Do People Still Practice Witchcraft?
Witchcraft and witch hunting in history.
The origin of the word witch is believed to have come from the Saxon for wise ones, which is 'Wicas', this is a term that is actually still used today, you may have even heard it for yourself. Documentation on witches and witchcraft only really began post the dark ages, before this time (in England particularly), witches (or peoples of similar belief systems) were largely left to do as they pleased. Although the label wise ones seems to suggest that these were people to be respected and would have enjoyed a reasonably high status in society, from what can be established from historical documentation it appears that this was not the case.
However they were not regarded as a threat at this time either. Prior to the witch hunting years of the 1300's onwards, the ancient folklore cults that derived from earth, sun, mother nature and fertility worship had been generally accepted by the majority of the country, yet Christianity was making its way into English conciseness and would eventually become the dominant religious following. This soon saw old pagan and druid beliefs displace.
By the time of the fourth century, the majority of the English would probably have been considered to be Christian people. The practicing of witchcraft in itself was not what was initially being punished, what did appear to be the issue was actually the use of magic for the intention to cause trouble or do ill deeds. Because of the unexplainable nature of magic it was little understood even by those who practiced it, even if you could argue that a spell, ritual or incantation worked, it would be difficult to explain how. Because of its potential to do harm, it could have been viewed as a powerful act or weapon with the possibility to cause harm or have dangerous consequences. I presume it was also a way of identifying a 'bad' person.
Confessing to witchcraft.
Its hard to imagine that people would willingly admit to practicing witchcraft or would openly and even proudly make their opinions known on being pro-witch. During the time of the most prolific of witch hunting and witch destroying activities took place it seems logical to assume that the only people to confess (especially to something that would in effect put their life in danger and would probably lead to their untimely death) would have been forced out of the accused, the levels of pain that torture induced would lead to them saying anything just to stop the beatings, the emotional turmoil and the deliberate trickery and lies that would have been used by the witch hunters and others opposing the old magical rights and rituals.
The only other explanation for people proclaiming their guilt and supplying information it seems, would be those with what we would associate with mental disorders today or individuals under the influence of mind manipulating substances. This however does not include the other, lesser known group of witches or witchcraft practitioners who also admitted their 'crimes' (although I do use this term very loosely I might add, as no harm was caused as a direct result of magical intervention), especially considering the potential consequences.
However if we compare this to the early suffering and persecution of the Christians, or to the mass alienation of the Jewish peoples, we can see that this kind of killing in extraordinary great numbers because of fear of the unknown, or in pursuit of power. Whatever the motives were and no matter how inexplicable and crazy it seems to us, similar patterns of behavior can be traced back to most continents of the world. This does not excuse what went on and such events can not and should not be taken lightly or condoned, however to highlight the historical importance of events it helps to question the motives and behavior of individuals from the past so that we can (hopefully) learn from them in the future.
Women and the religion.
Religion has a reputation of regarding women as secondary citizens in comparison to men. Because of the importance of bearing children for women not only at this time but also stretching back to the beginnings of our species and indeed for the continuation of our species. Children also meant prosperity, children could hold down a job and contribute to the families money pot. They could also be a welcomed extra pair of hands. In Todays society children are a financial liability, (I mean that in the nicest possible sense, I have one myself and they are worth every penny if you can afford it) they are costly to keep and are hardly ever a source of income and nor should they be, there are exceptions to rule Infant mortality was higher back then, you would need a large family because many of its members would tragically not reach adulthood.
We are lucky enough to live in a time of great convenience, or every wish and whim can be catered for and the plethora of technology available takes away large portions of the actual work away. Hundreds of years ago these privileges just did not exist. Many of the early ceremonies performed by witches were concerning fertility, a woman who could not produce a child could see themselves facing all manor of hardships.
The gift of a child was believed to be a blessing from god, and if god had not bestowed a child upon you there would be questioning why. Even if a person was not of the Christian persuasion, often they would have to appear to be, to escape the bitter ramifications of going against the grain. It did not pay to denounce common opinion no matter how much an individual maybe against it, there is a thin line between bravery and stupidity sometimes the more sensible thing to do would be to hide any unconventional beliefs that would go against mainstream thinking.
The modern witch.
People do indeed still practice witchcraft, however it is mostly just domestic spells and personal incantations. They are still persecuted in some parts of the world, however this does seem to be an activity that is fading out. We are more tolerant then ever of different faiths, beliefs and practices so long as they do not incur any harm to others. Which is surely how it should be.
Witchcraft will continue to intrigue and fascinate people for many different reasons, as does the history of the witch. Some of the principles of witchcraft remain largely the same, and the motives behind wanting to practice magic are also largely unchanged.
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