History of Witchcraft

An' it harm none, do what ye will

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Witchcraft originated from human civilization itself. It was practiced mainly by experience old women and a few men. Those who practice witchcraft are called witches (yes, even the men are called witches, not warlocks).

Cave painting of a goddess of fertility and a god of the hunt have been found dating back at least 30,000 years, and it's said that witchcraft dates all the way back to the Paleolithic period. It began with man's struggle to survive, his fears of what he didn't know, and how to make them make sense.

Witchcraft has been found in almost all human civilizations across the world in the forms of healers and shamans.

When most people think of witchcraft, they think of ugly old crones who live in a run-down old shack with black cat familiars and crows perched on the window sill, who worship evil goddesses, who throw noxious things into a boiling cauldron of sickly-colored liquid, who mix potions with the most horrid ingredients and cackle in ways that make our throats hurt just listening, who say odd rhymes, and who ride broomsticks. During the 1600s, the Christian Church created prejudices to make people not think twice about the innocent young women they were falsely accusing to be witches so the Church could gain their land. Many priests truly believed that they were saving the souls of the girls they were killing.

In reality, most witches aren't ugly, they don't worship evil goddesses, and they generally don't create foul-smelling brews. We also can't make a broomstick fly. Witchcraft is an earth-based religion and the worship of nature and the five elements -- Fire, Water, Air, Earth, and Spirit. Those five elements are represented in the symbol most commonly associated with witchcraft -- the pentacle, which is a five-pointed star within a circle. The circle represents unity and the changes of the seasons.



When most people think of witch trials, they think of the Salem Witch Trials, but in truth, witch hunts began in medieval times. Often medieval witches weren't happy with just following Nature and wanted bigger results, like riches and wealth. They were so desperate that they were willing to resort to blood sacrifices and invoking evil spirits to do evil deeds. These evil acts caused witches to gain the reputation of being evil heathens who worshipped Satan. Accused witches were persecuted with punishment of death by either hanging or being burned at the stake.

During the medieval witch hunts, the Christian Church wanted land and money and power, and often picked people who had these things to be "witches". They were caught and inhumanly tortured into confessing sins they didn't commit, then were either hanged or burned alive. The Church spread the image of witches to be ugly hags who had familiars, like cats or crows, who could send dogs or their spirits to harm people, and who could make broomsticks fly and rode them like they would a horse, while witches were actually normal men and women.

During the Salem Witch Trials in Salem Village, Massachusetts, in 1692, nineteen men and women were tried and hanged, one man was crushed to death, and dozens more were held in dirty, tiny prison cells awaiting a trial they never got. The hysteria began in June of 1962 and ended in September the next year. A young girl began 'going mad,' as though the devil were controlling her. Many other young girls of Salem Village soon also presented similar symptoms. The Village doctor could not find anything wrong with the girls, and claimed their illness to be "of supernatural cause". The girls who claimed to be "afflicted" by witchcraft turned from pious little Puritan girls into sort of gang members. They claimed things, like seeing people in the Village flying or saying that the servant of Reverend Parris was casting spells on them, and no one bothered to really check up on their stories. Much like the McCarthyism Red Scare, neighbors were accusing neighbors of being a witch, and no one could prove them wrong. Spouses accused spouses of being a witch. By the end of the Salem Witch Trials, nineteen men and women were hanged and one man was crushed to death because of his refusal to stand trial. Reverend John Hale said that , "It cannot be imagined that in a place of so much knowledge, so many in so small compass of land should abominably leap into the Devil's lap at once."

Today, many scientists believe that the insanity may have been brought on by ergot poisoning. Ergot, a disease that infects rye during particularly warm growing and harvesting seasons, very likely was not looked for in rye in 1692, and it is so toxic that contact with ergot can result in poisoning. Convulsive ergotism (ergot poisoning) has a couple distinctive symptoms -- violent fits, the feeling of something crawling on the skin, vomiting, choking on nothing, and hallucinations.

One of the most famous accused witches is Joan of Arc.


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