Witches, Goddesses and Wortcunners
If you go back into to history, back before science, and even before alchemy, you arrive at a time when any explanation for why the world worked as it did was a good as any other. Certain explanations for why things were one way and not another may have been passed around and passed down first as lore and then as religion.
One of the greatest changes that ever happened to human beings was the change from a hunter gatherer society to that of agrarian farmers. Many hunter gatherers tended to think that the best way to understand their world was to work with it. They could not control their world. They went where the food was and where the game was. Some of these groups saw divinity in the animals they hunted and ate. After all, animals could be faster, stronger, deadlier and sometimes even more cunning than humans. The hunters and gatherers sought to manifest the better properties in the animals they came across in themselves. Hunter gatherers were natural beings and part of nature.
In some older cultures matriarchies and even religions that worshipped woman arose. Women were the source of children and they even had a built in way to feed those children while they were young. For some these mysterious properties of women made them closer to nature than men because women could make life out of things that were not alive—or so it seemed to primitive man. In some ancient societies chubby fertility Goddess were revered and some societies became matrilineal.
Goddess of the Hunt
One the interesting offshoots of the notion of hunting, nature worship and the divinity of women were the Greek and Roman goddesses: Diana, Artemis and Minerva. Diana in particular was the Goddess of the hunt and it is not difficult to find many statues and paintings of her.
Enter the Witches
When humans became farmers their point of view changed. And the things they worshiped changed as well. Farmers need a world they could change so some grew to hate and fear a world they could not change. Without science to rely on men in some societies could only observe that women with their ability to usher life into world and create life were there was none before were closer to nature and to men in some societies this made women almost scary and in need of taming or direction.
In many societies men were in charge of getting drunk and getting God. Women were largely left to their own devices. But women, who had accomplished much of the gathering whilst men where out hunting, had secret weapon. Women in some cultures developed knowledge of plants, and roots and herbs.
Consider what might happen in a pre-scientific society if women came across herbs that could heal. And what was even more dangerous, a plant or herb that could intoxicate the user and could even make a person feel that she was flying. Some men, who did not understand what was going on or who did not want to understand what was going on might brand such “secret” knowledge as “witchcraft”. They would do so only after having confiscated the healing plants and letting male doctors use those.
Any examination of the “crime” of witchcraft in the olden days reveals something curious. Unlike the universally ugly old crones depicted in modern day Halloween witches, witches of a thousand years ago seemed dangerously sexy. In fact one of the many, many things medieval men were said to fear was the incubus and the succubus. This is to say creatures that could sexually seduce men and women in their sleep. It may be that the sexual repression extant at the time of the inquisition caused some men to hate and fear sexuality in women. This interpretation could lead one to the conclusion that the entire medieval witch scare was caused by sex and weed.
Satan the Witch Hunter
There are many, many peculiar things about the "crimes" of supposed witches. For instance, why would a being of supernatural power waste time curdling milk, ruining crops or doing silly things with common folk for instance? Any demonic being worth his salt would go after the big fish. There could be scarcely be better targets for the devil and his minions than the church, priests and witch hunters. Come to think of it perhaps I should change my mind. There is plenty of evidence of witchcraft in olden times. Not in the poor, helpless women who were tortured but in the demonically evil men who tortured them and the demonic church that sanctioned these behaviors. In fact if someone said everyone who ever tortured a “witch” was demon from hell I see no reason to doubt it. Only satan, or his devoted followers like those religious fanatics in ISIS would think burning people alive or drowning them was a good idea. I believe each and every witch hunter served Beelzebub directly.
The Sacred Feminine
In modern times some have hearkened back to the notion of the Feminine Divine. The idea of women as the gatekeepers of the mysteries of life. On the one hand this seems a little odd because unlike ancient men we actually know where babies come from. On the other hand there are women who believe that all the world’s ills are male inspired and that the only cure is a woman. Some such women actively repudiate the notion of male dominated society and embrace the idea of a matrilineal world ruled over by benign and nurturing Goddesses as opposed to angry male Gods.
Enter the Wortcunners. The Wort is a olden word for “root”. And of course cunner comes from words like “cunning”. And so a Wortcunner is someone who knows plants. Some believe that there is a natural path from the women who did the gathering in humankind’s hunting and gathering phase to today’s wise woman of the woods who gathers plants, herbs and roots and uses them in teas and poultices. Of course there are still women who call themselves witches who use their knowledge of plants to cast spells of binding and magick.
There are various ancient symbols associated with Goddess worship. One of the more obvious is the moon. It is natural for the human mind to think that the phases of the moon and maybe even ocean tides are tied to the monthly menstrual cycle of women. Again this correlation caused people to think that women were more in tune with nature than men. So symbology involving the phases of the moon became representative of femininity and the power of women.
The Horned God
As an aside, some associate witchcraft with devil worship. What I find astonishing with some of this back to nature paganism and devil worship is that some wind up with a “god” that looks like a goat. Wait…what? You worship a goat? Nuff said.