What is Witchcraft: An Attempt to Define the Witch and Her Craft
With the neo-paganism movement, witchcraft has typically been associated with Wicca and witch is generally the term for one (usually a female) who follows the Wiccan path.
Looking back through history however, witchcraft has had many different meanings and the majority of them have not been favorable.
Witchcraft also has many different meanings among individuals. Everyone has a different definition and everyone believes they can define witchcraft perfectly but these definitions are based on their personal perception of witchcraft. These perceptions are typically based on the person’s religion or belief system and are not unbiased.
Yet witches and witchcraft remain a controversial and popular topic. In fact, you could say that our society throughout history has been obsessed with witchcraft. But why?
The only way to understand the obsession is to take a look at history and try to determine why witchcraft captured our attention in the first place.
For eons humans have been fascinated with the ability to effect change on their lives. Magic has been used to accomplish this goal since prehistoric times.
Shamanism can be traced back 30,000 years or more through paintings on cave walls. The earliest societies used shamans as the mediator between spiritual beings and the people.
They were the practitioners of spiritual communication and divination who could use their powers for good, or to inflict harm, which was a large part of early human existence. It seems we have always been fascinated by what may happen to us in the future and the possibility of an afterlife.
Much of what we know about the spiritualities of past societies such as those thriving in the Stone Age or Neolithic age comes from the sites where the dead were prepared for burial. The meticulous way the dead were cared for reflects the ideology and evolution of the society.
The mortuary rituals of these ancient societies are directly related to their social structuring. This is blatantly evident in the Egyptian culture. Mummification was a very tedious and scrupulous undertaking lasting about 70 days. The bodies of the deceased were adorned with flowers, amulets and herbs among other things to protect the soul on its journey.
In later Dynasties, the bodies were eviscerated, and the organs wrapped and placed in canopic jars. Egyptians believed the ba, best translated as the “soul,” could only survive in the afterlife if the body and organs remained preserved.
The soul could only travel to the afterlife if it weighted less than the feather of Maat. This is another example of fascination with the future and the soul’s journey to the afterlife.
Since witchcraft uses spells and magick, it is assumed witches can manipulate the future, which both fascinates and intimidates us. We tend to fear that which we do not understand, and witchcraft has fallen victim to this fear numerous times throughout the ages.
Just about all societies throughout history have believed in some form of witchcraft. In Europe, practicing witchcraft was a crime during the early modern period (between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries) with witch-hunts advancing into colonial America around the seventeenth century.
Many societies believed witches to be shape-shifting temptresses who participated in orgies and were in service to the devil.
Other beliefs held images of witches as old, ugly hags with the ability to shape shift and fly around the world on broomsticks. These beliefs were fostered by the early Christian church, which was preoccupied by its fear of witchcraft, using it as the main reason for common misfortune.
Interestingly, magical amulets were used to prevent or cure the malevolence of witches. Objects such as holed stones, plants or roots were used for this purpose.
Catholic prayers were used as a remedy for curses or bewitching leading to the belief that the language of Christianity or Catholicism was synonymous with magical power. This magical power could also be used to excise demons that caused fevers or other diseases in their unsuspecting victims.
Healers were typically witches, sorcerers or old wives all of which were able to create some type of magical transformation to heal from, protect against or cause harm. This is the origin of the term “old wives tale.”
Old wives would distribute medicinal herbs, or other cures, to patients along with magical lore, or “tales,” to produce what we would call the “placebo effect.” These are the same people most likely to be accused of witchcraft because of their magical and medicinal knowledge.
Books on Witchcraft
With this brief look at history, it's easy to see where the fascination with the power of witchcraft came from and why there is a fear of its “evil” nature. However, we have yet to stumble on the actual definition of witchcraft, because it does not exist.
The term witchcraft means something different to everyone, so a definitive meaning is impossible to pin down. Those of us practicing witchcraft must come up with our own definition of what it means to us, and why we practice it.
© Copyright 2012 - 2015 by Melissa "Daughter of Maat" Flagg ALL RIGHTS RESERVED