Witchcraft – History Glossary

Witchcraft

Glossary

by Ilil Arbel, Ph.D.

Alchemy: Medieval forerunner of chemistry, particularly interested in changing base metals into gold.

Amulet: An object worn as a charm against evil, or for good luck.

Astarte: A Near Eastern fertility goddess.

Astral body: A spiritual body believed to exist apart from the physical body, and to survive death.

Astrology: The study of the positions and aspect of the heavenly bodies, and how they influence human affairs.

Athena: The Greek goddess of wisdom, warfare and crafts.

Aura: Electromagnetic field believed to be generated by the human body.

Baba Yaga: A powerful Russian witch.

Coven: An assembly of at least thirteen witches.

Demiurge: A Gnostic deity or demon, who created the material world.

Encantados: Friendly Brazilian spirits.  They own the natural world and like to possess consenting mediums for short periods of time.

Familiar: A spirit who takes an animal form and becomes the companion of a practicing witch.

Grimoire: A manual of magic spells.

Hallucination: Distorted perception of objects or events, caused by mental disorder or drug, and  appearing extremely real.

Heresy: A religious doctrine that disagrees with the dogma of the Catholic Church.

Iemanja: A Brazilian Sea Goddess.

Incantation: Ritual recitation of spells.

Kabbalah: A body of Jewish mystical teachings.

Karma: The effect of a person’s actions during a succession of many lives.

Matriarchal society: A society in which the mother is the head of the family and descent is traced though the mother’s side.

Maypole: A pole decorated with streamers, held by the people dancing around it.

Mithras: The ancient Persian god of light, guardian against evil.

Necromancy:  The magic art of communicating with the spirits of the dead in order to predict the future.

Occult: Relating or dealing with the supernatural.

Parapsychology: The study of telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, and related subjects.

Pentacle: A five pointed star, an important Wicca symbol.

Possession: The state of being dominated by a spirit.

Puritans: A group of English Protestants who in the 16th and 17th centuries believed in strict religious life.

Reincarnation: Rebirth of the soul in a new body.

Sabbat: A periodic gathering of witches.

Satanism: The worship of Satan, characterized by mocking of Christian rites.

Sea Witch: A witch who specializes in controlling the seas or oceans.

Shaman: A member of a tribal society who is a link between the spirit world and the visible world; also functions as a sorcerer.

Sophia: The Gnostic feminine side of God, and the goddess of light and wisdom.

Spectral Evidence: The activities of ghost or an apparition of the living, accepted at court as if performed by a real person.

Telepathy: Mind-to-mind communication of thoughts.

Tenet: Principle or body of principles accepted the core of a religion.

Thor: The Norse god of thunder.

Valhalla: The hall of the Norse gods.

Voodoo: A Caribbean religion, based on a mixture of Catholicism and African tribal religions.

Zeus: The principal god of the Greek pantheon.

Zohar: The principal book of the Jewish Kabbalah.

Zombie: A corpse animated by supernatural power.

 

Source:

Encyclopedia MYTHICA

Advertisements

Witchcraft – Chapter nine – Witchcraft Today

Witchcraft

Chapter nine – Witchcraft Today

by Ilil Arbel, Ph.D.

A thousand years ago or today, if you asked a witch why she practices the Craft, her answer would be universal: It accomplishes results.  However, the many “workbooks” and “spell books” on the market won’t necessarily teach you how to become a witch or to perform magic. Pursuing witchcraft without a coven, without ceremonies, without initiation does not generally work. At best, it will probably be self delusion; at worst, it can do some psychological damage. There are some witches who work alone. There are even courses one can take in big cities such as New York or San Francisco. But Witchcraft is more than just a few spells – it’s a religion. Without the tenets, the commitment, the depth of feeling for the earth – it’s just an imitation.

There is no doubt that magic still exists, and that it can be powerful. But how do you define it in a world such as ours?  If all the nonsense is dismissed, it means using some abnormal ability or a talent. The witch creates a change in circumstances – a change that would not have occurred naturally. Some people have psychic powers, just as others have a natural talent for painting or music. When trained, the powers are enhanced. When used in the correct manner, they are quite successful. Naturally, these powers can be used either for good or for evil. Those who use it for good tend to become witches. Those who use it to do harm call themselves Satanists or Devil Worshipers. There is always a choice.

As seen in previous chapters, all isolated societies have ceremonies, initiations, and some form of magic. Witches, the descendants of such people, have not lost the knowledge. Other organized religions tend to ignore the magical connection, with one exception – prayer. All religions claim that prayer accomplishes tangible results. What is prayer but an attempt to convince the supernatural to do what we want?

Most witches believe that the power is found inside their own bodies. This is the reason why some witches prefer to work in the nude – they feel that the clothes block the power’s release. Other witches work partially nude or dressed in loose robes. In today’s society, with its relaxed attitude toward the human body, nudity is not a problem. After all, the witches do not engage in any immoral activity during the ceremonies. But during the Middle Ages, or even the 18th century, people sometimes didn’t take off their clothing even to bathe. They wore special “bathing robes” for the purpose, so that they would not have to look at their own nude bodies!  It is easy to imagine the uproar when the nudity of the witches was discovered. Naturally the general population assumed the witches engaged in orgies.

In the East, it is commonly believed that each person generates a personal electromagnetic field. It is called the Aura. Many Westerners agree that the Aura exists, and some parapsychologists and physicians are currently investigating it. Many books about the subject are available, so there is no need to go into a discussion of the Aura here, but it does bring up an interesting point. Those who see the Aura, whether with the naked eye or with the new scientific apparatus, say that clothes do interfere with the observation of color and vibration of the Aura. Investigation, therefore, is always carried out in the nude. As it is possible that some of the magic is dependant on the Aura, it would be interesting if someone would conduct a combined study.

There is so much more that can, and should be done. Today’s New Age scene makes practicing Witchcraft easier than ever. There is a climate of greater tolerance to these matters, and other disciplines benefit as well – such as parapsychology, homeopathy, and the more serious research into the occult. Those disciplines are not at all alike, but there are occasional overlaps that are immensely interesting. One such connection is the subject of Out of Body Experience, or as parapsychologists usually refer to it – OBE.

OBE is the condition in which the person undergoes separation between body and soul. The body remains asleep or immobile, while the soul travels the world or even the universe. The condition has been observed by such different people as Tibetan monks, German mystics, and Medieval witches. No one really knows how it happens, or if something actually leaves the body. Some say it’s simply a vivid dream, or a hallucination. Others feel that one’s consciousness is able to “stretch” to any distance, but the soul has nothing to do with it. We don’t know.

Witches have always done it. They believe that it is a dangerous pursuit, best done only after strict training, and under a “buddy system,” like scuba diving. When the soul leaves the body, a shining “silver” cord seems to connect them to each other. The witches say that it may snap and the person could die, unless carefully watched by the “buddy.”

Many modern witches, and some researchers as well, tend to believe that this was the base for the legend of the flying witch. The Medieval witches were so certain they actually flew when they were out of body, that they confessed doing so to their tormentors, much like what they did when they had flying dreams induced by drugs.

There is a large selection of books about OBEs. Particularly good are those written by Robert Monroe, a modern American who had incredible experiences with OBEs and had established a research center devoted to it.

Of course it is just one example. A combination of many disciplines, including the understanding of religion and history, can do much to open our eyes to new possibilities. Fortunately, some witches are willing to talk and cooperate, and their help is important. One of them is Sybil Leek.

She is an extraordinary woman. A truly nice human being, and a warm and committed family person and friend. A successful journalist, mostly in Radio and Television, and a writer of the most interesting books. She leads a normal life in every way, but in addition is, and has been since early childhood, a practicing witch. She has made it her mission to educate the public about the difference between Wicca and Satanism. The reason is her fear of the merging of the two systems. So many covens are sprouting, without the benefit of the traditional training, that some, she feels, may be drawn to the dark side. She strongly objects to the practice of occult knowledge without the mental discipline. Dabbling with the powerful forces of the Occult without being able to fully control them can be dangerous to the practitioners as well as to the people around them.

In addition, she is also concerned about the split in Witchcraft that took place during the 20th century. There are two major systems. One is the old Celtic Tradition which she follows with her coven, Horsa, located in New Forest in England. The other was led by the late Gerald Gardner, and is stronger in another part of England and in the Isle of Man. Both systems are influential in America as well.

Many consider Gardner the father of the revival of Witchcraft in our time, though he disagreed. He always maintained that good friends, who were members of a coven,  introduced and initiated him to Witchcraft. Either way, he certainly did much for the followers of the Old Religion, and his books are outstanding for their accuracy and historical interest.

Since 1951, the year in which the last laws against Witchcraft were repealed in England, many covens, on both sides of the Atlantic, came out of hiding. During the years of secrecy, they grew in different directions, and some have little or no resemblance to original Witchcraft. While Sybil Leek objects to that, other people feel that it doesn’t matter. As long as the basic tenets are followed and no harm is ever done, there is no reason to prevent evolution in the Old Religion.

It is impossible to outline a religion based on thousands of years in one short chapter.  In addition, so much is private and never revealed by any real witch. But some basic knowledge of the Old Religion is necessary even in a historical review such as this book. It is particularly important to set the record right, because the student can be misled by the number of modern books that pretend to teach the actual ritual. Those books are fun and mostly harmless, but they are not the Old Religion.

To understand how the Old Religion is structured, let’s start with the description of the Beginning. It is based on the old Celtic tradition, but of course it goes back much further.

In the beginning, there was Energy. The Energy was a mixture of the sublime, the material and the etheric fire. The fire contained life and creative thoughts.

The Supreme Being used these to create vapor, which eventually condensed into water, earth and air. They combined with the fire and together created physical and spiritual life.

Intelligent beings came to life. Some were lower than humanity, such as animals and plants. Some were higher, such as angels and nature spirits. All slowly evolved over millions of years into more complex and diverse forms.

This happened, and will happen again, not only on earth but throughout the universe. The great energy, directed by the Supreme Being, allows growth and reincarnation for everything – from the smallest creature to a star system.

Since spirit is always present, thought is a form of matter. By sending out thought, one can build matter from energy. This is one way “magic” is done – the creation and manipulation of events and matter in ways which are different from the usual.

Reincarnation allows continuous education. Each life, in the thousands of bodies the spirit occupies, teaches and refines the spirit. It is slowly prepared for the final merging with the creative force, when it will bring back all the rich experience to enhance the source.

Nature is the body of this life force. We are all part of it, and hurting even a small section is doing damage to the whole. This is why the witches are the guardians of the earth. They seek to protect and heal it. Each blade of grass, snail, or elephant is as important to the witch as her own body. This is why Witchcraft and ecology have so much in common.

Witchcraft does not have a Bible, but it has a code. In other religions, most of the tenets are based on the difference between good and evil. In Witchcraft, most of the tenets are based on natural laws. They stress a balanced life, based on the understanding of the cyclical nature of the universe and the earth.

To the witches, good and evil are human ideas. The powers they follow are neutral – they can be used to heal or to destroy. By carefully staying with the rules, they avoid harming anything.

Witches seek the Absolute Good by trying to find and correct imperfection within themselves. They also try to transfer the idea of goodness to all that surrounds them. The goodness within is the spark from the Supreme Being.

Evil must be shunned. Association with evil slows the pursuit of the absolute good. However, since everything was created by the Supreme Being, there is no point in judging other people’s behavior. Each person is responsible for their own acts. So the witch will not curse or put a hex on anyone – it will only hurt her own Karma. The world is full of matters beyond one’s control, but by using reason, the witch can avoid the pitfalls and go successfully through each incarnation. She avoids blaming circumstances, gods, or other people for her misfortunes, and tries to learn something from difficult events.

Witches have no temples. They worship the Creative Force through nature. Representing it are the Goddess and the God. The Goddess takes precedence – it is a matriarchal religion – but the male principle, represented by the God, is greatly honored. He warms the Earth to bring the harvest, and therefore is identified with the sun. He is also the essence of the spirit within the woods, trees and water. The Goddess is the all-mother, the symbol of fertility. She also represents the moon and its cycles.

It is easier to worship and identify with these two Gods, because they are part of the Earth. The Supreme Being, who is above all else, is involved with the concerns of the entire universe, and therefore more remote.

Through meditation, a witch can be in touch with higher beings. They help her with the growth of her character and development of her life. But this should not grow into dependency. Each person is responsible for her or his own growth, so mediation and contact with those beings are limited. As the spirit evolves, higher vibrations are developed, and one becomes closer to the Supreme Being. This makes magic easier to achieve.

The clue for witchcraft is the ability of the witch to see, really see, the connections and relationships in the universe. Since the Creative Force of the Supreme Being made the universe, everything is connected. When the connections are perceived, they can be manipulated. The witch does exactly that. You can learn a hundred different incantations and magic brews, but unless you see the hidden unity between two things or events which seem to be far apart by time and space – you’ll accomplish nothing.

All this is organized into the tenets, which are as important to the witch as the Ten Commandments are to the follower of the Judeo-Christian traditions.

The tenets are not in order. They are all equally important and depend on each other. Following them is as essential to being a witch as the knowledge of magic or the celebration of the ceremonies. There are various versions, but for the greater part they are in agreement.

* The tenet of reincarnation. Each human being has three parts – the body, which is the earthly vehicle;  the mind, which is the reasoning part;  the spirit, which is the immortal part. The spirit inhabits many bodies until it has learned enough to return to the Supreme Being.

* The tenet of the balanced life. One must learn to live a life which is orderly, balanced and free of any excess. Body and mind must be healthy. One must work and support oneself. Relationships must be reasonably good. Lifelong education must be pursued. Duty to one’s family and community must be honored.

* The tenet of the harmony with the universe. One must realize the unified nature of the universe and one’s place in it. Harmony is essential for the successful life and the Karma.

* The tenet of tolerance. One must accept the fact that others have different opinions, and endure it without suffering or inflicting pain.

* The tenet of learning. Learning should not be limited to books. Practical as well as theoretical learning is essential, and it must be applied to everyday life. It is best to learn personally, from a mentor, and at one’s own pace. One should realize what one is best at, and learn to specialize.

* The tenet of trust. All love must be accompanied by trust. This means love of every kind, toward people, animals, nature or the universe. Without trust love is meaningless.

To practice Witchcraft, the witch needs a few tools. They are very much the same since the dawn of the Old Religion, and are basically simple.

  • A sword, used for forming magic circles.
  • A knife, used to guard against evil.
  • A white-handled knife, used for cutting herbs or heather for the broom with which the witches sweep the circles clean.
  • A wand – for small private rituals, such as praying to the Guardian Spirits.
  • The Pentacle, a five or six-pointed star, used as an amulet, and carried at all times.
  • A censer – a vessel for burning incense.
  • Four candlesticks to burn in honor of East, South, West, and North.
  • The scourge – a knotted rope, used as a symbol of power and of suffering.
  • The cords -symbolic of the binding quality of the power.

While many of the practices are unknown, some are no longer a secret. Since the witches believe that the original Wicca came from the East, the altar is placed in the east. In addition, the witches start from the east when forming the circle. The representatives of the God and Goddess generally stand in the east, too.

Prayers are made toward the north. In the old days, the witches believed that the North was the direction of Paradise. It was underground, in a hollow earth, and the northern lights shone from there.

A circle is purified. The priest and priestess, as representatives of the God and Goddess, bless cake and wine in a short ceremony. They place a cauldron in the middle of the circle, and spirit is poured in and ignited. Herbs and flowers are thrown in. The priestess and priest, standing in a pose that represents the magical pentacle, chant a prayer. Everyone dances around the cauldron. After that, there is a feast, including the blessed cake and wine.

The circle represents a sacred place between our world and the world of the gods. It is drawn with chalk or paint on the floor, or simply drawn as a mark on the carpet. Another symbolic circle is drawn in the air with a magical knife. The circumference of the circle is between nine and 11 feet, unless there is a reason for a larger circle, perhaps  to include a larger coven. The inside is blessed and purified, and is considered the gods’ domain. It contains the power inside it, and does not let it dissipate.

Obviously, this is a beautiful, nature oriented, peaceful religion. But if one is not stable and balanced, the control of magic can be psychologically damaging. An unlimited use of the power may lead to Satanism. The Satanist has little self control, as Satanism does not demand it. So he or she is always willing to promise instant, powerful results to those who seek their aid. Satanism, therefore, is tempting for the new student who is not always patient, and wants to see quick results. Also, it has drama and style, and is more exciting than the balanced, controlled way of the Wicca. It glorifies unlimited mental power and justifies any excess as the natural state of humanity.

For example, an important difference is the way the gods and spirits are treated. To the witch, everything depends on free will. Even the choice of obeying the Goddess and God is exactly that – a choice. The price for such liberty is that the Gods do not have to give the witches what they want, either. If asked, the Gods may answer the request, or they may decide otherwise. The witch does not expect the requests to be answered regularly. The favors certainly cannot be demanded, and they are never bartered. There is no such thing as a sacrifice, for instance. No witch ever thinks – God, if you do such and such for me, I’ll say twenty prayers. Or if you answer my request, I’ll give to my favorite charity. Also, the Gods are never blamed for any natural calamity, such as an earthquake, or a forest fire. Such things are part of the natural history of the planet, and if the witch suffers because of it, well, that’s the way the world is. The only prayer the witch would say could be something like: “Dear Mother Goddess, give your daughter the courage and the strength to bear this calamity.”  These are not the exact words – they are not available – but this is the gist of it.

The Satanist, on the other hand, feels the need for control. The entities he approaches, be it demons or the spirits of the dead, are conjured and commanded to do the magician’s bidding. If the spirit manages to release itself from the spell, it generally turns on the magicians and destroy them.

However, it must be understood that the power itself is the same whether used by the witch or by the Satanist. The energy is coming from the same source, and is neither good nor evil. It’s just there, available to those who can use it. The Satanist knows about the unity of the universe as well as the witch, and conducts his or her magic accordingly.

To put a curse on someone, there must be a link made between the man, the “medicine” or charm, and the magician. The magician will obtain a few fingernail clips, some hair, or at least some clothing of the victim and establishes the link. If such objects are not available, the magician tries to create an artificial link. He will hide a magical object in the victim’s house, or will create a wax image in his likeness. Occasionally,  the magician will create a psychic link by simply declaring the need for it. The energy of magic then goes through the link as if it were a channel.

While witches have no need to tamper with other religions, the Satanists must. There is no Satanism without Christianity. As seen in a previous chapter, Satan, or the devil, is a Catholic creation. There is no real Satanic bible, Satanic code, or Satanic tenet. All that exist are the reverse of those of the Catholic Church. So the Satanist ritual is a crude and unpleasant mockery of the Church. Mutilated crucifixes, the Lord’s Prayer read backwards, obscenities inserted into the Bible readings are some of the rituals.

These practices are mainly stupid and lacking in good taste. Unfortunately, Satanists engage in some other, much more dangerous activities. There is evidence of desecration of cemeteries, animal mutilation, and even, though rarely, ritualistic murders. While not everything is known about their cult, there is no doubt that the animal mutilation is a form of sacrifice. The desecration of cemeteries is done for the purpose of digging out the dead bodies. The Satanists need the bodies for practicing necromancy.

The power of the Satanists should not be underestimated. Like the witches, they have psychic powers, and a variety of physical and mental tools. There are incantations and magic words, which are really a way of setting vibrations in a certain way. They use wands, rings of power, various herbs, and knives. The clothing is specially designed, with embroidery of the names of the demons or other forces.

Aleister Crowley was an interesting modern Satanist, living between 1875 and 1947. Crowley studied the occult from a very young age, with a particular interest in the dark side of magic. Blood, torture, and mutilation fascinated him. He even neglected to get his Cambridge degree because of his involvement with magic. For a short while he was part of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn – an organization close in philosophy to Witchcraft. However, he was rather quickly expelled.

After that, Crowley completely dissociated himself from the Old Religion. It was much too tame for his taste, which leaned toward the dramatic. He called himself “The Great Beast” and his services were quite showy. He wore a wardrobe of incredible ritual garments, had an impressive collection of ceremonial swords and knives, and conducted the services on a huge altar, decorated with extremely tall, valuable antique candlesticks. The combination of the opulent surroundings, his magnificent voice, and his extremely dominant personality made him one of the most famous modern Satanists. For a long time Crowley had a large following.

Addiction to drugs and heavy drinking, however, destroyed his body as well as his mind. Still, he left books that may be of interest to the student of modern Witchcraft. Despite his many problems, Crowley was a very intelligent man and an interesting writer. His love of the theatrical, however, interfered with the accuracy of his writing. For example, he was blamed for practicing necromancy and human sacrifice, which in reality he never did. Not only he did not deny the activities, some people claim he actually started the rumors – to enhance his reputation as the “Great Beast.”  So one does not know how seriously to take some of his statements.

Another interesting Satanist is Anton LaVey. He is the founder of the Church of Satan, and the author of The Satanic Bible. As said above, it’s not really an official bible. It’s really just LaVey’s views. He maintains the traditional ideas, though, that Satanism is the reverse of Christianity. God, to him, represents evil, while Satan, who is good, will eventually triumph.

Interestingly, LaVey admits that he had never seen Satan. He feels Satan is a mirror image of humanity. While one can communicate with him, much like the way one communicates with God, Satan cannot be conjured or summoned any more than God can. The smaller demons and devils he considers mere dreams and hallucinations. This interesting approach got him many followers. Most of his success, though, he owes to his sense of drama, like Crowley, and his ability to manipulate people. His attitude to Witchcraft is clear. He despises witches and all they stand for, and considers them hypocrites. Obviously, Satanism has very little to do with Witchcraft, and is best avoided by the serious student. In addition, it has little to offer by comparison. A little instant gratification, sure, but not the depth of the Old Religion. It is a much younger religion, too, a mere few hundreds of years old, while the Old Religion had been here from the beginning.

In a religion this old, obviously there have been ongoing evolutions, and many branchings of the roads. It is good and even necessary that it should be so. But still, it is always important to maintain a balance, as the witches say. So we all benefit if the Old Religion is kept, at least by some, in its ancient and pure ways. As we are entering the twenty-first century, we do so with an ecosystem partially destroyed by our own lack of respect for nature. Perhaps it is time to learn from the ancient Guardians of the Earth. They can help us restore our planet to its former health and beauty. And then the sad eyes of the old Shape-Changer, the wise and innocent man/beast whose picture is so beautifully drawn on the dark walls of Stone Age caves, will no longer accuse us of the destruction of his beloved domain.

 

Resource:

Encyclopedia MYTHICA

Witchcraft – Chapter Seven – Flora and Fauna

Witchcraft

Chapter seven – Flora and Fauna

by Ilil Arbel, Ph.D.

Tales of plants and animals that have served witches can fill an entire book. Imagine talking cats, killer trees, flowers that make you fly and lambs that grow inside fruit.  These are not fairy tales told just for fun; people actually believed in them, and some were even partially true.

The connection to animals and plants goes back to Stone Age predecessors of modern witches, who are still guardians of the earth. The drawings of animals on cave walls show it clearly. The giant cave bear, for instance, was considered the Master of Animals. The hunters worshiped him, and he granted them permission to hunt. Dangerous animals, such as the saber tooth tiger, the woolly rhinoceros, or the mammoth, could only be conquered, or avoided, by magic and ritual.

Later, many gods, demigods and other powerful entities appeared in animal form. The Celtic god Cernunnos, master of the forest and all its animals, appeared often as a stag. Even more significant are Cernunnos’ many appearances as an antlered man. In this form he looked exactly like the shape-changing sorcerer of the Stone Age.

The imaginary menagerie included domestic animals, like the cat, and those of wood and field, such as the hare. The garden contained the witch’s cultivated plants, and the weeds that flourished near by.

Let’s start with the menagerie. Every witch had her “familiar,” an animal that had been given to her by Satan himself. The animal was a pet as well as a demon, much loved and well taken care of by the witch. It received good food, careful grooming, and sometimes even wore clothes during cold weather. The witch protected it fiercely, and killing a familiar was an invitation to serious revenge. In return, the animal spied, robbed, and sometimes killed for the witch.

Funny as all that may sound, the people believed in this relationship. The witch’s neighbors even thought that the animals talked to the witch in human language. This can explain the terror they held for the villagers. If an old woman regularly talked to her pet, as lonely people usually did, she was doomed. A familiar was also recognized by always being close to the witch, usually following her wherever she went, and by its superior intelligence.

CAT Cats are the ultimate Familiars. Everything about the cat was, and still is, magical. Watch your own cat going about its mysterious business. See how it suddenly looks at a corner of the room, intent on something that clearly isn’t there. It can be creepy on a stormy night, even when you know very well that there is no such thing as a ghost!   Sometimes your cat, dozing peacefully, suddenly leaps to the next room as if possessed. You laugh at its antics, but what did it really hear there?  Even today, wonderful and loveable as they are, cats hold a terror for some people. Some won’t stay in a room alone with a cat. Look at the changing eyes – the pupils are narrow slits during the day and large and round at night. Changing just like the moon. So they imagined that the cat saw the future with those moon-like, magical eyes, and probably also ghosts and goblins. Cats could also forecast the weather. If they played wildly, high wind was expected. If they sat with their back to the fire, no doubt a cold spell was due. And if they washed their ears carefully, rain was imminent. The most feared cat was the black one, considered Satan’s property at the all times. During the Middle Ages people senselessly slaughtered cats for no reason other than the belief that they were demons.

GOAT The goat connection may be even more significant than the cat. It goes back to antiquity. A powerful clan in ancient Greece, the Palentids, claimed they were originally descended from a sacred goat. The horned and hoofed Greek goat-god, Pan, is one of the most important entities of Witchcraft. Thor, the Norse god, was worshiped before the other gods of Valhalla. Some say he existed as early as the stone-age. Thor drove a great chariot, pulled by two giant, powerful goats. They symbolized thunder and lightning. Medieval legends say that the Devil created the goat. Satan himself often appeared with goat’s horns, and sometimes changed his shape completely into a goat. During the Sabbaths, he traditionally came as a three-horned goat, the middle one used as a lamp.

HARE Hares were strongly associated with witches.  The hare is quiet and goes about its business in secret. They are usually solitary, but occasionally they gather in large groups and act very strangely, much like a group of people having a conference. A hare can stand on its hind legs like a person; in distress, it utters a strange, almost human cry which is very disconcerting to the listener. Watching such behavior, people claimed that a witch could change her form at night and become a hare. In this shape she stole milk or food, or destroyed crops. Others insisted that hares were only witches’ familiars. These associations caused many people to believe hares were bad luck, and best avoided. A hare crossing one’s path, particularly when the person was riding a horse, caused much distress. Still, the exact opposite superstition claimed  that carrying a rabbit’s or hare’s foot brought good luck. There is no logic to be found in superstitions.

SPIDER They are tiny, menacing, and some are poisonous. Yet, they have always been admired for their wonderful weaving and their hunting ability. No wonder they were put on the list of witches’ familiars. Spiders could invade anyone’s house for the witch’s benefit. Also, they could hide in the witch’s clothing and talk to her while she went about her business, perhaps offering her some advice.

CROW The crow is almost too obvious. The medieval villagers considered it ugly, for some reason. Actually, it’s a beautiful, glossy black bird with a truly elegant shape, but there’s no accounting for taste. Perhaps they disliked the crow because it emits a hoarse cry rather than a song, and it’s obviously quite good at stealing things from farmers. The villagers thought the crow spied for the witch all day by flying anywhere it wanted, and then reported at night. And it could easily accompany her on her own flights to the Sabbaths.

BUTTERFLY Few people know how the butterfly got its name. The witch was supposed to change her shape into this insect. She then flew to the dairy, and stole milk, cheese and, of course, butter!

BEE The enterprising witch did not keep bees only for the honey. She didn’t really need that so much. What she wanted was the wax – to make images of her enemies and destroy them in image magic.

TOAD Toads were favorite familiars. They were dressed in velvet, given bells to decorate their legs, and were expected to dance to music (though it’s doubtful they ever did.)  The little horns on their head suggested the devil, and the witches used toad’s spittle in their ointments. Toads could predict storms by rushing quickly and suddenly into the water; they could hear the thunder long before humans could. In addition to all these marvelous qualities, old toads had precious jewels growing inside their heads, so it was worthwhile protecting a toad until it reached old age.  Of course no one ever saw one – there’s never any jewel in a real toad’s head – but people believed it was incredibly beautiful and protected the lucky wearer from poison.

Let’s step into the magic garden. The witch’s neighbors were quite certain you could recognize a witch by what grew in her garden. If you had a yard full of nightshades, monkshoods, thorn apples and henbanes, it really looked suspicious, because these plants were used to prepare the ointment that helped a witch fly.

The fact that the plants were also good for healing and cosmetic purposes meant little. And some of the plants were not even deliberately cultivated. Deadly nightshade was made into eye drops, monkshood was used to exterminate wolves, and thorn apples and henbanes just sprouted everywhere. They still do. But people found it more exciting to think of them as the witch’s tool of destruction.

It is interesting to note that so many of the plants in the witch’s garden are now recognized as hallucinogenic. All the nightshades, for instance, contain substances called tropane alkaloids. These alkaloids produce hallucinations and trance states. They are also toxic enough to produce insanity and even death if used in larger quantities. The use of hallucinogens go back to ancient Greece, Egypt and Rome. They were also used in Afghanistan, Africa, India and parts of the Middle East. People thought they could help in conjuring demons and as an aid to prophecy. The mixture of Belladonna, henbane and mandrake, when rubbed on the body, produces dreams about flying. These hallucinations feel so real, that many witches believed they really flew. They confessed that to their torturers during their trials, and were burned at the stake. The mixture also produced dreams of changing into animals. Some witches honesty believed they turned into fish or geese, and threw themselves into deep water. Some drowned.

The plants have a good, medicinal side. Henbane is a painkiller.  Belladonna is used as eye drops. They were part, in the hand of a good practitioner, of the entire herbal lore, much of which is still in use in medicine. However, the hallucinogens caused more trouble then good, and much of the bad name the Old Religion acquired is a result of using drugs. First, the preparations were given, in some covens, to young people just starting out as witches. The idea was to make the initiation easier and more interesting, but the result was a life-long addiction.  It also connected Wicca with the Satanists and with the followers of Voodoo, who used drugs freely. In the history of Witchcraft, these plants and preparations are possibly the worst habit some witches had. It must be noted, however, that not all covens used, or approved of the hallucinogens. Many witches realized that the use of drugs is one of the stupidest and most dangerous habits a human being can indulge in, then as well as now.

BELLADONNA Belladonna, the Deadly Nightshade, was the Devil’s favorite plant. Like many other busy persons, the Devil found relaxation in the hobby of gardening. He tended this particular plant every night of the year, except on “Walpurgis Night,” when he usually prepared for the witch’s Sabbat and neglected his hobby. So this was the night to go harvest some Belladonna, if you needed it. You got a black hen and let it lose. For an unexplained reason, the Devil could never resist a black hen. So he would go chasing it, away from the Belladonna. Now the plant could be harvested without danger to the person. Why should anyone want this poisonous weed, you might ask?  Well, if you rubbed it on your horse’s body, it would bring the animal great strength!  No record is left of the fate of all those black hens the Devil busily chased all over Europe. Hopefully, they found their way back to the chicken coops.

MANDRAKE The best mandrakes, people thought, grew under the gallows. A mandrake is a strange plant. The shape of its root looks just like a human being. It is lifelike and twisted, and many believed that a small demon lived in it. Capturing the demon brought great power, but it was extremely dangerous. The demon objected to having the plant pulled out of the ground. It caused him great pain, and his agonized shriek could kill the man who destroyed the plant. So a system had to be developed. First, the man stuffed his ears with wax. Then, he dug around the plant until only a few roots held it to the ground. Now he got a dog, attached one end of a long rope around its neck, and the other end around the plant. The man went a certain distance, and then held a plate of food toward the dog. The dog leapt toward the food, and in the process, released the mandrake from the ground. The dog was expected to sacrifice his life for the benefit of his owner. However, as the plant never really shrieked, or made any other effort to revenge its destruction, many dogs simply got a good meal out of it. The trick, now, was to bathe the root in wine and wrap it in silk. This pacified the demon, who now became the owner’s advisor. When all was said and done, the disappointment must have been terrible. After all, a root, no matter how weird it looked, could never talk to anyone, let alone give wise advice. So it was finally established that the tiny demons really preferred the company of witches to that of ordinary mortals.

ELDER TREE If the witch felt like drinking some milk, she entered the elder tree, traveled in it, and settled near someone’s cow barn. The long branches went into the barn during the night, and milked all the cows.

YEW TREE Even without the connection to witches, yew trees had many superstitions attached to them. It was best not to lie down under a yew, despite the nice cold shade. The tree would suck the life out of anyone, as soon as he or she fell asleep. In Sherwood Forest, as in all of England, Yew was used to make bows and arrows. Robin Hood used them all his life. When he was about to die from his wounds at his last battle, he asked his merry men for a favor. He wanted to shoot one last arrow and be buried where it landed. They brought him his old bow, and with a superhuman effort, Robin shot one arrow and died. The men went to look for it and found it had landed in an ancient graveyard, under a venerable yew tree. And so they buried Robin there, in the shade of the tree that gave him so much while he lived. Yew always grew in graveyards, anyway. People believed that the tree drank the poison from the ground which was infected by dead bodies. Naturally, it became known as the favorite of witches – they were known to spend much time in graveyards, anyway.

FIR TREE In Germany, as late as the nineteenth century, people danced around the fir during religious festivals. But the songs were not Christian – they dated back to pagan times. It was believed that an imp lived in the tree, a kind and benevolent spirit. The fir was decorated with lights, flowers, eggs and other such objects. Some believed this was the origin of the Christmas tree.

In the northern countries the respect for the fir is deep seated. It is considered the home for the mysterious King of the Forest. Some people still refuse to cut a fir tree, and if it falls by itself, perhaps during a storm, the wood is not sold, but given in charity.

The garden and menagerie described here were mostly European, but many interesting plants and animals belonged to other cultures. Some were strongly connected to various forms of sorcery.

THE BAROMEZ This combined plant/animal belongs to the Tartars, by the Caspian sea. The Baromez was a lamb. It had superb wool, silky and warm, much sought after. However, it wasn’t born the usual way. In the faraway land where the Baromez lived, certain “gourd trees” produced large fruit. At night, the ripe fruit opened, and the cute, tiny lambs jumped out of the fruit. They were attached to the fruit by an umbilical cord, so they could not free themselves from the tree. This was the job of the enterprising sorcerer/shepherd, who released the lambs, reared them and sold their wool – no doubt for a large profit.

DUCKS Not a particularly romantic animal, you would say. But if you were a sailor, traveling by an unspecified Pacific island, you may have changed your mind. A tree grew with its roots in the water. Giant fruit hung limply over the waves. A sorcerer or witch would come to the tree, sing a strange song, and suddenly the fruit began to open. Inside was fluffy, silky material, attached to the bill of a duck. The duck hung on for a while, drying its feathers in the strong sun. Then it dropped with a thud into the sea and swam away. The sorcerer either let it go or took it home, depending on the ritual needed.

BARNACLE GOOSE Well, if a duck, why not a goose?  A real goose, Branta leucopsis, caused trouble during the Middle Ages for both Rabbis and Priests. It nested in the Arctic, and was seen by sailors in grounds which were covered with large barnacles. Naturally, the sailors assumed the bird hatched from the barnacles. The rabbis had trouble deciding if the goose was a fowl, appropriate food for Orthodox Jews, or a Shellfish, forbidden to them. The priests had similar problem. Is it a fish, permitted during Lent, or a fowl, forbidden at this time?

MIRAJ The story of the Miraj comes from somewhere in the Indian Ocean, and it’s probably the funniest magical beast ever invented. It’s easy to imaging two or three hard working witches sitting over a cup of strong palm wine, discussing the hard times, wondering what new enterprise they can come up with. They must have had a good sense of humor, because the Miraj was a killer unicorn rabbit. It looked innocent enough. It was large, yellow, and had a long black horn in the middle of its forehead. The animals around it knew the danger, though, and ran for their lives whenever they saw it coming. The Miraj could eat anything, even animals much larger than itself, such as pigs and cattle. The witch’s job was to charm away and control the Miraj when she noticed one or two infesting the neighborhood. The villagers never saw a Miraj themselves, obviously, but they preferred to keep it this way. After all, what were they paying the witch for?  Every profession has its hazards, right?  Let the witch face the deadly killer unicorn rabbit!

 

Source:

Encyclopedia MYTHICA

Witchcraft – Chapter Six – Witchcraft in Isolated Societies

Witchcraft

Chapter six – Witchcraft in Isolated Societies

by Ilil Arbel, Ph.D.

In many isolated societies, the belief in Witchcraft has never died. The witches don’t hide their activities, and live as important members of the society. This happens in the Maori societies of New Zealand, the Barotse of Africa, and the Quiche of Guatemala. Among the people of the Marquesas Islands, witches are respected, but feared as well.

All of these societies believe that magic is neutral. The witches can heal or curse, depending on their character. Necromancy is widely spread, and the witches operate mostly at night.

Spells and incantations have particular power when the witch uses parts of the patient’s (or victim’s) body. Nail parings and hair are the best. If not available, the witch can use clothes that have been worn by the person. The strongest magical potions are produced from extremely unpleasant ingredients. The witch cooks the brains of dead babies, menstrual blood, bits of human bones, pieces of gravestones, powdered frogs and toads, and bats’ blood.

Obviously, all that is a low form of the Old Religion, corrupted over the long centuries. It’s not even particularly interesting, unless one is a student of anthropology. But some societies maintained a fascinating relationship to the Old Religion. Two forms are of particular interest. The first includes witches who lived surrounded by the modern world, but maintained the old ways. The second are the truly isolated groups.

An ancient group that has survived in Europe, almost intact, are the Basque witches. They live in the area between Northern Spain and Southern France. Those witches have maintained a system similar to the old covens; they have been relatively tolerated by the Catholic Church for centuries; and they observe a strict code when initiating new converts. Their order is headed by “La Señora,” an immortal woman who lives in a cave in the Pyrenees. This is clearly a description of the Mother Goddess in one of her many guises.

The Gypsies in England, at least those involved in Witchcraft, also have a woman as their leader, but she does not have to be immortal. When the leader dies, they “adopt” a new leader. Sybil Leek, the great English witch, was their leader for many years. Obviously, they worship a representation of the Great Goddess, a priestess, rather than the Goddess herself.

Voodoo has its stronghold in Haiti and the West Indies. It is a mixture of African religions and Catholicism, and embraces many gods. In Haiti the principal god is a Great Serpent. Others are Papa Legba, the guardian of death, and Ogoun Badagris, the “Bloody Warrior.”   However, Jesus and the Virgin Mary are just as important. They put the Christian Cross in every shrine, together with symbols of the pagan gods.

Much magic is performed. Necromancy and animal sacrifices play a part of the ritual. There is also a lot of spirit channeling and healing.

The zombies, or living dead, are controlled by a spirit called Baron Samedi. During rituals, he is represented by a plain wooden cross, preferably taken from a cemetery. The cross is dressed in a tailcoat and a tall hat.

When necromancy is performed, the Baron Samedi is invoked in a cemetery. Three people must be present. They dress the cross on the grave with Baron Samedi’s traditional clothes, and burn incense and herbs. Then they request his help. They know the Baron has arrived when the clothes on the cross flap as if disturbed by wind. Some actually claim to see him – a tall black man with white beard and eyeless sockets in his head, though he can see very well.

The participants ask the corpse various questions. If it answers them, the corpse is rewarded by a limited time as a zombie. The zombie acts as the servant of the people who raised him, and performs tasks for them.

An interesting cult exists in Brazil. It is  based on spirit possession, and the followers are mostly Afro-Brazilians. The gods had been brought from Africa, originally, but they adapted completely to Brazilian life.

To attend the ceremony, you don’t have to be a believer. With the usual Brazilian hospitality, anyone is warmly welcomed. The ceremony takes place in an open pavilion, with the sacred area inside a railing. Many chairs and benches are arranged for the comfort of the spectators. There are drums ready, and an altar with images of the gods and of Catholic saints. Under the altar there are various bowls containing wine, beer, palm wine, and some food. Stones are arranged there for the visiting spirits, who will sit on them and eat and drink the offerings before possessing the mediums.

The whole idea is the possession. With dance, song, drumming and the shaking of some gourd-like musical instruments, the spirits, called encantados, are invited to enter the bodies of the mediums.  Excited by the heat, the dance and the music, the mediums go into a trance. One by one, they are possessed by the spirits. The trance goes on almost all night.

Most followers of this system are poor and have extremely hard lives. They believe that the supernatural world helps them survive the difficulties of this world. The encantados enjoy entering the bodies of living beings, so becoming a medium is thus a responsibility of each person toward a specific spirit. They do not deny the Christian God – on the contrary, they believe he is the greatest power in the universe. They love Jesus and the Virgin Mary. But the little spirits of their old religion are much closer. They take an interest in the people’s lives, and should be given the pleasure of entering the bodies of the worshipers in return. It is a kind, warmhearted system, and like Witchcraft, interested in achieving results.

But the most important connection is the relationship to nature. Everything in nature is supposed to belong to the encantados – bodies of water, forests, animals and birds. In a charming modern addition, vacant buildings also belong to them, because they claim the land on which the vacant house was built. While the house is occupied, the encantados graciously allow the humans to use it.

It’s better not to make them angry. Like all spirits, if not treated properly, they resent it and may do some mischief. But they never kill or torment anyone. At worst, they hide your possessions, slam doors, scare you by whispering among themselves, or appear like phantoms. Generally, it is easy to enlist their help, and there is no need for official witches and sorcerers. Anyone can join.

Brazil has another form of worship, found mostly around the fishing and sailing areas. It centers around the goddess Iemanja. She is a powerful entity, original to Africa, but greatly transformed. Iemanja is the Queen of the Sea, protector of sailors and fishermen. All who die at sea go to her luxurious underwater palace, so the sailors prefer that to dying in bed. But she never drowns anyone herself. She is a kind, magnificently beautiful goddess, occasionally rising from the sea to greet the sailors. They sing songs in her honor at night, when the trail of moonlight shines on the water. The storytellers say this is Iemanja’s hair, floating on the waves. Obviously, Iemanja is a manifestation of the Great Goddess in one of her many forms.

The second form of isolated Witchcraft includes Shamanism n Siberia, the Eskimos, the aborigines of Australia and many Native American tribes.

The Shamans work like the traditional, Stone Age witches. They move between this world and the world of the spirits. The people rely on the Shamans to enter the dangerous supernatural world and act on their behalf.

The reindeer herders and the fishermen of Northern Asia live around the western shore of the Bering Sea. Most are nomads who live in felt tents. Imagine living such a hard life, surviving long, harsh and threatening winters. When the day’s work is over, there is nothing to do but huddle in a warm, dark tent. Watching the Shaman summon spirits, or have a contest with a disease-producing demon, is good fun. He is also responsible for retrieving your soul if you happened to have lost it through sickness, or if a demon has enticed it into the lower regions of nature. You can always trust the Shaman to get it back.

Shamans in this area have two guardian spirits. One is a kind, understanding spirit of a long-dead Shaman. The other is in the shape of an animal. He can be dangerous and tricky, but very useful.

The Shamans dress beautifully, the clothes made of skins and embroidered with the symbols of the trade. They usually carry a tambourine drum, ready to be beaten when summoning spirits.

At night, the Shaman puts out all the lights in the house or tent. He begins to sing and beat the tambourine. The songs start softly, and then, slowly, grow in intensity. The Shaman goes into a trance. Suddenly, the audience hears other voices, made by various spirits. The audience joins in the singing and drum beating, and starts imitating the sounds of the spirits. The Shaman then is possessed by the spirits, and under their influence gives their messages to the people. Eventually the spirits bid the people farewell. When the lights are on again, the Shaman will be found exhausted, perhaps even fainting, lying on the floor.

When going into the spirit world, the Shaman does it during the day. He is accomplishing this difficult adventure by being in two places at once. The body performs dances in this world, showing the audience what his soul is doing in the other world. The dance may show fights, discussions, or anything else that is happening to the soul. Once the purpose is accomplished, the soul of the Shaman returns to the body.

There are as many female Shamans as males, and there is a complete equality between the sexes. This is because a shaman is considered sexless, and even the males wear female symbols on their decorated clothes.

Anthropologists have often noted that many people do not wish to be shamans. It takes a certain character, and in many ways the personality resembles that of the witch. The Shaman is a loner who likes to spend much time in meditation, and usually has vivid dreams since childhood. Invariably, he or she is quite intelligent.

The similarities among Shamans defy geography. The native diviners of South Africa are recognized early, or may enter the life because of an illness or spirit possession. The same is done by Native Americans. The Woyo woman of West Africa must be possessed by a god, while still young, and chosen for the profession of a diviner. She cannot enter training without it.

The aborigines in Australia are strongly connected with magic and sorcery. Much of it follows the familiar lines, but one practice is of particular interest – death caused by sorcery. If a person committed a particularly horrible crime, the sorcerer places a curse to make him “half dead.”  The community withdraws from the person, and rites are performed, showing that he is no longer part of the living, but is now a member of the society of the dead. In almost all cases the person actually dies, probably from shock or the lack of desire to live under such circumstances. Add to that the deep-seated fear of sorcery, and a person has no chance to survive at all. Some researchers believe that this was exactly the way Stone Age people punished their criminals.

By observing those isolated societies, and comparing them to Stone Age Witchcraft, much can be learned about the development of the Old Religion. Obviously, the supernatural world plays an important part in many lives, then as well as now. The current follower of the Old Religion is still quite comfortable with this unseen world and its powers.

But the witch has never ignored this world. It’s impossible to separate the Old Religion from the living, breathing planet. The next chapter deals with Witchcraft’s immensely important relationship with the plants and animals. The love of nature is the core of the witches’ being – which is why they see themselves as the Guardians of the Earth.

Source:

Encyclopedia MYTHICA

Witchcraft – Chapter Five – Early America

Witchcraft

Chapter five – Early America

by Ilil Arbel, Ph.D.

The Colonial experience was entirely different from the European one. The settlers, many of whom came from crowded cities, suddenly encountered open land, deep woods and magnificent countryside. Experiencing nature for the first time had its threatening side despite the beauty. Hostile native population, years of failed crops and starvation, diseases and pirates were always there.

In addition, many of the settlers brought their old superstitions. The fear of the supernatural did not disappear just because the people moved to a new country. They saw “signs” in any natural event such as meteorites, comets, or thunderbolts. These poor people used fasting and prayer to relieve the fear and the sense of helplessness.

Unfortunately, they believed that evil witches followed them to their new home.  They had books about sorcery, written by people who knew nothing about the Old Religion. Some they brought from Europe, some they wrote in America. But unlike the Europeans, the settlers were not interested in complicated religious discussions. They just wanted to stop the witches from harming pigs, cattle, crops, and children.

Penalties for Witchcraft were the same as in Europe. However, the hysteria and mass executions did not occur, except later in Salem. Perhaps because of the sparse population,  the settlers were more careful about destroying human lives.

The settlers saw the witches in two ways. One view assumed that the witches were isolated individuals or members of a small coven. They meant to help themselves and harm others, mostly for material gain. The second view was truly bizarre. The witches, supposedly, were heretical members of a Satanic cult, intending to destroy the Puritan outposts in America.

This demonic view was accepted in New England, where the Puritan clergy considered themselves God’s chosen people. They managed to create a serious climate of fear in the population.

The most famous clergyman to hold that view was Cotton Mather. Apparently, he was neither a monster nor a lunatic, but an intelligent, educated man, with some medical as well as  religious knowledge. And yet, he talked about an “army of devils” ready to strike New England at any moment, and encouraged the settlers to fight a holy war against the powers of Evil.

Why did such an man give in to a ridiculous superstition?  First, as an orthodox Puritan, he believed that the Puritans’ worship was closer to God’s wishes than all other sect’s. Therefore, they represented a great threat to Satan himself. Satan, supposedly, could deal with any other Christians, but the Puritans were too holy for him. He just had to get rid of them. Second, Mather believed that America, without Christianity until the arrival of the settlers, was the Devil’s homeland!  Satan wanted to defend his kingdom against the newcomers.

Here is a direct quotation from Mather: “It was a rousing alarm to the Devil, when a great company of English Protestants and Puritans came to erect evangelical churches in a corner of the world where he had reigned without any control for many ages.”  Mather continues to say that the Native Americans were sorcerers and evil magicians.

As a result, about 95 percent of all American Witch executions were in New England. In other parts of the country, the settlers were kinder. They accepted witchcraft as a reality, but did not think about it as demonic conspiracy. They viewed witches as annoying, but not as threatening to life and society.

In Maryland and Virginia, Witchcraft was a felony, but the courts, somehow, did not take accusations of sorcery too seriously. Moreover, the accused were allowed to counter-sue their accusers for defamation of character. If found guilty, the accuser had to pay the “witch” a large sum of money. Naturally, this limited the accusations to very few. The most important reason to persecute witches, throughout history, was the prospect of material gain. If there was little chance of that, why bother?

The setters of New Netherlands, East and West Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware opened their territories as safe havens. It is a great credit to them, because they never really stopped believing that Witchcraft was dangerous. However, they did not let their fears turn them into howling, savage mobs.

To the average man and woman of the seventeenth century the Devil was very much alive. Many claimed they saw him in person. To one he appeared as a short black man with cloven feet; to another he came as a well-dressed gentleman; a third saw him as a white bird which promptly turned itself into a black cat. The most surprising description, given by an accused witch at Salem, was that he came to her as a little deer. One wonders how she knew that the harmless animal was the Devil!

He promised great rewards. To one young girl he offered money, clothes, and the opportunity to travel around the world. To an old woman he promised the position of Queen of Hell. Strangely, one farm girl asked him to do the chores for her – to drive the pigs out of the field and take out the ashes. He agreed. Considering that the Devil was the Prince of Hell, one wonders why the soul of a simple farm girl mattered so much to him. Who could imagine that the Devil would stoop to deal with garbage and pig swill just to get one person!  And yet they believed, and accepted, without the need for proof.

Sometimes he had a verbal agreement with his conspirators, but at other times he acted formally. He made a new witch sign a large black book with blood. Usually the Devil committed himself to help the witch until her death, but sometimes the contract lasted for a few years only.

After signing, the final act required placing the Devil’s mark upon the body of the victim.  The marks could be anything – birthmarks, moles, scars, or skin discolorations, and had to be insensitive to pain.

The older the person was, the easier it was to find marks on her. Age spots and warts made the older women doubly suspect. Also, in a new settlement, strong resentment existed against people who could not work very hard. An old woman, worn out by years of suffering and toil, could not produce. Throwing her in jail, where she would soon die from neglect, was a good way to get rid of her. Killing her directly was even better. If she had any property that could be confiscated, no matter how little, many were ready to point at her as a witch.

Supposedly, you had to agree to the contract of your own free will, as the Devil could not force anyone to make a pact with him. Some claimed that he tortured them before they agreed, but that was no excuse. To the Puritan clergyman, any amount of pain, even death, was better than serving Satan. And why didn’t the victim go right away to her minister for help?

The Sabbats didn’t exist in America. Unlike the Europeans, the Americans believed the witch operated alone, despite the demonic plan to overthrow the Puritan settlements. No gatherings were mentioned until the Salem incidents. But even then, the gatherings were just a few witches getting together. The biggest ceremony ever described involved no more than twenty-five witches. This is because a social gathering of any nature was frowned upon by the Puritans. A result of such a lifestyle was that the people never learned to get along. Endless fights arose among the people of Salem, and the attempt to create a social gathering among the girls started the rumors about the Witchcraft.

The most feared was the “sea witch.”  Supposedly, the witch could control the winds at sea. The settlers believed that when a witch was on board,  she often caused a storm to sink the ship. For some reason, they did not wonder why the witch would not be afraid of drowning herself when the ship sank. So the torture and hanging of old women on those ship was commonplace whenever a storm happened at sea. Often it was against the captain’s wishes, but the only way to prevent a mutiny was to allow the crew to have their fun. In one well-known case, an old woman denied causing the storm. She was stripped naked, tied to the mast, and exposed to the horrible gale and huge waves for the entire night. Somehow she didn’t die. In the morning, to end the torture and humiliation, she confessed to being a witch and was immediately hanged.

Possession roused the greatest fear. The Puritans believed that witches ordered demons to enter the bodies of their victims and torture them; that demons possessed all the mentally handicapped, the physically deformed, and the insane; that suicide was caused by possessing demons, who tortured the victim beyond endurance.  It’s incredible how little investigation was made into the character of the accuser, particularly if she was a young girl. In a society where men outnumbered women, the marriageable young woman became a valuable asset. She had many years of hard work in front of her, while the old witch, as mentioned above, outlived her usefulness.

This explains why the people in Salem were so eager to believe the hysterical girls who accused the witches. These girls could have had an unknown disease – perhaps epilepsy, or Huntington disease, which causes the same contortion of the body and convulsions as cases of “possessions.”  They may have had some mental illness based on their fear of Witchcraft. Or they could have been simply lying in order to get attention – common behavior for frustrated, lonely, young persons. And yet, no one questioned their motives.

Just before the outbreak of terror, Salem had a new minister, Reverend Samuel Paris, who was disliked by many of his congregation. A Harvard dropout, he worked most of his life as a merchant in the West Indies trade. Later he entered the clergy and obtained the Salem position, because other Clergymen didn’t want it. The inhabitants were constantly fighting and squabbling, and two former ministers resigned, unable to control the people. Parris did not endear himself to the population by his immediate request for a raise in salary and a land grant.

It was in this household that a group of young girls started to meet regularly. The notion of a social gathering for girls, so obvious and normal to us, was not so under Puritan regime. The only gathering allowed was in Church. But as the circle included the Reverend Parris’ nine-year-old daughter and eleven-year-old niece, it seemed harmless enough. However, it was not restricted to this age group. Some young women were in their teens, two were twenty years of age, and one was much older. This was Tibula, a West Indian slave. She wanted to amuse the girls by playing with a bit of magic from her Island home. She put the white of one egg in a cup to simulate a crystal ball, said some charms, and supposedly could see the face of your future husband in it.

Innocent enough. But the girls, brought up with an intense fear of the supernatural, saw it as a grave sin. They had to keep it as a secret, and even the youngest told nothing to their families. As the winter progressed, they played with more magic tricks with Tibula. Eventually, the strain of hiding such a horrible sin showed, and two of the girls went into seizures. Everyone who saw them immediately assumed it was demonic possession. The doctor, William Griggs, who was the uncle of one of the afflicted girls, said that the sickness had no physical and natural explanation. He decided it was caused by the evil eye of a witch. Reverend Parris leapt into action. He started rousing the villagers against the powerful witches who, he believed, lived among them.

The first suspects were Tibula and her husband. Tibula, for some reason, admitted that she had bewitched the girls, and named other conspirators. The accused were two women, Sarah Good and Sarah Osburn. As soon as the names were mentioned to the girls, they immediately said that yes, these were the witches that tormented them. Previously they had no idea who to blame, so obviously this should have been a clue to the villagers, but this was ignored. More girls became sick with “demonic” seizures.

Other witches, Tibula insisted, were involved, but she didn’t know who they were.  Parris decided that a body of witches stood ready to destroy all the good Puritans of Salem. They could be lurking anywhere, so many arrests were made. The girls agreed with any name that was mentioned to them, and came up with some names of their own. Rebecca Nurse, a woman who opposed Reverend Parris’ appointment as minister, was charged not only with bewitching the girls, but with the murder of several children who died some time before. Martha Corey, one of the few people to wonder about the girl’s motives, was arrested immediately. Tibula now claimed that Martha and Rebecca were the missing witches.

The jails filled to capacity. Sarah Osburn died without a hearing, still in jail. Tibula was sold to someone in Virginia. Sarah Good had a baby in prison. More people started accusing their neighbors, without the slightest evidence or proof. No one dared to object, because opposition caused immediate arrest. Other villages joined the Witch hunt.

Cotton Mather, watching all of it from Boston, was requested to prepare a document explaining the position of the church on sorcery, and suggesting legal procedures. The paper was called “The Return of Several Ministers.”  It insisted that the possessed persons be treated with all consideration and support, while the guilty treated decisively and harshly. Mather suggested extreme care in the conduct of the trials and the avoidance of noise and distractions.

Most important was his decision to use “spectral evidence” in court. If the vision of a witch appeared to the suffering victim, then that witch was guilty as charged. In other words, hallucinations were admitted as court evidence, and an alibi was, therefore, useless.  You could be in jail for months, but if a girl said you came to her in a vision and bewitched her, this was as good evidence as if you came to her in person.

People argued. After all, the Devil could have taken on the image of the accused witch, particularly if she was innocent!   Possibly, agreed Mather. But very unlikely and only in extraordinary circumstances. In most cases, the “specter of the witch” was the witch.

So the courts eagerly adopted spectral evidence as valid, even allowing ghosts that came back to report who murdered them. Included were the apparitions of six children who returned to earth, supposedly, to accuse Rebecca Nurse as their killer.

Mather’s request that silence and good behavior be maintained in court, was, of course, ignored. The possessed girls shrieked, fainted, pointed out new witches, and probably enjoyed their power tremendously. They were also encouraged in the “doctrine of fascination” which claimed that the witch could harm her victims by various acts done from a distance. For example, if the witch bit her lip, the girls howled that they felt she bit them, directly. The crowd went wild.

There is no point in describing each act and every trial. It was all an exercise in ignorance, stupidity and gullibility of a deluded population, frustrated by harsh living and a religion that offered no comfort or compassion. Fortunately, some “witches” escaped, but the town hanged twenty people, including old Rebecca Nurse and the new mother, Sarah Good. One old man was pressed to death – his tormentors put heavy weights on his body to crush him and make him confess. It took him two full days to die.

Eventually, the madness stopped.  Brave people like Robert Pike, who had also objected to the Puritans’ harsh treatment of Quakers, wrote against it.  John Foster, a member of the Governor’s Councils, joined him. Twenty-four inhabitants of Andover organized a petition. Judge Nathaniel Saltonstall resigned in disgust. They questioned the motives of the girls and particularly the validity of spectral evidence. Public opinion, always volatile in America, began to change.

Other states joined in the opposition. A group of New York clergymen denounced the Salem courts, particularly the spectral evidence, and the assumption that any good, normal person could suddenly start working for the Devil. The same was done in Connecticut.

It ended with a whimper. No one took responsibility for the horrors, and a theory was put forth to pacify the population. It said that all the participants, including accusers, judges, and jurors, acted not out of malice but were controlled by the Devil. He wanted, as suspected before, to destroy Puritan settlements. Therefore, he made it seem as if witches were working in the area, while in reality there were no witches there at all.

The residents of Massachusetts accepted it. To make them even happier, Queen Anne of England, who was consulted, absolved them of all responsibility, and only requested that care and moderation should be the style of the future. And so the good residents of Massachusetts regained their clear conscience. After all, the entire nightmare was not their fault. The Devil made them do it.

Source:

Encyclopedia MYTHICA

Witchcraft – Chapter Four – The Trials

Witchcraft

Chapter Four – The Trials

by Ilil Arbel, Ph.D.

To understand the connection between Christianity and the Old Religion, one must make the acquaintance of the Devil. Satan is an ambivalent fellow, and trying to figure out his character, origin, and relationship to God is difficult.

Here is a sentence from Isaiah, stating with authority that God created evil. “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I the Lord do all these things.”  Clear enough.  But if he was created by God, who is always good, how can the Devil be bad?

Again, God wants to be killed in the person of Christ. It is his design, and it is meant for the benefit of mankind. If so, why are those who execute Christ considered “Devilish” for so long?  They were doing God’s will!

God is all powerful and all good. However, if God wanted to create a world which was all good, and couldn’t do it, than he is not all powerful. If he didn’t want to make a world which was all good, than He is not all good.

How do you get out of that?  You create an Adversary, who is equal to God in power, and is in a constant struggle with Him. But that doesn’t work either. The notion is taken from Persian Dualism, and to true Christians, this is heresy. The solution?  God permits the Devil to operate and make man into a sinner. In other words, an evil principle is needed to test men’s faith. This solution works until you ask the next question. Why is the sinner punished for what is permitted by God?

This would lead nowhere. If you continue with the questioning, eventually you will hit the wall — it is so because the Church says that it is so. Well, heresy or not, the Adversary, permitted or otherwise, remained. He had to. He was badly needed.

The Devil has many forms. He has superhuman intelligence and cunning, though sometimes he can be tricked. He is a handsome fellow, unless he transforms himself into an animal or a monster. He can perform miracles. He has tremendous legal expertise. He has scientific knowledge and understands the nature of the universe — and the psychology of men and women. He can be, and often is, quite charming.

During those times, if you were a good Christian, you believed in him. For without sin there is no overcoming temptation, no salvation, no need of a Church. Without Satan, there is no Christianity.

On the other hand, Satan could not have existed without the Church. Pagans had no fear of magic in itself. They were aware of magic used for good or for bad purposes, but the power itself they considered neutral. Most importantly, it came from men and women, natural to humanity itself. So the gods, demigods, spirits, etc., could never have given birth to the powerful entity of Satan.

To Christians, supernatural powers should come only from God, as miracles. If the saints did not perform them, then a demon did. Shows of second sight, moving of objects without physical action, transportation by levitation and so on frightened them.

As the smaller spirits and demigods were changed into demons, only one entity was strong enough to assume the role of the Adversary. The Devil took the shape of the familiar horned god. Pan loved nature; he was one with the earth; he even looked right with his horns and hooves. He was perfect for the job, and he got it. The new “evil entity” and his hordes of demons were now ready to tempt and mislead mankind.

In 380, Emperor Theodosius declared that all his subjects had to become Christians. Anyone following a different religion was a heretic. The heretics were to expect penalties by an authority guided by divine wisdom. The Church didn’t only kill the heretic – his or her family and friends were also seized. Their property was confiscated. Anyone who opposed them was declared a disciple of the Devil.

Christians now felt free to desecrate any temple – a good excuse to loot. In the process, they destroyed an enormous amount of Pagan literature. This literature was irreplaceable, and its destruction left us with huge holes in our understanding of the period. The Church destroyed the theater and any nonreligious music; limited art to religious subjects; declared that science was the Devil’s tool. It ignored the natural world with all its wonders, and feared it as temptation for sin. Life was just a preliminary to the glory of the afterlife in Heaven.

In a world that closed upon itself and denied nature, the Witches were at a disadvantage even before the great trials. They were part of a different, threatening way of life. The Church declared a war on Paganism. In the name of saving people’s souls it prepared to kill any number of bodies.

For the body didn’t matter at all. Pain and suffering were good if they happened in the name of Christ.  The salvation of one’s soul depended on purity, celibacy, and iron obedience. So what if the body of the sinner was tortured, or even killed?  Only the soul mattered. In one document, a priest declared that if an innocent person was executed, it didn’t really matter. God will recognize his own and the person will go directly to paradise. The brief, sad life on this dreary, sinful world did not count. From the 11th century on, the Catholic Church had many rival religions. They included Manicheans, Catharists, Waldenses and Albagenses. All were Christian, but the Church declared they were heretics. For various reasons, they also included Witchcraft, so to be a witch meant to be automatically a heretic.

Part of the crusade against witches was the spreading of wild rumors about their immoral and unnatural activities. The Church accused them of flying on broomsticks, having demon lovers, and murdering Christian children. It was quite a successful campaign, and brought a large number of women, some of them teen age girls or even children, to the stake.

The professional witch hunter made a very good living. There is a story about Matthew Hopkins, a professional witch hunter during the time of Puritans. The man developed a practical and quick system of destroying his victims. He would go into a village, find out who was unpopular with the Puritan regime, and report them. They would be tortured for a confession, and Hopkins would be paid per head for each conviction. The victims almost always confessed, since death was preferable to weeks of continuous torture.

Most of the victims, of course, had nothing to do with the Old Religion. They never saw a coven or an initiation ceremony. They may have known a little herbal medicine and possibly talked to their cats – strong evidence in those days. Enough to put them on the rack or burn them at the stake.

In 1318 and again in 1320, the Pope brought Witchcraft under the jurisdiction of the Inquisition. The inquisition, as usual, was ready to eradicate any heretic, so the witch trials expanded. Women were made to confess to crimes that were everything the Old Religion abhorred. People would say anything under torture, and the torture was too horrible to describe in a book such as this. The women confessed, under this horror, the orgy-like nature of the Sabbats. They admitted to submitting themselves to intercourse with the Devil – often described as taking the shape of a male goat!  They admitted to casting spells that harmed their neighbors’ health, domestic animals, or crops; of using human body parts, even children’s, in their magical brews; of cannibalism, particularly involving newborn babies; of giving birth to the children of demons. All that and more – from people who worshiped Nature, who were the guardians of the sacred earth.

As the hysteria continued, the Pope sent two Dominican inquisitors, Kramer and Sprenger, to Germany. The two men wrote a book together, considered at the time the best textbook on Witchcraft. The name of this book was, in Latin, Malleus Maleficarum, which means The Witch’s Hammer. It is still available today, in the translation of Montague Summers. Summers was one of the few twentieth-century men to believe that the witches got what they deserved. He later wrote a book of his own, The History of Witchcraft, explaining the wickedness of Witchcraft. His book is a mind-boggling piece of superstition, ignorance and hate. As Summers was an educated man, a respected man of the Church, the book throws light on the obvious question: “How could they?  How could men of God torture and kill in the name of such nonsense?”  Read The History of Witchcraft. It’s worth it. You’ll understand what a Grand Inquisitor was really like.

The Malleus Maleficarun is horrifying. It explains the depraved nature of the Witch. It permits, even encourages torture, as means of extracting confession. It approves of life imprisonment for the repenting witch, and death to the unrepenting. It explains a sudden insanity as demonic possession – thus allowing the torture of the insane, a practice that lasted for centuries. The worst of it is that it is calmly arranged as a logical, clear, methodical, legal text.

This monstrous book extended its influence until the middle of the 18th century. Even Martin Luther was interested in it. Despite his objection to much within the Catholic Church, he believed in the Devil, and had, apparently, a confrontation with him. There is a story, substantiated by an ink stain in the castle of Wartburg, that the Devil tried to harass Luther. Luther threw his ink bottle at him. One wonders about his state of mind and his hallucinations.

Interestingly, Luther thought that witches rarely attended any Sabbats. According to Montague Summers, he held that witches generally hallucinated it under drugs or in a trance, but not always. On rare occasions, he thought, the Sabbats actually took place. Obviously, Luther couldn’t make up his mind. At any rate, he did not object to the witch hunts or the executions. Perhaps he didn’t care much.

There are always those who try to stop the madness of mobs. They are the enlightened, the brave, the true heroes of their time. The philosopher Giordano Bruno, for instance, burned at the stake for saying what St. Augustine said before — that witches were just sadly deluded women. Great doctors like Paracelus, Johan Wier and Thomas Syderham risked their lives to fight it.

To end the madness, it took an inquisitor who could no longer tolerate it. Alonso Salaza y Frias, after a mass execution in Navarre, decided to do an investigation of his own. When it was finished, he openly declared that all the victims of this particular execution were innocent. He then refused, officially, to accept any further accusation without tangible proof. During trials, he would allow no torture. The property of the accused witch would no longer be confiscated.

The public lost interest. Without the pleasure of seeing a woman humiliated and tortured to death, and without the hope of material gains, what was the point of accusing anyone?  And you had to supply proof!  What an innovation!  No doubt, some bemoaned the good old days, when all you had to do was point at someone you didn’t like and wail: “witch!”

In England, they pretended they did not use torture, but some of their methods were so near it that the distinction is not clear. They were actively hunting witches for centuries, but eventually, in 1712, one witch was convicted but not executed. The British, like the Spanish, began to lose interest in the spectacle of horror. In Scotland the last burning was in 1727. In Germany, the last execution was in 1628. In France, it was stopped by a law passed in 1682. Europe began to emerge from the darkness.

The horror story is not yet over, though. Witchcraft in early America will be dealt with in the next chapter. While fewer people were executed in this country, it is probably the worst example, since the immigrants came here to escape oppression.

Folk medicine:

  • A lynx’s claw.
  • A weasel’s bones.
  • Snakes’ vertebrae.
  • Iron pirate pieces. If struck over the body of a sick person, the striking of the pirate will clear both physical and mental diseases and the effect of the evil eye.
  • Charcoal of an aspen tree. In today’s folk medicine, the charcoal is useful if the tree was hit by lightning. It is possible that the aspen in the grave was burned in the same way.

Magic items:

  • Horses’ teeth.
  • Twigs of a rowan tree.
  • An iron knife.
  • A sword.

The old Scandinavian Sagas describe activities of witches which are still part of today’s ceremonies. They also tell the usual stories – shape changing, riding on poles, or sending the soul out of the bodies.

Another interesting ancient connection exists in Mexico. A witch cult there was centered around a goddess, or a “Witch Queen.”  She always carried or rode a broom. The broom, to the Mexicans, symbolized purity and cleanliness. This is particularly important because the Medieval European witch considered cleanliness and order essential. Her contemporaries rarely bathed, and kept food debris on their straw-covered floors for weeks. The witches in Mexico, just like the European ones, always wore big necklaces. Men wore the same kind of leather apron as the Irish male witches.They worked in small rooms to confine the power – much like the circles of power of the European witches.

There is no explanation to the similarity. Some historical researchers believe that perhaps people traveled across the Atlantic before Columbus, and introduced the Old Religion to Mexico. Or perhaps the needs of Witchcraft created similar evolution wherever and whenever it was practiced.

Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome treated magic as if it was science. Not that they were particularly concerned with pure science; they were more interested in practical results. However, they had to know the medicinal and poisonous properties of hundreds of plants; they knew how to use hypnosis; they understood human consciousness. The magicians combined their practice with incantations and prayers, which is why today’s scientists do not take them seriously. But they were not much different. When achieving an identical result, today’s scientist credits it to reasoning or experimentation. The sorcerer assumed they were given by a supernatural power.

Some great scholars in Greece worked as sorcerers. Pythagoras, the mathematician, openly practiced philosophy, science and magic. He had a strong influence on Plato, not himself a sorcerer, but clearly a believer. One can see that in his Dialogues Aristotle suggested the influence of the magical theory in his History of Animals. Neither he nor Plato feared the magicians, though many other people did. Obviously, they understood, with their better education and sharp minds, what the sorcerers were doing.

Finding the roots of Ancient Greek Witchcraft and Hellenistic Witchcraft is easy. One has simply to look at their great holidays. Take, for example, the Eleuisian holiday which attracted thousands of people. Much like the May holiday participants in the British Isles, the Greeks had games, theater, wine, food, dancing and music. Everyone was at least half drunk and ready for religious ecstasy. Mystical rites included the purging of the fear of death, the procession in honor of the dead, and the wild, whirling dancing. People fell into trance-like states, many acting as if they were in direct communication with the gods. It was similar to Voodoo possession – or to the ancient shaman/witch union with the unseen forces. Naturally, some people were better at it than others, and some became priests and priestesses.

The best known priestesses were those who worked at the Oracle of Delphi. They dedicated their lives to the gods and practiced prophecy and divination. The priestess sat over a cleft in the rocks, from which fumes of various drugs rose to envelop her body. The drugs brought on a trance state, and under it she told the future. Another priestess or priest had to explain the messages, because often they were hard to understand. Many of the prophecies came true, and the practice lasted thousands of years. It is silly to dismiss the whole thing as a lie, as the Catholic church later tried. Ancient Greece was a culture of sophistication, intellect and learning. Could a handful of priests really trick these people for so long?

The god Pan is another connection with witchcraft. In the Dianic tradition of Witchcraft, one of the schools still active today, the horned god is still named Pan. Is it the same deity? There are some differences. But this happens to every ancient religion. Take the Judeo-Christian tradition. The current merciful God is very different from the angry desert deity that took the Israelites out of Egypt and into Canaan, destroying entire nations in His path. And yet any Priest, Minister or Rabbi would be horrified if you dared suggest that it was another God – Jehovah is Jehovah! Well, Pan is Pan. Then and now, he is a nature god, a part of every living animal and plant. And he is still with his goddess and with those who call themselves the Guardians of the Earth.

Shape changing was common in Greece, too, as seen by both mythology and literature. Zeus’ love affairs are famous for it. He changed into a swan, a bull, or even a shower of golden rain, as the occasion demanded. Also, the famous book The Golden Ass, by Apuleius of Madaura tells of such a change. It is a story of Greek man who, with the help of an untrained witch’s apprentice, turns himself accidentally into a donkey. After many misadventures, the goddess Isis restores him from the animal shape and he becomes her priest.

There are several great Greek witches. Medea is probably the most famous witch of antiquity. She is strong, possibly insane, and murderous. Hecate is first a moon goddess, then a witch goddess who rules the nights and all its frightening creatures. Circe is a sorceress who turns her lovers into swine when she tires of them. All the Greek stories of the great, power wielding, magnificent witches view them as evil. This is because they were, originally, priestesses of the Old Religion, worshipers of the mother goddess. The “new” Greek religion saw them as competition and turned them into evil hags, as most cultures do. For further proof, the texts often stress the witches’ knowledge of herbal medicine and magic – the obvious traits of the followers of Wicca, then as now.

The Romans used much magic in their daily lives. They employed magical astrology, and used amulets, incantations, healing and cursing formulas.

The Romans had an interesting device, very similar to today’s Ouija board. It was a metal disk, supported by a wooden tripod. On its rim, the letters of the alphabet were inscribed. The person performing the ritual suspended a ring on a thread, right above the disk. Some incantation was said, and the ring began to swing like a pendulum, forming words and answering questions.

The Aeneid describes magic extensively. Dido, the tragic heroin, is a powerful sorceress whose magic eventually turns against herself, much like Medea’s in Greece. Horace’s plays describe evil Witchcraft, including some horrifying ritual murder of children. Other Roman poets describe necromancy and divination. Obviously, witches in Rome had a bad reputation.

Romans, as a nation, enjoyed cruelty. One has only to look at their arena games and war atrocities to see that. The stories about the witches reflect that taste. Unquestionably, some Roman witches turned to the dark side. The records show that their help was often used for poisoning, necromancy, and even attempts at raising of the dead and the creation of zombies. It was a sad period for true followers of the Old Religion.

In Egypt, magic was entirely scientific. It was mixed with religion, but nevertheless practiced as a precise and organized activity. From the mythologies and magic books it is clear that they had a system of the Occult based on subjects. There are separate texts on astrology, alchemy, formulas for magic in daily use, etc. The practitioners were specialists. The ordinary people, in addition to consulting the experts, could also purchase amulets and herbs for self protection and do-it-yourself magic.

Repeating the magic formula in exactly the same way, even down to the tone of voice, was called “right speaking.”  The Book of the Dead stated that the gates to the other world would not open to a person who did not know his secret name or who uttered it incorrectly. The name of each gate in the other world also required correct reading and pronunciation.

The Egyptians had many books containing formulas and incantations, spells and charms for daily use. Amulets were important. They were worn by the living and put on the dead. Amulets could be made of any material and sometimes carved with magic formulas. Some shapes were particularly popular, such as the scarab and the heart. The Egyptians even had amulets to protect each part of the body. The books often mention dreams and shape changing. For example, there are spells in the Book of the Dead teaching the newly deceased how to change into birds, crocodiles, or serpents.

The positive image of the witch lasted for generations. Eventually, however, patriarchal monotheism took over in the West, first by Judaism and later by Christianity. With it, the position of the witch deteriorated. The Bible often refers to witches in a negative manner. They are always fiercely persecuted by the priests of Jehovah. Most notable is the Witch of Endor, who is consulted secretly by King Saul. The story is interesting because  Saul killed  many witches on the demand of the Prophet Samuel. She is one of the few survivors.

Earlier, Moses and Aaron practiced Egyptian magic, described in detail in Exodus. They turned a stick into a snake, for instance, during a competition with the Egyptian magicians. The plagues visited on the Egyptians, including such things as pestilence and darkness in the middle of the day, sound like malevolent Witchcraft. Naturally, the Bible describes the plagues as punishment by God.

King Solomon, David’s son, was supposed to be the wisest man of his generation, perhaps the wisest ever to live on Earth. He was a magician as well. The book The Wisdom of Solomon was written many years after his death, but much of it is probably based on his words. In it he said that God gave him power and knowledge, and that his studies included not only science but the Occult. In the original text, this included power over demons. The sentence was mistakenly translated as power over the winds, because the two words are similar in the original Hebrew. He also claimed knowledge of exorcism.

Nevertheless, the Bible is determined that no witch should be permitted to live. The reason is simple. A witch is not only a worshiper of a competing religion, but a symbol of a matriarchal society. A society ruled by women is offensive to the male-dominated Jews and Christians. So the settlement of the Israelites in Canaan is the point in time in which the power of the Old Religion began its slow decline. It has taken many centuries and a fierce struggle, but a gentle nature religion is no match to the powerful, military, new religion. Starting from Mount Sinai, a fiery volcano in the desert, the Judeo-Christian creed swept everything in its violent path and conquered the Western world.

 

Source:

Encyclopedia MYTHICA

Witchcraft – Chapter three – Under Early Christianity

Witchcraft

Chapter three – Under Early Christianity

by Ilil Arbel, Ph.D.

As we begin to examine the relationship between the Old Religion and the Catholic Church, one thing must be clear. This book is not an attack on the Catholic Church. The Church, as we know it today, is a wonderful organization. It is charitable, supportive of many great institutions and a patron of learning. Naturally, no one can agree with everything the Church does or thinks. We are entitled to disagreement, which, in turn, boosts progress. However, while part of the historical clash of the religions is painful, it is not told as criticism of the Church today. Over many centuries, the Church evolved into the larger and richer organization we now know.

In addition, many of those responsible for the terror of the Witch Trials were more administrators than men of God. They wanted property and power. Much like some corrupt politicians, they thought that the end justified the means. On the other hand, some Christians truly believed in the influence of the Devil, believed it with all their hearts, and thought that by tormenting the body they saved the soul. It is difficult to understand, in our century, how deeply superstitious most Medieval people were, and how much the supernatural threatened their lives.  Many acted out of ignorance and terror.

In 906, Regino, abbot of Prum, wrote an interesting document. It became known as the Canon Episcopi. Few documents in history were so misunderstood; few caused so much violence.

Regino described the habits of some misguided women who believed in their own hallucinations and illusions. These women thought that the Pagan Goddess, Diana, flew them over great distances. At those faraway places, they worshiped her and her husband, the Devil. Regino, a compassionate man, made it clear that he believed the Devil himself was responsible. The Devil made the poor women think that what happened in their dreams really took place.

Sure, Regino was frustrated by the women’s stupidity – how could they think that any god could exist away from the one true faith, Christianity?  However, not for a moment did he believe in the flights, the Sabbaths, or anything else the women said they had done.

Until that time, the Church Fathers felt the same way, accepting Witchcraft as a stupid hoax. After all, how could an illiterate bunch of women have power over God’s world?  Nonsense!  Any good Christian, using the name of Jesus, could get rid of the tricks of a witch. St. Augustine, for example, heard that witches turned men into donkeys by feeding them magical cheese. He thought it was funny. To the people who told him the story, he said that such events must have been hallucinations or jokes.

Of course the Church did not approve of Witchcraft. The women who worshiped Diana were sinful Pagans who tried to cheat good Christians. But they were powerless. Only God had power over humanity.

If only they stuck to these views. If only there was no connection made between Witchcraft and Dualism. Dualism was a belief that gave real power to evil as represented by Satan. The horned God of the witches, as you will see later, looked very much like Satan. If this connection was not made, perhaps humanity would have been spared the carnage of the witch trials.

But the Church didn’t understand Regino and disagreed, eventually, even with its own early Fathers. The Church took Regino’s document and twisted the meaning around. For six centuries they read it as an admission that the women actually flew to worship at the Sabbaths.  Interestingly, Regino didn’t even mention Witchcraft in the document.  What he asked was that the clergy would preach that such ideas are false. A gentle man, all he wanted was to convince those women to desert Paganism and embrace Christianity. Poor Regino. Had he seen the tortured and murdered victims, he would have been horrified.

For in the early centuries of Christianity, Paganism was not suppressed; Christians and Pagans lived side by side.  They did it for so long, that Christians took over some of the Pagan gods, holy places and customs, in order to reconcile people to the new religion. Pope Gregory the Great, for instance, went as far as ordering the placement of Christian relics in Pagan shrines. He hoped that the people would gradually begin to think that the old god was a new saint. Pagan feast days were used for Christian holidays. Christmas, perhaps, is the most notable example.  In the Bible, the exact date of Christ’s birth is never mentioned. So they placed it right over an important pagan holiday.

Those gods that did not become Christian saints were turned into demons. However, many new converts to Christianity continued to worship them side by side with the new God. One Saxon king had a temple with two altars, one for Christ and one for the “Devils.”  If you look carefully at Christianity now, so much of the Pagan still remains – the dove, the lamb, the sacred fish symbol, the ever-burning fire, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the Baptism – all were, once, Pagan symbols.

As far as the 12th century, priests complained that in Ireland, the people worshiped Pagan Deities. In England, even some monks were caught worshiping Diana in woodland shrines. This continued up to the 14th century. About the same time, the poet Petrarch, while visiting Colonge, saw women performing Pagan rituals. Old habits die hard, country people are conservative, and the transition was not as easy as the Church would have it.

A 6th century Portuguese monk, acting as a missionary, complained that the women worshiped their “devils” quite openly. The interesting thing here is that the monk believed in the existence of those devils. He said the woods, streams, rivers and meadows were full of the devils, and he saw them with his own eyes!

To entice the women to the new faith, churches were built over the old holy places. In the British Isles, they were built over the shrine of Astarte in Northumberland, of Diana in Bath, of Mithras in York. In Spain, they built them over sacred mounds. Still, the women did not accept them. The priests complained that the women brought their old habits into the new churches anyway – they sang, they danced, they performed strange rituals.

Many chieftains accepted the new faith because politically it was advantageous.  Some men followed. There was a good reason why the women stuck harder to Paganism —  the Church despised women. According to the Bible, women caused the Original Sin. The Church considered them weak, stupid, faithless, and hardly above beasts of burden. They had no rights, no protection, no dignity. In almost every way, they were slaves. The strong women of the Old Religion, the priestess, the Witch, the teacher, the healer, became the enemy of all that was sacred.  How could they accept Christianity?

Diana’s cult remained so widespread, that the Church viewed her as an arch rival. Eventually they started to refer to her as the “Queen of the Witches.”   Occasionally they attempted to include her in the Church, like so many of the saints. But they soon realized it was impossible. The Grand Inquisitor Torquemada, the most famous, or infamous, of them all, declared that Diana was the Devil.

Naturally, a secret religion that allowed a woman an important place, appealed not only to the hereditary witches, but to many converts as well. Recruits were never welcomed, though, as they were always potential spies. So the religion went underground almost totally and became a secret society. Many of the people that were later tortured and killed had no connection whatsoever to the Old Religion. The real followers knew, from long experience, how to hide.

This was a strange time. Many new sects came into being, and both Paganism and Christianity influenced all of them. To many people, Jesus himself was a magician. He exorcized demons. He healed the sick by “laying on of hands.”  He raised the dead and made predictions. He claimed Divine Origin and Virgin Birth. It is true that he never tried to prove himself, and claimed all his power came from God. He didn’t want to be thought of as a magician. But to the common people it mattered little.

To understand those times a little better, two sects should be examined – Gnostics and Kabbalists.The Gnostics were not really Christians, and the Church did not approve of them. They were people who wanted peace, mysticism, and a chance to think about the universe. Most of them lived in the wilderness. Unfortunately, the Church destroyed much of their writing with the usual thoroughness. That left us with only partial knowledge of their nature.

The Gnostics disliked the world. They did not believe God created it himself, as He was not interested in creating anything. He was totally removed from any matter, and existed in a realm which was beyond matter. A split in the Godhead had occurred at some point. This split they called The Fall, and it somehow created a demon, called the Demiurge. The Demiurge created the Universe. Some said he did it with the help of Sophia, the feminine side of God. The Demiurge also created six other demons, called Archons, to help him in his work.

To make matters worse, the Demiurge had completely forgotten about The Fall, and believed himself to be the only God. With the help of his Archons he created Man. Man, therefore, is created and trapped by a god who has deluded himself. In other words, God is crazy. Man’s only hope to escape to his true home and the true God is through  knowing the true state of affairs. The word Gnosis, which is what the name of the religion is based on, means Knowledge.

Naturally, the denial of the Christian God did not endear the Gnostics to the Church. And the Demiurge was admirably suitable for identification with Satan. Evil by nature, a fallen angel, self-deluded and cunning at the same time – what could be better?  Heresy!  Kill the Gnostics!

Now, you could ask, where is the connection to Witchcraft?  Gnosticism is a totally different religion, isn’t it?  It does not love the world; it despises nature and its beauty; the earth is a place to escape from rather than enjoy. Nothing in common, right?  Wrong. Religious teachings can always, but always, be twisted around to benefit someone.

This time of furious faith was the golden age of the magicians, and many of them had Gnostic influence. For example, take Simon Magus – a very successful magician.  Simon Magus may have been a native of Samaria. At any rate, he was working there during the time of the Crucifixion. His following, however, continued as far as the 4th century CE and spread far and wide.

Simon was impressed by the apostle Philip’s cures and exorcisms. He decided to be baptized, but saw Christianity more like a magical system than a new religion. He probably didn’t care much about the distinction, being of a practical rather than a spiritual nature. His intention was to buy the apostle’s secret of “laying on of hands” for healing. Very understandably, he thought it was a great magic trick.

Unfortunately, it offended the apostle Peter, who disliked Simon Magus immediately. On their first meeting, Peter rebuked Simon for trying to buy the apostles’ secret. Incidentally, this is where the word “simony” is derived from – buying and selling of priestly gifts or powers. Simon, who considered all of them professional magicians, could not see what was wrong in buying a perfectly good trade secret for a fair price. He probably thought Peter behaved like a pompous hypocrite, but being a particularly pleasant man, Simon took the rebuke with good grace.

Simon’s writings show a lot of female imagery. Paradise, for example, he described as the “womb.”  The imagery links him strongly to the Old Religion.  Unlike Jesus, he never objected when people called him a magician. After his death, his successor called himself Nenander, meaning Moon-man. Neander claimed to be the reincarnation of Simon himself. In later centuries, one of the great objections made against Simon Magus was his acceptance of women as equals. In true Wicca tradition, he viewed the power of the gods as shared between male and female.

He had a disciple, a Phoenician sorceress called Helen. With her he established a sort of trinity in which he was the Father and the Son, and she was the Holy Ghost. So in actuality, he adapted the new religion to his own views. He and Helen were worshiped, though, in front of statues of Zeus and Athena. So he certainly appealed to the Pagans as well.

Helen was worshiped in many forms by the followers, particularly as Sophia, the Gnostic Virgin of Light and wisdom. So here was a strong connection to Gnosticism. She was also claimed to be Mary, Mother of Jesus, and occasionally Mary Magdalene. It was all completely mixed.

Simon Magus, despite his bizarre activities, does not come across exactly like a charlatan. Rather, he operated like a Shaman. True, he did practice some necromancy and even said he had created a human being from thin air and a wandering soul. But these improbable tales were probably just plain advertising and increased business. And many people benefited from his healing.

His end is shrouded in mystery. The legend said he had a contest with the apostle Peter, in front of the Emperor Nero, who was an admirer of Simon. He proved his powers by flying at great height. Peter, supposedly calling on God, broke the spell and sent Simon down to his death. Considering the fact that the flight was probably staged with wires, and that Peter must have tampered with the mechanism, it is interesting that no one ever charged Peter for the murder of Simon Magus.

The second sect to be examined is The Kabbalah. There are many arguments as to when it started. The Kabbalah is Jewish mysticism. It is secret knowledge, forbidden to most people. To study it, you had to be a scholar, male, over forty years of age and married. Otherwise, you were never allowed to touch it. This patronizing attitude was justified by saying that it presented a danger to lesser beings – such as unmarried men or any women. It is available to anyone today, and is extremely interesting. Some good introductory books will be mentioned in the bibliography. For the student of Witchcraft, it is a valuable subject.

Some scholars say that one of the major books, the Zohar, was written in 1275 by the Spanish Kabbalist Moses de Leon. But it is obvious the date means only that it was written down on paper at that time. In oral tradition, it existed much earlier. Some sources believe the Kabbalah was practiced at the time of the early Gnostics. Others go back even further. There is no way to prove it, but the material gives the impression of extreme antiquity.

The similarity between Witchcraft and Kabbalah is astounding, and is often overlooked, mostly because researchers try to pin the origin of Kabbalah on Gnosticism. True, there is a great similarity between Gnosticism and Kabbalah. This is because Gnosticism, as well as Kabbalah, had much of their origin in the Old Religion, but the Old Religion existed thousands of years before either of them.

The format of The Kabbalah is misleadingly simple. The base is a diagram of the sacred tree of life;  it is made by ten circles joined by twenty-two lines. The ten circles are called Sephiroth in Hebrew. The word means “the emanations of God.”  Each soul undergoes a fall from the top circle, the Godhead, through the other circles, each representing a stage of creation, into our world and an earthly body. Then, the soul has to work on its climb back into the Godhead, using the astral body, or the body of light, as its vehicle. The creative Godhead is all pure thought. It is split in two, male and female, so the tree is represented by a female side and a male side, equal in power and necessary for the maintenance of the world.

Through various techniques of devotion, meditation, and concentration, it is possible to release the soul. Then, by using the tree of life, you can travel the universe through the twenty-two paths (those lines that connect the ten Sephiroth). Much can be learned that way.

Another great Kabbalistic similarity to Witchcraft is the “Gimatria.”   This is a system of conversion of words into numbers, and then back into other words of the same number. It sounds simple, but it allows the practitioner to use words of power. Particularly important are the forbidden names of various angels or even, at the ultimate, the unmentionable name of God. The use of language is extended to various formulas and the manipulation of words – very much like magic spells.

One such charm is open to anyone and is quite useful. It is not magic and has no true mystery. It deals directly with your subconscious and could enhance your success with various projects and goals. And yet it is so ancient that it goes back to the invention of writing itself – when the written word was power. Try it.

Take a peace of paper, and in the shortest possible way, write down a sentence that represents a goal. Let’s say  you want to be a professional artist some day, but have very little time to paint or draw, because of your school obligations, part-time job, social life, or sports. You regret that, because you know that to be an artist you must work at it. So write “I AM A GREAT ARTIST.”  Now cross out letters so that each letter appears only once. Here are the steps:

  • “I” is removed. You now have I AM A GREAT ARTST
  • “A” is removed. You now have I A M GRET RTST
  • “M” appears only once.  “G” appears only once. No need      to touch them.
  • “R” is removed. You now have I A M G R E T T S T
  • “T” is removed. You now have I A M G R E T S
  • “S” appears only one. No need to touch it.

After you do that, you will end with this bizarre word “IAMGRETS” which obviously is meaningless. Stare at the word very intently for a long time. Carry it with you. Stare at it often. It sinks, eventually, into your subconscious. You will find that in a few weeks you’ll be doing some unexpected things. Perhaps you will step into an art supplies store and buy those water colors you promised yourself last spring. Or maybe you’ll find yourself drawing caricatures of your teachers at class (not a good idea – beware of being caught). Or you will have an idea of sketching something as part of a school project, perhaps an experiment in biology, which suddenly looks much better when presented graphically. It works every time. This is a small example of Witchcraft at its practical best.

Well, it can’t be denied that Witchcraft does work. But the horror of the next few centuries was not based on practical little magic things like that.  Nor was it about the love of nature and its worship. It was about humanity’s relationship with a nonexistent entity who had many names.

 

Source:

Encyclopedia MYTHICA

Witchcraft – Chapter two – The Dawn of Witchcraft

Witchcraft

Chapter two – The Dawn of Witchcraft

by Ilil Arbel, Ph.D.

Good hunting and fishing determined the survival of the Stone Age tribe. A little later, the number of domestic animals and the success of crops meant life or death. The tribe also needed many children. They had to replace those who died in infancy and early childhood, and few people lived beyond their thirties.

A division of labor existed from the earliest societies. Men hunted and fished. Women gathered food and cared for the children. Men had a male god, who controlled the hunt. The god wore horns or antlers, representing his power over the prey. Women worshiped a great mother goddess. She insured fertility and controlled the magical and medicinal powers of plants. Later, when agriculture was developed, both god and goddess protected the domestic animals and the crops. A priestess and a priest worked together as the representatives of the gods. They had ceremonies to influence the gods to help the people.

Slowly, the ideas of an afterlife and reincarnation began to emerge. The horned male god took on the additional feature of the god of death. The female goddess added the moon and its cycles to her domain. They were united in a sacred marriage, and shared fertility rites.

Their myth, still alive today, is simple. The goddess represents life. The god represents death. Life and death are a continuous cycle. The cycle contains three great truths – loving, dying, and reincarnating to live again. Magic controls all of them. To fulfil love, one must be born, unite with the loved one, die, and reincarnate. The cycle may repeat as many times as necessary.

During the Stone Age the people believed that reincarnation occurred in groups. You found yourself, life after life, with the same people. Witches no longer believe in group reincarnation, but it is easy to understand why the Stone Age people did. They lived in closely knit tribes and were afraid to be reincarnated among “strangers.”  Reincarnation itself, however, is still an important part of the Old Religion.

All gods and demons emerge from humanity’s relationship with nature. To understand the minds of the prehistoric cave painters, one must look at isolated societies that still live in a similar way. Many anthropologists call these people “primitive.”  This word gives the incorrect impression of inferiority. These people are not inferior in any meaningful way. They are just not living in our mechanized, Westernized society. Their way of life is just as complex and rich; their minds are just as alert as ours. Furthermore, they maintain a connection with nature that we have lost.

The Tasaday of Mindanao, Orochon of Siberia, Gilyaks of the Amur valley, and the Australian aborigines work in surprisingly similar ways. Their cultures present evidence about how the prehistoric mind worked.

The lives of these people are balanced with nature. The word is significant, because as you will see in an upcoming chapter, the balanced life is one of the principles of Witchcraft. Witches seek exactly what these people had maintained naturally for thousands of years – a balance that was lost with the development of civilization.

The prehistoric people saw themselves as part of their surrounding, neither more nor less important than the animals, the plants, the stones and the rivers. They believed that inanimate objects had lives of their own. Judging by the behavior of the isolated societies mentioned above, the Stone Age people often spoke with the fire, the stones, the water. If you ask the Orochon or Tasaday about it, they will tell you that the inanimate object understands and answers them.

The reasoning power of such people is different from ours. They see little difference between the real and the unreal. They will rarely ask why something happens. Things happen, and they will deal with the results. They use no written language and therefore have a powerful memory.

Interestingly, even today, a witch keeps as few written records as possible. She must burn all her papers when she realizes that she is near death, unless there is a very reliable witch who will inherit the notes and include them in her own work.

Researchers always assumed that this habit existed because of the danger during the Witch Trials. Every Medieval witch memorized as much as possible. When the inquisition marched into her home to look for evidence, it was best not to have the grimoires, as spell books are called, around the house. However, the truth about the memorizing habit may be deeper. Perhaps the witch is still following the prehistorical tradition of magic without written language.

We generally look for rational explanations for illnesses, sudden death, or accidents. The Stone Age people thought differently. Spirits and invisible forces filled their world. Magic caused distressing events. Someone conjured the malevolent spirits; perhaps the spirits themselves were angry and wanted revenge. If a wild beast or a force of nature caused death, then the supernatural force behind them actually made them do it. One had to appease or control the force. The shaman, priest, or witch could achieve that by establishing a relationship with the objects or the forces. In other words – he or she had to use magic.

The entire physical world was alive, swirling with energy waves, for the shaman and the witch. They established relationships with storms, water, and the seasons themselves. In a deep enough trance, they entered into a two-way conversation with the elements. They released their powerful souls from their bodies and let the souls kill the enemies or the beasts, heal the sick, or direct the animals toward the hunters.

The people were, above and beyond anything else, hunters and gatherers. They depended upon two factors. First, the availability of animals and plants; second, their ability to escape extremely dangerous predators. Fortunately, their witches knew herbal medicine and the setting of bones, and the hard life had some compensations. The tight communal life encouraged an incredible level of nonverbal communication. To us, they would seem telepathic, so well they understood each other without words. They were like flocks of birds or schools of fish that react to a situation as one large creature. In addition, they had supernatural endurance. This talent still exists in many isolated societies. For instance, look at the “runners” in Tibet. These are men who can run distances that are considered literally impossible by modern athletes. They do it in a trance, without much effort, and arrive in good shape. It’s all mind power.

The Stone Age magic-making was simple. They had dances that imitated the hunt and controlled the hunted animals. The dancers wore antlers or bird masks, whirled, chanted, and went into trances. These ceremonies, the beginning of Witchcraft, are painted over and over on cave walls.

The image of the horned god may have started during these dances. Imagine a dancer, wearing antlers to impersonate a reindeer or a stag. He is whirling in a trance, moving with the rhythm of the chant and drums in the warm cave. The fire behind him throws a strong shadow on the cave’s wall. The shadow is strange and threatening, and it attracts the attention of the tribe’s artist, always sensitive to new images. He picks a bit of charcoal from the fire, and quickly draws around the shadow. The drawing looks like a man/beast. As the months go by, the artist draws him again and again, developing a new image, adding the image into the magic.

It joined a wall already full of beautifully, accurately drawn pictures of animals and birds. The artists of the Stone Age were hunters who killed many animals. As they cut the animals for food, they learned much about anatomy. From necessity, they were also good observers of the animals during their daily lives. The art, however, was neither artistic expression nor a celebration of yesterday’s successful hunt. It was, just like the dance, an act of magic. By drawing an animal you controlled it. A picture of a successful hunt today would produce one tomorrow. A picture of an animal giving birth would insure fertility and good future hunts. Drawing dangerous animals falling into pits would make sure they would not kill you, but die themselves first. This was Witchcraft.

There were the dreams, too. To the Stone Age mind, dreams had a reality as definite as the waking world. The spirit, released from the body, walked the dream world; it spoke with other dreaming spirits or with the spirits of the dead. The dreams revealed the future, and were important to the well-being of the entire tribe. It is entirely possible that Out-of-Body-Experience (OBE) started like that. People who have experienced OBE claim a part of their consciousness, or their soul, leaves their body and explores the world on its own. Ancient cultures in all parts of the world described OBE. It is practiced today by people of various religions and nationalities. Parapsychologists argue whether OBE exists, or if it is a powerful dream form. Witches claim they just do it. At this stage of modern research, there is still no proof either way.

As the climate changed and lost some of its harshness, people began to live longer, create settlements, and develop agriculture. The witch’s importance did not diminish. The prosperity of crops and domestic animals, fertility of the land, and the continuous development of herbal medicine remained the witch’s domain.

Religion became more organized, but the job of the witches remained the same – influencing the supernatural powers. It didn’t matter if the people called them shamans, shape-changers, wizards, druids, priestesses or witches. It didn’t matter if they worked in the woods, the meadows, or at the altar of the simple, beautiful new temples. They helped humanity survive, worshiped the nature gods, served the earth.

And so it went on for generations. It continues today. The similarity between Witchcraft in the various ancient cultures is so strong, and the relationship to today’s Witchcraft is so amazing, there is no possible way to assume it happened by chance. Let’s look at a few cultures. They are not in any order – it’s more like a bit of time travel to places of interest.

In Denmark, archaeologists found the grave of a powerful Bronze Age witch. The grave contained obvious evidence of wealth – gold, jewelry, costly swords. It also had various items of Witchcraft, neatly arranged in a large bronze bowl. Identical Witchcraft ingredients are still used in folk medicine, and similar tools are used by today’s witch. Here is a list of the items.

Folk medicine:

  • A lynx’s claw.
  • A weasel’s bones.
  • Snakes’ vertebrae.
  • Iron pirate pieces. If struck over the body of a sick person, the striking of the pirate will clear both physical and mental diseases and the effect of the evil eye.
  • Charcoal of an aspen tree. In today’s folk medicine, the charcoal is useful if the tree was hit by lightning. It is possible that the aspen in the grave was burned in the same way.

Magic items:

  • Horses’ teeth.
  • Twigs of a rowan tree.
  • An iron knife.
  • A sword.

The old Scandinavian Sagas describe activities of witches which are still part of today’s ceremonies. They also tell the usual stories – shape changing, riding on poles, or sending the soul out of the bodies.

Another interesting ancient connection exists in Mexico. A witch cult there was centered around a goddess, or a “Witch Queen.”  She always carried or rode a broom. The broom, to the Mexicans, symbolized purity and cleanliness. This is particularly important because the Medieval European witch considered cleanliness and order essential. Her contemporaries rarely bathed, and kept food debris on their straw-covered floors for weeks. The witches in Mexico, just like the European ones, always wore big necklaces. Men wore the same kind of leather apron as the Irish male witches.They worked in small rooms to confine the power – much like the circles of power of the European witches.

There is no explanation to the similarity. Some historical researchers believe that perhaps people traveled across the Atlantic before Columbus, and introduced the Old Religion to Mexico. Or perhaps the needs of Witchcraft created similar evolution wherever and whenever it was practiced.

Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome treated magic as if it was science. Not that they were particularly concerned with pure science; they were more interested in practical results. However, they had to know the medicinal and poisonous properties of hundreds of plants; they knew how to use hypnosis; they understood human consciousness. The magicians combined their practice with incantations and prayers, which is why today’s scientists do not take them seriously. But they were not much different. When achieving an identical result, today’s scientist credits it to reasoning or experimentation. The sorcerer assumed they were given by a supernatural power.

Some great scholars in Greece worked as sorcerers. Pythagoras, the mathematician, openly practiced philosophy, science and magic. He had a strong influence on Plato, not himself a sorcerer, but clearly a believer. One can see that in his Dialogues Aristotle suggested the influence of the magical theory in his History of Animals. Neither he nor Plato feared the magicians, though many other people did. Obviously, they understood, with their better education and sharp minds, what the sorcerers were doing.

Finding the roots of Ancient Greek Witchcraft and Hellenistic Witchcraft is easy. One has simply to look at their great holidays. Take, for example, the Eleuisian holiday which attracted thousands of people. Much like the May holiday participants in the British Isles, the Greeks had games, theater, wine, food, dancing and music. Everyone was at least half drunk and ready for religious ecstasy. Mystical rites included the purging of the fear of death, the procession in honor of the dead, and the wild, whirling dancing. People fell into trance-like states, many acting as if they were in direct communication with the gods. It was similar to Voodoo possession – or to the ancient shaman/witch union with the unseen forces. Naturally, some people were better at it than others, and some became priests and priestesses.

The best known priestesses were those who worked at the Oracle of Delphi. They dedicated their lives to the gods and practiced prophecy and divination. The priestess sat over a cleft in the rocks, from which fumes of various drugs rose to envelop her body. The drugs brought on a trance state, and under it she told the future. Another priestess or priest had to explain the messages, because often they were hard to understand. Many of the prophecies came true, and the practice lasted thousands of years. It is silly to dismiss the whole thing as a lie, as the Catholic church later tried. Ancient Greece was a culture of sophistication, intellect and learning. Could a handful of priests really trick these people for so long?

The god Pan is another connection with witchcraft. In the Dianic tradition of Witchcraft, one of the schools still active today, the horned god is still named Pan. Is it the same deity? There are some differences. But this happens to every ancient religion. Take the Judeo-Christian tradition. The current merciful God is very different from the angry desert deity that took the Israelites out of Egypt and into Canaan, destroying entire nations in His path. And yet any Priest, Minister or Rabbi would be horrified if you dared suggest that it was another God – Jehovah is Jehovah! Well, Pan is Pan. Then and now, he is a nature god, a part of every living animal and plant. And he is still with his goddess and with those who call themselves the Guardians of the Earth.

Shape changing was common in Greece, too, as seen by both mythology and literature. Zeus’ love affairs are famous for it. He changed into a swan, a bull, or even a shower of golden rain, as the occasion demanded. Also, the famous book The Golden Ass, by Apuleius of Madaura tells of such a change. It is a story of Greek man who, with the help of an untrained witch’s apprentice, turns himself accidentally into a donkey. After many misadventures, the goddess Isis restores him from the animal shape and he becomes her priest.

There are several great Greek witches. Medea is probably the most famous witch of antiquity. She is strong, possibly insane, and murderous. Hecate is first a moon goddess, then a witch goddess who rules the nights and all its frightening creatures. Circe is a sorceress who turns her lovers into swine when she tires of them. All the Greek stories of the great, power wielding, magnificent witches view them as evil. This is because they were, originally, priestesses of the Old Religion, worshipers of the mother goddess. The “new” Greek religion saw them as competition and turned them into evil hags, as most cultures do. For further proof, the texts often stress the witches’ knowledge of herbal medicine and magic – the obvious traits of the followers of Wicca, then as now.

The Romans used much magic in their daily lives. They employed magical astrology, and used amulets, incantations, healing and cursing formulas.

The Romans had an interesting device, very similar to today’s Ouija board. It was a metal disk, supported by a wooden tripod. On its rim, the letters of the alphabet were inscribed. The person performing the ritual suspended a ring on a thread, right above the disk. Some incantation was said, and the ring began to swing like a pendulum, forming words and answering questions.

The Aeneid describes magic extensively. Dido, the tragic heroin, is a powerful sorceress whose magic eventually turns against herself, much like Medea’s in Greece. Horace’s plays describe evil Witchcraft, including some horrifying ritual murder of children. Other Roman poets describe necromancy and divination. Obviously, witches in Rome had a bad reputation.

Romans, as a nation, enjoyed cruelty. One has only to look at their arena games and war atrocities to see that. The stories about the witches reflect that taste. Unquestionably, some Roman witches turned to the dark side. The records show that their help was often used for poisoning, necromancy, and even attempts at raising of the dead and the creation of zombies. It was a sad period for true followers of the Old Religion.

In Egypt, magic was entirely scientific. It was mixed with religion, but nevertheless practiced as a precise and organized activity. From the mythologies and magic books it is clear that they had a system of the Occult based on subjects. There are separate texts on astrology, alchemy, formulas for magic in daily use, etc. The practitioners were specialists. The ordinary people, in addition to consulting the experts, could also purchase amulets and herbs for self protection and do-it-yourself magic.

Repeating the magic formula in exactly the same way, even down to the tone of voice, was called “right speaking.”  The Book of the Dead stated that the gates to the other world would not open to a person who did not know his secret name or who uttered it incorrectly. The name of each gate in the other world also required correct reading and pronunciation.

The Egyptians had many books containing formulas and incantations, spells and charms for daily use. Amulets were important. They were worn by the living and put on the dead. Amulets could be made of any material and sometimes carved with magic formulas. Some shapes were particularly popular, such as the scarab and the heart. The Egyptians even had amulets to protect each part of the body. The books often mention dreams and shape changing. For example, there are spells in the Book of the Dead teaching the newly deceased how to change into birds, crocodiles, or serpents.

The positive image of the witch lasted for generations. Eventually, however, patriarchal monotheism took over in the West, first by Judaism and later by Christianity. With it, the position of the witch deteriorated. The Bible often refers to witches in a negative manner. They are always fiercely persecuted by the priests of Jehovah. Most notable is the Witch of Endor, who is consulted secretly by King Saul. The story is interesting because  Saul killed  many witches on the demand of the Prophet Samuel. She is one of the few survivors.

Earlier, Moses and Aaron practiced Egyptian magic, described in detail in Exodus. They turned a stick into a snake, for instance, during a competition with the Egyptian magicians. The plagues visited on the Egyptians, including such things as pestilence and darkness in the middle of the day, sound like malevolent Witchcraft. Naturally, the Bible describes the plagues as punishment by God.

King Solomon, David’s son, was supposed to be the wisest man of his generation, perhaps the wisest ever to live on Earth. He was a magician as well. The book The Wisdom of Solomon was written many years after his death, but much of it is probably based on his words. In it he said that God gave him power and knowledge, and that his studies included not only science but the Occult. In the original text, this included power over demons. The sentence was mistakenly translated as power over the winds, because the two words are similar in the original Hebrew. He also claimed knowledge of exorcism.

Nevertheless, the Bible is determined that no witch should be permitted to live. The reason is simple. A witch is not only a worshiper of a competing religion, but a symbol of a matriarchal society. A society ruled by women is offensive to the male-dominated Jews and Christians. So the settlement of the Israelites in Canaan is the point in time in which the power of the Old Religion began its slow decline. It has taken many centuries and a fierce struggle, but a gentle nature religion is no match to the powerful, military, new religion. Starting from Mount Sinai, a fiery volcano in the desert, the Judeo-Christian creed swept everything in its violent path and conquered the Western world.

 

Source:

Encyclopedia MYTHICA

Witchcraft – Chapter one – Introduction to Witchcraft

Witchcraft

Chapter one – Introduction to Witchcraft

by Ilil Arbel

Your world is rational and well ordered. Science, technology and regulated business are part of it. Why bother with a subject that seems so Medieval, perhaps even obsolete?  What has Witchcraft to do with you, as you sit at your books, or at your computer?  Thinking about these threatening old tales and vague images of evil may even make you uncomfortable. Is it at all worth your time?

Very much so. No pursuit is more important than the attempt to understand one’s own self. Magic preceded psychology, and the story of Witchcraft affords a significant glimpse into the development of our minds and feelings. Somehow, in the innermost recesses of our private thoughts, something still answers the call of the ancient horns of the Wild Ride of the Fairies and witches. With all our modern achievements, we are the same beings that once huddled in dark caves. It is good to acknowledge our heritage and learn from it.

The story of the witches is as old as the story of humanity itself, as proven by prehistoric evidence. They stayed throughout the centuries, sometimes openly, sometimes underground, but always influential. They are still with us.

Unfortunately, much of what is known about Witchcraft is based on superstitious nonsense, causing a bias toward a large group of people. This is unacceptable in today’s enlightened society, when most people try avoiding bigotry and prejudice. There has never been a group of people as misunderstood as those who follow Witchcraft, or as its followers call it, the Old Religion. It is estimated that nine million people have been humiliated, tortured and murdered because the world did not comprehend their ancient way of life.

In its purest form, the Old Religion is nature worship. It is also called Wicca, or The Way of the Wise People, and the followers are far from evil – they see themselves as guardians of the Earth and servants of a nature goddess. They are connected with the seasons, the plants, the animals and the planet, and seek a balanced life. They have much in common with ecologists. True, nothing in this world is untainted, and in the long history of Witchcraft there have been those who followed Satanism, Devil worship, Black Magic, Shamanism and Voodoo, among many other cults. But besides the fact that all those disciplines profess to the ability of creating magic, they have very little in common with true Witchcraft.

Upcoming chapters will discuss these Satanic activities as well as pure Witchcraft. It is impossible to understand the history of Witchcraft without knowing something about the Dark Side of magic. But it is important to realize that they are not, and never have been, one and the same.

Naturally, a good old village witch, who had to make a living selling her products and services, was a bit of a ham. While she could simply live and work in a clean cottage full of fragrant medicinal herbs, it looked much more convincing if she had a skull and a few bones on a shelf. It wouldn’t hurt if her trusty cat was all glossy black rather than a tabby. The sound of a bubbling cauldron had a good effect. And the broom looked better if it was a bit charred by fire. The customers could imagine her flying out of her chimney, cackling gleefully to herself as the sparks almost caught the broomstick. The image was good for business.

But when the great Witch Craze began in earnest, and the witches lost their places as the village doctors to become the enemies of the Church, people no longer knew what was true and what was not. It was all a mix, anyway. Take the old broom, for instance. A witch never really rode it through the air, of course. Where did this bizarre story come from?

The answer is surprisingly simple. Witches used long, dark wooden poles to perform a special fertility dance. They rode the pole as if it was a hobbyhorse, and jumped as high into the air as possible. They believed that the higher they jumped, the better the crops could grow. Sometimes they “rode” the poles to their nightly gatherings, jumping up and down all the way. Occasionally the neighbors saw them, though they wouldn’t follow them too far, as ordinary folks were superstitious and afraid of the dark in those days. The neighbors couldn’t quite understand what the witches were doing, singing and jumping like that. Could they be preparing to take off and fly?  It seemed very likely. Of course all the witches’ doings were secretive, it was part of the Old Religion. They had to do something with this pole between festivals. So what better way to hide its purpose than to disguise it as a broom?  All you had to do was to tie a few twigs and branches around it, and there it was, ready to sweep your cottage.

The Old Religion existed since the Stone Age. In a tradition that old, there have to be some rituals and forms of worship that may not appeal to everyone. Witches are aware of it and keep their practices to themselves. With very few exceptions, such as Sybil Leek or Aleister Crowley, who for various reasons made it their business to be known openly as witches, you won’t know who they are. Secrecy is essential, because even in today’s enlightened society, with all the laws against witches repealed, the presence of a witch still produces anxiety in a community, sometimes even direct persecution. Imagine if suddenly it becomes known in your hometown that the owner of the grocery store, or the plumber, or the lawyer who lives across the street, is a practicing witch. Imagine if it is your doctor, or the principal of your school. They will not be burned at the stake, of course. But the town, most likely, will either stop using their services or demand their resignation. It has happened many times.

The secrecy makes it difficult for those who have an open mind and truly want to understand. Who are these elusive people?  What do they really believe in?  Where have they originated?  Do they have inherited traits, giving them paranormal, psychic powers?  Do they cause harm to anyone?  One thing is clear. From our earliest history, from the very beginning, the witches have been with us.

There are certain caves, at archaeological sites dating 30,000 BCE, located in the regions between Russia and Spain. On the walls, and even on the ceilings of some of them, there are many carvings and paintings of easily recognizable animals, mostly bisons, antelopes, horses, bulls and deer. They are beautifully and realistically executed in both black and colored scenes. The artists were good observers and could draw the animals with amazing accuracy. However, there is also a repeated representation of a mysterious creature, who could not have possibly roamed the plains with the animals. He is half man, half animal. His face is human, but he has large horns adorning his head. He is covered with fur and has a tail, but he stands upright and his feet and hands are human. His eyes are large, sad, wise and very human. Many archaeologists agree that he is the image of a sorcerer or witch, a powerful member of an ancient pagan religion. His followers probably believed that he was a “shape changer,” a man who could make magic and change at will to an animal form. This school of archaeology believes that Western Witchcraft is a continuation of this pagan religion.

Other theories are a lot less likely and if considered each by itself, only partially explain the complicated origin of Witchcraft. Some people believe that witches were indeed in league with the Devil. This is an outdated, primitive approach, particularly for those with a scientific turn of mind, and a healthy skepticism about the existence of such an entity as the Devil.

Another theory is based on the belief that all the witches’ activities are based on nothing but hallucinations. Smearing their bodies with hallucinogenic drugs could account for flying dreams, images of savage demons and other interesting details of their Sabbaths. Undoubtedly some covens did use drugs. There will be a chapter in this book, devoted to the flora and fauna associated with Witchcraft, and it must be admitted right here that not all plants were grown just for healing. Belladonna, Monkshood, Datura, and Nightshade were often used at the festivals, and they were hallucinogenic when properly prepared. But they were only a small part of the activities, mostly recreational in nature or an aid to altered states of consciousness. Dismissing the entire proceedings as hallucinogenic dreams is, at best, an oversimplification of a very complex subject.

Another important theory is the connection between Western witches and the Fairies, Pixies, and other “Little People” of Europe. Combining this theory with the one about the ancient, Stone Age religion may explain, once and for all, where witches come from.

There are many races of pygmies living in the world today. Some examples are the pygmies of Africa, Malaysia, New Guinea and The Philippines. The pattern of their lives is similar – they are generally pushed around by their bigger neighbors. As a defense, they develop a secretive lifestyle. They are usually great hunters, almost magically able to stalk and attract their prey. They possess poison arrows which they can shoot with uncanny accuracy. They move with such agility and stealth that it seems as if they can be invisible at will. Their neighbors invariably think they have magic powers. The pygmies are hostile, in general, but if well treated may become friendly, and share their knowledge of herbs, hunting and weather patterns, or even leave gifts or exchange goods with their neighbors. Powerful enemies, faithful friends, always acting under the cover of the dark night, no matter where they live.

Races like that existed in Europe. There are old rock dwellings in the Isle of Man, Ireland, Scotland, Finland, and Russia in which you had to be about two to three feet tall to fit comfortably if standing upright. While individuals of this height exist, of course, there is no whole nation left in Europe today that is of this stature, so these dwellings provide an important clue.

Let’s review the origin of witches in the British Isles as an example. When the various invaders, such as the Romans, Saxons, and Normans entered the area, they encountered these small people. They gave them various names – Fairies, Pixies, Sidhe, and so on. Some names still have a meaning for us today. The term Pixie, for instance, is derived from Picts, a well-known old race from Northern England and Scotland. Other name origins are obscure. As usual, the Little People were hostile to their conquerors. They stole cattle and destroyed crops, resenting the fact that they were driven away from the best lands. But some friendships occurred, too, sometimes even leading to marriages between the invaders and the larger of the Little People.

Having a “Fairy wife” was a good thing. The ladies may have been small in stature, but they were very clever and pretty, and sometimes brought not only superior knowledge of the region and its natural resources, but also wealth. A very happy marriage occurred as late as 1380 A.D. between the chief of the MacLeod Clan in Scotland and a noble Fairy, who gave him a famous gift, the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan. It still exists in a Museum. Many of the descendants of this marriage live today. There are also tales of Roman, Saxon or Norman girls who ran away to become the wives of the King of the Fairies or his Lords. It was believed these women led wonderful, long lives in Fairyland, away from the toil and trouble of our “ordinary” world. These enchanting folktales will be discussed in a chapter devoted to the great literary figures in Witchcraft.

Some of the Little People lived in tiny rounded houses made of wood. There were no windows, only a smoke hole in the ceiling, admitting a delicate twilight into the room. The roof was rounded, too, and covered with sod. In spring, under the gentle rains and soft sunlight of the region, the houses sprouted grass. From a little distance, the grass made the houses look exactly like small green hills. You could get in through a door on the side of the house, but also through the smoke hole in the ceiling, which was usually equipped with a ladder for the convenience of the sentries. So the big neighbors could see the Little People going in and out of the side of the so-called hills, or go down a smoking chimney. How easy it was to make up stories about the mysterious Little People, the Sidhe, who lived inside hills and disliked sunlight. Even more important, how obvious is the origin of the story of a flying witch that could get in and out of a house through the chimney!  After all, if she didn’t fly, how else could she get to the roof?  An old hag like her surely couldn’t climb so high?

The Romans mingled with the Little People and had many descendants. These Roman-Britons stayed after the Romans left. They were larger than the original Little People, and looked a bit different. But they had, of course, much sympathy and understanding with them. When the Roman priests left, they took the gods with them, as was the custom of those years. So even if the Roman-Britons didn’t do so before, naturally they now started worshiping the same sweet, kind nature goddesses the Little People worshiped. After all, the native goddesses could so easily be identified with the Roman Diana or Venus. The bonds of family relationships and religion were strong. Together the two races faced the new invasions of the Saxons, Normans, Vikings, and eventually the Catholic Church.

The Saxons were good farmers, stolid, serious people, and they didn’t like the frivolity of the Little People. So they banished them to the heaths, were they lived for generations, and were called the “Heathens.”  Curiously, we still refer to non-Christians by that name. The Little People went about their business, carrying on their night festivals, coloring their nude bodies with green paint made of certain herbs, and generally enjoying life. The Saxons disapproved, in principle, but being human, sometimes mingled anyway. The charm of the Little People was, at times, irresistible. The descendants of the mixed marriages were even larger than those who married Romans, since the Saxons were taller and heavier.

Then Came the Normans, and they liked the Little People very much. The Normans were not strongly Christian, they disliked the Saxons, and they found an affinity with the Heathens. Many of the Heathens took employment with the Norman Lords. For some reason the Little People were always very good with horses. This was a skill the Normans respected, as they were very fond of horses. The mischievous Little People delighted in the enmity between their old adversaries the Saxons, and the Norman lords. They felt appreciated by their new employers, and often invited them to the night festivals they still celebrated. The Normans couldn’t resist. Outnumbered by the boring Saxons, they wanted fun and adventure. There are stories of horses disappearing from stables and of Norman Lords and Ladies riding all night, wearing strange disguises, on their way to attend the festivals. Perhaps this was the beginning of the legends of the Wild Hunts of the Fairies or the Wild Rides of the witches. Many, many mixed marriages took place.

Naturally, despite their mutual dislike, the Normans and the Saxons also started to mix. The descendants of this three-way mix no longer colored their nude bodies in green paint, but some continued to dye their clothes with this color. Wearing green clothes, you could easily camouflage yourself in, say, Sherwood Forest with your Merry Men, and shoot with uncanny accuracy at your enemies. You could have much fun stealing from the rich, and giving to the poor, as good Fairies always did, couldn’t you?  Or you would wear your green clothes at the May Games, which were similar to Witches’ Sabbaths, complete with the Great Maypole, feasts, and mystical initiations.

So here is how the origin of the witches begins to make sense. This is the story as it occurred in England. The same stories, or very similar ones, took place in Finland, Russia, Germany, and many other European countries. If the original Little People really possessed paranormal powers, as so many of their contemporaries claimed, those powers would be diluted by the mixed marriages, but not disappear. They would lie latent, surfacing occasionally in succeeding generations, as all talents do. It’s a long way from the ancient heaths, and those who wished to maintain the traditions of the Old Religion went through much pain and change through the years. So their descendants, friends and followers, who are the witches of today, may possess some psychic powers, or they may not. They follow a tradition as old as human civilization, but one that underwent many upheavals and transformations. They love and serve the Earth, but are still feared by humanity.

This book attempts to disentangle the mysteries and contradictions, without invading the privacy the witches wish to keep. Their history deserves a thorough and sympathetic examination. Like the members of any other group of people, they should be understood and respected for whom they are and what they stand for, without bigotry and prejudice.

Source:

Encyclopedia MYTHICA

 

‘THINK on THESE THINGS’ for March 6th

‘THINK on THESE THINGS’
By Joyce Sequichie Hifler

Haven’t you heard someone say, after experiencing something either good or bad, “I knew it was going to be that way.” And perhaps the conviction was very strong that certain conditions would take a definite turn. But much of the time we say it not out of conviction, but resignedly, agreeing beforehand that something will be a certain way, and usually with dire overtones.

It used to be believed that we had no power to control anything coming to us. We were mere victims of circumstances, almost like stones waiting to be kicked aside. But we were taught, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is.”

We must not be so presumptuous as to believe we know everything there is to know about the workings of the mind. But we attract a great many of our problems simply by dwelling on them in our thoughts.

Premonition, or “knowing” things are going to be a certain way, is merely giving us a little time to head off the trouble. Such things should be a challenge, not an accepted rule. “Know” better until you believe it into conviction and into being.

 

____________________________________________

Available online! ‘Cherokee Feast of Days’
By Joyce Sequichie Hifler.

Visit her web site to purchase the wonderful books by Joyce as gifts for yourself or for loved ones……and also for those who don’t have access to the Internet: http://www.hifler.com
Click Here to Buy her books at Amazon.com

Elder’s Meditation of the Day
By White Bison, Inc., an American Indian-owned nonprofit organization. Order their many products from their web site: http://www.whitebison.org