(This is a bit lengthy, but it is Halloween Season…)
In an anthropological, religious, and mythological context, witchcraft is the alleged practice of using magickal powers to either help or harm another person and/or his possessions.
But – how did all this start?
Witchcraft, as all the other earth-based nature religions of Paganism have their origins in pre-history. Small communities and other groupings of people lived in harmony with nature and the earth was considered to be nurturing – thus the concept of Mother Nature was assumed. The earth fed, clothed, and sheltered her own. The Goddess was born, a figure to express the divine seen and experienced in the natural world.
The Goddess expressed one aspect of Nature’s fertility and being natural – her Consort – the Great Horned Father symbolized the other aspect of nature’s fecundity. He is also represented as the Green Man, or Robin of the Wood. Both God & Goddess had as many names as there were people communing with them. These gods/goddesses weren’t thought to be above humanity – they resembled humanity. Just as we have both good and bad sides – so did they.
Paganism is generally henotheistic – there is more than one god/dess even though only one is worshipped at a time. There were generally 8 major celebrations or festivals that took place in spots that were considered sacred. Nature was all around and natural cycles and rhythms were the things revered.
There were no rule books, there was no bible, there were no written rites, but these people more than likely had a better relationship with their world and others in it than we do today.
So what happened?
The man-made religion of Christianity happened. While Nature Religions are Matriarchal, Christianity is not and Patriarchy was trying to be pushed at everyone who could be rounded up.
Christianity spread through towns and villages before it reached the more rural areas. And – contrary to the widespread belief that conversions were immediate, they were not. With the progression of the church hierarchy demanding pagans convert whole countries were classified as Christian. In actuality only the rulers had adopted the new monotheism and some only half-heartedly. The church made many deals with many rulers to sway them to their side. It took over 1000 years for The Old Religion to be pushed back out of peoples minds and practices.
In a further attempt to manipulate and control the masses, around the turn of the 7th century, Pope Gregory the Great ordered his bishops to smash any pagan idols they could find and sprinkle holy water on the sacred sites of the Old Religion. He felt if he built his Churches on the sacred places of the heretics, more people would attend the new church.
And that wasn’t the only attempt at substitution Christians resorted to….they also assumed pagan celebration days and symbols from the heathen.
Of course the builders, woodcarvers, and stonemasons the church used to build their new edifices were adherents to the old ways and they weren’t as stupid as Pope Gregory might have hoped. These artisans incorporated images of their own deities in the decorating of the new churches and worshiped their own during Mass.
Pagans of every kind became the enemies of Christianity. So the Church set out to destroy it’s rival. As it has been said, “The Gods of an old religion become the Devils of the new.”, and so it was with the burgeoning Christian movement. The Great Horned Father became the newly personified Satan. And as we know from the Deviled Ham Wrapper – the Devil has horns! Therefore all Pagans must be devil-worshippers. And so the thread of fear started to be woven.
By the way – Horns are a symbol of Wisdom. There is a statue of Moses at the Vatican with Horns and a few pictures that have been painted of him in the same way.
Another aside while we’re at it….Satan is a device created by the Church to instill fear. Fear makes control easier to attain. Capital letter “S” Satan doesn’t appear in the Bible until the New Testament. There are references to ‘the satans’ in the Old Testament, but the translation of the word Small letter “s” satans is “adversary” or “tempter”. The satans tested people to make sure their faith was good.
Under the Churches guidance the 2 sides of man became 2 opposing forces: one of good and one of evil….God vs. Satan and the battle was on.
As time passed the idea that anyone who was not a Christian was the Devil’s own grew in strength and the ardor of those in the Church to eradicate anyone not like themselves grew to fever pitch. In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII published his Bull against Witches. 2 years later Heinrich Kramer and Jakob Sprenger, both monks, wrote the Malleus Maleficarum – The Witch’s Hammer and with this large tome of instructions on how to torture and punish witches – the hunt was on.
Between 1480 and 1700 over 100,000 men and women were tortured, crushed, burned, hanged, drowned, and in several instances drawn and quartered. Some estimates quote the number at closer to 9 million.
Within this time-frame, immigration to the new land had started. The Puritans, The Pilgrims were creating their settlements and larger numbers kept coming to get a new start. New starts, however, do not imply New Ways, so these people brought there old beliefs with them. They were a superstitious people and they faced a hostile native population, their crops failed, they suffered starvation, and disease. Prayer and fasting didn’t mitigate their harsh conditions and they wanted these bad things to stop and soon.
With all that negativity surely some of the witches must have followed them to the new land. They also still got into feuds with their neighbors – so perhaps one of them could be the sorcerer.
The Protestant ministers of New England didn’t follow the tenets of the Catholic Church, but they still felt themselves to be God’s Chosen. They preached fire and brimstone and blamed The Devil for all the ills of their people. Fear among the people was rampant and as it spread the Clergy found itself with a lot of power to wield among those less wise and worthy than themselves.
Cotton Mather, one of the most famous Men-of-the-Cloth, preached that his people should “fight a holy war against the army of devils who are ready to strike a any moment.”.
In 1692 the Salem Witch hunts began. The Rev. Samuel Paris had become the parson of the Village of Salem and he wasn’t too well liked by the people. At the suggestion of his daughter Betsy and niece Abagail, the Paris’ West Indian slave Tituba was accused of dabbling in magick. And – she confessed. The hysteria had started.
The courts decided that Spectral information would be allowed at trial. Spectral information involved ghosts appearing to the accusers to give them information on the victims they were turning in to the court. When someone was accused of being a witch, the accuser’s word was taken as truth without question. No other evidence mattered.
200 men and women in New England were accused of being a witch. 24 of them were tortured and killed. 95 Percent of all witch executions happened in New England. Until the horror at Salem, only 5 people were brought up for trial. They were all acquitted and 2 of the men filed slander and libel charges against their accuser’s and won.
The straw that broke the back of hysteria in Salem ended when the Rev. George Burroughs was executed. Prior to his hanging, he recited the Lord’s Prayer – something, as it was known, no witch could ever do. The court had sentenced him to death – however – so the lynching went on.
Five years after these trials occurred it was determined that the court system was inadequate. It was then that “Innocent until Proven Guilty” was established.
In 1951 the last Witchcraft Act from 1735 and the Fraudulent Medium Act were repealed in England making the discussion, practice, and interest in Witchcraft legal. Gerald Gardner, a practicing coven member from a group in New Forest, England wrote 2 books that were published there and abroad. He published Witchcraft Today in 1954 and The Meaning of Witchcraft in 1959. With his new Neo-Wiccan Bible for Christians-in-Denial came a tremendous interest in the practice of bending the laws of physics to achieve what one wills. New Age Covens sprang up everywhere and a new order of witchcraft was born.
Today, half a century later, there are active covens all over our 50 states, but there are a lot more people practicing the Old Religion, who revere Nature, who practice as solitaries. These people today are no more Satanists than those that were persecuted before them.
There are some good tenets to Paganism: “that it hurt no one – so mote it be”
“love is the law – love under will”
whatever one does to someone else – the energy will return to the sender by the power of 3 and scrying techniques are utilized for the betterment of the user….. gazing balls, tarot cards, astrology charts, to name a few are techniques employed to grow, as an individual, to a higher spiritual level. Trying to attain spiritual compatability with the Creator doesn’t sound evil to me. And the use of sigils, symbolism, and magickal instruments to attempt to connect with a higher energy to be used for the good of all shouldn’t be damned.
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