This book is unique in the literature of Witchcraft. Rather than give the reader the customary dreary recital of tortures, confessions and executions, Michael Harrison has delved deeply into the primitive beliefs and folkways which were eventually to be corrupted into what we now call Witchcraft and—worse—Diabolism. Apart from the completely new approach to his investigation of Witchcraft’s beginnings, Michael Harrison has achieved a pioneering triumph of the first order: he has identified the ancient ‘language of the Witches.’
Court records from the time of the frightful Europe-wide persecution of the ‘witches’ frequently included fragments of a ‘language of the covens,’ referred to, then and since, as ‘gibberish.’ This ‘language of the Witches’ was always assumed to be meaningless, but was recorded merely as further proof of the guilt of the accused. It occurred to no one (outside the covens) before Michael Harrison that this court-recorded ‘gibberish’ might be words of a language surviving from very ancient times, and that the identification of this ‘lost’ language might help to uncover the very roots of Witchcraft.
Here, then, for the first time, a full translation of the witch-trial ‘gibberish’ is offered, and Michael Harrison convincingly demonstrates the existence and nature of the ancient language from which the Witch-rituals have descended to our own time. From Harrison’s identification of the language, it is now possible to answer some of those essential questions that writers on Witchcraft have so persistently dodged: Where did Witchcraft originate —and how did it enter Europe?; When did it arrive—and who brought it in?; What were the religious beliefs of the first wave of `Witches’?
Having answered all these questions, Harrison proceeds to something even more important: a rational explanation of Witchcraft itself—an explanation which brilliantly and convincingly involves the tracking down of Man’s religious beliefs back to the very dawn of human consciousness; to the very emergence of Humanity itself. In simple but logical terms, Harrison shows that Man’s first fully-organized religion, the Old Fertility Cult, could have manifested itself in no other form; that, to Early Man, this religion was not merely the ideal but also the inevitable one. From this simple, essentially innocent, primitive Faith, there developed the evil side of the Fertility Cult; that Diabolism which has survived where the Old Fertility Cult, in its pure form has vanished from all but the most unsophisticated of the few surviving pastoral societies.
Harrison has gone back in time even beyond the researches of Dr. Margaret Murray, who was the first to demonstrate conclusively the unbroken connection between 16th- and 17th-century Witchcraft and the immemorial Fertility Cult; and Harrison explains, once and for all, how and why Primitive Man first evolved his religious ideas—those na´ve but essentially logical ideas which are, indeed, the Roots of Witchcraft.
Through his books on Sherlock Holmes—‘he knows more about Sherlock Holmes than any man alive,’ said The New York Times recently— Michael Harrison has acquired an unchallenged reputation as a solver of puzzles, an un-veiler of mysteries, an historian of secrets whose skill may be justly compared with that of Holmes himself. This, coupled with his respected position as a serious historian and biographer, ensures that there could be no person better able to tackle and solve problems that literally hundreds of learned commentators on witchcraft have shied away from.
Colin Wilson, who contributes the Foreword to The Roots of Witchcraft, has a world-wide reputation as one of the most intelligent philosophers and writers of our times. His recent book, The Occult, a gigantic study of the psychology and philosophy of all facets of ‘the hidden sciences,’ is regarded as a standard work on the subject.