What Is A Witch
The purpose of this paper is to understand Wicca and how has it changed throughout the years since it first began and the people who adopted and fear the religion. I wrote this paper in my junior year of high school for my social studies project which I received an A and since then I have done much more research into Wiccan, New Age ideology and myths and legends from various cultures from around the world, afterall ” Knowledge is Power!”
Many people who believe there are other forces in the world, some say it’s supernatural forces; people who believe this are known as wiccan or witches. Wicca is the religion in which the witches follow. Wicca has been around before Christianity or Islam and dates back to the Stone Age. The meaning of witch comes from the old English word wicca meaning wise one. In ancient times witches and magic were taken very seriously. The early pagan deities were mostly female Venus figurines were thought to have magical significance and they represented the Great Provider, Mother Nature or Mother Earth. The first figurines were carved about 30,000 years ago. They were said to bring protection, fertility and luck. Things soon began to change when war-like tribes began to invade villages in the Fertile Crescent.
In Ancient Kemet now known as Egypt, pharaoh Amenhotep IV renounced the multitude of gods and began to establish a new monotheistic order to worship the sun god Aten. The pharaoh then changed his name to Akhenaton whose rule only lasted seventeen years. The Egyptians went back to the old ways while the Israelites gave up their many gods for one. The Celtics began to inhabit a vast territory that included France, Germany, Ireland and Romania. Roman armies moved against the Celts and were driven out most of continental Europe. Most remained in France but the majority moved to the United Kingdom. The Celtic priest were known as Druids; they had knowledge of oak trees in which they used oak wood to make wands and druids priests were trained for at least twenty years in the art of magic.
The intolerance for one begins to grow and pass onto Christianity 5th century C.E. a group of priest and monks gather together and create the New Testament and with it, the modern concept of Christianity. Christianity was adopted by the Roman Empire which helped spread the new religion and helped the church to gain power and put an end to old religions. Church officials believe it is necessary to destroy all non-Christian beliefs and begin to call those who were not Christian believer’s pagans or heathens. In order to convert others the church began telling pagans that their gods were “saints” and when this had limited success they began to demonize pagan gods. The horned one became known as the devil, sex became the original sin and women became temptress leading one to evil- a good example of this is the biblical story of Adam and Eve. The god known as Pan son of Hermes the messenger to the gods was born half goat, half man with little goat horns, a tail, a goat beard and sturdy leg. In medieval times the image of the Devil is derived from Pan’s strange appearance.
Between the years of 1450-1700 people were killed for being witches or accused of being one, this tragic event eventually becomes known around the world as the Burning Times. Pope Gregory the Great issued and order that all pagan temples and places of worship be destroyed and be replaced by churches. 1231 Pope Gregory IX issued and order saying that the convicted heretics should be seized by secular authorizes and should be punished by death. The first group of people that were to be prosecuted for hearsay were non-Christians groups such as Jews, Muslim and breakaway Christian sects. The accused were brutally tortured and had no attorneys.
Church officials acting on beliefs of the bible became demonologists; people who specialize in hunting witches and bringing them to trial. The major witch hunts were in Europe and at least twenty-five witches were put to death in 1330-1375. In 1395, the first real witch panic was in the Swiss City of Bern and continued until 1406. At least eighty-four witch trials took place in Germany, Switzerland and East France. In the years of 1428-1500, 354 witch trails took place and the death toll reached more than one thousand people, most of whom were women. In 1484 with the endorsement by Pope Innocent VII, the Roman Catholic Church began the “Inquisition” to hunt down and destroy pagan beliefs and traditions. In 1486 witch hysteria grew when German Dominican Friars Kramer and Sprenger wrote a manual called the Malleus Maleficarum or the Witches Hammer based on one short text from the Bible –”Thou shall not suffer a witch to live” . The book was adopted by Christian churches and used as a source for identifying and prosecuting witches. Soon in the years 1564-1612 demonological works were published; these events thus pushed pagans religions further underground.
One of the world’s most famous witch-hunts took place in the new world, The Salem Witch Trials. The Salem witch hunt in New England was one of the largest witch hunts during the colonial period. 1620-1725 at least 350 people were accused of witchcraft, only 185 of the cases took place in Salem and there were at least thirty-five executions. Almost eighty percent of the people accused were women. As mankind moves forward, the old ways have not died but live on. In 1951 a man named Gerald Gardener wrote the first positive book about witchcraft and was initiated into a coven by its high priestess Old Dorothy Clutterbuck in the 1930′s. Wicca was then brought to the United States in the early 1960′s and by the 1980′s a man named Scott Cunningham is considered to have written the most inspiring works on modern Wicca. He states that being Wiccan was a matter of the heart and between the practioner and the God and Goddess.
Today there are at least ten to fifty thousand neopagans are located in the United States and a majority are white middle class women. These neopagans worship the Goddess which is a symbol of the creative force, nature, and the female energy. They tend to worship the goddess in her three aspects or three stages of life which is represent by the moon phases: Diana, the maiden-new moon, Selene, the mother-full moon and Hecate, the crone-waning moon. Most women are drawn to the pagan religion because it celebrates the power of women and the importance of female energy in healing the planet. Also the Horned God is the goddess male partner and has been known throughout the ages as Janus, Roman god of good being, Cernnunos, Celtic God of fertility, animals and the underworld along with many more. The horns symbolize the woodlands and the crescent moon represents the masculine energy.
Just as the Bible, The Torah and The Quran have guidelines in which to follow so does Wicca. The wiccans of today follow the Wiccan Rede. Rede being derived from the old English word roedan meaning to direct or guide. The basic principle of the Wiccan rede is “An if it harm none, do what ye will” or everything you do will come back to you threefold. Most wiccans tend to places of worship in groups known as covens. In these places of worship the high priest and the priestess cast a circle which is the first order of business in a Wiccan ritual. The circle represents wholeness, the womb, the cycles of life and the seasons. Only after the circle has been purified then can other rituals be performed. The circle is the energy of the Wiccan temple and is where the spirits or energies of the four directions and four elements are invoked. There is also an altar set up within the circle. Upon the altar are sacred objects: candles, wand, chalice, salt, flowers, athame, and the pentacle. The pentacle is a symbol of power uniting all four elements and is usually worn around ones neck for protection.
Wiccans celebrate eight major festivals during the year which many have been converted to Christian holidays. Sabbats are festivals that occur during the solstices and the equinoxes. Yule is the winter solstice that occurs in December, while Ostara is the spring equinox and occurs in March. The others are Imbolc occurs in February which is the fire festival, Beltane is the birth, fertility and life festival that takes place in April and Lammas is the game, dance and harvest festival that is celebrate in August. Samhain is celebrated by both wiccans and non-wiccans however most non-wiccans know this celebration better as Halloween or All Hallows Eve. Samhain marks the beginning of winter and is the time when the veil between the living and the dead is the thinnest and people can easily communicate with the dead.
In conclusion, many people embrace the unknown and magic- the ability to use one’s intuition and psychic and mental abilities to achieve a particular result. As a society is important that we learn not to judge others but to respect and understand people whose beliefs, culture and lifestyle that are different that our own. In this day and age witches are popular icons in the media from the Wicked Witch of the West to the powerful Charmed Ones and the even the boy who lived, Harry Potter magic fascinates the human mind and in most third world countries witch doctors and healers used natural and ancient practices to heal the sick. As mankind moves on into the future though we try to denied it, the supernatural will always catch our interest and in the words of Jedi Master Yoda –
“Fear leads to hate, hate leads to anger and anger leads to suffering. These are the ways to the dark side”