The Witch

The Witch

Women have strange powers men do not: the power to bear children and feed them from their own bodies, to bleed without being hurt or sick, and to provoke
erections in heterosexual men. Perhaps these strange beings have even more
remarkable powers.

Or perhaps when the image of a Goddess dwindles until all that remains is the
memory of Her uncanny powers, She becomes a Witch.

Witches have been credited with such magical feats as blasting crops, cursing
people to sickness, lameness or death and causing men to become impotent or
even stealing their penises.

The Renaissance Christian myth of the witch is complex and grotesque. Most
witches were women, the Malleus Maleficarum stated, because “All witchcraft
arises from lust, which in women is insatiable.” Their lust was supposedly for
the Devil, who initiated the witch at the Sabbat and copulated with her often,
according to the accounts of the churchmen.

These witches gathered at mass meetings called Sabbats, to which they flew via
brooms or animal companions. There, the Devil appeared, usually in the form of
a black goat. They kissed his buttocks in greeting. Then they informed him of
all the harmful spells they had done since the last Sabbat. Wild dancing and often sex with gathered demons followed, along with a feast often consisting of
the corpses of babies.

There is no evidence that a real conspiracy of witches who worshipped the Devil
ever existed. But many European clergymen devoutly believed in it during the
great Witch Hunt. Estimates as to how many people, mostly women, were burned or hanged for witchcraft range from a few thousand to nine million.

But the witches of pagan stories had no need for a male Devil. Long before the
great Witch-Hunt, European women were accused of believing that they travelled with the goddess Diana or Signa Oriente or Herodias at night, entering people’s homes and being given food. Roman witches were thought to worship Hecate.

Morgan Le Fay tormented King Arthur and his knights. Circe turned the men who invaded her island into pigs. The volva told Odin how the Aesir gods would
fall. The witches in The Golden Ass can command even the Greek gods with their
spells.

The myths have led to a real Witchcraft religion springing up — one that worships Goddesses, not the Christian’s Devil.

Many other cultures have known the fear of the witch, which may date back to
the Stone Age. Some Native American tribes feared witches, such as the Iroquois
and Navajo (Dina). Certain African tribes believe in female witches who ride
trained hyenas to meetings and cast evil spells.

The urban legends of child-molesting Satanist conspiracies that spring up even
today show how enduring the myth of the witch is. As in Renaissance times, most of the accused are women.

Above: “The Witches’ Sabbat”, by Francis Goya. Below: From a collage.

Further Reading

* Europe’s Inner Demons: The Making of the Great European Witch Hunt. Norman
Cohn.

* Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture. Arthur Evans. Fag Rag Press, 1971.

WITCHCRAFT

 WITCHCRAFT

In the modern world witchcraft is a form of nature religion that emphasizes
the healing arts. The term is also applied to various kinds of MAGIC practiced
in Asian, African, and Latin American communities. Little is known about the
history of witchcraft in Europe, and what is known comes from hostile sources. In traditional European society witchcraft was believed to be a kind of harmful sorcery associated with the worship of SATAN, or the devil (a spirit hostile to God). The European doctrine of witchcraft was formulated in the late Middle Ages. Just how many of the beliefs about witches were based on reality and how many on delusion will never be known. The punishment of supposed witches by the death penalty did not become common until the 15th century. The first major witch-hunt occurred in Switzerland in 1427, and the first important book on the subject, the Malleus maleficarum (Hammer of Sorceresses), appeared in Germany in 1486. The persecution of witches reached its height between 1580 and 1660, when witch trials became almost universal throughout western Europe.

Geographically, the center of witch-burning lay in Germany, Austria, and
Switzerland, but few areas were left untouched by it. No one knows the total
number of victims. In southwestern Germany alone, however, more than 3,000 witches were executed between 1560 and 1680. Not all witch trials ended in deaths. In England, where torture was prohibited, only about 20 percent of accused witches were executed (by hanging); in Scotland, where torture was used, nearly half of all those put on trial were burned at the stake, and almost three times as many witches (1,350) were killed as in England. Some places had fewer trials than others. In the Dutch republic, no witches were executed after 1600, and none were tried after 1610. In Spain and Italy accusations of witchcraft were handled by the INQUISITION, and although torture was legal, only a dozen witches were burned out of 5,000 put on trial. Ireland apparently escaped witch trials altogether. Many witch trials were provoked, not by hysterical authorities or fanatical clergy, but by village quarrels among neighbors. About 80% of all accused witches were women. Traditional theology assumed that womenwere weaker than men and more likely to succumb to the devil. It may in fact be true that, having few legal rights, they were more inclined to settle quarrels by resorting to magic rather than law. All these aspects of witchcraft crossed over to the Americas with European colonists. In the Spanish and French territories cases of witchcraft were under the jurisdiction of church courts, and no one suffered death on this charge. In the English colonies about 40 people were executed for witchcraft between 1650 and 1710, half of them in the famous SALEM WITCH TRIALS of 1692. Witch trials declined in most parts of Europe after 1680; in England the death penalty for witchcraft was abolished in 1736. In the late 17th and 18th centuries one last wave of witch persecution afflicted Poland and other areas of eastern Europe, but that ended by about 1740. The last legal execution of a witch occurred in Switzerland in 1782.

Beginning in the 1920s, witchcraft was revived in Europe and America by groups that considered it a survival of pre-Christian religious practices. This
phenomenon was partly inspired by such books as Margaret Murray’s The Witch Cult in Western Europe (1921). Some forms of modern witchcraft follow the traditions of medieval herbalists and lay healers. The term witch-hunt is used today to describe a drive to punish political criminals or dissidents without regard for the normal legal rules. E. William Monter

Bibliography: Baroja, Julio C., The World of Witches (1964); Guiley, Rosemary,The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft (1990); Levack, Brian, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe (1987); Luhrmann, T.M., Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft (1989); Monter, E. W., ed., European Witchcraft (1969).

The Witch

The Witch

Women have strange powers men do not: the power to bear children and feed them from their own bodies, to bleed without being hurt or sick, and to provoke erections in heterosexual men. Perhaps these strange beings have even more remarkable powers.

Or perhaps when the image of a Goddess dwindles until all that remains is the memory of Her uncanny powers, She becomes a Witch.

Witches have been credited with such magical feats as blasting crops, cursing
people to sickness, lameness or death and causing men to become impotent or even stealing their penises.

The Renaissance Christian myth of the witch is complex and grotesque. Most
witches were women, the Malleus Maleficarum stated, because “All witchcraft
arises from lust, which in women is insatiable.” Their lust was supposedly for
the Devil, who initiated the witch at the Sabbat and copulated with her often,
according to the accounts of the churchmen.

These witches gathered at mass meetings called Sabbats, to which they flew via brooms or animal companions. There, the Devil appeared, usually in the form of a black goat. They kissed his buttocks in greeting. Then they informed him of all the harmful spells they had done since the last Sabbat. Wild dancing and often sex with gathered demons followed, along with a feast often consisting of the corpses of babies.

There is no evidence that a real conspiracy of witches who worshipped the Devil ever existed. But many European clergymen devoutly believed in it during the great Witch Hunt. Estimates as to how many people, mostly women, were burned or hanged for witchcraft range from a few thousand to nine million.

But the witches of pagan stories had no need for a male Devil. Long before the
great Witch-Hunt, European women were accused of believing that they travelled with the goddess Diana or Sigma Orient or Herodias at night, entering people’s homes and being given food. Roman witches were thought to worship Hecate.

Morgan Le Fay tormented King Arthur and his knights. Circe turned the men who invaded her island into pigs. The volva told Odin how the Aesir gods would fall. The witches in The Golden Ass can command even the Greek gods with their spells.

The myths have led to a real Witchcraft religion springing up — one that
worships Goddesses, not the Christian’s Devil.

Many other cultures have known the fear of the witch, which may date back to the Stone Age. Some Native American tribes feared witches, such as the Iroquois and Navajo (Dina). Certain African tribes believe in female witches who ride trained hyenas to meetings and cast evil spells.

The urban legends of child-molesting Satanist conspiracies that spring up even today show how enduring the myth of the witch is. As in Renaissance times, most of the accused are women.

Above: “The Witches’ Sabbat”, by Francis Goya. Below: From a collage.

Further Reading

* Europe’s Inner Demons: The Making of the Great European Witch Hunt. Norman Cohn.

* Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture. Arthur Evans. Fag Rag Press, 1971.