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Witch; Witchcraft(religion, spiritualism, and occult)
Many modern dictionaries and encyclopedias today define the word "witch" as a person who practices black magic and is associated with Satan. At the very least many still state that a witch is a sorceress and an ugly old woman. Yet in the Odyssey, Homer speaks of the Witch Circe as a "goddess with lovely hair. . . radiant. . . the beautiful goddess singing in a lovely voice. . . (in) a white shining robe, delicate and lovely, with a fine girdle of gold about her waist." Medea, the Witch in the Golden Fleece adventures, is described as a beautiful young princess of whom Jason said, "(Her) loveliness must surely mean that she excelled in gentle courtesy." Canidia and Erichthoë were both famous Witches yet both beautiful women. The great Hecate herself is depicted as a beautiful woman on a stone carving in the British Museum. Even the so-called "Witch" of Endor (who was actually a spiritualist type of medium) is described nowhere in the Bible as being either young or old, although numerous later writers credit her with being, as Montague Summers put it, "a fearful hag (with) bleared, rheumy eyes" (Witchcraft and Black Magic. Montague Summers, Rider & Co., London, 1946). So the idea of a Witch being an ugly old crone is of relatively recent invention.
The actual meaning of the word Witch is linked to "wisdom," and is the same root as "to have wit" and "to know." It comes from the Anglo-Saxon wicce (f) or wicca
(m) meaning "wise one," witches being both female and male. According to Dr. Margaret Alice Murray, who wrote the definition for the Encyclopedia Britannica, the word has been used almost exclusively since the fifteenth century to describe persons, male or female, who worked magic. She says, "Divination or foretelling the future is one of the commonest forms of witchcraft; when this is done in the name of the deity of one of the established religions it is called prophecy; when, however, the divination is in the name of a pagan god it is mere witchcraft."
The word "Witchcraft" has been misused for hundreds of years. Christian missionaries, encountering native peoples in other lands whose beliefs differed from their own, automatically labeled those beliefs and practices as "witchcraft." Despite references to African witchcraft, Native American witchcraft, Australian aboriginal witchcraft, and other forms, none of those practices have any relationship to the ancient pre-Christian nature religions of western Europe.
In fact, Witchcraft—Wiccacraeft, the craft of the wise—dates from long before Christian times. It is an ancient Pagan religion with a belief in both male and female deities, with a reverence for nature and all life, and recognition of a need for fertility among plants, animals, and humans. In western Europe Witchcraft grew into a loosely formalized religion with its own priesthood. The followers worship at specific times of the year, at major festivals known as sabbats, and at minor "working seessions" known as esbats. The sabbat festivals coincide with certain points in the agricultural year and also with the passage of the sun. The esbats reflect the phases of the moon.
Early Christians tolerated the Old Religion of the Pagans, but as Christianity spread and adopted the goal of being the only religion, it aligned the ancient beliefs of the Witches with Satanism and ideas of working evil and black magic. In fact Witches do not believe in the Christian Satan, and to do harm to anyone or anything is against Witch beliefs. But the hysteria that resulted from Christianity's trying to abolish all rival faiths saw followers of the Old Religion tortured and put to death in the cruelest of ways during the persecutions. This campaign to eradicate the Pagans started in the fifteenth century, and even today many fundamentalist Christians still hold on to those erroneous ideas and beliefs. Both the Roman Catholic and the Protestant churches drove the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, with estimates of the number murdered by them reaching into the millions. Strongest and harshest treatment was administered in Germany, Switzerland, and France. As Rosemary Ellen Guiley states, "Political and social unrest were factors; trials increased in Germany and elsewhere in Europe during the Thirty Years War from 1618 to 1648. Bad crops years, plagues and infectious illnesses that spread throughout villages also contributed to searches for scapegoats."
By the early to mid-eighteenth century the hysteria died down. France was one of the last countries to persecute witches, the last execution there was in 1745. In England the last hanging took place in 1684, and the last trial in 1717. The idea that witchcraft was related to Satanism slowly waned and the practice was once again relegated to the realms of folk magic, healing, fertility, and divination.
Witches observe their religious rituals as individuals or in groups known as "covens." As with the ceremonies of most other religions, Witchcraft rites consist of worshiping the gods in whom the Witches believe, thanking them for what has been received, and asking for what is needed. Again, as with most religions, Witches may practice magic as part of their religious rites.
Modern Witches claim a descent (not necessarily unbroken) from the earliest Pagans. The persecutions nearly eliminated the Old Religion, but it did manage to survive, in family groups and with small covens in isolated areas. It was not until the mid-twentieth century, however, when many people were looking for alternate choices of religion, that its continued existence was revealed. The Wiccan beliefs in male and female deities, reincarnation, and retribution in the current life, as well as the closeness to nature and respect for both sexes, sparked interest in many who had found established religion sadly lacking. Dr. Gerald Gardner was the first actual Witch to gain public recognition when he published a book—Witchcraft Today
—describing Witchcraft beliefs and practices. This opened a floodgate and today Wicca, the modern version of Witchcraft, is described as "the fastest growing religious movement in America."
Witch; Witchcraft(religion, spiritualism, and occult)
Many dictionaries and encyclopedias today still define the word “Witch” as a person who practices black magic and is associated with Satan, even though Witches do not, and never have, believed in the Christian devil. The so-called “Witch” of Endor, of the Bible, was actually a Spiritualist type of medium. The actual meaning of the word Witch is linked to “wisdom,” and is the same root as “to have wit;” “to know.” It comes from the Anglo-Saxon wicce (f) or wicca (m) meaning “wise one,” Witches being both female and male. According to Dr. Margaret Alice Murray, who wrote the definition for the Encyclopedia Britannica, the word has been used almost exclusively from the fifteenth century onward for persons, male or female, who worked magic. She said, “Divination or foretelling the future is one of the commonest forms of witchcraft; when this is done in the name of the deity of one of the established religions it is called prophecy; when, however, the divination is in the name of a pagan god it is mere witchcraft.”
The word Witchcraft has been used and misused for hundreds of years. Christian missionaries, encountering native peoples in other lands whose beliefs differed from their own, automatically labeled those beliefs and practices as “witchcraft.” There was, and is, reference to “African witchcraft,” “Native American witchcraft,” “Australian aboriginal witchcraft,” and more, although none of these practices have any relationship to the ancient pre-Christian nature religions of western Europe.
In fact Witchcraft—Wiccacrxft; the craft of the wise—dates from long before Christian times and is an ancient Pagan religion with a belief in both male and female deities, with a reverence for nature and all life, and recognition of a need for fertility among plants, animals, and humans. In western Europe, Witchcraft grew into a loosely formalized religion with its own priesthood. The followers worshiped at specific times of the year, at major festivals known as Sabbats, and at minor “working sessions” known as Esbats. The Sabbat festivals tie in with the agricultural year and also with the passage of the sun. The Esbats reflect the phases of the moon.
In the early days of Christianity, the Old Religion of the Pagans was tolerated by the new religion, but as Christianity grew and developed a desire to be the only religion, it aligned the ancient beliefs of the Witches with its own Satanism and with ideas of working evil and black magic. In fact Witches do not believe in the Christian Satan and it is against Witch beliefs to do harm to anyone or anything. Wicca is the preferred word for “Witchcraft” with most Witches today. It denotes the positive, natureoriented, Pagan religion derived from pre-Christian roots. It is preferred since it does not carry the negativity associated with the stereotype witch promoted by Christianity.
In the rites of Wicca/Witchcraft, there is a celebration of the New Year at November Eve (on the ancient Celtic calendar). This is known as Samhain. Because of the change from the old year to the new, it is believed that the veil between the worlds becomes thin at this time and so it is possible to make contact with the spirits of deceased friends and loved ones. At the Samhain ritual, the witches would see (clairvoyantly) and hear (clairaudiently) the spirits and reunite with them, if only temporarily. In this sense, a Witchcraft/Wiccan Samhain ritual is very similar to a Spiritualist séance, with the leading priest and/or priestess serving as the medium.
sorceress, according to folk beliefs, upheld by medieval Christian theologians, a female servant of the devil, allegedly possessing supernatural power to harm people and animals. The belief in witches originated as early as during the period of the disintegration of primitive communal relations. The Russian term for witch ved’ma, derived from the verb vedat’ (to know), probably originally designated merely a wise, knowing woman. The attribution of harmful magic power to women with some peoples is apparently connected with the struggle against the female role in the transition era from the matriarchal to the patriarchal clan system.
In medieval Europe the Christian Church, which considered woman to be more sinful and depraved by nature than man, in every way sustained and intensified the belief in witches; hundreds of thousands of completely innocent women were burned as witches at the stake by the Inquisition in the 15th through 17th centuries. According to superstition, the witch usually hides her deeds and outwardly is no different from other women, but she secretly sends illnesses, takes away milk from cows, spoils the harvest, and so forth. Legends have been told of nightly orgies—the witches’ sabbaths—as for example, on the Lysaia Gora (Bald Mountain) near Kiev or on the summit of Mount Brocken in the Harz Mountains. Images of witches have been used in literature by such writers as Shakespeare, Goethe, and Gogol.
In everyday language “witch” designates a wicked, cantankerous, or ugly woman.
REFERENCESKantorovich, la. Srednevekovye protsessy o ved’makh, 2nd ed. St. Petersburg, 1899.
Lozinskii, S. G. Sviataia inkvizitsiia. Moscow, 1927.
Tokarev, S. A. Religioznye verovaniia vostochnoslavianskikh narodov. Moscow-Leningrad, 1957.
Michelet, J. Ved’ma. Moscow, 1912. (Translated from French.)
What does it mean when you dream about a witch?
From a Christian perspective, witches represent evil. From a more “New Age” perspective, the witch is the mother earth goddess. From a Walt Disney perspective, there is an evil witch, a good witch, and the fairy godmother who grants wishes. The meaning of this symbol depends on the tone of the dream as well as how the dreamer relates to a certain kind of witch.