“Witch”

“Witch”

 

The Random House College Dictionary derived “witch” from medieval English wicche, formerly Anglo-Saxon wicca (masculine), or wicce (feminine): a corruption of witga, short form of witega, a seer or diviner; from Anglo-Saxon witan, to see, to know. Similarly, Icelandic vitki, a witch, came from vita, to know; or vizkr, clever or knowing one. Wizard came from Norman French wischard. Old French guiscart, sagacious one. The surname Whittaker came from Witakarlege, a Wizard or a Witch. The words “wit” and “wisdom” came from the same roots.

There were many other words for witches, such as Incantatrix, Lamia, Saga, Maga, Malefica, Sortilega, Strix, Venefica. In Italy a witch was a strega or Janara, an old title of a priestess of Jana (Juno). English writers called witches both “hags” and “fairies,” words which were once synonymous. Witches had metaphoric titles: bacularia, “stick-rider”; fascinatrix, “one with the evil eye”; herberia, “one who gathers herbs”; strix, “screech-owl”; pixidria, “keeper of an ointment-box”; femina saga, “wise-woman”; lamia, “night-monster”; incantator, “worker of charms”; magus, “wise-man”; sortiariae mulier, “seeress”; veneficia, “poisoner”; maliarda, “evil-doer.” Latin treatises called Witches anispex, auguris, divinator, januatica, ligator, mascara, phitonissa, stregula.

Dalmatian witches were krstaca, “crossed ones,” a derivative of the Greek Christos In Holland a witch was wijsseggher, “wise-sayer,” from which came the English “wiseacre.” The biblical passage that supported centuries of persecution, “Thou shall not suffer a witch to live” (Exodus 22:18), used the Hebrew word kasaph, translated “witch” although it means a seer or diviner.

Early medieval England had female clan-leaders who exercised matriarchal rights in lawgiving and law enforcement; the Magna Carta of Chester called them iudices de wich (judges who were witches). Female elders once had political power among the clans, but patriarchal religion and law gradually took it away from them and called them witches in order to dispose of them. In 1711. Addison observed that “When an old woman begins to doat and grow chargeable to a Parish, she is generally turned into a witch.”

Reginald Scot remarked that the fate of a witch might be directly proportional to her fortune. The pope made saints out of rich witches, but poor witches were burned. Among many examples tending to support this opinion was the famous French Chambre Ardente affair, which involved many members of the aristocracy and the upper-class clergy in a witch cult. Numerous male and female servants were tortured and burned for assisting their masters in working witchcraft; but in all the four years the affair dragged on, no noble person was tortured or executed.

Illogically enough, the authorities persecuted poor, outcast folk as witches, yet professed to believe witches could provide themselves with all the wealth anyone could want. Reginald Scot, a disbeliever, scornfully observed that witches were said to “transfer their neighbors’ corn into their own ground, and yet are perpetual beggars, and cannot enrich themselves, either with money or otherwise: who is so foolish as to remain longer in doubt of their supernatural powers?” Witchcraft brought so little profit to Helen Jenkenson of Northants, hanged in 1612 for bewitching a child, that the record of her execution said: “Thus ended this woman her miserable life, after she had lived many years poor, wretched, scorned and forsaken of the world.”

“Women which be commonly old, lame, blear-eyed, pale, foul, and full of wrinkles; poor, sullen, superstitious, and papists; or such as know no religion; in whose drowsy minds the devil hath gotten a fine seat; so as, what mischief, mischance, calamity, or slaughter is brought to pass, they are easily persuaded the same is done by themselves . . . They are lean and deformed, showing melancholy in their faces, to the horror of all that see them. They are doting, scolds, mad, devilish; and not much differing from them that are thought to be possessed with spirits.”

Persecutors said it was heretical to consider witches harmless. Even in England, where witches were not burned but hanged, some authorities fearfully cited the “received opinion” that a witch’s body should be burned to ashes to prevent ill effects arising from her blood. Churchmen assured the arresting officers that a witch’s power was lost the instant she was touched by an employee of the Inquisition; but the employees themselves were not so sure.

Numerous stories depict the persecutors’ fear of their victims. It was said in the Black Forest that a witch blew in her executioner’s face, promising him his reward; the next day he was afflicted with a fatal leprosy. Inquisitors’ handbooks directed them to wear at all times a bag of salt consecrated on Palm Sunday; to avoid looking in a witch’s eyes; and to cross themselves constantly in the witches’ prison. Peter of Berne forgot this precaution, and a captive witch by enchantment made him fall down a flight of stairs – which he proved later by torturing her until she confirmed it.

Numerous stories depict the persecutors’ fear of their victims. It was said in the Black Forest that a witch blew in her executioner’s face, promising him his reward; the next day he was afflicted with a fatal leprosy. Inquisitors’ handbooks directed them to wear at all times a bag of salt consecrated on Palm Sunday; to avoid looking in a witch’s eyes; and to cross themselves constantly in the witches’ prison. Peter of Berne forgot this precaution, and a captive witch by enchantment made him fall down a flight of stairs – which he proved later by torturing her until she confirmed it.

Numerous stories depict the persecutors’ fear of their victims. It was said in the Black Forest that a witch blew in her executioner’s face, promising him his reward; the next day he was afflicted with a fatal leprosy. Inquisitors’ handbooks directed them to wear at all times a bag of salt consecrated on Palm Sunday; to avoid looking in a witch’s eyes; and to cross themselves constantly in the witches’ prison. Peter of Berne forgot this precaution, and a captive witch by enchantment made him fall down a flight of stairs – which he proved later by torturing her until she confirmed it.

Any unusual ability in a woman instantly raised a charge of witchcraft. The so-called Witch of Newbury was murdered by a group of soldiers because she knew how to go “surfing” on the river. Soldiers of the Earl of Essex saw her doing it, and were “as much astonished as they could be,” seeing that “to and fro she fleeted on the board standing firm bolt upright . . . turning and winding it which way she pleased, making it pastime to her, as little thinking who perceived her tricks, or that she did imagine that they were the last she ever should show.” Most of the soldiers were afraid to touch her, but a few brave souls ambushed the board-rider as she came to shore, slashed her head, beat her, and shot her, leaving her “detested carcass to the worms.”

From ruthlessly organized persecutions on the continent, witch-hunts in England became largely cases of village feuds and petty spite. If crops failed, horses ran away, cattle sickened, wagons broke, women miscarried, or butter wouldn’t come in the churn, a witch was always found to blame. Marion Cumlaquoy of Orkney was burned in 1643 for turning herself three times widdershins, to make her neighbor’s barley crop rot. A tailor’s wife was executed for quarrelling with her neighbor, who afterward saw a snake on his property, and his children fell sick. One witch was condemned for arguing with a drunkard in an alehouse. After drinking himself into paroxysms of vomiting, he accused her of bewitching him, and he was believed.

A woman was convicted of witchcraft for having caused a neighbor’s lameness – by pulling off her stockings. Another was executed for having admired a neighbor’s baby, which afterward fell out of its cradle and died. Two Glasglow witches were hanged for treating a sick child, even though the treatment succeeded and the child was cured. Joan Cason of Kent went to the gallows in 1586 for having dry thatch on her roof. Her neighbor, whose child was sick, was told by an unidentified traveler that the child was bewitched, and it could be proved by stealing a bit of thatch from the witch’s roof and throwing it on the fire. If it crackled and sparked, witchcraft was assured. The test came out positive, and the court was satisfied enough to convict poor Joan.

Witches were convenient scapegoats for doctors who failed to cure their patients, for it was the “received” belief that witch-caused illnesses were incurable. Weyer said, “Ignorant and clumsy physicians blame all sicknesses which they are unable to cure or which they have treated wrongly, on witchery.” There were also priests and monks who “claim to understand the healing art and they lie to those who seek help that their sicknesses are derived from witchery.” Most real witch persecutions reflect “no erotic orgies, no Sabbats or elaborate rituals; merely the hatreds and spites of narrow peasant life assisted by vicious laws.”

Witches provided a focus for sexist hatred in male-dominated society, as one writer pointed out:

“The spirit of the Church in its contempt for women, as shown in the Scriptures, in Paul’s epistles and the Pentateuch, the hatred of the fathers, manifested in their ecclesiastical canons, and in the doctrines of asceticism, celibacy, and witchcraft, destroyed man’s respect for woman and legalized the burning, drowning, and torturing of women . . . “Women and their duties became objects of hatred to the Christian missionaries and of alternate scorn and fear to pious ascetics and monks. The priestess mother became something impure, associated with the devil, and her lore an infernal incantation, her very cooking a brewing of poison, nay, her very existence a source of sin to man. Thus, woman, as mother and priestess, became woman as witch. . . . Here is the reason why in all the Biblical researches and higher criticism, the scholars never touch the position of women.”

Men displayed a lively interest in the physical appearance of witches, seeking to know how to recognize them-as men also craved rules for recognizing other types of women from their physical appearance. It was generally agreed that any woman with dissimilar eyes was a witch. Where most people had dark eyes and swarthy complexions, as in Spain and Italy, pale blue eyes were associated with witchcraft. Many claimed any woman with red hair was a witch.

This may have been because red-haired people are usually freckled, and freckles were often identified as “witch marks,” as were moles, warts, birthmarks, pimples, pockmarks, cysts, liver spots, wens, or any other blemish. Some witch-finders said the mark could resemble an insect bite or an ulcer.

No one ever explained how the witch mark differed from an ordinary blemish. Since few bodies were unblemished, the search for the mark seldom failed. Thomas Ady, one of the few 17th-century English debunkers of the witchcraft craze, author of A Perfect Discovery of Witches (1661), recognized this, and wrote: “Very few people in the world are without privy marks upon their bodies, as moles or stains, even such as witchmongers call the devil’s privy marks.” But no one paid attention to this.

Trials were conducted with as much injustice as possible. In 1629 Isobel Young was accused of crippling by magic a man who had quarreled with her, and causing a water mill to break down. She protested that the man was lame before their quarrel, and water mills can break down through neglect. The prosecutor. Sir Thomas Hope, threw out her defense on the ground that it was “contrary to the libel,” that is, it contradicted the charge. When a witch is on trial, Reginald Scot said, any “equivocal or doubtful answer is taken for a confession.”

On the other hand, no answer at all was a confession too. Witches who refused to speak were condemned: “Witchcraft proved by silence of the accused.” Sometimes mere playfulness “proved” witchcraft, as in the case of Mary Spencer, accused in 1634 because she merrily set her bucket rolling downhill and ran before it, calling it to follow her. Sometimes women were stigmatized as witches when they were in fact victims of unfair laws, such as the law that accepted any man’s word in court ahead of any number of women’s. A butcher in Germany stole some silver vessels from women, then had them prosecuted for witchcraft by claiming that he found the vessels in the woods where the women were attending a witches’ Sabbat.

Sometimes the accusation of witchcraft was a form of punishment for women who were too vocal about their disillusionment with men and their preference for living alone. Historical literature has many references to “the joy with which women after widowhood set up their own households, and to the vigor with which they resisted being courted by amorous widowers.” The solitary life, however, left a woman even more vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft, since men usually thought she must be somehow controlled.

Those who tortured the unfortunate defendant into admitting witchcraft used a euphemistic language that showed the victim was condemned a priori. One Anne Marie de Georgel denied making a devil’s pact, until by torture she was “justly forced to give an account of herself,” the record said. Catherine Delort was “forced to confess by the means we have power to use to make people speak the truth,” and she was “convicted of all the crimes we suspected her of committing, although she protested her innocence for a long time.” The inquisitor Nicholas Rémy professed a pious astonishment at the great number of witches who expressed a “positive desire for death,” pretending not to notice that they had been brought to this desire by innumerable savage tortures.

The extent to which pagan religion, as such, actually survived among the witches of the 16th and 17th centuries has been much discussed but never decided. Dean Church said, “Society was a long time unlearning heathenism; it has not done so yet; but it had hardly begun, at any rate it was only just beginning, to imagine the possibility of such a thing in the eleventh century.” In 15th-century Bohemia it was still common practice at Christmas and other holidays to make offerings to “the gods,” rather than to God. European villages still had many “wise-women” who acted as priestesses officially or unofficially. Since church fathers declared Christian priestesses unthinkable, all functions of the priestess were associated with paganism. Bishops described pagan gatherings in their dioceses, attended by “devils . . . in the form of men and women.” Pagan ceremonies were allowed to survive in weddings, folk festivals, seasonal rites, feasts of the dead, and so on. But when women or Goddesses played the leading role in such ceremonies, there was more determined suppression. John of Salisbury wrote that it was the devil, “with God’s permission,” who sent people to gatherings in honor of the Queen of the Night, a priestess impersonating the Moon-goddess under the name of Noctiluca or Herodiade.

The Catholic church applied the word “witch” to any woman who criticized church policies. Women allied with the 14th-century Reforming Franciscans, some of whom were burned for heresy, were described as witches, daughters of Judas, and instigated of the Devil. Writers of the Talmud similarly tended to view nearly all women as witches. They said things like, “Women are naturally inclined to witchcraft,” and “The more women there are, the more witchcraft there will be.”

Probably there were few sincere practitioners, compared with the multitudes who were railroaded into the ecclesiastical courts and legally murdered despite their innocence. Yet it was obvious to even the moderately intelligent that Christian society deliberately humiliated and discriminated against women. Some may have been resentful enough to become defiant. “Women have had no voice in the canon law, the catechisms, the church creeds and discipline, and why should they obey the behests of a strictly masculine religion, that places the sex at a disadvantage in all life’s emergencies? Possibilities for expressing their frustration and defiance were severely limited; but voluntary adoption of the witch’s reputation and behavior was surely among such possibilities.

Burning ‘The Burning Times’

Burning ‘The Burning Times’

Author: Zan Fraser

It seems that there is a recent body of misinformation regarding the Burning Times making its way through the Wiccan/Pagan community, which amounts to a revisionist “take” on the Witches’ Holocaust. Being something of a debunking, this new school of thought asserts that the Burning Times is “over-hyped” and hysterically blown out of proportion. While as a rule, I am a huge fan of revisionist history, I find this development (which adds up to a sort of “Burning Times denial-ism”) a bit depressing.

Proponents of this new school of thought seem to me mistaken in a number of important ways. (1) They tend to describe the Burning Times as a sort of invention of Margaret Murray’s, the Egyptologist whose “pro-Pagan” interpretation of European history was so influential to the early Craft revival. (2) They challenge the conventional belief in huge numbers of Burning Times victims as overwrought, with the numbers inflated. (3) They question the interpretation of the Great Witch-Hunts as a “War on Women.”

Far from being a concept of Murray’s, among the broadest reaching of her theories, the first realizations of the Burning Times emanate centuries before her writing, expressed in horror by the period’s contemporaries. As early as the 1560s, Weyer was publishing denunciations of the excesses of German Witch-Hunting; Spee (confessor during the Wurzburg trials of the 1620s) , theology professor Meyfarth (in the 1630s) , and Junius (a torture-victim who generated one of the few Witch-Hunting documents told from the perspective of the tortured Witch) powerfully describe the hysterical panic of the populace and the agonized suffering of the accused. They leave no doubt as to the alarm and trauma that must have pervaded the German regions in the latter 1500s and early 1600s.

Burning Times revisionists make the vital point that the German cases (for their exceptional violence and cruelty) give us a skewed picture of the Hunt Periods. In the 1620s alone, some 600 persons were said to have been killed as devil-worshipping Witches at Bamberg, with some 900 more in Wurzburg. There are many reasons for this, notably that the German Prince-Bishops ruled as absolute authorities on both the secular and religious levels, and the particular Prince-Bishops during this period and in these regions appear to have been especially sadistic sorts. These numbers may be inflated to a certain degree (they probably don’t have a modern bureaucratic accounting system to keep track of such things) , but they clearly intend to describe large numbers of victims, with much resulting social terror and disruption. Revisionists are correct to point out that these levels of destruction are not matched elsewhere and tend to provide a somewhat distorted view of the Witch-Hunts.

(On more than one occasion, I have heard Wiccans describe the “Burning Times” in England as if the English Witch-cases were on a par with those of Germany, or to relate how English Witches “fled the Burning Times in England, ” to come to the New World of America in order to keep the “Old Ways” in safety. This ignores the reality that the English were relatively lenient in their regards to Witchcraft. Importantly they never accepted the idea of Witches as demonic- sparing themselves the hysterical “Satan panic” reactions experienced on the Continent- and they observed legal proprieties in their judgment of Witch-cases, as opposed to the German regions, which held Witchcraft to be such a subversive and lethal instrument that it justified abandoning basic legal protections for the accused. In an important difference, the English did not employ torture in Witchcraft cases.

This is not to say that on the social level the English never responded hysterically to fears or accusations of Witchcraft or that there were not English miscarriages of justice- but it is to say that the English made an effort to hold themselves in check regarding Witchcraft, which makes the Burning Times period in England of a different character than that in other parts of Europe.)

Conceding the point that the extreme degree of persecution in Germany leaves a lop-sided impression, it should be remembered that even in England, Reginald Scot was so alarmed over what he saw as the rise of “anti-Witch” prejudice that he published Discoverie of Witchcraft in 1584, decrying the stereotyping of elderly ladies as Witches (the English overwhelmingly imagined Witches to be elderly single women) ; according to Scot, this exposed defenseless old women to acts of violence. In A Briefe Historie of Wytches, , I collect from the period-drama several examples in which assault is thought justifiable if its victim is imagined to be a Witch.

In Sweden, Queen Christina was so dismayed over Witch-Hunting in her realm that in 1649 she ordered a series of reforms; this is the one instance in 300 years in which a European monarch so used the royal power, which Robbins finds “notable as the first legislation curbing witch hunts.” (Rossell Hope Robbins, The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, “Sweden, Witchcraft In”) In all of these cases, the individuals involved- Weyer, Spee, Meyfarth, Junius, Scot, and Christina- are identifying “Witch-Hunting” as a feature of life around them, expressing the first glimmerings of understanding that they were living through a “Burning Times.”

In the early 1800s, the famous novelist Walter Scott was studying the Scots Witch-cases, publishing his summaries in Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft. The eminent Wilhelm Gottlieb Soldan conducted another early scholarly review of the medieval Witch-Business, presented in 1843; this was followed by the majestic history collected by Joseph Hansen, published in German in 1900. We see here that identification and study of the Burning Times commenced well before Margaret Murray, who first published in the early 1920s.

One of her initial critics, Harvard professor George Lyman Kittredge, issued his fine volume Witchcraft in Old and New England in the latter 1920s. Although he hardly agrees with Murray, it is clear that the Burning Times is “set” in his mind as a historical phenomenon (p. 243) : “Such were the orgies of the Witches’ Sabbath as systematized in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries by the scholastic ingenuity of devout theologians and described in confessions innumerable wrung by torture from ignorant and superstitious defendants in response to leading questions framed by inquisitors who had the whole system in mind before the trial began.”

I believe that- far from being among Margaret Murray’s “theories”- the medieval Burning Times is indeed a well-documented and reasonably well-understood phenomenon.

Another assertion made by the promoters of this new reading of the Burning Times is that not really very many persons were killed. They will quite properly dismiss the hysterically overwrought 9 million citation, then quote “recorded data” as giving an extremely paltry number, with “many countries” reporting only 3-10 victims, or certainly less than 50.

I find Anne Llewellyn Barstow to be persuasive on the issue of numbers: Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts Pandora Books, 1994 (p. 19-23) . Acknowledging the woefully imperfect state of records (many lost or defective) , Barstow nonetheless finds herself compelled to keep careful count as she works her way through the dim documentation of the past. Although this pains-taking approach adds hours of extra work, and great though the temptation is to start rounding off numbers, she retains “each awkward figure, ” remembering Holocaust historian Joan Ringelheim’s observation: to drop numbers now was to kill that individual twice. Accordingly Barstow provides in her Appendix B “the most complete record available at this time.”

Barstow comments upon Levack’s work (p. 22) , crediting him with producing the “most careful totals made so far.” She finds his figures “reasonable, ” but “almost certainly too low.” Given the faulty state of records, with additional cases emerging “steadily, ” and given that posse-style murders and lynching-deaths will not be recorded, Barstow finds it judicious to expand Levack’s numbers to 200, 000 accused, with 100, 000 dead. She finds it interesting that- just after the “recently ended holocaust”- Voltaire estimated that about 100, 000 had been put to death.

Contrary to the assertion of Burning Times revisionists that “many countries” had less than 50 Witch-Victims apiece, Barstow’s Appendix B describes only Montbeliard (55+) , Vaud (90) , Labourd (80) , Champagne (50+) , Essex (74) , New England (35) , Estonia (65) , Russia (10+) , Logrono (6) , Catalonia (45) , and Navarre (50) with less than 100 murdered Witches. She finds some 50, 000+ to have been killed in the German states; some 5000 in France; some 1000 in England; 1, 337+ in Scotland; 1500-1800 in Scandinavia; and approximately 15, 000+ in Poland.

The third claim of this would-be up-ending of conventional Hunt-Period consideration is that in “many countries” the “vast majority” of victims were male. Scandinavia, Finland, and Iceland are listed as places where “nearly all of the accused” were men. From this, the interpretation of the medieval Witch-Hunts as a “Holocaust of women” is questioned.

Barstow notes that the trials in Finland, Estonia, and Iceland (“which did not have a true witch hunt”) offer the “rare phenomenon” of predominantly male Witches. (p. 86) Finns had traditionally presumed sorcery to lie with men and some 60% of Estonia’s accused were males, often with reputations as healers or magic-workers. (Barstow, by the way, notes that Witchcraft in Scandinavia and the Baltic regions- the areas isolated from Christianity the longest- is “deeply rooted in European folk customs”; Robbins observes that “heathen beliefs in natural and magical powers” lingered in Finland longer than anywhere else in Europe, as Christianity was not introduced until 1157. (Encyclopedia, “Finland, Witchcraft in”)

Interesting though that is, male Witches appear to be the exception rather than the rule. Barstow remarks that the figures show women to have been “overwhelmingly victimized, ” constituting roughly 80% of the accused and 85% of the executed. (p. 23) In places such as Essex, females make up 92% of the accused, as they do during a Hunt in Belgium. During a Scare in Basel, the percentage of women accused shoots to 95%. Barstow quotes the observation of historian Christina Larner, “the chronicler of Scottish witchcraft, ” who felt that there must have been periods in East Lothian or Fife when no woman could have “felt free from the fear of accusation.” She notes the two German villages finally left with but one female inhabitant apiece, and the Rhenish village where one person (generally female) out of every two families was killed. (p. 24)

Barstow feels that her statistics “document an intentional mass murder of women.” To not see that is to “deny the most persistent fact about the persecutions.” (p.26)

Burning Times revisionists conclude that the Burning Times is a farce, a “theory” of Margaret Murray’s run amuck, fed by pumped-up numbers and a hysterical view of a “Holocaust of Women.”

With all respect, I feel that:

(1) The Burning Times is established as a medieval phenomenon well beyond Murray.

(2) Anne Llewellyn Barstow provides extremely well-researched figures, pointing to some 200, 000 accused, with some 100, 000 executed, around 85% of whom were women.

(3) Far from men being the primary victims during the Burning Times (Iceland, Finland, and Estonia notwithstanding) , I believe that so many women were targeted that the Burning Times might well be understood as a Religious War on Women- predicated upon the interesting assumption that Witches are most likely to be Female.

It is for this reason that one of the rallying cries of the Modern Wiccan Witchcraft Revival is: Never Again the Burning Times.

BROOMSTICKS & BESOMS

BROOMSTICKS & BESOMS

Witches & Broomsticks ñ Use & History

The BroomstickÖ

The traditional companion of the witches was the enchanted broomstick, used for
their wild and unholy flights through the night and probably to some distant
Witches’ Sabbat. This is one of the first images you get to see as a child and
this was doubtlessly believed by the prominent rulers of Europe. The number of
actual confessions of witches doing so is remarkably small. Usually confessions
state that they went to the Sabbat on foot or on horseback.

Legends of witches flying on brooms goes back as far as the beginning of the
Common Era. The earliest known confession of a Witch flying on a broom was in
1453, when Guillaume Edelin of St. Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, stated that he
had done so. In 1563, Martin Tulouff of Guernsey said to have seen his aged
mother straddle a broomstick and whisk up the chimney and out of the house on
it, saying “Go in the name of the Devil and Lucifer over rocks and thorns”. In
1598 Claudine Boban and her mother, witches of the province of Franche-Comt, in
eastern France, also spoke of flying up the chimney of a stick. The belief of
flying off though the chimney became firmly embedded in popular tradition,
although only a few people ever mentioned doing so. It has been suggested that
this idea was connected with the old custom of pushing a broom up the chimney to
indicate the absence of the housewife. The Germanic Goddess Holda or Holle is
also connected with the chimney.

Other indications that lead to the popular belief that witches actually flew on
broomsticks can be found in an old custom of dancing with a broom between the
legs, leaping high in the air. In Reginald Scot’s book, The Discoverie of
Witchcraft, published in 1584, we find a similar description:

“At these magical assemblies, the witches never failed to dance; and in their
dance they sing these words, ‘Har, har, divell divell, dance here dance here,
plaie here plaie here, Sabbath, Sabbath’. And whiles they sing and dance, ever
one hath a broom in her hand, and holdeth it up aloft.” Scot quoted these
descriptions of Witch rites from a French demonologist, Jean Bodin, who made
observations of a kind of jumping dance, riding on staffs. These customs might
have contributed to the popular picture of broomstick-riding witches through the
air.

In 1665, from the confession of Julian Cox, one of the Somerset coven, mentioned
“that one evening she walks out about a Mile from her own House and there came
riding towards her three persons upon three Broom-staves, born up about a years
and a half from the ground. Two of them she formerly knew, which was a Witch and
a Wizard”.

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Where do these beliefs come from?

Some authors claim that the oldest known source of witches flying on broomsticks
is a manuscript called Le Champion des Dames by Martin Lefranc, 1440. This might
be one of the oldest images representing a hag on a broomstick, but it is
certainly not the first. A wall painting from the 12th century in Schlesswig
Cathedral (Germany) shows the Norse deity Frigg riding her staff.

If we really dig a bit deeper into history, we’ll find that from the Roman world
there are reports that mention witches flying on broomsticks as well as having
used ointments, as early as the first century. They were called Straigae
(Barnowl) and the Lamiae from Greek culture had similar characteristics. Later
in Roman history, the goddess Diana was the leader of the Wild Hunt:

“It is also not to be omitted that some wicked women, perverted by the Devil,
seduced by illusions and phantasm of demons, believe and profess themselves in
the hours of the night to ride upon certain beasts with Diana, the goddess of
pagans, and an innumerable multitude of women, and in the silence of the dead of
the night to traverse great spaces of earth, and to obey her commands as of
their mistress, and to be summoned to her service on certain nights”. (See:
Canon Episcopi).

Similar beliefs existed in many parts of Europe. From Norse mythology, we know
that the army of women, lead by Odin (Wodan), called the Valkyries, was said to
ride through the skies on horses, collecting the souls of the dead. In
continental Germanic areas, the goddess Holda or Holle was also said to lead the
Wild Hunt and is connected to chimneys and witchcraft. Berchta or Perchta,
another Germanic goddess, which can be identified with Holda, has similar
characteristics.

Again in Celtic Traditions, the Horned God Cernunnos, and/or Herne the Hunter
was leader of the Wild Hunt and the Scottish Witch Goddess Nicneven was also
said to fly through the night with her followers. Eastern Europe sources also
have a wealth of folklore about witches flying through the air. So flying
through the air, evidently, was a deeply rooted mythological theme, associated
with the free roaming of the spirit, the separation of soul and body.

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Symbolism

The broomstick is a female and male symbol, “the rod which penetrated the bush”.
Its symbolism and interpretation is therefore purely sexual.

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Broomstick Weddings

“To marry over the broomstick,” “jump the besom”, was an old-time form of
marriage, in which both parties jumped over a broomstick to signify that they
were joined in common-law union. Also in the Netherlands, one can still find the
old saying “over de bezem trouwen” (marrying over the broomstick). At gypsy
wedding ceremonies, the bride and groom jump backwards and forwards over a
broomstick. A besom used to be placed before the doorway, the married couple
had to jump over it without dislodging the broom, from the street into their new
home. At any time within a year, this process could be reversed to dissolve the
marriage by jumping backwards. All this had to take place before several
witnesses.

In folk-belief, like that in Yorkshire, it was unlucky for an unmarried girl to
step over a broomstick because it meant that she would be a mother before she
was a wife. Light-hearted wags used to delight in putting broomsticks in the
path of unsuspecting virgins.

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RITUAL USE

Artificial Phallus

There are hints of its use as an artificial penis or dildo. In a curious old
book, A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon and Cant, by Albert BarrSre and Charles
Godfrey Leland (1897-1899), we are told that the slang term in those days for a
dildo or artificial penis was “a broom-handle”, and the female genitals were
known vulgarly as “the broom”. To “have a brush” was to have sexual
intercourse. Noteworthy is the evidence from Witch trials mentioning the “cold
hard member of the Devil himself”. In 1662, Isabel Gowdie, accused of
witchcraft, made a confession which could suggest that some sort of artificial
phallus of horn or leather may have been used:

“His members are exceeding great and long; no man’s members are so long and big
as they areÖ.(he is) a meikle, black, rough man, very cold, and I found his
nature as cold within me as spring-well waterÖHe is abler for us that way than
any man can be, only he is heavy like a malt-sack, a huge nature, very cold, as
ice.”

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Broomsticks and Ointments

That ointments used to induce astral projection has been known for a long time.
Therefore the belief of witches flying away on their brooms probably has its
true origin in this shamanic practice of applying narcotic herbs. There are
numerous paintings, engraving and woodcuts from witches, anointing themselves,
before flying off to the Sabbat. There are also quite a lot of confessions of
ointments being applied to leave the body and fly off. These confessions
sometimes show an unawareness that they were not actually flying, but often it
is obvious that the witches knew that the ointments they used had the effects
requited for leaving the body and making spiritual journeys. These practices we
now call astral projection, were obviously known throughout large parts of the
world, but especially worthy evidence comes from French and Italian records.

There is also a hint of use of besoms and sticks as a means to insert the
witches unguent into the vagina to potentate the aphrodisiac effects and for
optimal absorption and effect, while serving as an artificial penis.

The confessions of a woman named Antoine Rose, a Witch of Savoy (France) who was
tortured and tried in 1477, stated that “The first time she was taken to the
synagogue (Sabbat) she saw many men and women there, enjoying themselves and
dancing backwards. The Devil, whose name was Robinet, was a dark man who spoke
in a hoarse voice. Kissing Robinet’s foot in homage, she renounced God and the
Christian faith. He put his mark on her, on the little finger of her left hand,
and gave her a stick, 18 inches long, and a pot of ointment. She used to smear
the ointment on the stick, put it between her legs and say “Go, in the name of
the Devil, go!” At once she would be carried though the air to the synagogue.”

Alice Kyteler, a famous Irish Witch of the early 14th century, was supposed to
have owned a staff “on which she ambled and galloped through thick and thin,
when and in what manner she listed, after having greased it with the ointment
which was found in her possession.”

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Book and Article Resources:

An ABC of Witchcraft by Doreen Valiente, 1973. De Benedanti: Hekserij en
Vruchtbaarheidsriten in de 16e & 17e Eeuw by Carlo Ginzburg, 1966, 1986.
Encyclopedia of Witchcraft & Demonology, 1974. Europe’s Inner Demons: The
Demonization of Christians in Medieval Christendom by Norman Cohn, 1975, 1973.
Heksen, Ketters en Inquisiteurs by Arie Zwart en Karel Braun, 1981. Practical
Magic in the Northern Traditon by Nigel Pennick, 1989. The History of Witchcraft
by Montague Summers, London, 1927. Witchcraft, A Tradition Renewed by Doreen
Valiente and Evan Jones, Phoenix Publishing, 1990. Witchcraft & Demonology by
Francis X. King, 1987, and various online resources and articlesÖ

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Burning ‘The Burning Times’

Burning ‘The Burning Times’

Author: Zan Fraser

It seems that there is a recent body of misinformation regarding the Burning Times making its way through the Wiccan/Pagan community, which amounts to a revisionist “take” on the Witches’ Holocaust. Being something of a debunking, this new school of thought asserts that the Burning Times is “over-hyped” and hysterically blown out of proportion. While as a rule, I am a huge fan of revisionist history, I find this development (which adds up to a sort of “Burning Times denial-ism”) a bit depressing.

Proponents of this new school of thought seem to me mistaken in a number of important ways. (1) They tend to describe the Burning Times as a sort of invention of Margaret Murray’s, the Egyptologist whose “pro-Pagan” interpretation of European history was so influential to the early Craft revival. (2) They challenge the conventional belief in huge numbers of Burning Times victims as overwrought, with the numbers inflated. (3) They question the interpretation of the Great Witch-Hunts as a “War on Women.”

Far from being a concept of Murray’s, among the broadest reaching of her theories, the first realizations of the Burning Times emanate centuries before her writing, expressed in horror by the period’s contemporaries. As early as the 1560s, Weyer was publishing denunciations of the excesses of German Witch-Hunting; Spee (confessor during the Wurzburg trials of the 1620s) , theology professor Meyfarth (in the 1630s) , and Junius (a torture-victim who generated one of the few Witch-Hunting documents told from the perspective of the tortured Witch) powerfully describe the hysterical panic of the populace and the agonized suffering of the accused. They leave no doubt as to the alarm and trauma that must have pervaded the German regions in the latter 1500s and early 1600s.

Burning Times revisionists make the vital point that the German cases (for their exceptional violence and cruelty) give us a skewed picture of the Hunt Periods. In the 1620s alone, some 600 persons were said to have been killed as devil-worshipping Witches at Bamberg, with some 900 more in Wurzburg. There are many reasons for this, notably that the German Prince-Bishops ruled as absolute authorities on both the secular and religious levels, and the particular Prince-Bishops during this period and in these regions appear to have been especially sadistic sorts. These numbers may be inflated to a certain degree (they probably don’t have a modern bureaucratic accounting system to keep track of such things) , but they clearly intend to describe large numbers of victims, with much resulting social terror and disruption. Revisionists are correct to point out that these levels of destruction are not matched elsewhere and tend to provide a somewhat distorted view of the Witch-Hunts.

(On more than one occasion, I have heard Wiccans describe the “Burning Times” in England as if the English Witch-cases were on a par with those of Germany, or to relate how English Witches “fled the Burning Times in England, ” to come to the New World of America in order to keep the “Old Ways” in safety. This ignores the reality that the English were relatively lenient in their regards to Witchcraft. Importantly they never accepted the idea of Witches as demonic- sparing themselves the hysterical “Satan panic” reactions experienced on the Continent- and they observed legal proprieties in their judgment of Witch-cases, as opposed to the German regions, which held Witchcraft to be such a subversive and lethal instrument that it justified abandoning basic legal protections for the accused. In an important difference, the English did not employ torture in Witchcraft cases.

This is not to say that on the social level the English never responded hysterically to fears or accusations of Witchcraft or that there were not English miscarriages of justice- but it is to say that the English made an effort to hold themselves in check regarding Witchcraft, which makes the Burning Times period in England of a different character than that in other parts of Europe.)

Conceding the point that the extreme degree of persecution in Germany leaves a lop-sided impression, it should be remembered that even in England, Reginald Scot was so alarmed over what he saw as the rise of “anti-Witch” prejudice that he published Discoverie of Witchcraft in 1584, decrying the stereotyping of elderly ladies as Witches (the English overwhelmingly imagined Witches to be elderly single women) ; according to Scot, this exposed defenseless old women to acts of violence. In A Briefe Historie of Wytches, , I collect from the period-drama several examples in which assault is thought justifiable if its victim is imagined to be a Witch.

In Sweden, Queen Christina was so dismayed over Witch-Hunting in her realm that in 1649 she ordered a series of reforms; this is the one instance in 300 years in which a European monarch so used the royal power, which Robbins finds “notable as the first legislation curbing witch hunts.” (Rossell Hope Robbins, The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, “Sweden, Witchcraft In”) In all of these cases, the individuals involved- Weyer, Spee, Meyfarth, Junius, Scot, and Christina- are identifying “Witch-Hunting” as a feature of life around them, expressing the first glimmerings of understanding that they were living through a “Burning Times.”

In the early 1800s, the famous novelist Walter Scott was studying the Scots Witch-cases, publishing his summaries in Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft. The eminent Wilhelm Gottlieb Soldan conducted another early scholarly review of the medieval Witch-Business, presented in 1843; this was followed by the majestic history collected by Joseph Hansen, published in German in 1900. We see here that identification and study of the Burning Times commenced well before Margaret Murray, who first published in the early 1920s.

One of her initial critics, Harvard professor George Lyman Kittredge, issued his fine volume Witchcraft in Old and New England in the latter 1920s. Although he hardly agrees with Murray, it is clear that the Burning Times is “set” in his mind as a historical phenomenon (p. 243) : “Such were the orgies of the Witches’ Sabbath as systematized in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries by the scholastic ingenuity of devout theologians and described in confessions innumerable wrung by torture from ignorant and superstitious defendants in response to leading questions framed by inquisitors who had the whole system in mind before the trial began.”

I believe that- far from being among Margaret Murray’s “theories”- the medieval Burning Times is indeed a well-documented and reasonably well-understood phenomenon.

Another assertion made by the promoters of this new reading of the Burning Times is that not really very many persons were killed. They will quite properly dismiss the hysterically overwrought 9 million citation, then quote “recorded data” as giving an extremely paltry number, with “many countries” reporting only 3-10 victims, or certainly less than 50.

I find Anne Llewellyn Barstow to be persuasive on the issue of numbers: Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts Pandora Books, 1994 (p. 19-23) . Acknowledging the woefully imperfect state of records (many lost or defective) , Barstow nonetheless finds herself compelled to keep careful count as she works her way through the dim documentation of the past. Although this pains-taking approach adds hours of extra work, and great though the temptation is to start rounding off numbers, she retains “each awkward figure, ” remembering Holocaust historian Joan Ringelheim’s observation: to drop numbers now was to kill that individual twice. Accordingly Barstow provides in her Appendix B “the most complete record available at this time.”

Barstow comments upon Levack’s work (p. 22) , crediting him with producing the “most careful totals made so far.” She finds his figures “reasonable, ” but “almost certainly too low.” Given the faulty state of records, with additional cases emerging “steadily, ” and given that posse-style murders and lynching-deaths will not be recorded, Barstow finds it judicious to expand Levack’s numbers to 200, 000 accused, with 100, 000 dead. She finds it interesting that- just after the “recently ended holocaust”- Voltaire estimated that about 100, 000 had been put to death.

Contrary to the assertion of Burning Times revisionists that “many countries” had less than 50 Witch-Victims apiece, Barstow’s Appendix B describes only Montbeliard (55+) , Vaud (90) , Labourd (80) , Champagne (50+) , Essex (74) , New England (35) , Estonia (65) , Russia (10+) , Logrono (6) , Catalonia (45) , and Navarre (50) with less than 100 murdered Witches. She finds some 50, 000+ to have been killed in the German states; some 5000 in France; some 1000 in England; 1, 337+ in Scotland; 1500-1800 in Scandinavia; and approximately 15, 000+ in Poland.

The third claim of this would-be up-ending of conventional Hunt-Period consideration is that in “many countries” the “vast majority” of victims were male. Scandinavia, Finland, and Iceland are listed as places where “nearly all of the accused” were men. From this, the interpretation of the medieval Witch-Hunts as a “Holocaust of women” is questioned.

Barstow notes that the trials in Finland, Estonia, and Iceland (“which did not have a true witch hunt”) offer the “rare phenomenon” of predominantly male Witches. (p. 86) Finns had traditionally presumed sorcery to lie with men and some 60% of Estonia’s accused were males, often with reputations as healers or magic-workers. (Barstow, by the way, notes that Witchcraft in Scandinavia and the Baltic regions- the areas isolated from Christianity the longest- is “deeply rooted in European folk customs”; Robbins observes that “heathen beliefs in natural and magical powers” lingered in Finland longer than anywhere else in Europe, as Christianity was not introduced until 1157. (Encyclopedia, “Finland, Witchcraft in”)

Interesting though that is, male Witches appear to be the exception rather than the rule. Barstow remarks that the figures show women to have been “overwhelmingly victimized, ” constituting roughly 80% of the accused and 85% of the executed. (p. 23) In places such as Essex, females make up 92% of the accused, as they do during a Hunt in Belgium. During a Scare in Basel, the percentage of women accused shoots to 95%. Barstow quotes the observation of historian Christina Larner, “the chronicler of Scottish witchcraft, ” who felt that there must have been periods in East Lothian or Fife when no woman could have “felt free from the fear of accusation.” She notes the two German villages finally left with but one female inhabitant apiece, and the Rhenish village where one person (generally female) out of every two families was killed. (p. 24)

Barstow feels that her statistics “document an intentional mass murder of women.” To not see that is to “deny the most persistent fact about the persecutions.” (p.26)

Burning Times revisionists conclude that the Burning Times is a farce, a “theory” of Margaret Murray’s run amuck, fed by pumped-up numbers and a hysterical view of a “Holocaust of Women.”

With all respect, I feel that:

(1) The Burning Times is established as a medieval phenomenon well beyond Murray.

(2) Anne Llewellyn Barstow provides extremely well-researched figures, pointing to some 200, 000 accused, with some 100, 000 executed, around 85% of whom were women.

(3) Far from men being the primary victims during the Burning Times (Iceland, Finland, and Estonia notwithstanding) , I believe that so many women were targeted that the Burning Times might well be understood as a Religious War on Women- predicated upon the interesting assumption that Witches are most likely to be Female.

It is for this reason that one of the rallying cries of the Modern Wiccan Witchcraft Revival is: Never Again the Burning Times.