The Witch Hunts of Old Hit Home

I have been thumbing through some of my books. Truthfully as I look through them, I can’t find anything at all that interests me to talk about. Except one thing that I learned about not to long ago that happened in my hometown.

All of my family came out of the mountains of Eastern and Central Kentucky. Most of the men were coal miners and the women were homemakers. I remember my father had come from a family of 13 children. There would have been 15 but two of them died as babies. My mother came from only a family of 3 children. Her baby sister passed on when she was 12 from lockjaw. She stepped on a rusty nail and there was no cure at the time. My father and mother met, married and moved to Western Kentucky. I grew up in this area and have lived here all my life. I always thought it was a very peaceful and lovely place to live. All those thoughts were scattered to the wind the other day. I learned of something terrible that had happened here. Down where the floodwall now stands on the other side of it, three witches were hanged. I cried.

The thought of those women or so called witches has been weighing on my mind. The is the first time, I had ever heard of the witch hunts and executions coming this far south. The details of the hanging are unknown to me. The names of the victims and what they were accused of is also. I want to know about these women. I feel a yearning to know. Perhaps it is a sisterhood or perhaps there Spirits are calling to me, I don’t know. But I want to find out.

I haven’t mentioned any of these to my husband yet. I know what he will say, “leave it alone. Don’t go snooping.” I had an aunt on my father’s side to just disappear. No one in the family ever talked about her. The only reason I know is because I did a little genealogy on my own. She showed up in the censuses and I also found a birth record of her. I even asked my sister about her and she had never heard of her either. It was always public knowledge that women on both sides of the family practiced healings and witchcraft. It makes me wonder if one of those women could have been my aunt.

I cannot even begin to think how to go about researching something like this. I know my husband runs across transcripts of Witch Trials no one had ever heard of before. He gave me one not to long ago about a trial in Pennsylvania that I have found no record of anywhere. I would love to find out more about these women. I would especially like to know if one of them was my aunt.

Perhaps this explains the strong feelings I have in regards to the Burning Times. Perhaps it explains why I am always talking about our Ancestors. I know I had several stoned and hung, distant ones not like an aunt. To me, an aunt is blood, real blood. I feel a responsible to find out what happened to her. Then I stop to think, if it was my aunt could I honestly handle the cruelty that I found out she suffered. Who knows if she was an actually practitioner? She might have been one of my relatives that was completely innocent. The thought of that makes me sick. The thought of her being tortured and no telling what else, just to make her confess. Then taken out to a gallows or even a tree and hung, it makes me cry. It is different when you read and heard about the old ones back in the 1600’s. But when you wonder if one of these women could have been your  aunt hung back in the early 1900’s. It hits home. It hits you square in your heart and soul.

The cruelty of people. How could people treat any of them the way they did? Did these people have any regrets? Didn’t they have any compassion for another human being? What happened back then, did the world go mad? I guess due to my tolerance and compassion for others, I will never understand it.

All I know is I want to know who these women were. Whether any of them were my aunt or not, I pray the Goddess gave them peace and comfort. I truly pray they were reborn into a much kinder and gentler world from which they came.

This Is Halloween! Salem During The Samhain Season

This Is Halloween! Salem During The Samhain Season
By Artemisia, Nicole, Maeve, Phoenix ShadowDancer, and Roisin
Salem, MA was founded by Puritans sailing from England in 1629. The town is notorious for the witch trials that took place in the vicinity in 1692. We know that the Salem “witches” were innocent victims of mass hysteria. The first “witch” was hung in June of that year. In October, 13 executed women and 5 executed men later, the witch-trials were suspended. From then on, witches, the devil, and any vestige of the occult left Salem for over 250 years and Salem reverted to yet another boring, Puritan New England town.
Not until the 1970s did the witches return to Salem… and this time they brought T-shirts.
Salem is Halloween 365 days a year, so you can imagine what events take place during the week of Halloween! A few former-residents of Salem along with some local pagans offer an insiders’ view of Salem during this season.
Fun Things To Do In Salem by Phoenix ShadowDancer
Living close to Salem has always felt like a privilege to me. From the days when I was a child, when my dad would take me to the “witch shop” (Crow Haven Corner) to today, when I go to feel the amazing spiritual and magickal energy, I have always loved the town. There are so many things that a magickal person can do in this beautiful little town, from historical site-seeing to really amazing food. One of my favorite things to do is to walk through the “witch’s memorial” (which isn’t really a memorial to witches at all…since it is most likely that the women and man killed were probably not witches) to the old cemetery, sit on the wall, and write in my journal or just meditate. It’s a beautiful site. Another favorite is to visit all of the occult shops. Of course, many of them carry the same products, but the atmosphere when you walk into these shops creates a warm, fuzzy feeling all over.
There are millions of historical sites to see in Salem. There is the Witch’s Museum (which harbors a bunch of wax figures and tells the story of the Salem Witch Trials), the House of Seven Gables, which was once home to writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, and, of course, the Witch’s Dungeon which I have actually never been to. During the autumn season, Salem hosts a month-long festival called “Haunted Happenings”, which creates an eerie flare for visiting these sites.
Finally, there are numerous groups of pagan men and women in Salem who never feel squeamish about walking around in their cloaks, and “witchy attire”. This was my favorite part about Salem. Usually, a large pagan group called the “Temple of Nine Wells” will put on a public ritual for each pagan holiday, which are inspirational and all-together fun. For Samhain, they often gather at Gallows Hill for a large public ritual (which often consists of hundreds of people) and then process to town from there in memory of those who were executed for their beliefs. No matter what your interest, the autumn season is always a wonderful time to visit the town of Salem. During this season, everyone is a witch .
Avoiding Salem by Roisin
I have never been to Salem for Halloween. I’ve thought about it a few times, but I’ve always decided not to go. I go up to Salem a few times a year, usually on weekends in the summer to check out the Peabody Essex Museum and do a little shopping. You may wonder why, and many people I’ve met, given my religious beliefs and geographic location, are shocked to hear that I avoid Salem from October 1 through November 2. The reason for that is the same reason I avoid all Irish bars on St. Patrick’s Day. It doesn’t have a lot to do with green beer and green beer vomit (but that does count for something). No, I stay away because I celebrate my heritage 365 days a year. I don’t need to be squeezed into an overcrowded bar and have some drunk spill beer on me while singing “Danny Boy” off-key. As for Halloween in Salem, I celebrate my faith in the Goddess every day. I don’t need to freeze my ass off wandering around the streets of Salem while freaky (deliberately freaky) guys and girls try to pick me up, on the assumption that Pagan chicks are poly, easy, and like to f—- anything. I also don’t need to deal with the witchier-than-thou types in Salem, whose own brand of Goddess is the only one acceptable. I also don’t like the overly commercial nature of the holiday up there. Still, Salem is a fun town to visit, but I like to do it on my terms, not everybody else’s.
When You Can’t Get To Salem, Go To Boston!  By Nicole
I have lived in Boston all my life and since Salem on Halloween can be pretty a pretty crowded scene, I usually stay local and keep it simple. Salem is not the only spooky place in New England. A trip to some of the oldest cemeteries in America makes for a “grave” Halloween experience. Mt. Auburn Cemetery, founded in 1831, is the final resting place of thousands of distinguished people including 19th century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and artist Winslow Homer as well as 20th century visionary Buckminster Fuller. Mt. Auburn commemorates the dead in a tranquil, natural setting “embellished” with ornamental plantings, monuments, fences, fountains and chapels that also makes it a place for the living. You can go, have a picnic on a tomb, write in your journal, and romanticize about the past. Park Street Church, the site of the old town granary (where grain was kept before the Revolution) dates back to 1809. The Church was the first location of Sunday School in 1818. On July 4th, 1829, William Lloyd Garrison gave his first public anti-slavery speech here and two years later “My Country, Tis of Thee” was sung for the first time by the church’s choir. But Park Street Church is best known for its cemetery, where at least 1,600 people are known to be buried, dating from the 1600s. Among those laid to rest are Paul Revere, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and the victims of the Boston Massacre. Elizabeth Vergoose, buried here in 1690, is believed to be the storyteller later immortalized as Mother Goose. There’s nothing more fall-feeling than crunching through fallen leaves around the Granary graveyard with the smell of roasting peanuts in the air and sipping some hot cider.
A day pensive day spent grave-hopping ends nicely with a night dancing at ManRay Nightclub, home of New England’s underground scene, catering to a variety of alternative cultures. ManRay can guarantee a spooktacular Halloween night! Dance the night away with vampires, dominatrix damsels, and sexy heathens… and those are the regulars! With an annual costume competition cannot be rivaled with awards like “best use of pvc tape in a costume” the night always promises a lot of laughs, dancing, and great people watching.
Disillusionment Of Salem by Maeve
Dis`il*lu”sion*ment, n. The act of freeing from an illusion, or the state of being freed there from. As a child growing up I always thought of Salem of being this real life mystical place. As a teenager I craved to be there on Halloween. The night that was already charged with so much meaning I felt would be that much more powerful there. A couple of years ago I was able to realize that childhood idea but it wasn’t what I expected. The only thing to compare it to is Mardi Gras: streets full of people, outrageous costumes, insane behavior, drinking and a few drugs here and there… not much in the way of mystical experiences. Salem is an old town with a lot of history but it was not the source of a lot of the history we were taught. There was a lot of energy but it was very chaotic and came from the people I was surrounded by not the environment. I think in my head I had pictured bustling activity of like-minded people or some such thing. While I can say that I have experienced Salem at Halloween and there were some positive things; it was an experience that freed me from my childhood illusions.
Living In Salem On Halloween by Artemisia
As someone who can claim to be quite familiar with Salem, once being a local and having much family who lives in the area, I feel that there is definitely something special about Salem. The energy in and around the area is very mystical; perhaps because it is surrounded by the ocean and marshland or perhaps it just cannot be explained. I can say for sure, however, that the endearing qualities of Salem are not due to the Haunted Happenings events each October, but rather, in spite of the hordes of people that go there for Halloween. There is nothing better than walking down the brick-laid streets looking up at the brick buildings, crunching along in the leaves, watching your breath puff in the cool, damp air on a sunny October day. This downtown area has something for everyone: great restaurants, cafes for the college kids, shops full of supplies for the practicing pagans, tourist traps for the visitors, local grocers, museums, unique book stores, plenty of good seafood, great bars full of local characters, antique shops, one of the oldest hotels in America, and great architecture. If you wander a little further off the path, you can walk out to the wharf and see the boats in the harbor, or go down to Winter Island and walk around on the beach, or sit on the benches at Salem Willows and enjoy the beautiful ancient trees overlooking the bay, or even hop in your car or on the bus and head towards Marblehead to visit the hidden treasure of Salem: Forest River Park and enjoy a walk on the waterfront overlooked by gorgeous, friendly trees and many seagulls. Whether you go to experience the beautiful natural sights, to window-shop downtown, or to get some great food, one thing you will be assured of: an eclectic group of people, ranging from the blue-collar “townies”, to the black-caped pagans, to the college students at Salem State, to the old Salem families, and the recently or not so recently immigrated, living and working in harmony and tolerance together in this unique city.
No matter what you do on Halloween… whether it’s to camp it up in Salem, participate in a Samhain ritual outside the beautiful autumn weather and reclaim your freedom of religion, spend a quiet day among the dead, or a loud night dancing—have fun, be safe, and be true to yourself!
About The Authors: Artemisia, Nicole, Maeve, Phoenix ShadowDancer, and Roisin are Keepers of the Moon. We meet twice a month to meet, discuss, act, and do ritual work in a safe, supportive atmosphere. Our goals are to facilitate spiritual growth, be spiritual resources to one another, and enact positive change in our lives and communities. These goals are strengthened through regular meetings, rituals, and celebrations, all which honor the Universal Feminine Divine. We are a group of women who believe in, practice, and foster an egalitarian society that is based on tolerance, wisdom, compassion and respect.

Lighten Up – You Might be Giving Pagans a Bad Name If…

by Cather “Catalyst” Steincamp

 

You Might be Giving Pagans a Bad Name If…

You insist that your boss call you “Rowan Starchild” because otherwise you’d sue for religious harassment. (Score double for this if you don’t let that patronizing dastard call you “Mr. or Ms. Starchild.”)

You request Samhain, Beltaine, and Yule off and then gripe about working Christmas.

You expect your employer to exempt you from the random drug testing because of your religion.

You think the number of Wiccan books you own is far more important than the number you have read, regardless of the fact that most of your books are for beginners.

You’ve won an argument by referencing “Drawing Down the Moon,” knowing darned good and well they haven’t read it either.

You said it was bigotry when they didn’t let you do that ritual in front of city hall. It had nothing to do with the skyclad bit.

You picketed The Craft and Hocus Pocus, but thought that the losers who picketed The Last Temptation of Christ needed to get lives.

You’ve ever had to go along with someone’s ludicrous story because it was twice as likely to be true than most of the nonsense you spout.

You complain about how much the Native Americans copied from Eclectic Wiccan Rites.

You’ve ever referenced the Great Rite in a pick-up line.

Someone has had to point out to you that you do not enter a circle “in perfect love and perfect lust.” (Score double if you argued the point.)

You claim yourself as a witch because how early you were trained by the wise and powerful such-and-such of whom nobody has heard.

You claim to be a famtrad (hereditary), but you’re not. (Score double if you had to tell people you were adopted to pull this off.)

You claim to be a descendant of one of the original Salem Witches. (Score to a lethal degree if you don’t get this one.)

You think it’s perfectly reasonable to insist that, since every tradition is different, and no one tradition is right, there’s no reason not to do things your way.

You’ve ever been psychically attacked by someone who conveniently held a coven position you crave, and suddenly had a glimpse into their mind so you could see how evil they were.

You’ve ever affected an Irish or Scottish accent and insisted that it was real.

You think it’s your Pagan Duty to support the IRA, not because of any political beliefs you might share, but because, dammit, they’re Irish.

You talk to your invisible guardians in public. (Score double if you have met the Vampire Lestat or Dracula, triple if you got into a fight and escaped, or quadruple if it was no contest.)

You’ve ever confused the Prime Directive with the Wiccan Rede.

You’ve ever tried something you saw on “Sabrina, The Teenage Witch”

You’ve suddenly realized in the middle of a ritual that you weren’t playing D&D.

You’ve failed to realize at any point in the ritual that you weren’t playing D&D.

You’ve suddenly realized that you are playing D&D.

You hang out with people who each match at least fifteen of these traits.

You recognize many of these traits in yourself, but this test isn’t about you. But, boy, it’s right about those other folks.

So Many Questions and Ideas…

So Many Questions and Ideas…

Author: Divine Witch

I have decided to be a witch. Well, I think I have. For the past three years I have been going back and forth with the infatuation with Wicca and Witchcraft. But really it started before that. As a child, I wondered about Voodoo or Black Magic. My grandmother was afraid of it. She would tell me not to let people play in my hair because they could use the hair strand to put a curse on me. Also, she didn’t like me giving pictures out to friends for the same reason. I always thought she was a bit paranoid about the whole thing. So I grew up with that and for that reason I never really heard about good witches, the ones that practice good or white magic. Except maybe the ones in fairy tales or Disney. But we all know that stuff is a joke anyway.

Of course for Halloween, kids dressed as Witches, Wizards and things of that nature. I was a Witch quite a few times. My granny (yes the same one) even made me a witch costume from scratch one year. Then when I was about thirteen, I got invited to a Halloween party last minute and had nothing to wear. So my aunt made me into a Gypsy.

I had no idea what a Gypsy was at the time. But it was fun being dressed up in all of the jewelry and other things she put on me. I don’t remember everything I had on but I do remember it was fun, and that she went a little overboard. Damn, I wish I had a picture. So really, that’s all I got about Witches and stuff like that. I always assumed it was just fairy tale Disney stuff and that it was never really real.

Then when I became an adult I had an older boyfriend who swore his last girlfriend and well as another did Voodoo on him. He would tell me stories on what happened to him. Now I’m not saying that Voodoo is nonsense or that it doesn’t exist but sometimes he was a little dramatic also. So even though I partly believed him, I was becoming more interested about it by this time.

In 2000, I took a Tarot reading class and ended up buying two decks of cards. One I actually used and the other for was more for collection purposes. Still have them I believe. After my youngest son was born in 2001, I used the deck to do readings on myself, mostly for practice. Since I wasn’t really good about reading due to lack of experience, I didn’t really understand what I was getting. But I wrote it down to see if it would make sense later. And sometimes it did. Years went on and I would be touch and go with things; I wore an Amethyst pendant around my neck or maybe I would carry a “good luck charm” in my purse from time to time.

Then in 2007 it happened. By this time I was heavy into Native American studies and culture (still am as that is my heritage) and was looking to connect more with Natives. I ran into a lady on a Native American news/culture/events website and she told me about a retreat that is held every year in June. I received more information about it and wanted to go. So I went and found about Goddess worshiping and the moon cycles, and loads of other stuff I never really thought about. Oh, and I participated in a sweat lodge too. Wore me out but it was a nice experience. But the whole three days was an eye opener for me. It was full of women, regular women like myself that were Witches.

I went home with my head spinning and swimming with ideas and thoughts. I never knew there were publications catered to the Goddess or Witches. I never really heard of Wicca either. All I heard about was the negative stuff. So I bought Scott Cunningham books and Sage Woman magazines. Then I started purchasing candles, athames, seashells for incense burning and other things for my altar. And I really wanted to work with herbs. I even wanted to grow my own herbs for magickal purposes.

Then I would practice. Or try to. I could not concentrate. For one, I was waiting on one of my kids to get out of bed and disturb me, or the phone to ring or whatever. My brain would never shut up, that didn’t help either. So I grew frustrated and walked away from it. Well, not entirely. I would still pick up a Sage Woman magazine every so often or read about the Salem Witch Trials. But then it was hard because school kept me busy and I really couldn’t dedicate myself to it.

And now here I am again with all of this time gone by and still basically at square one. I know so much but still know so little, feeling just as lost as before. So now I do have a couple of friends that I could get insight from but one lives in Canada and the other does not practice really anymore either. So in between being uneducated and being in an area where witchcraft is taboo I am stuck. And I don’t like being stuck.

So you’re probably asking was is the point of all of this? Well, it’s really because I need some help. And maybe I felt that I needed to say this and I has helped me realized some my problems too. One of the reasons I felt I could not concentrate is I still have some stigmatizing behavior and thinking to take care of. And I also realized that I am more passionate about Witchcraft and root work. Go figure, huh?

So now I need to find someone or something to help me on that path while working with the stigma and other things as well. But how do I get over that? How long is it going to take before I feel like a real Witch? But hey, I’m getting there. As a kid I never thought it would come to this.

Slowly but surely.

Middle Age Witchcraft

Middle Age Witchcraft

During the early Middle Ages, the early Christian Church didn’t focus on witches or witchcraft. The Council of Paderborn in 785 explicitly outlawed the belief in witches, and Saint Boniface declared in the 8th century that a belief in the existence of witches was unchristian altogether. The Emperor Charlemagne decreed that burning a witch was actually a pagan custom, and anyone caught doing it would be punished by death. In 820 the Bishop of Lyon and others declared that witches could not fly or make brooms fly, could not make bad weather, nor change their shape. The idea that people could do these things, were deemed fanciful tales of mythology. The decree was accepted into Church law. King Coloman of Hungary declared that witches do not exist, and therefore witch-hunts were not necessary. Many other rulers of his day followed suit and the witch-hunts ceased for a while. These non-existent concepts lasted until the late 12th century. And the first medieval trials against witches occurs in the 13th century with the establishment of the Inquisition. The Church was actually concentrating on the persecution of heresy. But witchcraft, either real or just alleged, was treated as any other sort of heresy. It’s also at this time where we see the label Witchcraft applied broadly to pagan beliefs and practices. No longer does it become a label for a craft or practice, but as a title or label for a set of spiritual beliefs. Witchcraft becomes the title of a religion, with many varying practices. And it’s here where many today claim the label for their religious practice.

Today, Witchcraft can be defined as:

A neo-pagan religion that is further defined and put into practice by it’s many sects, such as Wicca, Deborean Wicca, Strega, Pictish and others.

The European witch-hunts reach their pinnacle around 1450. No longer is it a theological campaign for the church, but a phenomenon that resembles mass hysteria and fear. The classical attributes of a witch, casting negative spells to control others, flying on brooms, intercourse with the Devil, and meeting with demons and other witches at sabbats, became descriptive fact in Canon Law around 1400. Conspiracy theories begin to form; stating that witches use their sabbat rituals and underground movements as a means of plotting to overthrow Christianity. The church and monarchies see this as a war upon their authority and control to be weeded out and destroyed. The lands of the Holy Roman Empire, as well as Scotland were all affected by the trials. 29 editions of The “Malleus Maleficarum” were reprinted between 1487 and 1669, even though the book was condemned by the Catholic Church in 1490. It was continually used by secular witch-hunting courts to condemn and prosecute accused witches. Intellectuals spoke out against the trials from the late 16th century. Not even then elite society could keep themselves or their family members out of the witch jails. Johannes Kepler in 1615 used his prestige to keep his mother from being burnt as a witch. The 1692 Salem witch trials exploded even though the practice of witch trials was declining in Europe. During the Early Modern Period the concern over witchcraft reaches the boiling point. There are many thoughts as to why the trials began. That they were more about the desire of the Church and current Monarchies to gain or maintain control over the citizenry. It’s interesting to note that most of the witch trials that ended in convictions took place in rural areas with a 90% conviction rate. Another interesting statistic is how the highest concentration of trials took place along the borders of France, Germany, and Italy, in what is now modern day Switzerland. Some areas, such as Britain (with the exception of some notable trials in Scotland) saw fewer trials, but were still extensive. And some point to Spain as holding the largest portion of trials and executions. There were early trials in the 15th and early 16th century, but then the witch scare went into decline, before becoming a big issue again and in the 17th century. The practiced declined some say in part to other more weighty concerns placed before the Church and Monarchies. Others say it declined out of fear of reprisals. And still others claim it’s a combination of these reasons, and the increased practiced of Witchcraft sects to go underground and hide their beliefs and practices. There are many traditions who make the claim that their early practioners migrated away from these witch-hunt areas to escape persecution and continue their beliefs and practices. While others make claims of going underground into secret societies. Though there is no unequivocal evidence of secret pagan societies or migrations; we can learn from history how persecutions do indeed force people to flee or live in secrecy.

“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.

The Witch’s Teat and Fluffy, the Evil Devil Poodle


Author: Fire Lyte


Black cats, warty toads, and a menagerie of creepy, slimy, crawly animals have all been accused of allying themselves with witches. The image of the witch with her pointed hat and magic broom just wouldn’t be complete without Fluffy the magic talking cat taking a nap on the bristles as she flies through a full moon sky casting her spells on the unsuspecting public below. It is because of their connection to witches that many people are afraid of black cats, black dogs – otherwise known as Grims, and toads. In fact, people kill black cats every year, because people are so frightened of them. Where does this deep-seated fear come from, and is it merited?

The word we use to call a spirit in animal form that helps a witch is ‘familiar.’ This term originally comes from the Latin ‘familiaris, ’ meaning ‘domestic, ’ but it also has root definitions in the Old French ‘familier, ’ and the Spanish/Italian words ‘familia/famiglia’ meaning ‘family.’ Dr. Jim Maloney of NYU proposes that the noun form of ‘familiar’ that we use to mean a witch’s companion spirit most likely derived from these later definitions in the 1580s, because women that lived apart from society – who were tried for witchcraft – would have probably brought in stray or wild animals, nursed them back to health, and tamed them. That woman would have, most definitely, thought of such animals as family.

As with all things witchy in the Middle Ages, familiars got a really bad rap from their respective local populaces, as everything having to do with those put on trial for witchcraft was considered of the Devil. The Encyclopedia Britannica showcases these definitions clearly in their entry on familiars, in which they highlight that the noun form of ‘familiar’ – meaning an imp or spirit that assists, instructs, or otherwise augments a witch’s powers – came about in the Middle Ages during the witch trials. Not only were they thought of as spirits, but also they were automatically assumed to be demons.

But, let’s think about this for a second. So, familiars were actually wild or stray animals that men or women brought in from the outside – where they otherwise would have starved to death – nursed them back to health, and tamed them. Think about what this looked like to the average person in the 14th century in conjunction with what we know about the witchcraft trials. A man or woman living away from town near the woods, who has knowledge of medicine and agriculture, that subsists off of their own garden, and also seems to have tamed wild animals to do their bidding without any help from anybody else. Wouldn’t that seem strange to you? Would that seem a little…magical? It would if you lived 500-600 years ago and relied on your fellow townsfolk for your needs, and if you also happen to be a puritanical sheep that listened to everything your local fire and brimstone preacher said.

The Britannica goes on to explain that people believed these tamed animals must have been gifts from Satan, who apparently tames animals in his spare time. It was believed that the witch must feed the familiar by a mark given her by the devil known as the witch’s teat. During the trial of a witch, he or she was typically stripped naked and searched head to toe for such a teat. And, in every instance, some such mark of the devil was found: a mole, a wart, or even a finger could be used as evidence of this mark. Elizabeth Howe, Harvard scholar on the Salem witch trials, said in her book ‘The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane’ that a woman’s clitoris was also used as evidence of this witch’s teat. Once the mark was found, it was over for the defendant. The mark was considered a sure sign of the person’s guilt, and sentence was passed shortly thereafter.

However, a familiar wasn’t always just a mooch from Satan who sucked on a woman’s nether regions and blighted the crops of nosy neighbors. They could also be what are known as ‘tutelary spirits, ’ or ones that teach. Michael Freeze in his 1992 book Patron Saints talks about a host of tutelary spirits in various religions. From the African tribes that worshipped the spider god Anansi, to the Native American people whose entire pantheon was made up of animal spirits, to the magical foxes of Japan, to genies, angels, and devas, the never ending list of spirits that take the form of animals covers the globe. And, of course, none of them had anything to do with the devil.

Zeus turned into a swan and a bull in order to mate with a young, pretty girl. Odin had ravens that flew across the world and reported back to him each night the events of the day. Animals as teachers have had a firm place in religious and folkloric history for thousands of years. However, that was legally put a stop to in 1604 with England’s passing of the Witchcraft Act, which made it illegal to associate with, hire, be friends with, feed, or reward any evil spirit for any reason. The law was truly put into effect in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts when two dogs were tried, convicted, and hanged for being believed to be a witch or a witch’s familiar.

Given all this, though, familiars have become one of the most beloved tools of the modern witch. Every television witch from Sabrina, to the Halliwells, to Samantha had a cat that, in one way or another, identified itself as their familiar. They are there to point out information that is right under the witch’s nose, but is being overlooked. While many witches today like to keep an animal – or seven – around the house, the idea that they are working magical companions does not seem to be as prevalent as it once was. Or, is it?

Let’s go back to the original propagation of the familiar. They were probably animals that needed care, love, and attention from someone, and the people on the edge of the town were the ones that provided it. In all reality, did these people actually work magic or learn arcane secrets from these animals? No, but they probably appreciated the company and felt less lonely, which is a kind of magic in and of itself. Though, a quick scan through your local bookstore will tell you the notion still exists in modern witchcraft and paganism that we learn from our pets, and many texts actually encourage us with spells and high rituals to find our familiars.

A quick story: The folklorist William Morgan said that during the English Civil War, the Royalist general Prince Rupert was in the habit of taking his large poodle dog named Boye, into battle with him. Throughout the war the dog was greatly feared among the Parliamentarian forces and credited with supernatural powers. The dog was apparently considered a kind of familiar. At the end of the war the dog was shot, allegedly with a silver bullet.

So, what category do you fall in to? Are you the loving outsider who takes in strays or runaways, who has a house full of love and furniture covered in pet hair? Or, are you the puritanical witch who dances with the devil on the full moon and feeds Evil Fluffy from your nether-teat? Either way, make sure to spay and neuter your familiars. We don’t need more imps running around.



Footnotes:
William Morgan, “Superstition in Medieval and Early Modern Society”, Chapter 3

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tutelary_spirit

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/familiar

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/201201/familiar

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/401680/familiars_in_witchcraft_history_of_pg2.html?cat=37

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=familiar and searchmode=none

http://homepages.nyu.edu/~jmm257/familiar.html