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The origins of magic and witchcraft
early origins - suggested reading
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suggested readings for Wicca
A personal journey into magic and witchcraft
When one talks about witchcraft today, it is often seen as something apart from regular institutionalised religion. When people talk of Pagans or Wiccans, there is this attitude that they are often Devil worshipers. Some believe that Pagans and Wiccans are misguided, have lost the true meaning of what it is to live and that they need to be re-educated. Many forget that paganism and witchcraft are man's earliest religions and practices. So, the question arises, from where does magic and witchcraft originate? The answer is as old as mankind itself.
When we lived in our caves, most gods, like spirits, were invisible. Their power, however, was unmistakable. To speak to these spirits and gods, it became necessary to perform rituals and to create stories around their birth, life and effects on mankind. The emotions of the gods became important to man for life was harsh, and gaining the favour of the gods meant the continuation of existence. Thus, to effect communication and communion, it was necessary to have and perform rites. This is not folly, only a different and much older way of looking at the world. When light meant life and darkness meant danger and death, the Sun and the Moon became important deities. The Sun not only brought light, it brought warmth, growth, life; without it, early man soon realised that the crops would not grow.
Thus, magic and witchcraft arose from man's earliest impulses to make sense of the world around them. When life was so hard, when resources were limited, witchcraft and magic became a way of gaining more for your clan or group of people. If you had a magician, witch, shaman or wise elder who could read the stars, foretell the coming of a change in weather, it gave you a significant advantage over your competitors and enemies. If you had someone who could read the signs given by the migration of animals and birds, then how much richer would be your food supply compared to a tribe that did not have such an intuitively gifted shaman.
Homo sapiens are the knowing ones. With our larger brains, upright carriage, we had arms with which to build tools that helped us survive and thrive. We were conscious, had the ability to think, reason, believe in something more than just ourselves. This is the key to our evolutionary success, no wonder then that magic and witchcraft in its earliest forms were such potent forces for early man.
Should we not, then, when the world is going through such climatic change go back to our roots? However much history is seen to be equated with advancement and progress, it does not come without problems and challenges. The more we settled, the more we became civilised, the more vulnerable we became to disease, nature, and indeed, one another. These fears needed a remedy, and that remedy was faith, a belief in something greater than we are, a belief in the cosmos and the natural order around us. Is not then, major religion very much the same? Cannot then, magic and witchcraft also provide an alternative, indeed, grounded, natural and which reflects every facet of human life and affairs.
Modern magic and witchcraft is not the work of the Devil. Indeed, if you speak to any Witch or Pagan, they will tell you that the Devil has no place in their worship. The Devil is a new concept, a Judeo-Christian-Islamic concept. We Wiccans/Pagans use a much older form of worship.
So, is magic and witchcraft the right path to manifesting a better way of life for yourself in today's world? The answer, of course, is a very personal one. I can only tell you my story. I was born to parents who were followers of Islam. I was then educated for 14 long years at a Catholic convent. When I became an adult, I had been influenced by two of the world's major religions and both to me felt like control mechanisms. They did not speak to my spirituality, all I found in them were ways of controlling my thoughts, my actions and my life. I had begun reading about Wicca when I was 15, but living as I was then in Sri Lanka, it was not a viable form of worship for me. But it was something I found then to be deeply moving. It really spoke to me personally. Life, however, got in the way. I went to university and then to Poland to teach English.
In Poland, I met another kindred spirit. She, like me, had moved away from the heavily institutionalised Catholicism of her parents and had begun to practice and learn about magic. Together we began to read our tarot cards, to perform spells and divination. But again, it was sporadic and I allowed my magic to take a back seat while I married and moved to the UK.
In England, I once again began dabbling in magic. I met another soul-sister, with whom I was able to once more kindle and work on my magic. I can now proudly say that I am a practising witch. It took me 18 long years to finally come to this point where I can claim the title without fear or prejudice. I practice my faith openly. My life is so much more balanced, I have a much clearer understanding of my path in life, in the way I want my future to be. Magic and witchcraft to me are tools in finding my centre, in grounding myself and connecting with the wider world around me. I practice a very natural form of Wicca with deities taken primarily from the Grecco-Roman pantheon. I also meditate on the faeries, on the spirits and elements of nature. I finally have found a more direct way to the power of the universe.