I was once asked by a reader for a brief history of Witchcraft, but to answer that question fully, first I had to answer a few others. To completely understand the complex history of Witchcraft we must understand what particular religions were first classified as Witchcraft. We must also establish what differentiates Witchcraft from other Pagan religions.
Because of the various religious and political persecutions throughout the history of mankind, practitioners of Witchcraft have always lain low. Only within the last fifty years have the laws began to change, more rights allotted, and religious freedom been given in most advanced places of the world. Because of this, much of the knowledge we seek about our ancestors is lost. We can however, study the religions we believe evolved from various forms of Witchcraft, which are still alive today.
The word “Witchcraft” spoken even today, on most any continent, will incite strong feelings of fear, uneasiness, wonder, excitement, or curiosity. The people of Haiti consider Voodoo socially acceptable, and they practice ceremonies openly throughout their land; however, the general Voodoo population considers the practice of Zombification a form of Witchcraft. They see zombie making as a negative act, which in any sane person’s opinion, it is.
The fact that that they associate the concept of Witchcraft with negativity is not a new one, and is seen throughout the world. In various cultures, healers were treasured, but later condemned as practitioners of Witchcraft, and murdered simply because of their manipulation of plants. So, what classifies something as Witchcraft? While I won’t say that practicing negative magic defines Witchcraft, we cannot deny the negative association which haunts it even today. Having acknowledged the taboo hanging overhead, we must look beyond the stigma and define Witchcraft in more scientific terms.
While Witchcraft is considered a Pagan religion, we must understand that not all Pagan religions are considered Witchcraft. Native American Indians, Witches, Wiccans, Voudons, and many others are classified as Pagan, unless you are Christian, then they are all Satanists. We are all just looking to the heavens for hope, help and guidance, just in different ways.
I will, however, speculate that the origins of our modern forms of Witchcraft stem from a few particular cultures through history, such as Ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, the Nordic and Celtic cultures of Europe’s past, the Natives of North America, and the Voodoo practitioners of Africa. Each of these religions embody the essence of what Witchcraft emits.
In each, “Higher Powers” are acknowledged, worshipped, idolized, imitated, and given offerings. While the names of the Gods, Goddesses, and other deities within these religions may differ greatly, many of their attributes and characteristics are similar. These similarities may not be as obvious as the similarities between ancient Greek and Roman deities, but the deity hierarchy and the demands made of them by followers is the same, even in today’s society.
Also in each of the religions mentioned above, you will find some form of spirit manipulation, necromancy, or a method of contacting the deceased, which is usually only performed by a select few priests within a group of followers. Healing through the use of medicinal herbs, oils, minerals, and other natural substances, accompanied with the appropriate incantation or offering is also found throughout each of the religious cultures mentioned above. The wide use of prophecy is another aspect which has been used in various Pagan religions.
Witchcraft embodies each of these characteristics, and even some of the old names used in Ancient times. Within the last twenty years, the world has seen a new revitalization of the Ancient Gods and Goddesses, with a rising population of people bowing and praying to Isis, Baphomet, Set, Sekmet, Athena, Zeus, Hera, Odin, Gwydion, Adroa, Nyambi, Evaki and many other Gods and Goddesses of our past.
A study by Swedish and German scientists, comparing the DNA of people around the world produced what could be the greatest evidence yet that we, as modern man, first evolved in Africa and from there, spread to inhabit the rest of the planet as recently as 50,000 years ago. Having scientific data indicating such, we can theorize that the deepest roots of Witchcraft would lie in Africa, along with the roots of mankind itself. However, I believe the magic being practiced today throughout the world is derived more from past cultures in areas that today are known as Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and surrounding areas.
Today’s Witches practice ceremonies resembling those performed in Ancient Egypt, and they worship Higher Powers much the way the Nordics did. Witches today also summon the aid of spirits, resembling methods used by Native Americans, and Sumerians. They also practice healing techniques with plants, the same way Druids have.
Witches today, more so than in the past, acknowledge sixth senses, such as ESP, and phenomena like OBE. They have also been known to curse when agitated, although this is not acceptable in Wiccan communities. Magic today is evolution in progress, gaining in prominence, strength, and power. With every generation, we learn more healing techniques, ceremonies, rites, spells, incantations, and methods of magic, which were formed by a compilation of information of previous cultures and a new availability of resources.
There are now people performing spells which call for components not found in their immediate geological region. Until recent years, and more so, since the utilization of the internet, many of these herbs or components were only used by cultures who produced the substances locally. For example, a thousand years ago, Witches in Europe were not using a lot, if any, Copal in their religious acts, as this particular resin is found primarily in Mexico, Central and South America.
Today, however, Copal can be found at most Pagan supply stores or sites, making it a prominent tool in modern Witchcraft around the globe. This “melting pot” theory which I believe defines modern Witchcraft seems to best explain the dramatic differences seen today from Coven to Coven, such as deity names, rites, and so forth. All covens today, however, strive to embrace the attributes which make Witchcraft what it is, and keep alive the spirit and essence of Magic.
So, “How” you may ask, “Does this relate to the history of Wicca?” Well, Wicca, I feel is a product of thousands of years of religious evolution, which descends directly from Ancient European Witchcraft.
Wicca, is a very peaceful branch of modern Witchcraft which is also based partly on the writings of Gerald Gardner and Aleister Crowley, with more recent contributions from popular practitioners such as Raymond Buckland. While Aleister Crowley was not considered Wiccan, nor is he now, many of his writings and concepts were seen through the writings of Gardner, who is believed by some to mimic Crowley’s magical concepts.
While I decline to state whether or not I believe this as true, I will say there are similarities between the two gentlemen’s philosophies, but there are also great differences.
Also within Wicca, there is usually a strict moral code in groups, or covens, of Wiccans, demanding that each member maintain honorable behavior. These guidelines will differ with each coven, but most adhere to one form or another of the Wiccan Rede. There are many variations of the Wiccan Rede, and sometimes appears in small poem style, and others in a long prose format, but the morals behind them are the same, and prohibit the use of any harmful magic, regardless of the motivation, or intent.
The various ceremonies will differ from coven to coven as well, as they are usually written by the leaders, similar to sermons being written by a minister. These leaders, usually titled High Priest & Priestess, are usually the ones writing the ceremonies, spells, officiating marriages, and so forth, so information will vary from one group of witches to another. Most of the magic performed by Wiccans, and most practitioners of Witchcraft are healing techniques and ceremonies celebrating Life and the Earth.
Many practitioners of Wicca also dabble in divination through Palmistry, Tarot Cards, Rune Stones, Tea Leaves and Crystal Balls. Some practitioners, although it is usually frowned upon by Wiccans, may practice spirit summoning. Some seek the advice and counsel of the deceased, ancestral spirits, and even deities to assist them with their problems.
Other people practicing Wicca may not actively perform rituals, or spells, but may simply follow and adhere to the peaceful, nature oriented philosophies, which usually can be described as having a strong respect toward humanity, animals, and the earth.