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WitchCraft: The Step to Civilization

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The following essay was submitted by Ariadne DawnFire, a visitor to this web site.

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"Not all meanings are meant to be clear at once. Some ideas take time. Some words are designed to lead us on inner journeys, with truth hidden deep inside them" (Froud, 65). The word witchcraft takes many through a journey of mystery, curiosity, awe, and to others, fear and hatred. The Old Religion has existed since before man kept written records. Though it is shrouded in mystery, witchcraft requires understanding and an open mind away from the influential lies of the media. Glancing at the evolution of witchcraft, the religion and belief system, as well as the demise of witches due to the Burning Times, a new view of the wicked witch comes into play. This may teach all a lesson in finding the true meaning behind a word. Perhaps one of the most controversial words in our language, the word 'witch' has many, many meanings.

bullet In one belief, the word 'witch' is an Old English word derived from 'wicca' (pronounced 'witcha'). 'Wicca' means male witch, and its counterpart, 'wicce' (pronounced 'witcheh') translates as female witch. 'Wiccian' meant 'to cast a spell', 'to work sorcery', or 'to bewitch.' Therefore, according to Old English, a witch is one who casts spells or bewitches others.
bullet Another belief founded upon the Old English 'witcan', which means 'to know', or the Old English word 'wis', meaning 'wise', is that witchcraft is the craft of the wise. 'Witch' to these people meant 'wise one'.
bullet However Erica Jong wrote in her 1981 book "Witches" that 'witch' came from the Old Teutonic verb 'wik' meaning 'to bend'. This relates to the idea that magic users, including witches, appear to 'bend' nature to their will.
bullet Another testimony from the American Heritage Dictionary, witch is related to the Germanic word 'wikkjaz' which means 'necromancer' or 'one who wakes the dead'. This suggests that witches associate with the underworld of the dead, or they are people who raise the dead (Stein, 14).

The word 'witch' has many meanings, as shown, however in the media or in text most are shown with negative, supernatural or evil connotation. Despite the media's belief that witchcraft is an evil and foreboding art, the religion itself has been around long before man's first written records, and long before the Inquisition that condemned the Old Ways.

Witchcraft is an ancient path that requires discipline (Moorey, 1). As M. Evans said in The New Believers while quoting Leo Louis Martello:

"Witchcraft is a pre-Christian faith. It tends to be matriarchal whereas both Christianity and Satanism are patriarchal and male chauvinist. The latter two are merely opposite sides of the same coin. Witchcraft, as the Old Religion, is a coin of different vintage, predating both." (129)

The path dates back 20,000 years. Before Christianity, before the Roman and Greek pantheons, and before recorded history people worshiped the spirit of each thing (Zimmerman, 17). This spirit is often called Earth Mother (Moorey, 7). Earth Mother was also called "Isis" to the Egyptians, "Ishtar" to the Assyrians, Greeks had "Gaea", "Hera" and "Demeter", the Romans had "Maia" and "Ceres", and the Christians call her "Mary" (Colbert, 43). This idea of a mother figure can also be found in many novels, such as Galadriel in "Lord of the Rings" (Colbert, 45). To modern witches, Earth Mother is called the Mother Goddess (Moorey, 7). The Mother Goddess fist appeared all over Europe, when small carved female figures were found. These were dated to have come from the Palaeolithic period, over 20,000 years ago. It is generally referred to as the Venus. The Venus of Willendorf is believed to represent fertility to prehistoric societies (Zimmerman, 18). Cave paintings from this time also depicted a half man, half animal figure called The God of the Hunt. This is also similar to the God of pagans (Zimmerman, 18). In the Stone Age women were very powerful, and birth was considered a powerful magic (Moorey, 7). As time continued, the cave paintings varied to depict religious rituals. These paintings were of humans dressed in animal costume. Historians believe the people of this time danced and painted to encourage animals to multiply and plants to grow (Zimmerman, 18). As prehistory rituals became more complex, ritual leaders emerged, and they were called Shamans. In modern paganism, and in the Old Religion, these Shamans were also called High Priests and Priestesses (Zimmerman, 19). History is very important to witchcraft, because often in their rituals ancient customs have underlying meaning and contain knowledge ( Moorey, 6). Women were honoured for having the power of intuition and wisdom. They were known for having instincts about people, rather than the instincts of men to hunt. As times changed, man began to hunger for conquest and power became more important than caring for the land and the tribe. This made man more intelligent as humans began to plan, fight and build as well as gain power. This was more natural to men due to testosterone, which gave them more aggressiveness than women. Due to this sudden movement, women became oppressed, and as the West started developing, humans turned to logic rather than intuition (Moorey, 10). Despite this movement the witch ways still continued. In Celtica, which is known as Scotland, some parts of Germany, Ireland and some parts of England, the Celts believed women were very powerful (Moorey, 11). According to a statement in Ancient Mediterranean by Michael Grant, all that sets humans above savages in Western Civilizations came from the Mediterranean. It can therefore be assumed that to understand humans, the history of the Mediterranean must be known. This coast was home to the Egyptian, Etruscan, Roman and Iberian cultures. Also the Aegeans appeared later from Greek colonies. It was these ancient cults that formed many of the pagan beliefs associated with witchcraft today (Grimassi, 10).  Cults in Ancient Greece and Egypt taught Gnosticism, which is the belief in doing what the heart says. This is the general belief behind witchcraft (Moorey, 9). Then Christianity came in to existence and the laws became harsher when in 371 CE Rome adopted Christianity as an official religion. These new laws imposed upon Rome taught that man should listen to what God's priests taught, and some figures used this for political reasons and power. When the new religion, Christianity, was implemented, Roman soldiers slaughtered priests and druids of other religions (Zimmerman, 20). This was the beginning of the deterioration of the freedom of the Old Religion. To appease the Pagans, some deities were absorbed into the Christian religion, such as the goddess Brigid who is now called St. Brigit (RavenWolf, 15). 

As in the poem by David O. Norris:

"Ten thousand years we've struck the fire,
Creation's music freely sun
With Magick joined we've praised the stars
Since first the world begun.
Our spirit lives in timeless dance,
The Tarot and the Rune,
And nights united in the power
Of Drawing Down the Moon!

Witches have been around for centuries. At times they hid in the shadows, waiting for their time to rise again. Witches were persecuted because their beliefs were different, and because they were extraordinary. Witches were mostly extraordinary because of their Religion. Today it is known as "Wiccan", however it was mostly known as the "Old Religion". The belief system itself is, at times, hard to define. In comparison with the Christian faith, the Old Religion has no complete Dogma or a book of reference. As is stated by Carol McGrath who was told by a Native-American woman, "If you take the Christian Bible and put it out in the wind and the rain, soon the paper on which the words are printed will disintegrate and the words will be gone. Our bible is the wind and the rain." The fact that it is a nature-based religion makes it even more difficult to pinpoint exactly what witchcraft is. There are many wonderful and horrible definitions that come to mind. The general population believes the more media presented and negative view. However the best definition would be: "Witchcraft is a nature based, life affirming religion that follows a moral code and seeks to build harmony among people, and empower the self and others" (Ravenwolf, 4). This definition can apply to many religions, however it denies the largest misconception of witchcraft, which is the idea that witches worship Satan. By definition, a witch cannot worship Satan, Beelzebub, or any other name for the Christian Devil. This is simply because witches don't believe in him. On the contrary, witches are committed to helping people and the world in general (Moorey, 1). The greatest rule in witchcraft is "harm none" (Moorey, 12).  This law speaks of the basic principles of the Witches' religion. The main ideas are harm none and whatever is done comes back times three. This law of getting back what is sent out threefold is the general idea of do on to others as you would have them do on to you, which is a universal lesson. Along with these laws, the Queen of Witches, Aradia, created thirteen laws for all witches to live by:

bullet I. Observe the times of the sacred gatherings, for therin is the foundation of the powers.
bullet II. When good is done for you, you are bound to return it threefold. And if you shall help another you will not accept payment but shall bind the one served to likewise help yet another three.
bullet III. Use not your power or knowledge of the Craft, neither call forth your aids, for your own glory or as proof of your standing. Work instead for the good of your coven or for those who are outside (should they prove worthy). For your own need you may work if no harm is done through your gain.
bullet IV. Take not the life of any living thing except it be to preserve another life. If you take a life to provide food, then all of its being must be used in respect to its life force. That which cannot be used must be returned to the Earth with blessings made.
bullet V. Give not your word lightly, for you are bound by your words, and by your oaths.
bullet VI. You shall not bow before any authority over you except it be that of the Creators, or their emissaries. All others are worldly ego.
bullet VII. You are bound to teach and initiate all who appear worthy, and to aid in the continuance of the Old Religion.
bullet VIII. Belittle not another's beliefs nor degrade another for their ways. But offer your own truth without argument and strive to dwell in peace those who differ.
bullet IX. As there be no harm to another, then let your actions be as you will. Love and freedom are the essence of the Law.
bullet X. Strive to live your life in compassion and awareness to the minds and hearts of all who share in your presence.
bullet XI. Be true to your own understanding and strive to turn away from that which is opposed within you.
bullet XII. Destroy not, neither scar, the beauty of Nature around you. Hold reverence for all things in Nature, second only to the Creators. Waste nothing.
bullet XIII. Remain open in your heart and in your mind to the Great Ones, the Creators, and to your brothers and sisters alike" (Grimassi, 202).

This part of the covenant and Gospel of Aradia expresses the beliefs of which all of the Old Religion was. The Laws mainly protect others and enforce the idea of "harm none". It is obvious from this document that being a witch wasn't all about casting spells and riding brooms. The "Craft" as it was often called was about having commitment and responsibility to oneself, one's coven, they community and the Earth (Zimmerman, 61). To express and teach others of the witches ways, the Rede of the Wiccae was created. It is formally known as The Counsel of the Wise Ones. The poem is a Celtic tradition passed from generation to generation, and is a pillar of the Witchcraft faith:

"Bide the Witches' laws ye must
 in perfect love and perfect trust.
Ye must live and let live
- fairly take and fairly give.
Cast the Circle thrice about
to keep unwelcome spirits out.
To bind the spell right every time
let the spell be spoken in rhyme. Soft of eye and light of touch -
speak ye little, listen much.
Deosil go by the waxing moon -
chanting out the Witches' Rune.
Widdershins go by the waning moon,
chanting out the baneful tune.
When the Lady's Moon is new
kiss the hand to Her times two.
When the Moon rides at her peak,
then the heart's desire seek.
Heed the Northwind's mighty gale -
lock the door and trim the sail.
When the wind comes from the South,
love will kiss thee on the mouth.
When the moor wind blows from the West,
departed spirits have no rest.
When the wind blows from the East,
expect the new and set the feast.
Nine woods in the Cauldron go -
burn them quick and burn them slow.
Elder be the Lady's tree -
burn it not or cursed ye'll be.
When the Wheel begins to turn -
let the Beltaine fires burn.
When the Wheel has turned to Yule,
light the Log and let the Horned One rule.
Heed ye flower, bush and tree -
By the Lady, blessed be.
Where the rippling waters flow,
cast a stone and truth ye'll know.
When ye have and hold a need,
hearken not to other's greed.
With a fool no seasons spend
or be counted as his friend.
Merry meet and merry part -
bright the cheeks and warm the heart.
Mind the Threefold Law ye should,
three times bad and three times good.
When misfortune is enow,
wear the blue star on thy brow.
True in love ye must ever be,
less thy love be false to thee.
These words the Witches' Rede Fulfill:
and ye harm none, do what ye will
" (Zimmerman, 61-62).

This essay continues below.

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Witchcraft is often called "The Craft" by witches because it is a skill and belief that can be improved and better understood with experience and practice (Moorey, 6). Witchcraft is difficult to describe in entirety because it is different for each witch depending upon family background and personal preference. There are many forms of witchcraft just as there are many forms of Christianity. However, unlike Christianity, witches worship a God and a Goddess. This divine pair have many names, such as The Lord and the Lady, Diana and Apollo, Zeus and Hera, and Mary and Jesus. Not necessarily are the God and Goddess married or mates. Together the God and Goddess create the Divine. The Divine can be neither male nor female as it is a perfect being. The belief of a perfect being as a male or as a female is illogical to the witches because no male or female is perfect without all the qualities of the other sex. Therefore the Divine is both (Moorey, 2).

Witches are also nature-worshipers because the natural world is a manifestation of the Divine. The Divine created all, and the witches believe all were meant to be equal, despite the common belief of human superiority (Moorey, 2). The ancient path is mainly about developing inner awareness, and being in harmony with the rest of creation. It is a very spiritual path, but also a practical one in helping others and through witches may be called mystics, witches are also achievers. It is perhaps this need for achievement that brought about their downfall in The Burning Times (Moorey, 4). In the year 371 A.D. Rome adopted Christianity as their official religion (Zimmerman, 20). Due to this sudden adaptation, they slaughtered priests of other religions and druids of the pagans. In order to make pagans conform to Christianity, priests had churches built atop worshipping grounds of the pagans. They believed that the people would still gather there and worship, however they would be lead by Christian priests instead. Those of the Old Religion still gathered in the churches, and became a hybrid religion. They appeared, acted and sounded like Christians, but many were still following the Old Religion. Many called Mary "Our Lady", which is another name for the Goddess of the Old Religion (Zimmerman, 20). From the years 1450-1700 witches, Jews, Muslims, non-Christians, Christian heretics, Cathars, Waldenses, Protestants and pagans were prosecuted by the Inquisition (Stein, 38). The Inquisition was a judicial institution by the Roman Catholic Church. The Inquisition was most active in France, Germany, Italy and Spain. The aim of the Inquisition was not justice, but confession and submission. Witchcraft was added to the Church's list of heresies in 1320. Witches were not the primary target until after 1484 due to the fact that during this year Pope Innocent VIII issued a bull that created 250 years of torture and murder of accused witches, as it stated that some men and women "gave themselves over to devils male and female, and by their incantations, charms and conjurings... ruin and cause to perish the offspring of women, the foal of animals, the products of the Earth." (Stein, 38-41).  The edict stated that witches had sex with demons and the devil, they could fly and were capable of evil deeds, which meant that they had a pact with the devil. Two years later, Heinrich Kramer and Jakob Sprenger approached the Pope and asked for him to intercede with authorities. They claimed that the authorities were preventing the trials to continue. The Malleus Maleficarum was publish in 1486 by Kramer and Sprenger, and the book guided the church and government for more than two centuries on how to purge the world of witches. It was the second best selling book in Europe next to the Bible. The book was based upon "Thou shall not suffer a witch to live" (Exodus 22:18). However scholars such as Reginald Scott stated that the Hebrew word 'witch' meant 'poisoner'. The book was also supported by writings from Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine. The Malleus Maleficarum was divided into three sections.

bullet The first section told how the devil and his helpers, the witches, did evil deeds with the permission of God. It was necessary to show God as all-powerful and above Satan. Therefore if the Devil acted without God's consent, it would be mean that the Devil was as powerful as God.
bullet The second part of the book was details on spells and bewitchments of people and animals. It held gruesome tales of sexual acts between the devil and witches, along with demons and some mythical creatures. The authors claimed that this was taken from actual testimony of accused witches who confessed during trials.
bullet The last part tells of the legal procedures for trying witches. It includes recommendations for obtaining testimony, inflicting torture, and passing sentences. In most cases, death was the proper punishment (Stein, 38 - 42).

Some of the executioners began to feel guilty for their acts, but they were reassured by the idea that "God would not allow the conviction and execution of innocent people" (Stein, 43). Those who did protest against the executions were convicted of witchcraft and then burned. Bamberg was a large place that was infatuated with the witch-craze. The Prince-Bishop established a weapon against witches, in which full time lawyers, torturers and executions were hired. During the year of it's creation, the 'machine' killed nine hundred alleged witches, over three hundred of them being between the ages 3 - 4 (Stein, 44). The witch-craze brought about the death of millions. People were accused for the slightest suspicion such as a cross word, a curse, an argument, an angry look. If crops were destroyed by the weather or a child took ill then witchcraft was the cause and someone had to be blamed. The victims of these were denied legal council; even though none would dare defend them (Stein, 45). The accused were stripped, shaved and examined for witch's marks or devil's marks (Stein, 44). These marks could be scars, pimples, moles or freckles (Summers, 71). Often confessions were voluntary, which means they came after the examination or 'light' torture. 'Light' torture was generally whipping. Some would confess shortly after hearing what their torturer had in store for them. These tortures were appalling in their brutality. Some victims were stretched upon the racks, burned with red hot irons, sometimes internally; their bones were smashed, thumbs and toes were crushed with 'thumb-screws'. Accused witches were forced to confess attending sabbats, poisoning people, dishonouring Catholic rituals, having sex with Satan and demons, or practicing magic with Satan's aid (Stein, 47). In Germany alone 300,000 people were executed. (Stein, 37) The total number from Scotland, Spain, England, Belgium, France, Finland, Switzerland and Germany, and only from the years 1563-1727, which is at the end of the witch-craze, 1,869 men and 6,122 women were executed. This gives a total of 7,941. These numbers do not include the years 1300-1562, which was when the most murders occurred. It also does not included data from lost records, unreported cases or unreported areas (RavenWolf, 63-64). The actual burnings themselves were supposed to be merciful. The executors would first strangle or hang the woman before tying her to a pole to burn to death. However the woman would come to conscious half burned and start screaming. Painfully she would cry for mercy and try crawling out of the fire, where watchers would throw her back in. Later, a bill for the wood, oil and peat used to burn the witch would be sent to her family (Stein, 37). The methods of torture used to make witches confess varied from some of the most painful to more simple devices. These tortures were used because it was believed that witches would not feel the pain, as was written in Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer and Jakob Sprenger: "He must not be too quick to subject a witch to examination, but must pay attention to certain signs which will follow. And he must not be too quick for this reason: unless God, through a holy Angel, compels the devil to withhold this help from the witch, she will be so insensible to the pains of torture that she will sooner be torn limb from limb than confess any of the truth." (Sidky, 164). After these examinations and tortures, another way to see if the witch were innocent or not was trial by scales. This was the theory that giant balancing scales would identify a witch. If the witch weighed equally with a bible then she was innocent. Naturally this rarely if ever occurred (Farrington, 58). Some of the accusations that witches faced were denying the Christian faith, denying Christian baptism or being re-baptized by the Devil, replacing godparents with Satanic colleagues, surrendering clothing and blood as part of an oath to Satan to represent their submission to him, accepting a Devil's mark, paying taxes to the Devil, sacrificing children to the Devil, bringing up their own children as servants to the Devil, and accepting the Devil as both god and king (Ashley, 106). "The history of Christianity is the history of persecution. Christian forces have consistently harassed, persecuted, tortured and put to death people whose spirituality differed from their own - Pagans, Jews, Muslims...Christian armies and clergy...have repeatedly failed to see the sacred wisdom in other cultural traditions based on different perceptions of the divine power" (Stein, 59).

This quote points a direct finger at the Roman Catholic faith for the witch-craze for two centuries. This is not entirely accurate as Christianity is not alone in the blame. The idea that in the Old Religion property belonged to everyone took away from the basis of human prosperity completely. Therefore those who hated the thoughts of shared responsibility along with shared land hated those who believed such. Also healers and midwives were seen as threats because they used herbs to make birth painless, when birth was supposed to be painful. These poor women and men were used as scapegoats for all those who befell tragedy (Stein, 59). If a woman had blonde, red or grey hair, with green or grey eyes, and possessed a cat, then chances are she would not have survived. This was a time of devastation when historians have estimated that anywhere from 50,000 people to 9,000,000 were executed in the name of the Inquisition. Never again should this tragedy be repeated.

History has made its judgement on Witchcraft, the beliefs and the Burning Times. The history of witchcraft states clearly that is has never not been there, but was the first religion to ever be created. Witches beliefs and customs only relive the past and carried a beautiful tradition. The Burning Times exampled the desperate time when the Church felt a need for power, and women were used as scapegoats. It can always be hoped that this tragedy will never repeat itself again, but unless future generations are educated in the past, they are doomed to repeat such a horrendous thing. The Old Religion must always be upheld if only in stories that readers can no longer truly relate to because they have forgotten their instincts from long ago. As the witches' world of magic leaves so does the last true hope and wonder of this world.

"But in sober truth, I think it is the Christians who will tell the last tale. For ever the world of Fairy drifts further from the world in which the Christ holds sway. I have no quarrel with the Christ, only with his priests, who call the Great Goddess a demon and deny that she ever held power in this world. At best, they say that her power was of Satan. Or else they clothe her in the blue robe of the Lady of Nazareth - who indeed had power in her way, too - and say that she was ever virgin. But what can a virgin know of the sorrows and travail of mankind?" (Bradley, ix)

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Summers, Montague. The History of Witchcraft and Demonology. Secaucus:
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Wicca and Witchcraft. Indianapolis: Amaranth. 2000.

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Copyright 2003 by the author
Originally written: 2003-APR-1
Latest update: 2004-APR-13
Ariadne DawnFire

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