A visitor's essay:
WitchCraft: The Step to Civilization
The following essay was submitted by Ariadne DawnFire, a visitor to this web
"Not all meanings are meant to be clear at once. Some ideas take time. Some
words are designed to lead us on inner journeys, with truth hidden deep
inside them" (Froud, 65). The word witchcraft takes many through a journey
of mystery, curiosity, awe, and to others, fear and hatred. The Old Religion
has existed since before man kept written records. Though it is shrouded in
mystery, witchcraft requires understanding and an open mind away from the
influential lies of the media. Glancing at the evolution of witchcraft, the
religion and belief system, as well as the demise of witches due to the
Burning Times, a new view of the wicked witch comes into play. This may
teach all a lesson in finding the true meaning behind a word.
Perhaps one of the most controversial words in our language, the word
'witch' has many, many meanings.
|In one belief, the word 'witch' is an Old
English word derived from 'wicca' (pronounced 'witcha'). 'Wicca' means male
witch, and its counterpart, 'wicce' (pronounced 'witcheh') translates as
female witch. 'Wiccian' meant 'to cast a spell', 'to work sorcery', or 'to
bewitch.' Therefore, according to Old English, a witch is one who casts
spells or bewitches others. |
|Another belief founded upon the Old English
'witcan', which means 'to know', or the Old English word 'wis', meaning
'wise', is that witchcraft is the craft of the wise. 'Witch' to these people
meant 'wise one'. |
|However Erica Jong wrote in her 1981 book "Witches" that
'witch' came from the Old Teutonic verb 'wik' meaning 'to bend'. This
relates to the idea that magic users, including witches, appear to 'bend'
nature to their will. |
|Another testimony from the American Heritage
Dictionary, witch is related to the Germanic word 'wikkjaz' which means
'necromancer' or 'one who wakes the dead'. This suggests that witches
associate with the underworld of the dead, or they are people who raise
the dead (Stein, 14). |
The word 'witch' has many meanings, as shown, however in the media or in text
most are shown with negative, supernatural or evil connotation. Despite the
media's belief that witchcraft is an evil and foreboding art, the religion
itself has been around long before man's first written records, and long before
the Inquisition that condemned the Old Ways.
Witchcraft is an ancient path that requires discipline (Moorey, 1). As M.
Evans said in The New Believers while quoting Leo Louis Martello:
"Witchcraft is a pre-Christian faith. It tends to be matriarchal whereas
both Christianity and Satanism are patriarchal and male chauvinist. The
latter two are merely opposite sides of the same coin. Witchcraft, as the
Old Religion, is a coin of different vintage, predating both." (129)
The path dates back 20,000 years. Before Christianity, before the Roman and
Greek pantheons, and before recorded history people worshiped the spirit of
each thing (Zimmerman, 17). This spirit is often called Earth Mother
(Moorey, 7). Earth Mother was also called "Isis" to the Egyptians, "Ishtar"
to the Assyrians, Greeks had "Gaea", "Hera" and "Demeter", the Romans had
"Maia" and "Ceres", and the Christians call her "Mary" (Colbert, 43). This
idea of a mother figure can also be found in many novels, such as Galadriel
in "Lord of the Rings" (Colbert, 45). To modern witches, Earth Mother is
called the Mother Goddess (Moorey, 7). The Mother Goddess fist appeared all
over Europe, when small carved female figures were found. These were dated
to have come from the Palaeolithic period, over 20,000 years ago. It is
generally referred to as the Venus. The Venus of Willendorf is believed to
represent fertility to prehistoric societies (Zimmerman, 18). Cave paintings
from this time also depicted a half man, half animal figure called The God
of the Hunt. This is also similar to the God of pagans (Zimmerman, 18). In
the Stone Age women were very powerful, and birth was considered a powerful
magic (Moorey, 7). As time continued, the cave paintings varied to depict
religious rituals. These paintings were of humans dressed in animal costume.
Historians believe the people of this time danced and painted to encourage
animals to multiply and plants to grow (Zimmerman, 18). As prehistory
rituals became more complex, ritual leaders emerged, and they were called
Shamans. In modern paganism, and in the Old Religion, these Shamans were
also called High Priests and Priestesses (Zimmerman, 19). History is very
important to witchcraft, because often in their rituals ancient customs have
underlying meaning and contain knowledge ( Moorey, 6). Women were honoured
for having the power of intuition and wisdom. They were known for having
instincts about people, rather than the instincts of men to hunt. As times
changed, man began to hunger for conquest and power became more important
than caring for the land and the tribe. This made man more intelligent as
humans began to plan, fight and build as well as gain power. This was more
natural to men due to testosterone, which gave them more aggressiveness than
women. Due to this sudden movement, women became oppressed, and as the West
started developing, humans turned to logic rather than intuition (Moorey,
10). Despite this movement the witch ways still continued. In Celtica, which
is known as Scotland, some parts of Germany, Ireland and some parts of
England, the Celts believed women were very powerful (Moorey, 11). According
to a statement in Ancient Mediterranean by Michael Grant, all that sets
humans above savages in Western Civilizations came from the Mediterranean.
It can therefore be assumed that to understand humans, the history of the
Mediterranean must be known. This coast was home to the Egyptian, Etruscan,
Roman and Iberian cultures. Also the Aegeans appeared later from Greek
colonies. It was these ancient cults that formed many of the pagan beliefs
associated with witchcraft today (Grimassi, 10). Cults in Ancient Greece
and Egypt taught Gnosticism, which is the belief in doing what the heart
says. This is the general belief behind witchcraft (Moorey, 9). Then
Christianity came in to existence and the laws became harsher when in 371
CE Rome adopted Christianity as an official religion. These new laws
imposed upon Rome taught that man should listen to what God's priests
taught, and some figures used this for political reasons and power. When the
new religion, Christianity, was implemented, Roman soldiers slaughtered
priests and druids of other religions (Zimmerman, 20). This was the
beginning of the deterioration of the freedom of the Old Religion. To
appease the Pagans, some deities were absorbed into the Christian religion,
such as the goddess Brigid who is now called St. Brigit (RavenWolf, 15).
As in the poem by David O. Norris:
"Ten thousand years we've struck the fire,
Creation's music freely sun
With Magick joined we've praised the stars
Since first the world begun.
Our spirit lives in timeless dance,
The Tarot and the Rune,
And nights united in the power
Of Drawing Down the Moon!"
Witches have been around for centuries. At times they hid in the shadows,
waiting for their time to rise again. Witches were persecuted because their
beliefs were different, and because they were extraordinary.
Witches were mostly extraordinary because of their Religion. Today it is
known as "Wiccan", however it was mostly known as the "Old Religion". The
belief system itself is, at times, hard to define. In comparison with the
Christian faith, the Old Religion has no complete Dogma or a book of
reference. As is stated by Carol McGrath who was told by a Native-American
woman, "If you take the Christian Bible and put it out in the wind and the
rain, soon the paper on which the words are printed will disintegrate and
the words will be gone. Our bible is the wind and the rain." The fact that
it is a nature-based religion makes it even more difficult to pinpoint
exactly what witchcraft is. There are many wonderful and horrible
definitions that come to mind. The general population believes the more
media presented and negative view. However the best definition would be:
"Witchcraft is a nature based, life affirming religion that follows a moral
code and seeks to build harmony among people, and empower the self and
others" (Ravenwolf, 4). This definition can apply to many religions, however
it denies the largest misconception of witchcraft, which is the idea that
witches worship Satan. By definition, a witch cannot worship Satan,
Beelzebub, or any other name for the Christian Devil. This is simply because
witches don't believe in him. On the contrary, witches are committed to
helping people and the world in general (Moorey, 1). The greatest rule in
witchcraft is "harm none" (Moorey, 12). This law speaks of the basic
principles of the Witches' religion. The main ideas are harm none and
whatever is done comes back times three. This law of getting back what is
sent out threefold is the general idea of do on to others as you would have
them do on to you, which is a universal lesson. Along with these laws, the
Queen of Witches, Aradia, created thirteen laws for all witches to live by:
|I. Observe the times of the sacred gatherings, for therin is the
foundation of the powers. |
|II. When good is done for you, you are bound to return it threefold. And if
you shall help another you will not accept payment but shall bind the one
served to likewise help yet another three. |
|III. Use not your power or knowledge of the Craft, neither call forth your
aids, for your own glory or as proof of your standing. Work instead for
the good of your coven or for those who are outside (should they prove
worthy). For your own need you may work if no harm is done through
your gain. |
|IV. Take not the life of any living thing except it be to preserve another
life. If you take a life to provide food, then all of its being must be
used in respect to its life force. That which cannot be used must be
returned to the Earth with blessings made.|
|V. Give not your word lightly, for you are bound by your words, and by
your oaths. |
|VI. You shall not bow before any authority over you except it be that of
the Creators, or their emissaries. All others are worldly ego. |
|VII. You are bound to teach and initiate all who appear worthy, and to aid
in the continuance of the Old Religion. |
|VIII. Belittle not another's beliefs nor degrade another for their ways.
But offer your own truth without argument and strive to dwell in peace
those who differ. |
|IX. As there be no harm to another, then let your actions be as you will.
Love and freedom are the essence of the Law. |
|X. Strive to live your life in compassion and awareness to the minds and
hearts of all who share in your presence. |
|XI. Be true to your own understanding and strive to turn away from that
which is opposed within you. |
|XII. Destroy not, neither scar, the beauty of Nature around you. Hold
reverence for all things in Nature, second only to the Creators. Waste
|XIII. Remain open in your heart and in your mind to the Great Ones, the
Creators, and to your brothers and sisters alike" (Grimassi, 202). |
This part of the covenant and Gospel of Aradia expresses the beliefs of
which all of the Old Religion was. The Laws mainly protect others and
enforce the idea of "harm none". It is obvious from this document that being
a witch wasn't all about casting spells and riding brooms. The "Craft" as it
was often called was about having commitment and responsibility to oneself,
one's coven, they community and the Earth (Zimmerman, 61). To express and
teach others of the witches ways, the Rede of the Wiccae was created. It is
formally known as The Counsel of the Wise Ones. The poem is a Celtic
tradition passed from generation to generation, and is a pillar of the Witchcraft faith:
"Bide the Witches' laws ye must
in perfect love and perfect trust.
Ye must live and let live
fairly take and fairly give.
Cast the Circle thrice about
to keep unwelcome spirits out.
To bind the spell right every time
let the spell be spoken in rhyme.
Soft of eye and light of touch -
speak ye little, listen much.
Deosil go by the waxing moon -
chanting out the Witches' Rune.
Widdershins go by the waning moon,
chanting out the baneful tune.
When the Lady's Moon is new
kiss the hand to Her times two.
When the Moon rides at her peak,
then the heart's desire seek.
Heed the Northwind's mighty gale -
lock the door and trim the sail.
When the wind comes from the South,
love will kiss thee on the mouth.
When the moor wind blows from the West,
departed spirits have no rest.
When the wind blows from the East,
expect the new and set the feast.
Nine woods in the Cauldron go -
burn them quick and burn them slow.
Elder be the Lady's tree -
burn it not or cursed ye'll be.
When the Wheel begins to turn -
let the Beltaine fires burn.
When the Wheel has turned to Yule,
light the Log and let the Horned One rule.
Heed ye flower, bush and tree -
By the Lady, blessed be.
Where the rippling waters flow,
cast a stone and truth ye'll know.
When ye have and hold a need,
hearken not to other's greed.
With a fool no seasons spend
or be counted as his friend.
Merry meet and merry part -
bright the cheeks and warm the heart.
Mind the Threefold Law ye should,
three times bad and three times good.
When misfortune is enow,
wear the blue star on thy brow.
True in love ye must ever be,
less thy love be false to thee.
These words the Witches' Rede Fulfill:
and ye harm none, do what ye will" (Zimmerman, 61-62).
This essay continues below.
Witchcraft is often called "The Craft" by witches because it is a skill and
belief that can be improved and better understood with experience and
practice (Moorey, 6). Witchcraft is difficult to describe in entirety
because it is different for each witch depending upon family background and
personal preference. There are many forms of witchcraft just as there are
many forms of Christianity. However, unlike Christianity, witches worship a
God and a Goddess. This divine pair have many names, such as The Lord and
the Lady, Diana and Apollo, Zeus and Hera, and Mary and Jesus. Not
necessarily are the God and Goddess married or mates. Together the God and
Goddess create the Divine. The Divine can be neither male nor female as it
is a perfect being. The belief of a perfect being as a male or as a female
is illogical to the witches because no male or female is perfect without all
the qualities of the other sex. Therefore the Divine is both (Moorey, 2).
Witches are also nature-worshipers because the natural world is a
manifestation of the Divine. The Divine created all, and the witches believe
all were meant to be equal, despite the common belief of human superiority
(Moorey, 2). The ancient path is mainly about developing inner awareness,
and being in harmony with the rest of creation. It is a very spiritual path,
but also a practical one in helping others and through witches may be called
mystics, witches are also achievers. It is perhaps this need for achievement
that brought about their downfall in The Burning Times (Moorey, 4).
In the year 371 A.D. Rome adopted Christianity as their official religion
(Zimmerman, 20). Due to this sudden adaptation, they slaughtered priests of
other religions and druids of the pagans. In order to make pagans conform to
Christianity, priests had churches built atop worshipping grounds of the
pagans. They believed that the people would still gather there and worship,
however they would be lead by Christian priests instead. Those of the Old
Religion still gathered in the churches, and became a hybrid religion. They
appeared, acted and sounded like Christians, but many were still following
the Old Religion. Many called Mary "Our Lady", which is another name for the
Goddess of the Old Religion (Zimmerman, 20). From the years 1450-1700
witches, Jews, Muslims, non-Christians, Christian heretics, Cathars, Waldenses, Protestants and pagans were prosecuted by the Inquisition (Stein,
38). The Inquisition was a judicial institution by the Roman Catholic
Church. The Inquisition was most active in France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
The aim of the Inquisition was not justice, but confession and submission.
Witchcraft was added to the Church's list of heresies in 1320. Witches were
not the primary target until after 1484 due to the fact that during this
year Pope Innocent VIII issued a bull that created 250 years of torture and
murder of accused witches, as it stated that some men and women "gave
themselves over to devils male and female, and by their incantations, charms
and conjurings... ruin and cause to perish the offspring of women, the foal
of animals, the products of the Earth." (Stein, 38-41). The edict stated
that witches had sex with demons and the devil, they could fly and were
capable of evil deeds, which meant that they had a pact with the devil. Two
years later, Heinrich Kramer and Jakob Sprenger approached the Pope and asked
for him to intercede with authorities. They claimed that the authorities were
preventing the trials to continue. The Malleus Maleficarum was publish in
1486 by Kramer and Sprenger, and the book guided the church and government
for more than two centuries on how to purge the world of witches. It was the
second best selling book in Europe next to the Bible. The book was based
upon "Thou shall not suffer a witch to live" (Exodus 22:18). However
scholars such as Reginald Scott stated that the Hebrew word 'witch' meant
'poisoner'. The book was also supported by writings from Aristotle, Thomas
Aquinas and Saint Augustine. The Malleus Maleficarum was divided into three
|The first section told how the devil and his helpers, the witches,
did evil deeds with the permission of God. It was necessary to show God as
all-powerful and above Satan. Therefore if the Devil acted without God's
consent, it would be mean that the Devil was as powerful as God. |
part of the book was details on spells and bewitchments of people and
animals. It held gruesome tales of sexual acts between the devil and
witches, along with demons and some mythical creatures. The authors claimed
that this was taken from actual testimony of accused witches who confessed
during trials. |
|The last part tells of the legal procedures for trying
witches. It includes recommendations for obtaining testimony, inflicting
torture, and passing sentences. In most cases, death was the proper
punishment (Stein, 38 - 42). |
Some of the executioners began to feel guilty
for their acts, but they were reassured by the idea that "God would not
allow the conviction and execution of innocent people" (Stein, 43). Those
who did protest against the executions were convicted of witchcraft and then
burned. Bamberg was a large place that was infatuated with the witch-craze.
The Prince-Bishop established a weapon against witches, in which full time
lawyers, torturers and executions were hired. During the year of it's
creation, the 'machine' killed nine hundred alleged witches, over three
hundred of them being between the ages 3 - 4 (Stein, 44). The witch-craze
brought about the death of millions. People were accused for the slightest
suspicion such as a cross word, a curse, an argument, an angry look. If
crops were destroyed by the weather or a child took ill then witchcraft was
the cause and someone had to be blamed. The victims of these were denied
legal council; even though none would dare defend them (Stein, 45). The
accused were stripped, shaved and examined for witch's marks or devil's
marks (Stein, 44). These marks could be scars, pimples, moles or freckles
(Summers, 71). Often confessions were voluntary, which means they came after
the examination or 'light' torture. 'Light' torture was generally whipping.
Some would confess shortly after hearing what their torturer had in store
for them. These tortures were appalling in their brutality. Some victims
were stretched upon the racks, burned with red hot irons, sometimes
internally; their bones were smashed, thumbs and toes were crushed with
'thumb-screws'. Accused witches were forced to confess attending sabbats,
poisoning people, dishonouring Catholic rituals, having sex with Satan and
demons, or practicing magic with Satan's aid (Stein, 47). In Germany alone
300,000 people were executed. (Stein, 37) The total number from Scotland,
Spain, England, Belgium, France, Finland, Switzerland and Germany, and only
from the years 1563-1727, which is at the end of the witch-craze, 1,869 men
and 6,122 women were executed. This gives a total of 7,941. These numbers do
not include the years 1300-1562, which was when the most murders occurred.
It also does not included data from lost records, unreported cases or
unreported areas (RavenWolf, 63-64). The actual burnings themselves were
supposed to be merciful. The executors would first strangle or hang the
woman before tying her to a pole to burn to death. However the woman would
come to conscious half burned and start screaming. Painfully she would cry
for mercy and try crawling out of the fire, where watchers would throw her
back in. Later, a bill for the wood, oil and peat used to burn the witch
would be sent to her family (Stein, 37). The methods of torture used to make
witches confess varied from some of the most painful to more simple devices.
These tortures were used because it was believed that witches would not feel
the pain, as was written in Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer and Jakob
"He must not be too quick to subject a witch to examination, but must pay
attention to certain signs which will follow. And he must not be too quick
for this reason:
unless God, through a holy Angel, compels the devil to withhold this help
from the witch, she will be so insensible to the pains of torture that she
will sooner be torn limb from limb than confess any of the truth." (Sidky,
After these examinations and tortures, another way to see if the witch were
innocent or not was trial by scales. This was the theory that giant
balancing scales would identify a witch. If the witch weighed equally with a
bible then she was innocent. Naturally this rarely if ever occurred
(Farrington, 58). Some of the accusations that witches faced were denying
the Christian faith, denying Christian baptism or being re-baptized by the
Devil, replacing godparents with Satanic colleagues, surrendering clothing
and blood as part of an oath to Satan to represent their submission to him,
accepting a Devil's mark, paying taxes to the Devil, sacrificing children to
the Devil, bringing up their own children as servants to the Devil, and
accepting the Devil as both god and king (Ashley, 106).
"The history of Christianity is the history of persecution. Christian
forces have consistently harassed, persecuted, tortured and put to death
people whose spirituality differed from their own - Pagans, Jews,
Muslims...Christian armies and clergy...have repeatedly failed to see
the sacred wisdom in other cultural traditions based on different
perceptions of the divine power" (Stein, 59).
This quote points a direct finger at the Roman Catholic faith for the
witch-craze for two centuries. This is not entirely accurate as Christianity
is not alone in the blame. The idea that in the Old Religion property
belonged to everyone took away from the basis of human prosperity
completely. Therefore those who hated the thoughts of shared responsibility
along with shared land hated those who believed such. Also healers and
midwives were seen as threats because they used herbs to make birth
painless, when birth was supposed to be painful. These poor women and men
were used as scapegoats for all those who befell tragedy (Stein, 59). If a
woman had blonde, red or grey hair, with green or grey eyes, and possessed a
cat, then chances are she would not have survived. This was a time of
devastation when historians have estimated that anywhere from 50,000 people
to 9,000,000 were executed in the name of the Inquisition. Never again
should this tragedy be repeated.
History has made its judgement on Witchcraft, the beliefs and the Burning
Times. The history of witchcraft states clearly that is has never not been
there, but was the first religion to ever be created. Witches beliefs and
customs only relive the past and carried a beautiful tradition. The Burning
Times exampled the desperate time when the Church felt a need for power, and
women were used as scapegoats. It can always be hoped that this tragedy will
never repeat itself again, but unless future generations are educated in the
past, they are doomed to repeat such a horrendous thing. The Old Religion
must always be upheld if only in stories that readers can no longer truly
relate to because they have forgotten their instincts from long ago. As the
witches' world of magic leaves so does the last true hope and wonder of this
"But in sober truth, I think it is the Christians who will tell the last
tale. For ever the world of Fairy drifts further from the world in which
the Christ holds sway. I have no quarrel with the Christ, only with his
priests, who call the Great Goddess a demon and deny that she ever held
power in this world. At best, they say that her power was of Satan. Or
else they clothe her in the blue robe of the Lady of Nazareth - who
indeed had power in her way, too - and say that she was ever virgin. But
what can a virgin know of the sorrows and travail of mankind?" (Bradley,
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Copyright © 2003 by the author
Originally written: 2003-APR-1
Latest update: 2004-APR-13
Author: Ariadne DawnFire