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Bucca Redivivus: History, Folklore and the Construction of Ethnic Identity within Modern Pagan Witchcraft in Cornwall

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This article focuses upon modern pagan witchcraft as practised within Cornwall as an exemplar of ethnic identity construction and praxis within the Celtic spiritualities. It offers a close reading of texts produced and strategies employed by practitioners in developing a viable history or myth of origin for their beliefs and practices and the specific ethnic identities constructed within the Duchy based upon notions of the Celtic periphery and spiritual liminality. I will argue that the concept of 'tradition' as expressed through the now outdated theoretical framework of cultural evolution plays a crucial role in the formation of these constructs, which owes as much to the historical roots of Modern Pagan Witchcraft as it does the development of Celtic nationalism within Cornwall. The recent growth of digital media has enabled practitioners to communicate these identity constructs to a worldwide audience, disseminating their histories and identities to co-religionists and the interested, non-specialist public, presenting their historicity as objective truth; as such my research has focused in particular on 'insider' texts, both on paper and virtual. As the congruence of ethnic and 'outsider' approaches described by Hale has recently found its strongest statement within the modern pagan community in Cornwall with the emergence in this last decade of a self-styled 'Traditional Cornish Witchcraft' (hereafter TCW) which claims for itself the continuation of pre-modern, vernacular witch beliefs and practices, I have chosen to focus upon its development and presentation. Its progenitor having been born in Kent, moving to Cornwall only in the late 1990s, as a construct TCW provides a significant case study for both the inception and growth of a tradition within the Celtic Spiritualities and the development of an ethnic identity among the 'Cardiac Celts', contributing to what it means to be Cornish or 'Celtic' in the early twenty-first century.
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Keywords: Celticity; Cornish culture; TCW; ethnic identity; folklore; history; myth; nationalism; paganism; spirituality; witchcraft

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Horsham Museum

Publication date: 01 May 2010

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