Witchcraft is the art of bringing magical power to manifest that which you desire, it can be used to benefit or to harm, certain individuals are thought to have supernatural powers and everyone has a thought or image of what they deem a witch to be. In the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries witchcraft was thought of as a heretical sect and in direct opposition to Christianity. It was a particularly difficult time for witches as they were considered doers of evil, and witchcraft was considered a crime, the European witch hunts reached the American colonies in the seventeenth century. The original word for witch was Wiccan, and the meaning changes from society to society, witches were seen as female and considered old crones. This was the thinking even if they were beautiful, although if this was the case it was thought that they would lure unsuspecting men with their charms. Many who distrusted witches were convinced that they were shape shifters, and were able to present themselves in any guise they chose, it was also thought they could turn people into other beings, it was believed that a witch could appear in human form, as an animal, or as energy, a witch could also fly on a broomstick and was able to become invisible.
While a witch is sleeping he or she is capable of appearing in other places, while her or his body rests. The Yoruba in Nigeria believe witches are female and they meet in secret places and fly about in the dark of night. They are thought to have the ability to alter the lives of humans, witches have supernatural power, and have an innate knowledge of plants and herbs, witches are human with non-human powers. During the height of the witch hunts people thought that witches derived their powers from the Devil, it was said that they could be recognised with a Devil’s mark.
Witchcraft was a central part of the culture of the Roman society, and was practiced by doctors and priests, the state employed diviners to foretell the future, and many military decisions were made dependent on their prophesies. It was a punishable offence for anyone to use magic with malicious intent and magic was considered as an acceptable part of everyday life. The Greeks and the Romans applied the same physical and spiritual laws to the gods as the humans.
The early Greek philosophy was based on the power of nature and it was believed that people’s lives were subject to external powers, many gods and goddesses were worshipped, the gods dwelt in all things, the fields, rivers, woods and the sea. Each deity had its particular duty, spirits inhabited the countryside, centaurs had heads and torsos of men and bodies of horses and were usually associated with the lands and the mountains. Nymphs took the form of young women, magic was practiced night and day, those who wished to practice magic had to be particularly careful when using flying ointments. Witches used flying ointment in order to change themselves into another form before they took to the air.
Medea, Hecate and Circe are the three most famous witches in classical mythology, they were considered witch goddesses, they were believed to have the power to call down the Moon from the sky, with their chanting. The Romans thought that women had a particular inclination towards witchcraft, both good and evil, Hecate was known as the Queen of the Night, as she was the goddess of the dark phase of the Moon and queen of the spirits of the dead. She was present at a person’s birth as the spirit entered the body, and present during their death when the spirit left the body, Hecate was seen at crossroads at night with her sacred dogs and they barked at the Moon. Her magic combined heaven, earth and the underworld. Witches gathered gathered at crossroads and invoked Hecate and sacrifices were left each month at crossroads.
When Odysseus, on his way home, landed on the island of Aeaea, Circe welcomed him and his men, she gave his men a potion that changed them into pigs while their minds remained human, she then incarcerated them. On his way to rescue his men, Odysseus met the god Hermes, he offered him a drug which made him immune to Circe’s magic. After failing to enchant him, Circe is then persuaded by Odysseus to use an ointment that restores his men.
Odysseus and his men stay in Circe’s palace for one year, at which time Circe tells Odysseus he must first make a journey to Hades the world of the dead, and consult Tiresias the blind seer from Thebes so that she can reveal his future. On his return to the witch’s palace, Odysseus is warned by Circe of the dangers that are ahead for he and his men, she guides him as to how he and his men can withstand the calls of the Sirens. He was warned about the sea monster Scylla, and the whirlpool Charybdis that sucks in passing ships. Circe is a witch who will assist those she favours, she will offer them guidance and enlightenment.
Medea is a powerful witch, with an extensive knowledge of spells and potions, she knows how to alter people’s consciousness, if wronged she resorted to dark magic. After falling in love with Jason, she helped him to gain the coveted Golden Fleece and keep it. But when Jason became the lover of the daughter of the Creon, King of Corinth, her anger is unstoppable. She sent a wedding robe steeped in poison that would kill the princess when she put it on, then in a fit of jealousy Medea kills her own sons before a chariot drawn by dragons takes her away through the air.
Ideas about witches are deeply embedded in folklore, literature and fairy tales, everything is seen in terms of spirits and those who have the ability to manipulate matter. There is a legend about a king and his knights from Oxfordshire England, it was foretold that if he reached a place called Long Compton, he would be king of England. As he was climbing a hill he met an old witch who turned him and his men to stones, and it is said that ill luck will befall anyone who tries to move them.
The Hungarian Taltos were rivals of the witches and fought for the fertility of their own region, with the ability to divert inclement weather or plague that would affect their crops. The Taltos had the ability to transform into animals, fish or birds.
Shamans use their power in such a way that allows them to communicate with the spirit world, they protect their community from natural disasters and witchcraft. They have the ability to predict the future, communicate with the spirits of the dead and can find lost objects. They are able to enter into a trance, their soul then leaves their body and changes into the spirit form of animals, they are then able to gather information or do battle with spirits or other forces. The soul of a witch is able to leave the body through the mouth and turn into a tiny creature such as a butterfly, returning some time later.
Diana rode at night and was followed by a train of souls disguised as women, she was worshipped as goddess of the Moon, the souls that followed her were those who had died prematurely.
Holda is a fertility goddess who circles the earth and is especially active during the winter months, particularly the twelve days before Christmas, she assists with crops and the plough, she spins, weaves, and is called upon during childbirth.
Folklore tells of little people, better known as pixies, elves, fairies, nature spirits, goblins, who lived in the land of fairies and there were human go-betweens who were able to travel between the ordinary world and the enchanted realm. The Fairy realm is another world, it contains beauty, laughter, love and mischief, this place of magical power can reveal itself to certain people. The fairies have kings and queens, Gwyn ap Nudd is a fairy king and is lord of the underworld, fairies sometimes lure humans to the otherworld. The fairies of Ireland are called Sidhe and are the descendants of the original Irish. The Sidhe like to live undisturbed, but if they are interfered with they can be frightening in their reaction, if angered they have been known to kidnap people and make them their slaves. Fairies liked to dance and sing, and if humans were walking nearby at night they sometimes caught sight of the fairies and their singing, dancing and feasting. Fairies have always been associated with nature and they inhabited wilderness, heaths and forests. Fairies are associated with the magical otherworld and are thought to gain their powers from a supernatural realm.
During the time of the witch hunts in Europe, the majority targeted were women, usually single who lived alone, most were burned, on the rare occasion they were let off with a warning. Depending on the area, some had very few witch trials, others were prolific, this went on for over three centuries. During this time witches were considered to perform deeds that were antisocial and frightening, they were said to fly at night to Sabbats and inflict their hideous magic by the light of the Moon. There were said to be two types of magic, the first was the making of evil magic against other people, known as Maleficium, the second a connection with the devil, called diabolism and this was the antithesis of all that was considered good.
Witchcraft was considered one of the most heinous crimes imaginable, and represented all that was evil, those deemed witches were formally tried for their crimes. Torture was mandatorily used to force the confession of an accused person. Sometimes sleep deprivation was used and other times instruments of torture, accused witches were subjected to extreme acts of atrocity. Towards the end of the seventeenth to the early eighteenth century, there was a decrease in the prosecution of witches, and at this time many were tried and acquitted. By the late eighteenth century witchcraft was no longer considered a crime, this did not stop the accusers, but witches could no longer be prosecuted, and accusers had to be careful they were not prosecuted. Rational thinking, the practice of science and the dispelling of superstition and ignorance, brought about the end of the barbaric practice of witch hunting. The practice of witchcraft didn’t go away it just went underground, many societies were formed at this time, such as the Freemasons, and the Rosicrucians.
In Ghana it is thought that witchcraft power is hereditary, passing through the mothers or the father’s line. In some parts of Ghana people go to shrines for protection against witchcraft, talisman shrines are common in Western Africa and medicines of protection are used during rituals. If someone is possessed they are taken to the priest of a shrine and there the name of the possessing spirit is revealed. The shrine is the focal point of a village and people bring offerings and ask for assistance and protection. Belief in witches and witchcraft creates balance in many societies, things are brought out into the open, and if misfortune befalls someone, a plan of action is formed.
The night witches of Botswana, were thought to be elderly women who bewitched people, they mingled with people in an everyday manner during daylight hours, but at night they gathered in groups carrying out evil practices. Before being initiated into the group they had to prove that a close relative had been killed by them. After being initiated she had to smear an ointment on her body, which would make her wake up immediately at night when her fellow witches called. It is said that these night witches would take parts of corpses to use in their special medicines, they then chose a victim and inserted small stones into their bodies making them ill, these victims would die unless magic to counteract was applied to save them.
The day witches for some reason were taken more seriously, and they used their magic to bewitch people, although they did not form groups as the night witches did. The witch sometimes buried roots in the eaves of a victims hut, or buried them at the entrance. Sometimes special magic powder was blown in their direction while the witch called their name, sometimes animals were sent to cause injury. They could also direct lightening to strike the victim’ s hut when they used the appropriate magic potions, some witches were powerful enough to fly through the air as lightning and strike their victims.
Sudanese tribal kingdoms ruled by the Avongara, believed that witchcraft played a part in every part of their life, it was inherent in all aspects of their culture. If their crops were spoiled by weather, it was witchcraft, if there was a lack of fish in the water, it was witchcraft, if hunting was unsuccessful, it was witchcraft. Difficulties between a husband and wife were blamed on witchcraft, if a magical ritual failed, it was diversionary witchcraft. In this culture witches were not thought to be special, as far as they were concerned witches were an acceptable part of life. Any misfortune that befell them was attributed to witchcraft, although where there was a clear cut law, or moral code, witchcraft was not considered.
To the Azande a witch sent their soul out to perform tasks at night when its victim was asleep, it flew through the air and emanated a bright light, if a person saw it at night they threw a piece of charcoal under their bed so that misfortune would not befall them. Before the soul left the witches body and sought its victim, the objective and the direction it was to go had to be clearly defined. This type of magic only worked at close range, witches also shot objects into the bodies of those they wished to harm, a witch doctor would be called upon to remove the object.
Groups of witches often worked together and were overseen by a witch leader, a special ointment was rubbed into the skin to make them invisible during their night-time activities. The elder experienced witches passed on knowledge to the younger less experienced witches, they also believed that when a witch died they became an evil ghost, who would confuse travellers and make them lose their way.
The Azande consulted oracles to guide them, they would follow the oracles religiously, the oracle would be consulted about the planting of crops, and to see if their future marriage was safe from the activities of witches. If there was thought to be danger offerings were left for the witches and a request for them to withdraw any ill will, the oracle would then again be consulted to see if the danger was over. The main oracle used by the Azande was the poison oracle, a poisonous liquid was mixed with water and given to small domestic fowls, sometimes with fatal results, other times the fowls recovered, and at times there were no affects at all. From the reaction of the birds the Azande received the answers to the questions that were put to the oracle.
Witch doctors, are called upon to cure those who are ill, and are able to discover who was responsible for committing an act of witchcraft. The witch doctor knew what medicines to use and was able to see witchcraft, he also knew how to drive witchcraft away. Witch doctors would hold public séances where they danced to the beat of drums and divined, members of the audience would ask them questions. When the witch doctor became tired he would signal for the drummers to stop, he would then begin speaking and offer revelations.
Connection with magic and the spirit world is deeply entrenched in the psyche of the Native American Indians, links between the community and the spirit world were maintained through the trances and visions of the tribal shaman. It was considered that witches used dangerous spirits to cause disease, and that evil witches are usually medicine men or healers who use their power for their own gain. They were thought to cause hunger by affecting hunting prospects, or illness by creating an image of their victim on the ground and placing poison over the organ they wished to damage. The witch can obtain an object connected to a person, then go to a burial place and put the object into a grave where there is a body, or the ashes of a body, it is then cursed. If a witch uses soul-stealing magic to destroy their victims, a shaman is called upon to go to the spirit world to find the soul, or parts of the soul and return them to the sick person.
The Native American Tlingit of the north-west coast of Canada believe that all disease is caused by witchcraft, and that witches are said to have learned their magic from Raven, who was a trickster, he caused disruption and chaos. Raven is driven by ego and greed, with no remorse and no good motives. Cayote is another trickster and said to be responsible for the introduction of witchcraft, he is a dual personality who bestowed fire and introduced death. He is associated with illness and witchcraft, he causes several diseases that only a shaman can heal. The world of the Native Americans was rich with spirit power and beliefs, it was made up of good and bad entities, they considered witches to be devious beings who worked against order and harmony, and that their role was to disrupt and wreak havoc among people.
Between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries the witch was thought of as a being who was on the fringe of society, and many of a religious calling suggested that witches were in league with the devil, and were responsible for many atrocities committed. Those persecuted were ordinary men and women who practiced herbal medicine, and healing, the distinction between healers and witches was not recognised thus all healers were witches. Those deemed witches were accused of being in league with the devil, although up until the fifteenth century there was an acceptance of sorcery and witchcraft. From the fifteenth century beliefs took a dramatic turn and allegations of witchcraft became the norm, unfortunately anyone could say that someone was a witch. Any misfortune that took place, from the slight to the extreme, was blamed on witches and witchcraft, economic difficulties were blamed on witchcraft, a child’s illness was blamed on witchcraft, poor crops were blamed on witchcraft. Anything that was inexplicable could be attributed to witchcraft, and those who were the most vulnerable targets were women who lived alone, both European and African witchcraft held a belief in spirits and sorcery.
Because there was such a belief in witchcraft and witches, people took precautions to protect themselves from the so-called evil doers, most homes contained magical objects to ward off a witch’s attack. Talismans and amulets were worn, plants, roots and religious objects were used and placed within the home by almost everyone, as a protection against magic. People took extreme action to avoid being the victim of witchcraft, they did things that they thought would make it difficult or unlikely for a witch to attack. They often moved from an area they thought was inhabited by witches, or else managed to drive away those who were thought to be witches. People avoided lending or borrowing objects in order to thwart witches who may want to work their magic through these objects, witches and witchcraft were a part of everyday life.
Wizards, sorcerers or white witches were consulted to help identify witches, they also helped in the finding of lost items, they were considered allies in the war against witches. They were also called upon to aid those who were thought to have been bewitched, because of the power attributed to these witches, sorcerers, and white witches, they were both respected and feared.
The cunning folk, as they were called donned strange costumes so as to stand out from the everyday people, they foretold the future and used oracles and magic spells. These magical beings were consulted to give a so called objective account of a person and to ascertain whether they were a witch, they could also decide whether something had taken place due to witchcraft. Those who were consulted took a rather dramatic approach towards the querant, they would tell them that they had come to them just in time, and if the remedy failed it was their fault for leaving the matter too long. A disease was considered a foreign body that should be conjured out or exorcised, if an exorcism was required the use of prayer was necessary. Charms were used for a multitude of maladies, whether it be animals, children or to assist women during labour. Some illnesses, were said to be due to haunting by an evil spirit, ghost or fairy, many different methods were used to diagnose witchcraft. Mirrors, crystal balls, and familiars were used and on occasion fairies were consulted, the white witches were considered specialists in magic and were the ones everyday people turned to in times of need.
All witches had a spirit animal or familiar who was in the service of the witch, the familiars were well treated by the witches. They assisted in the diagnosis of illness and helped the white witches, wizards and sorcerers find the source of witchcraft, some familiars were fairies.
During the fourteenth to the seventeenth century alchemy was very popular, it was the quest to transform base metal into gold, alchemists experimented with metals and other substances, combining astrology and herbalism. This is also when the seer Nostradamus came to prominence, he graduated as a doctor of medicine, and on several occasions had to hide as he was considered a witch. He prophesied with the aid of astrology and has since been considered an accurate seer, having documented many world events.
Those involved in magic often relate to the mysticism of Atlantis, it was said to be a place of peace, harmony, enlightenment and magic. It was an ancient island civilization thought to house magical societies and was the home of initiates of secret tradition. Much was based on the power of crystals and Atlantis was a vibrant, active and spiritual society filled with aware and enlightened beings.
Witchcraft these days is the celebration of an ancient art, the world has an entirely different attitude towards the witches of this era. It is a practice that celebrates women and reveres nature, with many witches celebrating eight seasonal festivals, embracing many and varied influences. The witches of today are aligned with nature and have an intuitive understanding, they want to become as one with their art and their day to day life. Modern witchcraft offers the encompassing of spirituality, nature and the world at large. Many witches these days are drawn to Romanticism, this values a spirituality that seeks harmony with all things. Within this movement a sacred circle is created and from this circle gods and goddesses can be invoked for guidance, healing and magic practices, this movement draws inspiration from the past.
Gerald Gardner had a profound effect on modern witchcraft, he is said to have been initiated into a witch’s coven in the early twentieth century. Gardner had a passionate interest in magic, he also dabbled in spiritualism, Freemasonry, many magical practices and Buddhism. Gardner developed a series of rituals that were to be conducted within a sacred circle, the aim being to harness and channel the magical powers within the body. During the mid-twentieth century Gardner built a copy of a sixteenth century witch’s cottage, on the inside he had symbols painted that provided the focus for his coven. Gardner hired Aleister Crowley, the originator of the classic tarot, to write witchcraft rituals for him. Between 1947 and 1953 Gardner was devising and writing rituals, the premise being there is equality between men and women in the practice of modern witchcraft.
The embodiment of the goddess is embraced by women in modern witchcraft, the divine is represented by the god and goddess. The goddess represents the Moon as the source of feminine attributes, connected to intuition, psychic ability, spirituality and emotion, she is identified with Mother Nature. The god Pan is often called upon as he is the embodiment of wild nature, he is considered a benevolent and comforting god. The modern witch believes that everything is interlinked, and there is a flow of energy in all things, with nature, mythology and spirituality. Witches these days want to connect with the universe, and participate in rituals to create this link, helping them to become a part of nature.
These days witches create a sacred circle to work within, the witchcraft circle is arranged paying attention to the points, north, south, east and west, each point has certain energies that relate to the natural world. The ceremony begins with the circle being opened in the east, representing light, the spring, air, the intellect and rational thought. The south represents fire and the energy of the will, the summer, sun and heat. The west represents water, the emotions, oceans, rivers, streams and autumn. The north represents the earth, mountains, valleys, winter and the body. There are eight seasonal rituals, the winter Solstice 22 December, Imbolc 2nd February, Spring Equinox 21st March, Bealtaine 30th April, Midsummer Solstice 22nd June. Lughnasadh 31st July, Autumn Equinox 21st September and Samhain 31st October. There is a solar theme and a natural fertility theme, the goddess presides over the experiences, the god dies and is reborn. The solar theme which dominates the equinoxes and the solstices, reflects the concept of a sacrificed and resurrected god, he dies and is reborn at the Winter Solstice. During the Spring Equinox his waxing power impregnates Mother Earth, he then reaches his prime at the Summer Solstice. His waning powers lead to the Autumn Equinox, his death and rebirth take place at the Winter Solstice completing the cycle.
Rituals are often conducted at various sites around the world, and are thought of as the place of female mysteries, and gateways into the otherworld. In these places divination, healing, meditation and marriage ceremonies take place. The witches of today consider the importance of nature and maintaining of the world in which we live, many witches happily cast their spells to help nature, others involve themselves more directly.
Doreen Valiente, was initiated by Gerald Garner in 1953 and became his high priestess, she did much to shift the old concepts of witchcraft and portrayed witchcraft as something that included the mind, body and the soul. She wrote many books giving her individual view of modern witchcraft, she worked with what she called traditional hereditary witchcraft.
A classic witch’s coven consists of 13 members, and there is always the Lady who directs the proceedings, dedicates the circle, dedicates the food and wine, and closes the circle, she is the thirteenth witch, although many covens have more than 13 members.
In the seventies a new generation of witches formed and these were the feminist witches, taking their inspiration from a time before patriarchal religions dominated. Feminist witchcraft views the world seeing the goddess linking people with nature, and recognising her within every human being. When worshipping her you are celebrating life, she is associated with renewal and the regeneration of life. The origins of goddess worship embraced the bonds linking humanity and nature.
In the mid-seventies a new order was formed and this was the Fairy tradition of witchcraft, individuals were initiated into the craft by witches who called themselves fairies, they performed magic, danced and communed with nature. In the tradition of Fairy witchcraft, there is a mother-father god called the Drychton, who is the male-female power, both god and goddess. In Fairy witchcraft, the male and the female are seen as equals and there is no high priestess in charge of the rituals.
Those involved in western witchcraft, often want to make contact with deities, or angels, they are on a quest of inner knowledge they follow the path of magic and wish to attain a higher level of spirituality. There are many magical paths, and practices today, you can join a coven, learn astrology, enroll in an occult school, become a healer, practice magic rituals, each putting emphasis on a different way of working. Some magical practices teach and train you to open up to your magical power, this is done through meditation techniques, visionary journeys and channeling. You can be taught how to attain a higher level of intuition, how to open up psychically, how to practice magic spells and how to open up to the otherworld as it co-exists with the ordinary world. You can be taught how to move in and out of different states of awareness.
Modern magic works with spiritual evolution, and the summoning of higher forces to enhance magic powers, teaching you how to access deep levels of inner knowledge and wisdom. Rituals are often based on mythological themes, and there are occult schools where an apprentice, through initiation, may reach different levels of understanding and prowess.
Powerful beings to call upon for magic practices are angels, the light workers, they go beyond time and space and they are beings of pure light and consciousness, they are a focus of power. The angel Gabriel can help with psychic development, Michael can be called upon for matters of achievement, Raphael for healing and communication, Samael for courage and perseverance. Asariel rules mediumship and transwork, Sachiel offers guidance in financial matters, Cassiel oversees the energies of the planet, Hanel works with the nature deities and Uriel transmits the Magical Force. Angels can be called upon in times of trouble to give practical and spiritual guidance.
The practitioners of the Northern tradition of magic were called heathens, they religiously followed the Icelandic Sagas for their inspiration, following the mythology of Odin and other Scandinavian gods and goddesses. The main tradition is Odinism, meaning loyalty to the gods, the god Odin is associated with combat, the dead, writing and inspiration, he carries a magical spear, wears a blue cloak, a wide brimmed hat and has one eye. Two ravens of battle sit upon his shoulder, Huginn (Thought) and Muninn (Memory), they are the symbol of flights to acquire wisdom. Little is known about the goddesses even though they are considered equals, Frigg the Queen of the Heavens was Odin’s partner. There were twelve gods and thirteen goddesses, including the fertility god Freyr and his sister Freyja, who rides a chariot and is associated with war. Freyja is a mistress of magic and witchcraft, and owns a falcon skin which allows her to take falcon form on journeys to the underworld. The god Thor is the son of Odin and the Earth, he represents, stability, order and law, Loki is the son of two giants and the foster brother of Odin, he is a trickster who embodies all that is dark, ambiguous and unpredictable. He is a necessary as a catalyst for change and no movement would take place without him. Northern cosmology centers on the Yggdrasil the world tree, it is the connecting point of nine worlds, each populated with a type of being or race, such as humans, deities, dwarves, giants and elves. The sisters known as the Norns sit at the base of Yggdrasil and spin a web of fate called wyrd, the past and present are not seen as separate, and the future is seen in the present, time is not viewed in a linear manner and can be changed. The Norse people thought that wyrd shaped the destiny of the entire world.
The Druids were Celtic spiritual leaders, these days it is interpreted as spirituality in touch with nature. Modern day Druids celebrate the same eight festivals as witches, they believe in the power of the earth and the energy it contains, they also believe that there is a unified force underlying the world and that force is defined by each individual. A love of the earth is what unites the Druids, they consider nature a deity and draw it down into their sacred circle. they are then inspired by the energy of love the joy, which they absorb. They associate themselves with the Norse god Odin who tied himself upside down to a tree enabling him to understand the cosmic meaning of the universe. The Druids of today are on a quest for spiritual enlightenment and a connectedness to the natural world through inspiration, creativity and artistic expression.
The New Age world means many things and is a part of spiritual and social change, as the world enters a new cycle of evolution people are becoming more open to that which cannot be logically explained. With a more receptive consciousness worldwide it is easier to tune into other dimensions which offer understanding and enlightenment for all.