I’m Not a Broom. So What’s with the Closet?

I’m Not a Broom. So What’s with the Closet?

Author: Aoibhin   

When I say “Witch” let’s be honest… what’s the first image that comes to mind? For most, it’s that old green hag with the wart on her nose, right? When people find out I’m a Witch the first thing I get asked is if I ride a broom. My reply is “Yes I do; have you seen gas prices? Plus I earn flyer miles.” Jokes aside, we must look at how this issue came to be and why so many have not told people they are Wiccans. I like to call it the “Walt Disney factor “. Follow me here. I know it sounds odd, but it’s true. We are all familiar with movies like “Wizard of Oz” or “Snow White”. We all know movies like these have Witches, mostly bad ones. Those are the images we saw as children. Witches in those stories are often portrayed as a bad people casting evil on others and as old green women with warty noses.

Halloween, though I love the holiday, has not helped, all of those funny pictures of flying Witches in store windows or scary Witches in haunted houses. So, it’s not shocking that when we tell people who ask that we are Wiccan, we get the blank stare. What’s really going on is they are trying to process what we just said: is it a joke or are they for real? Doesn’t Wiccan mean Witch?

We can’t blame them for this misguided awkwardness. What I have found is that when people are faced with something that invokes fear, they fall back on what they know. This is where Walt figures in. The only association most people have with Witches is what they have seen on television or heard in scary bedtime stories as a child. So they freeze up and we turn green, grow a wart and start tossing newt tails and bat wings into a cauldron for cooking small children.

What is a real Witch to do? Well, what we can’t undo is the damage that’s been hundreds of years in the making. However we can become teachers and lead by positive and productive examples in our communities. I myself noticed this damage when I kicked open the invisible broom closet door and flew out. I didn’t see a need for a graceful exit with my “love me or leave, take me for who I am” view on life. There were some who didn’t agree with my newfound faith, not that I cared because I was finally happy. Then there where others, those filled with questions and concern for my safety and soul. Not sure on how to go about answering them, I jumped into research mode. What I found was shocking but helpful in understanding why we are looked at in society like we are. It seems back in the ole days a Witch’s cheery and loving outlook on life wasn’t always favored among the town’s folk.

So just when did the “broom closet” start accepting candidates? There are many sides to the tale on time period, but they all end roughly the same way. Let’s dive right in starting with the earliest I could find on the subject: the Inquisition. The French Inquisition started in the 12th century. The reason it started was to combat the wide spread of heresy. What is heresy you may ask? Well, it is defined many forms. Heresy addresses violations of Religious, traditional laws, or moral ethics. Christianity was well on its way to becoming the more popular of the religions at this time, so Witchcraft was on its way out, being labeled as heresy. An accusation of heresy was no subject to be laughed at and came with stiff punishments. When the purpose of the Inquisition is translated from the 1578 Handbook for Inquisitors it states, “For punishment does not take place primarily and per se for the good of the person being punished, but for the public good in order that others may become terrified and be weaned away from the evils they would commit.”

It is estimated that during the times when anti-Witchcraft laws were passed, the Inquisition period in history, somewhere between 40, 000 and 60, 000 people were executed. Townspeople were often lead down a garden path due to the lack of education, so it made them easily tricked into believing Witches were evil. When you add fear into any problem it breeds hate and so the torturing of Witches was not viewed as inhuman. Lies of Witches dancing with the Devil, and casting evil spells on people causing harm or death to their families, were found everywhere. The truth that Witches did good things for the town’s people became just a myth. Long forgotten was the mid-wife and doctor role they played in small farming townships. No more did the people ask them to help with beautiful festivals to bring favor on harvesting of crops or long lasting marriages from the Lord and Lady. No, now it was to be pain, hiding, and slander.

Pain was rained down on the accused Witches in order to gain a confession in hopes of saving the soul. Horrible acts of violence carried out while others watched. Punishments were called “tests”, used to find out if the condemned was in fact a Witch. One such ‘test’ involved strapping a large rock to the person and pushing him/her into deep waters. If she/he floats to the top, she/he was a Witch and executed. If they sank and drowned, then a prayer would be said for their souls. Often times, people received daily beatings instead of tests until they confessed to certain wrong doings. Many people confessed even though they were innocent just to end the pain, which usually still meant death. This death could involve being burned alive or hung at the gallows, if the prisoners were lucky. These beatings took a toll on the body causing the skin to bruise and bones to break. So by the time the accused was marched through town to have rotten vegetables and harsh words slung at them, they would indeed appear green in tone and the broken nose could very well look hooked and warty.

Now that we know how Witches became green, let’s take a look at how we fly! Well hold on to your seats… here it is… back in the day, Witches used what was called “Flying Ointment”. It was rumored that this special ointment would allow us to fly on our brooms to demonic orgies and converse with Satan. Now comes the truly funny part in all this… most Witches do not believe in Satan, demons, or hell. So if this special ointment didn’t help us fly, what did it do? The ointment was used to help aide us in divination or seeing into the future. The herbs it contained are poisonous and I warn you against its use. It contains herbs such as Deadly Nightshade (yes, deadly means deadly) and Wolfbane. The ointment never contained Poppy, although it was a popular myth. When mixed correctly in a topical ointment and rubbed on the skin such as the arms and legs the poisonous toxins slowly work their way into your nervous system. The toxins would then cause a floating or flying feeling along with powerful hallucinations. In order to explain what was going on to the best they could, non-users put the image of the green, elderly, wart warning “Witch” on a broom as a picture to use for decoration at Halloween to strike fear into small children.

Luckily for the modern Witch, the last anti-witch law was lifted in 1950. Even with the change in the laws it hasn’t made it easier for the world to accept us again. Still, many seek refuge in the silence and practice behind closed doors. We are getting somewhat of a boost with shows such as “Charmed” and movies like “Practical Magic”. I’m not saying everyone will find the publicity good but at least we aren’t green. Every little bit helps.

Witches are just like everyone else. Matter of fact, if a Witch walked up to most people on the street or sat next to them on a bus, folks wouldn’t know. Perhaps one day the balance will be restored and harmony will rule. Until then, a girl can dream. One thing is for sure: Witches leave behind a touch of magic in the lives of everyone we befriend.

Blessed be,
Aoibhin!

INQUISITION

INQUISITION

Again the burning came,
She felt the heat, the searing pain
a cry lanced through her heart
“Why, My Lady, Why”

She lay quietly, remembering
lost within the labyrinth of the past
and the future
she did not feel the bite of the cruel blade.
Bleeding, moaning, she saw the man
his face, and heart masked with black
she knew his choices and his pain
Oh, to cause pain, to accept his own
if only she could Touch him, Heal him.

“I love you” she whispered
dark eyes calm, yet full of pain
“Don’t ” cried the man “I want to see you die”
“I love you and forgive you” she said
tears rolled freely down her cheeks

Again, and again the searing pain
As the man applied the red hot blade
“Do you still love me, and forgive me” he screamed?

Despite the pain she answered strongly
“I do”, She smiled
“Blessed be” she whispered.

A wave of pain sent her among the stars.
“My Lady” she cried “I’m frightened”
Strong arms held her close
“You have done well my child, rest now”

The man watched as the blade grew cold
As the young body before him cooled
tears streamed down his face
and he whispered
“Forgive me”

Middle Age Witchcraft

Middle Age Witchcraft
 
 

During the early Middle Ages, the early Christian Church didn’t focus on witches or witchcraft. The Council of Paderborn in 785 explicitly outlawed the belief in witches, and Saint Boniface declared in the 8th century that a belief in the existence of witches was unchristian altogether. The Emperor Charlemagne decreed that burning a witch was actually a pagan custom, and anyone caught doing it would be punished by death. In 820 the Bishop of Lyon and others declared that witches could not fly or make brooms fly, could not make bad weather, nor change their shape. The idea that people could do these things, were deemed fanciful tales of mythology. The decree was accepted into Church law. King Coloman of Hungary declared that witches do not exist, and therefore witch-hunts were not necessary. Many other rulers of his day followed suit and the witch-hunts ceased for a while. These non-existent concepts lasted until the late 12th century. And the first medieval trials against witches occurs in the 13th century with the establishment of the Inquisition. The Church was actually concentrating on the persecution of heresy. But witchcraft, either real or just alleged, was treated as any other sort of heresy. It’s also at this time where we see the label Witchcraft applied broadly to pagan beliefs and practices. No longer does it become a label for a craft or practice, but as a title or label for a set of spiritual beliefs. Witchcraft becomes the title of a religion, with many varying practices. And it’s here where many today claim the label for their religious practice.

 

Today, Witchcraft can be defined as:

 

A neo-pagan religion that is further defined and put into practice by it’s many sects, such as Wicca, Deborean Wicca, Strega, Pictish and others.

 

The European witch-hunts reach their pinnacle around 1450. No longer is it a theological campaign for the church, but a phenomenon that resembles mass hysteria and fear. The classical attributes of a witch, casting negative spells to control others, flying on brooms, intercourse with the Devil, and meeting with demons and other witches at sabbats, became descriptive fact in Canon Law around 1400. Conspiracy theories begin to form; stating that witches use their sabbat rituals and underground movements as a means of plotting to overthrow Christianity. The church and monarchies see this as a war upon their authority and control to be weeded out and destroyed. The lands of the Holy Roman Empire, as well as Scotland were all affected by the trials. 29 editions of The “Malleus Maleficarum” were reprinted between 1487 and 1669, even though the book was condemned by the Catholic Church in 1490. It was continually used by secular witch-hunting courts to condemn and prosecute accused witches. Intellectuals spoke out against the trials from the late 16th century. Not even then elite society could keep themselves or their family members out of the witch jails. Johannes Kepler in 1615 used his prestige to keep his mother from being burnt as a witch. The 1692 Salem witch trials exploded even though the practice of witch trials was declining in Europe. During the Early Modern Period the concern over witchcraft reaches the boiling point. There are many thoughts as to why the trials began. That they were more about the desire of the Church and current Monarchies to gain or maintain control over the citizenry. It’s interesting to note that most of the witch trials that ended in convictions took place in rural areas with a 90% conviction rate. Another interesting statistic is how the highest concentration of trials took place along the borders of France, Germany, and Italy, in what is now modern day Switzerland. Some areas, such as Britain (with the exception of some notable trials in Scotland) saw fewer trials, but were still extensive. And some point to Spain as holding the largest portion of trials and executions. There were early trials in the 15th and early 16th century, but then the witch scare went into decline, before becoming a big issue again and in the 17th century. The practiced declined some say in part to other more weighty concerns placed before the Church and Monarchies. Others say it declined out of fear of reprisals. And still others claim it’s a combination of these reasons, and the increased practiced of Witchcraft sects to go underground and hide their beliefs and practices. There are many traditions who make the claim that their early practioners migrated away from these witch-hunt areas to escape persecution and continue their beliefs and practices. While others make claims of going underground into secret societies. Though there is no unequivocal evidence of secret pagan societies or migrations; we can learn from history how persecutions do indeed force people to flee or live in secrecy.