Witchcraft has a complicated past, and unraveling it leaves you with more questions than answers. From the late 14th to early 18th century, witchcraft was characterized as a criminal violation tried and prosecuted in varying degrees throughout Britain and Europe.
In the past, witchcraft practitioners, called witches, were pictured as older women riding on broomsticks. How did they become a witch? Where did they come from?
History of Witchcraft
Numerous books talk about the evolution of witchcraft if you want to dig deeper into its history. For now, we’ll go through some incidents where witchcraft and witches became prominent.
First Record of Witchcraft and Witches
People observing witchcraft in the past used magic spells to bring change or call on spirits to ask for help. Back then, people thought of witches as pagans performing the devil’s work. However, most of them were simply misunderstood and were natural healers, also called wise women.
There’s no exact record in history when witchcraft and witches came about, except those found in the Bible. Found in 1 Samuel, King Saul went to the Witch of Endor and asked to call on the spirit of the prophet Samuel for help.
The same people found another Bible reference about witches in Exodus, condemning them, and people were cautioned against divination or using witches to call upon the dead.
Witchcraft for Early Christians in Britain
About 400 years ago, you will find lumps on the grass on the hillside believed to be prehistoric burial grounds. People then thought that anyone who goes to this place on the hillside on the midnight of All Hallows Eve could witness the dead rise from the grave.
They ride on the road to the market cross and stop there because they cannot pass through it. The community believed that it was unfortunate to see these dead riders. But anyone who catches their eye might receive the power of prophecy and healing.
However, according to the church leaders during those times, these dead riders were condemned to hell, and whatever power they gave came from the devil. On the contrary, older people think that these dead people are elves living underneath the lumps of earth, entertaining favored mortals.
In 1486, two German Dominicans wrote and published Malleus Maleficarum, interpreted as “The Hammer of Witches.” The book guided the readers on identifying, hunting, and cross-examining witches, which, many believed, caused the witch hysteria in the mid-1400s.
It was during this time that many women were accused of being witches. Most of them confessed to different wicked behaviors while under torture.
Almost 80,000 suspected witches in Europe died by hanging or burning at stake between 1500 to 1660. The book tagged witchcraft as heresy, which Catholics and Protestants considered expert opinions, giving them the power to hunt and chase the witches away.
Salem Witch Trials
While the witch hysteria in Europe declined, the opposite was happening in the New World or western America. During this time, the area was disturbed by war, epidemics, and the fear of ongoing attacks of American native tribes.
Hunting and trying witches became the scapegoat during those tense times. The most famous trial happened in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts. These incidents, known as the Salem Witch Trials, executed 18 people, including six men, out of almost 150 accused.
The Witch’s Familiar
Witches are characterized by familiars, typically black cats or other small animals. They are fed regularly in exchange for performing commands. Another type of familiar is a person’s double, also called Norse fylgia or fetch, who can also turn himself into an animal.
During the 17th century, people believed that witches could separate a part of themselves that looked like them to go to someone else’s body and perform their will.
The Modern-Day Witchcraft
In this modern age, neo-paganism, occultism, and witchcraft are associated with Wicca’s complicated religion. Though these practices differ from various people, they all worship nature and utilize spiritual forces for their desired outcome.
These modern witches, also known as Wiccans, don’t believe in Satan; hence, they don’t practice Satanism. Their one central rule is the Rede, instructing them to “Harm no one, do what you will.” Therefore, Wiccans can do whatever they want as long as it feels right for them and no one gets hurt in the process.
More Wiccan Beliefs
Wiccans worship the horned god and the mother goddess, believing that these deities reveal themselves in nature. Occasionally, the Wiccans would consider a specific female deity as their goddess. Some of them even believe that Jesus’ mother Mary is the goddess.
Most Wiccans observe eight holidays or “sabbats” focusing on solar cycles while “esbats” on lunar cycles. They believe that these cycles provide intense interaction between natural and supernatural worlds.
Spell-casting and magic are essential parts of Wicca because they believe they are symbolic acts done in a changed consciousness. Some people admit that witchcraft helped them cope with anxiety.