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 witches Practitioners of witchcraft. According to tradition,

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MessageSujet: witches Practitioners of witchcraft. According to tradition,   Dim 18 Avr - 11:35

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witches Practitioners of witchcraft. According to tradition,
witches are skilled in sorcery and magic . Belief
in witches, sorcerers and magicians has existed universally
since prehistoric times. A witch can be either male
or female. Most have been feared and abhorred because
they are believed to be vindictive, cast evil spells upon
others and consort with evil spirits. Witch with a capital
W applies to contemporary followers of a Pagan religion,
who advocate use of magical skills only for good.
Origin of witch. The word “witch” comes from the Middle
English word witche, which is derived from the Old English
terms wicca, wicce and wiccian, which mean “to work
sorcery, bewitch.” The Indo-European root of these terms
is weik, which has to do with magic and religion.
Witches in non-Western cultures. Outside of the West,
most witches are viewed as evil. In Navajo lore, men and
women become witches to gain wealth, hurt others out of
envy and wreak vengeance. Initiation into Witchery Way
388    witches
requires killing a person, usually a sibling. Witches rob
graves, shape-shift into animals, hold nocturnal sabbats,
eat corpses and shoot alien substances into the bodies of
victims to cause illness. They then charge the victims a
fee for a cure. More men than women are witches, but
the women are usually old or childless. Among the Shawnee,
Fox and other tribes of eastern North America, male
and female witches organize into societies with their own
rites, which include cannibalism.
African beliefs about witches are similar. Witches
are at the least unsociable and irritable and at the worst
thoroughly evil. Mandari witches dance on the graves of
their victims, while Lugbara witches dance naked—the
ultimate outrageous behavior. Lugbara witches also have
other extraordinary behaviors, such as walking on their
hands instead of their feet. The Dinka believe witches
have tails. Some tribes, such as the Mandari, Nyakyusa
and Zande, believe that witchcraft is inherited and that
a person cannot help committing the antisocial and evil
acts that are part of witchcraft.
Witches in Western beliefs. The Western concepts of
witches evolved from the sorcery and magic beliefs of the
ancient Assyrians, Babylonians, Akkadians, Hebrews,
Greeks and Romans. An ancient Assyrian tablet speaks of
the bewitching powers of witches, wizards, sorcerers and
witches 389
Condemned witches burning in St. Peter’s Port, Guernsey, 1700
sorceresses. In ancient Greece and Rome, witches were renowned
for their herbal knowledge, magical potions and
supernatural powers. Thessaly, a region in Greece, was
particularly “notorious for witchcraft” and “universally
known for magic incantations,” according to Apuleius, a
Roman poet of the Second century. Thessalian witches
reputedly had the power to bring the moon down from
the sky (see Drawing Down the Moon). Pythagoras is
said to have learned from them how to divine by holding
up a polished silver disc to the moon. So potent was their
power that the Roman poet Horace of the First century
b.c.e. posed, “What witch, what magician will be able to
free you from Thessalian sorceries?”
The Roman poets Ovid and Statius described witches
as having long, flowing hair and going about barefoot. In
Amores, Ovid describes a “certain old hag” named Dipsas:
She knows the Black Arts and the spells of Aenea [Circe]
and by her skill turns back the waters to their source.
She knows what herbs, what the threads twisted by
the magic circle, what the poison of the loving mare [a
love philtre] can do. At her will, the clouds mass in the
entire heavens. At her will, the day shines in the clear
sky. I have sent the stars dripping with blood—if you may
believe me—and the face of the moon glowing red with
blood. I suspect that she flits through the shades of night,
and that her aged body is covered with feathers. She summons
from the ancient tombs her antique ancestors, and
make the ground yawn open with her incantation.
In his novel Metamorphoses, Apuleius describes Meroe,
an old witch who owns an inn:
She is capable of bringing down the sky, suspending the
earth, making springs dry up, sweeping away mountains,
conjuring the spirits of the dead. She can weaken
the gods, put out the stars, light up Hell itself.
When a neighboring innkeeper would not return her
love, she changed him into a frog. A lawyer who prosecuted
her she turned into a ram.
Classical witches were said to possess the evi l eye.
Pliny wrote of those who killed by looks, Tully wrote of
women who had two “apples” in one eye, and Ovid and
Plutarch wrote of poison in the eyes.
Witchcraft, witches, sorcerers, “them that have familiar
spirits,” charmers and wizards “that chirp and mutter”
are mentioned in the Bible (see Witch of Endor). The
most famous biblical quotation cited by the witch-hunters
of the Inquisition was Exodus 22:18: “Thou shalt not
suffer a witch to live.” However, it was pointed out as early
as 1584, by Reginald Scot in Discovery of Witchcraft, that
Hebrew words translated as “witch” usually referred to diviners,
astrologers, poisoners and jugglers (manipulators),
and not “witches” as defined by Christian demonology.
According to the historian Henry Charles Lea, the witchcraft
denounced most often by the Bible was merely divi -
nation. The Hebrews practiced magic and sorcery, which
included herbal formulas, conjurations, the evil eye, amulets
and talismans, necromancy and divination, but did
not consider them diabolical or malevolent, as the Christians
later did. Hebrew demons, which included evil spirits,
were absorbed into Christian demonology.
During the European witch craze from the mid-15th
century through the 18th century, witches were viewed
as heretics who worshiped the Devi l and engaged in
abominable practices, such as maleficia, shape-shifting,
orgiastic dances, copulation with demons, cannibalism,
vampirism and flying through the air. “The Scriptures assert
that there are devils and witches and that they are the
common enemy of mankind,” said Increase Mather in
Cases of Conscience in 1693. John Wagstaffe, a writer well
known in England and New England in the late 17th century,
defined witches in terms of Jezebel, the Phoenician
princess who, according to the Bible, married King Ahab
in the ninth century b.c.e. and promoted the worship of
her own gods, Baal and Asherah. A disgusted priest threw
her out a window to her death, and God’s only recourse
was to destroy the house of Ahab. Stated Wagstaffe, “Thus
you shall often meet in the Bible with fornication and
witchcraft joined together. By fornication and whoredom
is meant idolatry and by witchcraft the art of engaging
men in it. The whoredom of Jezebel was her idolatry, and
her witchcraft was the maintaining o The four witches (Albrecht Dürer, 1497) f Baal’s priests.”
390 witches
Demonologists divided witches into classes. Witches
also were called diviners, consulters with familiar spirits,
wizards, necromancers, charmers and enchanters. Gypsies,
exorcists, astrologers, numerologists and other fortune-
tellers also were classed as witches. William West
wrote in 1594:
A witch or hag is she which being eluded by a league
made with the Devil through his persuasion, inspiration,
and juggling, thinketh she can design what manner of
things soever, either by thought or imprecation, as to
shake the air with lightnings and thunder, to cause hail
and tempests, to remove green corn or trees to another
place, to be carried of her familiar with hath upon him
the deceitful shape of a goat, swine, calf, etc. into some
mountain far distant, in a wonderful space of time. And
sometimes to fly upon a staff or fork, or some other
instrument. And to spend all the night after with her
sweetheart, in playing, sorting, banqueting, dalliance,
and diverse other devilish lusts, and lewd desports and
to show a thousand such monstrous mockeries.
West said other kinds of witches included enchanters
and charmers, jugglers, soothsaying wizards, divinators
and magicians.
Some distinctions were made between “white” witches
and “black” witches. White witches were those who
cured illness, divined lost property, exposed thieves,
enhanced fertility and drove away bad weather. Black
witches were those who used their magic only for the
harm of others. White witches often were called other
names, such as cunning folk, wise folk, wizard, sorcerer
and witch doctor.
Witch-hunters did not prosecute white witches—
chiefly the healers and diviners—with the same fervor as
black witches, for they were perceived as serving a vital
need in the community. As much as the public feared bad
witches as a menace to body and soul, they valued the
village sorcerer who would cure their sicknesses and help
them in times of trouble.
As the witch mania intensified, demonologists, witchhunters
and the learned men who shaped public opinion
began calling for prosecution of white witches as well. It
was said that good witches really were a menace because
of their capability of doing evil. Their supernatural gifts
did not come from God, but from the Devil. In England,
Perkins and Thomas Cooper of Oxford were among those
who believed good witches were far more dangerous than
bad witches, and that both needed to be extirpated. This
view was endorsed by Cotton Mather in Massachusetts.
George Giffard, an Oxford preacher, said that all witches
should be put to death not because they kill others, but
because they deal with devils. “These cunning men and
women which deale with spirites and charmes seeming
to do good, and draw the people into manifold impieties,
with all others which have familiarity with devils, or use
conjurations, ought to bee rooted out, that others might
see and feare,” Giffard stated.
It was believed that witches could be identified by certain
tell-tale signs: insensitive spots or marks on the body,
called Devi l’s marks (almost any mole qualified); the inability
to shed tears; and supernumerary teats or excresences
for suckling imps, called witch’s marks. The evil eye
was a sign, but was not infallible, said Increase Mather.
Others described witches as invariably ugly and deformed
(see hag). Many of the accused witches were outcasts
or on the fringes of society, looked down upon by their
neighbors because of their unmarried status, handicaps,
homely appearances, ill temper or poverty. Not all victims
were such: some were married, young and prosperous.
“Witch” was a devastating accusation. If arrested and
taken before a court or inquisitor, one was often assumed to
be guilty. torture was applied until one confessed. Families
of accused witches were shunned, and it was not uncommon
that they abandoned the victim. Such was the pathetic case
of a woman burned at the stake in 1649 in Lauder, Scotland.
As she faced death, she declared to the crowd:
witches 391
Witch and queen, from the fairy tale “The White Duck” in
Andrew Lang’s The Yellow Fairy Book
All you that see me this day! Know ye that I am to die
as a Witch, by my own Confession! And I free all Men,
especially the Ministers and Magistrates, from the guilt
of my Blood, I take it wholly on my self, and as I must
make answer to the God of Heaven, I declare that I am
as free from Witchcraft as any Child, but being accused
by a Malicious Woman, and Imprisoned under the Name
of a Witch, my Husband and Friends disowned me, and
seeing no hope of ever being in Credit again, through
the Temptation of the Devil, I made that Confession to
destroy my own Life, being weary of it, and shusing (sic)
rather to die than to Live.
Religious Witches. Contemporary Witches who practice
Witchcraft as a religion face a powerful, negative stereotype
of the witch: a hag with a large, warty nose, a pointy
chin, scraggly hair and a cone-shaped black hat, who lives
alone with her animals—usually black ca ts—who casts
evil spells on others, and who is in league with the Devil.
This stereotype has been reinforced for centuries in literature,
drama, the popular press and film and television.
The term Witch was used by Gerald B. Gardner in the
1950s, in his revelation that he had been initiated by a coven
of hereditary Witches in England, who practiced “the
Old Religion.” There is doubt that those people called themselves
Witches; most likely, they were a Rosicrucian group.
The religion that Gardner forged became Witchcraft.
Contemporary Witches define themselves as healers,
servants of the community and servants of the Goddess
and Horned God. They believe in respecting the sanctity
of all life and being in harmony with all living things
and with the forces of the universe. They strive to attune
themselves to nature and the elements, forces that can be
influenced in the working of magic. They develop their
psychic abilities and seek to raise their spiritual consciousness
through study, worship, the practice of their
Craft and observance of a moral and ethical lifestyle, in
accordance with Craft laws and tenets. Magic and worship
are carried out in rituals. Most Witches believe in using
magic for good, not harm. Some Witches endorse using
curses and binding spells under certain conditions.
Since the rise of Witchcraft as a religion in the 1950s,
Witches have worked to eradicate their negative stereotype
and reeducate the public. The task is complicated by the diverse
practices of contemporary Witches, not all of whom
identify with the laws and ethics of the religious Craft.
The average layperson who knows little about Witchcraft
lumps all witches together under the stereotype.
Most Witches feel strongly that the word Witch should
not be abandoned, though some use the term Wiccan to
describe modern religious practitioners and to distinguish
themselves from folklore witches.
Further reading:
Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon. Rev. ed. New York:
Penguin, 2006.
Briggs, Robin. Witches & Neighbors: The Social and Cultural
Context of European Witchcraft. New York: Viking, 1996.
Farrar, Janet, and Gavin Bone. Progressive Witchcraft: Spirituality,
Mysteries & Training in Modern Wicca. Franklin
Lakes, N.J.: New Page Books, 2004.
Flint, Valerie, and Richard Gordon, Georg Luck, and Daniel
Ogden. Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece
and Rome. London: The Athlone Press, 1999.
Malinowski, Bronislaw. Magic, Science and Religion. Garden
City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1948.
Starhawk. The Spiral Dance. Rev. ed. San Francisco: Harper-
One, 1999.
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