WITCHCRAFT: WHAT IS IT REALLY? For my final project, I choose the non-ordinary topic of witchcraft. I was not and am not, interested in researching this to learn how to become a witch and to practice the craft. My intent in doing this project stemmed from the fact that I am a Christian. This class has showed me how to have a more open mind, and how gaining knowledge provides understanding. I wanted to see what is fact and what is false about the myths and stereotypes about witches and witchcraft. To fully explore this subject I have found information on the history of witchcraft and its evolution into the religion of Wicca that is practiced today.Order now
I have also looked into how the media today and in the past has presented witches and the type of propaganda that they use that further in the falsehoods that still are present about the craft. Another aspect of my project is two interviews that I conducted with people associated with witchcraft, Meghan Lewis and Carol Karlsen. Witchcraft the religion is quite old. Practices have said to be dated back to Neolithic “Stone Age” cave painting, but it is hard to be completely certain if the pictures have been interpreted properly. Witchcraft is known to have grown out of pre-Christian pagan beliefs.
The beliefs have developed over the years, being taken from various sources. The idea of witchcraft took a major turn around the end of the mid-evil period. Around the 1500’s the religion of witchcraft no longer become accepted. The Catholic Church in Europe began inquisitions and the persecutions of people they believed to be witches. Before this time the definition of a witch had a person such as a healer or sorcerer/sorceress. Often the people who were known as witches were “wise folk” or “good witches.
” They were often old, and believed that their knowledge of herbs used in medicine was due to their age. Starting in about the thirteenth century the concept of what a witch was changed that a person who was called a witch was believed to have it in with Satan and practicing evil. The idea of there being good witches was no longer accepted, and a series of witch trials began to continued on until around the end of the 1600’s, spreading from Europe to the New World of America. Execution of accused witches occurred in many counties throughout Europe.
Some of common things that witches were blamed for causing were destructive storms; non-producing crops or animals, diseases, sterility, death, possession of humans and making them do outrageous acts. The Romans and Greeks were also known to put some people to death for being witches. People who were in witches in those societies were believed to move around at night causing the evils of humanity. In most of Europe, though, a witch was someone who was conspiring with the devil, which during the mid-evil times was a great offense. The people of this era were very devout in their religion, and the devil was highly feared.
To have a person who was supposed to be connected to the devil was something that just could not be accepted. Some of the first executions in Europe that occurred for the crime of witchcraft took place between the years of 1347-1400 in France. Sixty-seven were burned for being involved with the craft. In the 1400’s, the Catholic Church became a key player and influencer in the persecution of witches. It was declared by the church that witchcraft was a “hostile threat” to Christianity and that a crackdown on the ending the practice was necessary.
It was at this time that the idea that witches were agents of the devil became a common belief. They were suspected by some to be on earth to do evil on God’s people. Much of how one would be declared a witch was based upon a book commissioned by the Pope. It was written by two monks, Heinrich Kraemer and Jacob Sprenger, and is entitled “malleies malificarum” or “The Witches’ Hammer. ” It outlined various aspects that were considered against that were a crime to be participating in, and defined someone as a witch.
Witchcraft was be outlawed in England in the year 1541, and in 1604, capital punishment became the ramification for a person who was a witch or pagan. The inquisition of witches continued to occur in Europe throughout the 1500’s and 1600’s. In 1515, more than five hundred charged witches were executed in Geneva. In 1589, one hundred and thirty-three men, women and children were burned in one day for being witches.
Between the years of 1591 and 1600, three hundred were put to death in Switzerland. Also, in Sweden, during the time between 1674-1677, seventy-one were burned for suspected involvement in the craft. The people who were put to death often went through much torture before their lives were finally ended. The mid-evil times in Europe are somewhat known for the variety of tortures and devices used on people when accused of various crimes. Some of these punishments that accused witches would be subjected to include: thumbscrews, the rack, and boots that were made to break the person’s legs.
The accused were often deprived sleep and food as well, while awaiting their inevitable death. Many times the person accused of witchcraft were subjected to these tortures because they would not confess. They would be continually put through pain until they declared participating in witchcraft, and then they would die. The situation was no win, many would die from torture, and if they didn’t then they would confess and die because for that reason. Two famous trials that took place in Europe are that of Joan of Arc and Urbain Grandier. Joan of Arc was accused of heresy and witchcraft.
She admitted to hearing voices that she claimed belonged to St. Michael, St. Catherine of Alexandria, and St. Margaret. She also declared that these voices instructed her to help in the Hundred Years’ War.
Though her involvement actually turned the war in Frances favor, she was put in trial for the wearing of masculine attire and for acting on God and not for the Catholic Church. She was burned at the stake for her “crimes. ” Twenty-five years after her burning, the church revoked the decision, declaring her innocent, and a heroine due to her assistance in the war. Urbain Grandier was a respected priest in the town of Loudun, France.
He was prosecuted for the crime of sorcery, evil spells, and causing the possession of Ursuline nuns at a convent in his town. The accusations by these women were the focus of his charge. They suddenly began barking, screaming, contorting they bodies out of pain, and participating in acts of blaspheme. When asked, they stated that Garndier was the reason for their outrageous actions. At his trial, seventy-two people testified to have witnessed his “witchcraft” actions, and based upon these testimonies he was burned alive.
Studying the cause after the fact, it has been stated by many that the real reason for Garndier being accused had nothing to do with him actually being involved with witchcraft. Many historians believe that he was highly associated with politics and was not liked, and murdered due to this. They believe that the nuns’ actions were part of a conspiracy with higher government officials in the town. With this snowballing effect of witchcraft inquisitions throughout Europe, it was bound to spread across the seas to the young New World colonies. The small village of Salem would be the one to get hit. The events that took place in Salem are a part of American history that have lived throughout the years, and are still studied to this day.
Salem Village was the first European settlement in what is now called Danvers, Massachusetts. Salem Village developed into its own entity and parish from breaking off the already existing Salem Town when a group of farmers moved to this area petitioning for its independence. This occurred in 1689, and the village became established with its church led by the Reverend Samuel Parris. The beginning of the accusations occurred because of the daughter and niece of Rev. Samuel Parris.
In the winter of 1692, nine-year-old Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams suddenly seemed to fall ill. They began displaying unexplainable and frightening behaviors. The girls would dive under furniture, contort their bodies in painful positions, claim that they were being bit and poked by some unseen force, bark, scream gibberish, and claim to see frightening apparitions. Other girls in the neighboring homes started experiencing these same symptoms. These girls included eleven-year-old Ann Putman, seventeen-year-old Mercy Lewis, Mary Walcott, Elizabeth Hubbard, Susannah Sheldon, and Mary Warren, making the total number inflicted eight.
The town called in Dr. William Griggs to examine the girls, and hopefully get an explanation for their outrageous behaviors. Even before the doctor’s assessment of the girls’ condition, there were rumors going around the village that witchcraft may be the cause. These are partly attributed to a book that had been recently published by Cotton Mather.
It was entitled “Memorable Providences,” and told the tale of a woman in Ireland that had been possessed by a witch. The woman’s behavior in the book was similar to that displayed by the infected girls. After Dr. Griggs fully examined the girls, and tired various methods to cure them, he had no answer.
In the meantime, the disease seemed to be spreading with some adults being infected. He finally suggested that the supernatural might be at play in the cases of these little girls. The individuals living the Salem Village were strict Puritans. Some of the behaviors that the girls were exhibiting were scaring the community, and causing many to believe somehow the devil was involved.
Many of the people in the village were convinced that witchcraft and Satan were coming to breakdown this God-fearing town. From the assertion by the doctor, and already existing opinions that witchcraft was the cause, the accusations began. Parris and Williams made the first allegations of specific persons being participating in witchcraft and causing the epidemic that was taking place in the town. The girls accused three women, Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborn. Tituba was a Caribbean woman that worked as a slave to the Parris family. She had been suspected by many as a witch due to the different beliefs of her native culture.
Sarah Good was an old beggar woman that some would consider a social outcast. Sarah Osborn was also an old woman known for being quarrelsome and for not attending church on a regular basis. These three women were placed in jail and schedule for trials of witchcraft in March. After these first condemnations, many more followed, with the jails filling up more and more everyday.
As the number of people in jail increase, the less likely it seemed that some should be there. Others accused included the very pious and frail Rebecca Nurse; Martha Corey, wife of a successful farm; Deliverance Hobbs; Bridget Bishop, owner of a house of brothel; Sarah Cloyce; Goodwife Proctor, wife of a rich farmer and Mary Easty. Also, the four-year-old daughter of Sarah Good, Dorcas, would be accused of being tied to witchcraft as well. Three of the girls had complained that they were bitten by Dorcas’s specter. It soon turned that it wasn’t just females being implicated, some males were said to witches. The wealthy Phillip English and George Burroughs, a former pastor in Salem joined the women in confinement.
The first of the accused to confess to witchcraft was the Parris’s slave Tituba. She said in her testimony that she had met a man that sometimes would appear as a dog or hog, and he would ask her to sign his book to do work for him (the devil). She declared that she was a witch, and that she, Good and Osborn had flown in the air over the poles. More and more trials, confessions, and denials followed this initial act by Tituba. When the women would come into the courtroom the girls would scream and say that they were being hurt, or other various horrid things by the “witch” When it was all over, nearly 25 died.
Sarah Osborn died in prison; Sarah Good, Bridget Bishop, Rebecca Nurse, George Burroughs, Martha Corey, Mary Easty were all hanged; and the husband of Martha Corey, Giles, was pressed to death under two heavy stones which took a period of two days. He and his wife were the last victims of the witch-hunt that had become an epidemic in this little village of Salem. Early Autumn of 1692 brought an ending to this awful period in American history. Many doubts were starting to develop in people of the town due to the social stance of some of the accused held. Increase Mather published a book entitled “Cases of Conscience” which argued the morals behind what had been taking place over the past few months. There are many theories that have developed since the end of the witch trials of Salem.
These ideas have also come up in the study of the witch-hunts in Europe. Where people making this up? Where their social reasons that they wanted certain murdered and used witchcraft as the mode? As one can see, over this period the concept of what a witch was become skewed from the original definition. During the times between the 1300’s to the late 1600’s, the practice of religion of witchcraft became somewhat of a secret society. What these secret witches were practicing was not in the same form that the church categorized witchcraft as. After the late 1600’s, witchcraft remained a quiet practice by its followers. Then, in 1897, and book was written entitled “Aradia” or The Gospel of the Witches,” by Godfrey Liland.
Though it went unnoticed, it was a beginning of resurgence of the true religion of witchcraft in society. About fifteen to twenty years after Liland’s novel was publish an Egyptologist, Dr. Margaret Alice Murray, discovered some documents on witchcraft. Information in these records stated that witchcraft was actually a mix of ancient, pre-Christianity, nature/fertility based religion. Murray furthered researched this information to find it to be true.
She went on to study the laws that the church had implemented during the times of the witch-hunts. In researching the information on the this topic she found evidence supporting the validity that witchcraft has nothing to do with Satan, and that they churches knew this the entire time. She published her findings in a work called “The Witch-Cult in Western Europe. ” These works initiated the reformation of the craft and its ability to be practiced by people without fearing for their lives. Modern witchcraft, or the general term, Wicca, has many forms and has evolved from different areas.
This chart shows the basic evolution of witchcraft. Many new-age practices of Wicca are based off the beliefs established by Aleistel Crowley. An outline of his doctrines was presented in his biography and provided a basis for many who were seeking a form of witchcraft to practice. From his basic concepts grew what is known as “Gardinerian” style of Wicca. Gerald Brosseau Gardner, a follower of Crowley, developed it.
The “Alexandian” style was begun by Alex Sanders, and has many of the same concepts that are practiced by the Gardinearian witches. Miriam Simos, or Starhawk, is the founder of the feminist Wicca in the United States. She runs an organization known as The Covenant of the Goddess, which combines feminism and the Gardinerian style. Though there are many different styles of Wicca one could practice, there are many basic concepts that are consistent in most of the different types. Many of the basic beliefs of witchcraft counteract the myths and stereotypes the today’s society has about what witchcraft is. A witch can be male or female, and is defined as one who practices Wicca.
Witchcraft is a nature religion, not unlike that of shamanism, and is considered pagan religion. With this concept of worshipping nature, witches believe in the idea of dualism. What this means is that they believe that everything in nature, including humans, has a male and female (this can be related to Christianity’s good/evil concept). The God and The Goddess of Wicca represent the male/female aspect of nature.
These are what witches worship; so when one asks if a witch believes in God, the answer is yes, but as a creative force and not in the Christian sense. The Goddess of Wicca represents the continuation of existence in nature and she has three forms. The first is Herodias, or The Maiden who is the symbol of birth and beginning. One who worships this form of the goddess must be a virgin, but one who follows The Maiden is said to have the innocence of perception and stronger psychic abilities. The second form is Diana Gaia, or The Mother.
She represents life in its’ prime. Her followers learn to use sex as a power source and don’t have the “blind spots” that sometimes occur from having a perception of innocence. The final form is Hecate, Anatha, or The Crone. She is believed to represent death and ending. Witches that follow the path of The Crone gain wisdom and objectivity that comes with age. The God of Wicca is the symbol of the male element of nature; he represents cycles, that of a year (birth, life, death and re-birth).
He is believed to born to The Goddess, and dies on all hallows’ eve each year. Some types of Wicca believe that The God has three forms-the blue God of spring, the green God of summer, and the brown God of fall. As one can see, witches do not worship the devil. In the morals of the craft, there actually is no incentive for witches to do evil work, and they do not worship any evil entities at all. A basic concept of Wicca is that of the “Three-Fold Law,” which says that whatever you do comes back to you three times, so witches only want to do good.
Another basic aspect in Wicca is that of the rede. It states “ An’ye harm none, do what ye will. ” What this is saying, is that witches do not believe in harming anyone or anything, and so as long as a witch practices that idea they can do what they want. Witches do practice magick and spells, but not in the sense that most think of them.
Spells are related back to strong prayer for something. Magick in Wicca is the effect of a spell. There are often magick referred as black and white. Many witches do not like these terms; but the basic idea that white magick is done with a general intent of good and black magick is done with the intent to effect the free will of someone specifically.
For example, black magick could be trying to make a person fall in love with you. Witches do use tools in their spells/prayers that they believe hold powers in aiding them with they work. This is much like that of the shamans as well. Some basic tools and symbols are used by most that practice Wicca.
The Pentagram or Pentacle is a five-pointed star in an upright, one-point up position. It is known as the symbol of witchcraft. The top point symbolizes the creator ruling the four elements of nature, air-love, fire-knowledge, water-wisdom and the earth-truth. The circle enclosing the star stands for the Deity. Other tools include candles of various coloring representing different things.
The anthame is a dagger (dull, not used to cut) used to center energy when performing a spell. The wand is used in spells to invoke the energy of The God or The Goddess. The cauldron is used in many rituals especially during various holidays. The censer is an incense burner that is used in offerings to the Deities. The Book of Shadows is created by all witches and holds a witch’s rituals, spells, dreams, and anything important to their practice.
Witches also have various statues, icons, jewels, and still other various things that old special meaning to them. Another aspect of Wicca is the holidays that most witches celebrate. The most well known, but not by this name is, Samhain. It occurs on October 31, and is the eve of the Celtic New Year and first day of Winter. It is believed that on this night the line between the material world and the spiritual world is the easiest to cross over.
Yule occurs on December 21 or 22, and is the night of the winter solstice. The God is re-born to bring light and warmth back to the earth. Imbold (Candlemas) fall on February 2 and is in celebration of the first stirrings of the year. It is also in celebrating of the three phases of The Goddess. There is also Ostara on March 21 or 22 serving as a reminder that light and dark are in balance.
Still other holidays include Beltane, Litha, Lammas, and Mabon all representing a celebration in a change in nature or of The God or The Goddess. All of these facts of Wicca are just a basic understanding of what in religion entails. Most witches believe that your practice is what you make of it yourself, and what you want to believe is fine as long as it if for your own purpose and done out of good. When studying the history and the facts of witchcraft, I took a personal interest in the effects of the history of witchcraft on its view in popular culture.
Witches are a common theme in many works of literature, TV programs and movies. Who hasn’t heard of the three witches of Macbeth that gave him his fate? There was also the popular program of Bewitched were Samantha was called a witch because she could cast the notion of what many thought was a spell, and also make things just appear when she wanted them too. Many times the stereotypes, in general, that are presented in the multi-media venue are taken from some truths in society. I feel that for witchcraft typecasts that are placed in witches in TV and the movies are just based upon popular culture and have no real backing. While doing this project I watched a couple shows that are on TV now that have witchcraft as a topic for the show. One show that is on is called Charmed; it is about three sisters who practice the craft.
Some of information presented held true to that of what Wicca is, but some of was changed for entertainment purposes. Another program I viewed was Sabrina the Teenage Witch. The show is true example on how witches have gotten the label that they still have today. Sabrina, her two aunts and her cat are all witches.
On this episode, they all can just cast spells at the drop of a hat to make things “magically” appear. Another aspect I noticed while doing this project was the reaction I received from people when I told them what my topic was. Many kind of looked at me weird, some asked if I believed it, and others inquired if I was learning how to cast spells. The impression that I got was there is a true ignorance in American culture to the knowledge of what true Wicca and witchcraft is today. When pondering why this is, I realized that much of that has to do with how witches are portrayed. No TV show or movie has ever accurately shown how Wicca is practiced because it wouldn’t be entertaining.
It is easy to fuel the misconceptions what of witchcraft is. Some of this is understandable and unchangeable; we are never going to get rid of the woman dressed in black with a pointed hat and a wart on her nose as the traditional image of a witch. This project opened my eyes to how stereotypes and myths can be easily furthered by the media. Another personal aspect of this project is two interviews that I conducted with women associated to witchcraft.
One was with a woman named Meghan Lewis, who practices worshipping nature, and believes in some of the Wicca concepts. The second interview was with Carol Karlsen, a professor in Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan. She is teaching a course in the history of witchcraft. These two interviews provided me with some opinions and personal aspects on witchcraft that I had not found in my previous research. Meghan Lewis is a woman that one can just tell is educated. She begins our first conversation wanting to know what I wanted kind of information I was interested in so she could prepare for the second time that we planned to talk and conduct the interview.
In the process of the interview, I personally enjoyed just listening to her talk about her beliefs and views on witchcraft, or more so, nature based religion. She became interested in these kinds of beliefs when she took a six-week class in women’s spirituality. They focused on the theories of the native American religions and that of Celtic religion that interested her due to her Scottish and English ancestry. After this course, she began meditating at the Arb, and getting more in touch with nature. This began a reorientation of herself to nature and she began deriving power from nature. In speaking with Meghan, I could tell that she has done much work into the study of Wicca religion, and on the concept of worshipping nature.
She says that she doesn’t necessarily practice Wicca, but she does practice many of the Wicca concepts. She informed me that Wicca is a Gaelic term that means to shirt awareness and to bend and change. In her spell work, or worship, she uses her paintings. She feels she can connect herself to nature through her paintings.
She also believes in the power of will and works with the chakras of the body, on in particular being the abs, which symbolize the seed of will. She also defined her spell work as most of the information on Wicca I found did; it is work for a desired outcome, but not bad. That is actually one thing that hit me about Meghan, she was so calm and just seemed peaceful. This is just the feeling that I got over the phone; she had a very soothing voice and was very interested in helping me out with my project.
Overall, the interview with Meghan gave me a personal look into someone who is practicing everything that I have read about while doing research for this project. It really showed me how one applies these beliefs to their everyday life. She also gave me the names of some books that I did not come across in my research that sound very interesting to read and I plan to try to pick them up. My interview with Carol Karlsen was extremely informative as well. She has spent a lot of time studying witchcraft, especially the woman’s aspect of it. She wrote a book that I actually came across in my research but wasn’t able to check it out, entitled “The Devil in the Shape of a Women.
” What this book focuses on is the women and the girls of the Salem witch trials. I asked Karlsen what are her beliefs on the Salem trials, since the questions have come up to whether these girls were telling the truth. She gave me an overview of what she has come to believe through her research. She thinks that there was something wrong with the girls. Some kind of psychological disturbance through fear of the devil, or something, may have been the actual cause, as she hypothesized. She also discussed the social standing of most of the women that were accused of the crime of witchcraft.
She said that most were either the only daughter, widows with land, wives with sons, and wives with no children. Many were also old and not quite pillars of the society, yet some were, but then that goes back the theory of the social standing. She basically inferred is that there is a possibility that these women were put on trial as the cause of the girls’ illnesses as an excuse to kill them, or inhibit them from having the husbands’ land since it wasn’t accepted at them time for a women to own land and money. We also talked about the class that she teaches at the University that I hope I can take in the future. This semester what is going to cover is what I have done here, but I am sure it will be further in depth with more concepts that I have been able to come up with for my project. She said that she is going to lecture on the history of European witchcraft, Salem, and then popular culture of witchcraft.
That last aspect is what intrigued me the most while doing my project, so I truly hope I can someday take her class. When doing my research for this project I was stunned at the amount of information that is out there about witchcraft. I also found that there are so many different interpretations to what witchcraft really is, and it can almost be confusing at times. I did get everything I hoped out of doing this project. I wanted to learn about witchcraft because I didn’t really know what was true about it and what was false. I also realized that I wanted to know to be informed so that I feel comfortable having a view on a topic.
One thing that I have learned through this class is just to be open to new ideas, even if you don’t plan on believing them I think it makes a person more well-rounded the more knowledge they have. I think it is ignorant for people to refuse to learn about psychic abilities, healing, or witchcraft based upon the reason they don’t believe in it. It often makes me wonder if they are so fickle in their beliefs, that reading about other things that are out there will change who they are. I know that I am a very firm Christian, but I am also very accepting of the other religions that are out there.
One thing that I did discover in reading about the religion of Wicca is that many of the basic principles are the same just the specifics vary. I don’t use candles to pray, or worship gods of the earth, but I have my own beliefs and so do witches. The project gave me a unique experience and a very informative on into a topic that I had many misconceptions that have been absolved. Witchcraft and Wicca has had its share of problems, but I have respect for people who stand up for their beliefs and support something even though its not considered part of the norm in today’s conforming society.
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