Witches Of The Craft®
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The Witches’ History, Our History
In the early days, when Christianity was slowly growing in strength, the Old Religion—the Wiccans and other pagans—was one of its rivals. It is only natural to want to get rid of a rival and the Church pulled no punches to do just that. It has frequently been said that the gods of an old religion become the devils of a new. This was certainly the case here. The God of the Old Religion was a horned god. So, apparently, was the Christian’s Devil. Obviously then, reasoned the Church, the pagans were Devil worshippers! This type of reasoning is used by the Church even today. Missionaries were particularly prone to label all primitive tribes upon whom they stumbled as devil-worshippers, just because the tribe worshipped a god or gods other than the Christian one. It would not matter that the people were good, happy, often morally and Ethically better living than the vast majority of Christians … they had to be converted!The charge of Devil-worship, so often leveled at Witches, is ridiculous. The Devil is a purely Christian invention; there being no mention of him, as such, before the New Testament. In fact it is interesting to note that the whole concept of evil associated with the Devil is due to an error in translation. The original Old Testament Hebrew Ha-satan and the New Testament Greek diabolos simply mean “opponent” or “adversary”. It should be remembered that the idea of dividing the Supreme Power into two—good and evil—is the idea of an advanced and complex civilization. The Old Gods, through their gradual development, were very much “human” in that they would have their good side and their bad side. It was the idea of an all-good, all-loving deity which necessitated an antagonist. In simple language, you can only have the color white if there is an opposite color, black, to which you can compare it. This view of an all-good god was developed by Zoroaster (Zarathustra), in Persia in the seventh century BCE. The idea later spread westward and was picked up in Mithraism and, later,
in Christianity.As Christianity gradually grew in strength, so the Old Religion was slowly pushed back. Back until, about the time of the Reformation, it only existed in the outlying country districts. Non-Christians at that time became known as Pagans and Heathens. “Pagan” comes from the Latin Pagani and simply means “people who live in the country”. The word “Heathen” means “one who dwells on the heath”. So the terms were appropriate for non-Christians at that time, but they bore no connotations of evil and their use today in a derogatory sense is quite incorrect.As the centuries passed, the smear campaign against non-Christians continued. What the Wiccans did was reversed and used against them. They did magick to promote fertility and increase the crops; the Church claimed that they made women and cattle barren and blighted the crops! No one apparently stopped to think that if the Witches really did what they were accused of, they would suffer equally themselves. After all, they too had to eat to live. An old ritual act for fertility was for the villagers to go to the fields in the light of the full moon and to dance around the field astride pitchforks, poles and broomsticks; riding them like hobby horses.They would leap high in the air as they danced, to show the crops how high to grow. A harmless enough form of sympathetic magick. But the Church claimed not only that they were working against the crops, but that they actually flew through the air on their poles … surely the work of the Devil!
In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII produced his Bull against Witches. Two years later two infamous German monks, Heinrich Institoris Kramer and Jakob Sprenger, produced their incredible concoction of anti-Witchery, the Malleus Maleficarum (The Witch Hammer). In this book definite instructions were given for the prosecution of Witches. However, when the book was submitted to the Theological Faculty of the University of Cologne—the appointed censor at that time—the majority of the professors refused to have anything to do with it. Kramer and Sprenger, nothing daunted, forged the approbation of the whole faculty; a forgery that was not discovered until 1898.Gradually the hysteria kindled by Kramer and Sprenger began to spread. It spread like a fire—flashing up suddenly in unexpected places; spreading quickly across the whole of Europe. For nearly three hundred years the fires of the persecutions raged. Humankind had gone mad. The inhabitants of entire villages where one or two Witches were suspected of living, were put to death with the cry: “Destroy them all… the Lord will know his own!” In 1586 the Archbishop of Treves decided that the local Witches had caused the recent severe winter. By dint of frequent torture a “confession” was obtained and one hundred twenty men and women were burned to death on his charge that they had interfered with the elements.Since fertility was of great importance—fertility of crops and beasts—there were certain sexual rites enacted by the Wicca, as followers of the nature religion. These sexual rites seem to have been given unnecessary prominence by the Christian judges, who seemed to delight in prying into the most minute of details concerning them. The rites of the Craft were joyous in essence. It was an extremely happy religion and so was, in many ways, totally incomprehensible to the gloomy Inquisitors and Reformers who sought to suppress it.A rough estimate of the total number of people burned, hung or tortured to death on the charge of Witchcraft, is nine million. Obviously not all of these were followers of the Old Religion. This had been a wonderful opportunity for some to get rid of anyone against whom they bore a grudge!’ An excellent example of the way in which the hysteria developed and spread is found in the case of the so-called Witches of Salem, Massachusetts. It is doubtful if any of the victims hung* there were really followers of the Old Religion. Just possibly Bridget Bishop and Sarah Good were, but the others were nearly all pillars of the local church up until the time the hysterical children “cried out” on them.But what about Satanism? The Witches were called worshippers of the Devil. Was there any truth to this? No. Yet as with so many of the charges, there was reason for the belief. The early Church was extremely harsh on its people. It not only governed the peasants’ way of worship but also their ways of life and love. Even between married couples, sexual intercourse was frowned upon. It was felt that there should be no joy from the act, it being permitted solely for procreation. Intercourse was illegal on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays; for forty days before Christmas and a similar time before Easter; for three days prior to receiving communion, and from the time of conception to forty days after paturition. In other words, there was a grand total of approximately two months in the year only when it was possible to have sexual relations with your spouse … but without deriving pleasure from it, of course!It was no wonder that this, together with other such harshness, led to a rebellion—albeit a clandestine one. The people—this time the Christians—finding that their lot was not bettered by praying to the so-called God of Love, decided to pray to his opposite instead. If God wouldn’t help them, perhaps the Devil would. So Satanism came into being. A parody of Christianity; a mockery of it. It was a revolt against the harshness of the Church. As it turned out the “Devil” did not help the poor peasant either. But at least he was showing his disdain for the authorities; he was going against the establishment. It did not take Mother Church long to find out about this rebellion. Satanism was anti-Christian. Witchcraft was also—in their eyes—anti-Christian. Ergo, Witchcraft and Satanism were one and the same.In 1604 King James I passed his Witchcraft Act, but this was repealed in 1736. It was replaced by an Act that stated that there was no such thing as Witchcraft and to pretend to have occult powers was to face being charged with fraud. By the late seventeenth century the surviving members of the Craft had gone underground; into hiding. For the next three hundred years, to all appearances Witchcraft was dead. But a religion which had lasted twenty thousand years, in effect, did not die so easily. In small groups—surviving covens, of times only of family members—the Craft continued.In the literary field Christianity had a heyday. Printing had been invented and developed during the persecutions, therefore anything published on the subject of Witchcraft was written from the Church’s point of view. Later books had only these early works to which to refer so, not unnaturally, they were heavily biased against the Old Religion. In fact it was not until 1921, when Dr. Margaret Alice Murray produced The Witch Cult In Western Europe, that anyone looked at Witchcraft with anything like an unbiased light. From studying the records of the trials of the Middle Ages, Murray (an eminent anthropologist and then Professor of Egyptology at London University) picked up the clues that seemed to her to indicate that there was a definite, organized, pre-Christian religion behind all the “hogwash” of the Christian allegations. Although her theories finally proved a little far-fetched in some areas, she did indeed strike some chords. Wicca was by no means as far-reaching and widespread as Murray suggested (nor was there proof of a direct, unbroken line of descent from the cavepeople), but there can be no doubt that it did exist as an indubitable religious cult, if sporadic as to time and place. She enlarged on her views in a second book, The God of the Witches, in 1931.
In England, in 1951, the last laws against Witchcraft were finally repealed. This cleared the way for the Witches themselves to speak up. In 1954 Dr. Gerald Brousseau Gardner, in his book Witchcraft Today, said, in effect, ‘What Margaret Murray has theorized is quite true. Witchcraft was a religion and in fact it still is. I know, because I am a Witch myself.” He went on to tell how the Craft was still very much alive, albeit underground. He was the first to give the Witches’ side of the story. At the time of his writing it seemed, to him, that the Craft was rapidly declining and perhaps only hanging on by a thread. He was greatly surprised when, as a result of the circulation of his books, he began to hear from many covens throughout Europe, all still happily practicing their beliefs. Yet these surviving covens had learned their lesson. They did not wish to take the chance of coming out into the open. Who was to say the persecutions could not start again?For a while Gerald Gardner’s was the single voice speaking for the Craft. However, whatever one’s feelings about Gardner, whatever one’s belief in the Wicca’s origins, all present-day Witches and would-be Witches owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude for having had the courage to stand up and speak out for Witchcraft. It is because of him that we can enjoy the Craft, in its many forms, today.In America the first Witch to “stand up and be recognized” was Raymond Buckland. At that time there were no covens visible in this country. Initiated in Scotland (Perth) by Gardner’s High Priestess, Buckland set out to emulate Gardner insofar as to try to straighten the long-held misconceptions and to show the Craft for what it truly is. Soon Sybil Leek arrived on the scene, followed by Gavin and Yvonne Frost and other individuals. It was an exciting time as more and more covens, and many different traditions, came intonthe open or at least made themselves known. Today the would-be Witch has a wide selection from which to choose: Gardnerian, Celtic (in many variations), Saxon, Alexandrian, Druidic, Algard, Norse, Irish, Scottish, Sicilian, Huna, etc. That there are so many, and such varied, branches (“denominations” or “traditions”) of Witchcraft is admirable. We are all different. It is not surprising that there is no one religion that suits all people. In the same way, then, there can be no one type of Witchcraft to suit all Witches. Some like lots of ritual, while some are for simplicity. Some are from Celtic backgrounds, others from Saxon, Scots, Irish, Italian, or any of a number of others. Some favor a matriarchy; others a patriarchy and still others seek a balance. Some prefer to worship in a group (coven), while others are for solitary worship. With the large number of different denominations, then, there is now more likelihood of everyone finding a path they can travel in comfort. Religion has come a long way from its humble beginnings in the caves of pre-history. Witchcraft, as one small facet of religion, has also come a long way. It has grown to become a world wide religion, legally recognized.Today, across America, it is not at all unusual to find open Wiccan festivals and seminars taking place in such unlikely places as family campgrounds and motels such as the Holiday Inn. Witches appear on television and radio talk shows; they are written up in local and national newspapers and magazines. Witchcraft courses are given in colleges. Even in the Armed Forces is Wicca recognized as a valid religion— Department of the
Army Pamphlet No. 165-13 “Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups—A Handbook for Chaplains” includes instructions as to the religious rights of Witches right alongside those of Islamic groups, Sikh groups, Christian Heritage, Indian Heritage, Japanese and Jewish groups.
Yes, Witchcraft has a place in past history and will have a definite place in the future.
–Excerpt from Buckland Complete Book of Witchcraft
Raymond Buckland, Author
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