Margaret Murray was a renowned scholar from Britain who specialized in various fields such as Egyptology, archaeology, anthropology, history, and folklore studies. She was born in India. Notably, she made history as the first woman to hold a position as an archaeology lecturer in the United Kingdom, where she worked at University College London (UCL) for a considerable period, from 1898 to 1935.
Apart from her academic achievements, she also served as the president of the Folklore Society from 1953 to 1955. Throughout her career, Murray published numerous works, showcasing her expertise and contributing to her respective fields. In this article, we will delve into her biography, delve into her notable witch-cult hypothesis, discuss her lasting legacy, examine her passing, and explore other aspects of her life.
Margaret Murray was born on July 13, 1863, in Calcutta, India. Her family resided in the European part of the city, but she had exposure to Indian society through interactions with their Indian servants and holidays in Mussoorie. Growing up, Murray did not receive a formal education, which she later took pride in, never having to sit for exams before entering university. Also Read - Hymie Weiss' Biography.
In 1870, she and her sister Mary moved to Britain to live with their uncle and aunt in Lambourn, Berkshire. Her uncle, a vicar, introduced her to archaeology by showing her local monuments, although he also instilled in her strong Christian beliefs and the notion of women's inferiority, both of which she eventually rejected. In 1873, their mother joined them in Europe, and they stayed in Germany for a while, becoming fluent in German. They returned to Calcutta in 1875 but moved back to England in 1877, settling in South London.
Margaret worked as a nurse at the Calcutta General Hospital during her time in India, assisting in dealing with a cholera outbreak. In 1887, she moved to Rugby, Warwickshire, and engaged in social work for the underprivileged. After her father's retirement, she lived with him in Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire, until his death in 1891. In 1893, she traveled to Madras, Tamil Nadu, where her sister had moved with her husband.
Early Life & College
Margaret Murray enrolled in the newly opened Egyptology department at University College London (UCL) with the encouragement of her mother and sister. The department, funded by Amelia Edwards, was led by renowned archaeologist Sir William Flinders Petrie. Murray began her studies at age 30 in 1894, joining a class mostly composed of women and older men. She learned Ancient Egyptian and Coptic languages from Francis Llewellyn Griffith and Walter Ewing Crum.
Murray became involved with Petrie's work, serving as his copyist and illustrator for the published report on his excavations at Qift, Koptos. He mentored her and encouraged her to write her first research paper, which was published in 1895. Murray became Petrie's unofficial assistant, teaching linguistic lessons in his absence. In 1898, she became the first female lecturer in archaeology in the UK, teaching at UCL while also caring for her sick mother.
Murray's teaching expanded to cover Ancient Egyptian history, religion, and language. She had a significant impact on her students, some of whom went on to make notable contributions to Egyptology. She also taught evening classes at the British Museum to supplement her income.
In 1902, Murray joined Petrie's excavations in Egypt at Abydos, where she learned excavation techniques and uncovered the Osireion temple. She published her findings in 1904. In the following years, Murray continued her research and excavation work, including at the Saqqara cemetery. Her publications on these subjects became influential in the field.
Alongside her academic pursuits, Murray actively participated in the feminist movement. She volunteered, donated, and took part in demonstrations and marches. She worked to improve the status and recognition of women in academia, mentoring other women in archaeology. Murray also played a crucial administrative role within the Egyptology department and contributed to various museums' Egyptological collections.
Margaret Murray in World War I
During World War I, Murray served as a volunteer nurse and became interested in Glastonbury Abbey's folklore and its connections to King Arthur and the Holy Grail. She published a paper on this topic, although it faced criticism.
Murray's dedication to public education led her to write books aimed at a general audience, hoping to combine Egyptomania with solid scholarship. She also co-authored papers on Egyptology with anthropologist Charles Gabriel Seligman and worked as an editor for the academic journal Ancient Egypt.
The outbreak of World War I disrupted excavation activities, and Murray focused on organizing collections and contributing to the war effort as a volunteer nurse. She continued her research and writing, exploring various topics in Egyptology and folklore.
Murray's fascination with folklore led her to develop an interest in the witch trials of Early Modern Europe. In 1917, she published a paper in Folklore where she introduced her witch-cult theory, suggesting that the persecuted witches were actually part of an organized religious group. She expanded on this theory in her book "The Witch-Cult in Western Europe" (1921), which received both criticism and support.
Murray's ideas gained influence when she provided the entry on "witchcraft" for the Encyclopædia Britannica in 1929. She omitted alternative theories, and her entry remained in the encyclopedia until 1969, reaching a wide audience. Her witch-cult theory found support among occultists and feminists. Murray's career at UCL progressed, and she led archaeological excavations in Malta and Menorca. She published significant works in Egyptology and folklore, including books like "Maltese Folktales" and "Egyptian Sculpture."
In 1927, she received an honorary doctorate and guided Queen Mary around the Egyptology department. Murray continued to travel internationally, visiting countries such as Egypt, South Africa, and the Soviet Union. She retired from UCL in 1935 and took on the role of editor for the Ancient Egypt journal. Murray also assisted with excavations in Jerusalem.
Margaret Murray was highly respected and beloved by her students and colleagues. She was remembered as a wise and witty teacher who had a lasting impact on generations of Egyptologists.
Murray was known for her intelligence, strength of character, and the ability to contribute valuable insights to discussions. Despite her vast knowledge, she was humble and never forced her ideas on others. Murray was eager to encourage and support young researchers, even if they disagreed with her theories. She remained mentally sharp and energetic well into her old age.
Murray dedicated her life to her work and never married. She was passionate about public outreach and aimed to change the way people accessed knowledge about Egyptology. Travel was one of her favorite activities, although she faced limitations due to financial constraints.
Murray was raised as a devout Christian but later rejected organized religion, becoming known for her skepticism and rational thinking. She maintained a personal belief in a higher power and also practiced magic, using curses against those she felt deserved them. However, it is debated whether her involvement in magic was based on genuine belief or mischievous intent.
Q. Who was Margaret Murray?
A. Margaret Murray was a renowned scholar from Britain who specialized in various fields such as Egyptology, archaeology, anthropology, history, and folklore studies
Q. Who is the grand old woman of Egyptology?
A. Murray is called the grand old woman of Egyptology because of her work in Egyptology and archaeology.
Q. When did Margaret Murray die?
A. Maragaret died at the age of 100 in 1963.