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Abstract

Unlike the general assumption that England was completely Christianized after Augustine’s mission to the island, witchcraft and paganism thrived all throughout the Christian period of Anglo-Saxon history. Sources condemning witchcraft and paganism increased during the Danish raids in the mid-ninth century and beyond due to an increased sense of a perceived threat of paganism. King Alfred himself reacted to this threat by doing everything he could to strengthen his people in their Christian beliefs through education reform and his law code. The Church battled against the perceived threat through penitentials–which they used to discourage pagan practices. Lay-people fought against paganism sometimes by the simple act of confessing to their priests, and sometimes by taking protection from the perceived threat into their own hands like in the case of the anonymous widow from Ailsworth. While witchcraft prevailed throughout the entire pre-Alfred Anglo-Saxon period (ca 600-870), the Anglo-Saxons’ perception of the threat of paganism–especially during the Danish raids in the mid-ninth century–caused nearly all aspects of Anglo-Saxon Christendom to fight against paganism and witchcraft in their respective ways.

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