Women have strange powers men do not: the power to bear children and feed them from their own bodies, to bleed without being hurt or sick, and to provoke erections in heterosexual men. Perhaps these strange beings have even more remarkable powers.
Or perhaps when the image of a Goddess dwindles until all that remains is the memory of Her uncanny powers, She becomes a Witch.
Witches have been credited with such magical feats as blasting crops, cursing
people to sickness, lameness or death and causing men to become impotent or even stealing their penises.
The Renaissance Christian myth of the witch is complex and grotesque. Most
witches were women, the Malleus Maleficarum stated, because “All witchcraft
arises from lust, which in women is insatiable.” Their lust was supposedly for
the Devil, who initiated the witch at the Sabbat and copulated with her often,
according to the accounts of the churchmen.
These witches gathered at mass meetings called Sabbats, to which they flew via brooms or animal companions. There, the Devil appeared, usually in the form of a black goat. They kissed his buttocks in greeting. Then they informed him of all the harmful spells they had done since the last Sabbat. Wild dancing and often sex with gathered demons followed, along with a feast often consisting of the corpses of babies.
There is no evidence that a real conspiracy of witches who worshipped the Devil ever existed. But many European clergymen devoutly believed in it during the great Witch Hunt. Estimates as to how many people, mostly women, were burned or hanged for witchcraft range from a few thousand to nine million.
But the witches of pagan stories had no need for a male Devil. Long before the
great Witch-Hunt, European women were accused of believing that they travelled with the goddess Diana or Sigma Orient or Herodias at night, entering people’s homes and being given food. Roman witches were thought to worship Hecate.
Morgan Le Fay tormented King Arthur and his knights. Circe turned the men who invaded her island into pigs. The volva told Odin how the Aesir gods would fall. The witches in The Golden Ass can command even the Greek gods with their spells.
The myths have led to a real Witchcraft religion springing up — one that
worships Goddesses, not the Christian’s Devil.
Many other cultures have known the fear of the witch, which may date back to the Stone Age. Some Native American tribes feared witches, such as the Iroquois and Navajo (Dina). Certain African tribes believe in female witches who ride trained hyenas to meetings and cast evil spells.
The urban legends of child-molesting Satanist conspiracies that spring up even today show how enduring the myth of the witch is. As in Renaissance times, most of the accused are women.
Above: “The Witches’ Sabbat”, by Francis Goya. Below: From a collage.
* Europe’s Inner Demons: The Making of the Great European Witch Hunt. Norman Cohn.
* Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture. Arthur Evans. Fag Rag Press, 1971.