the devil's appearance - legs with hooves and horns on his head.

Margaret Murray at 75

The traditional attitude to witches as "pests" Murray considered wrong, since the meaning of most rituals was reduced to "battle for the harvest", God was prayed for a fertile year. The clergy persecuted the followers of the cult of witches only because they saw in it a threat to their own power. Murray suggested in her writings that some of the European kings were sacrificed in the name of fertility, and that one of the very witches was Joan of Arc, for which she was executed. The scholarly world did not take this reasoning seriously, but the authority of Murray by that time it was already too large not to pay any attention to the obviously pseudoscientific conclusions of the famous Egyptologist. She was criticized for falsifying some evidence, seeking out some documents and neglecting others.It was even said that she discredited all English folklore, which, in fact, felt the influence of Murray's theories. In 1929, at any rate, she was invited to write the article "Witchcraft" for the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Murray and her student at University College London

Despite this controversial period in the biography of Margaret Murray, she inscribed her name in history primarily as one of the pioneers of Egyptology, the first woman to teach archeology as an academic discipline in the United Kingdom. She achieved career advancement for many of her students. Shortly before her death, Murray published her latest book, My First Hundred Years, and celebrated its centenary within the walls of her hometown college. Her colleagues and students noted that until the very end, she retained intelligence and surprised with her inner strength. Margaret Murray did not create a family, devoting her whole life to work.

And here is how he became the father of Egyptology Flinders Petrie, self-taught digger.

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