On the origin of Witchcraft: Are we weaving a flawed magical strand?

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Do contemporary Witches exist? Does modern Witchcraft exist? Are some forms of contemporary Witchcraft a religion (a mystical nature-based religion or otherwise)? The answer to these three questions is “yes”. But none of these questions lead to an answer which may shed some light to the origin of modern Witchcraft(s). The correct question should be whether contemporary practices establish that a “pre-Christian religion based on witchcraft” existed, and if it did whether its traditions as currently propagated within much of Paganism actually were the foundation for the modern practices and religion of contemporary Witches (and many other Pagans). I believe that the foundations of contemporary Witchcraft – as understood within the Pagan community, and as it is utilised to explain it to outsiders – could be seriously flawed, and that the origin of practices in contemporary Witchcraft(s) may in fact lie somewhere else.

Looking at but a few possible origins, for example, of the terms “Witch” and “Wicca” (as understood by most Pagans) clearly highlights this confusion – just imagine how mystified people outside Paganism must feel, especially when their culture, religion and custom dictate otherwise.

In ‘The derivation of the word Witch’, the mother of what would become much of contemporary Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente, wrote “Strangely enough, the derivation of the word witch is a subject on which scarcely any two authorities can be found to agree. The most frequent explanation is that it is akin to the word wise, and that witchcraft therefore means The Craft of the Wise.”

Janet and Stewart Farrar, in their ‘A Witches Bible’ wrote “Like most modern witches, we call the Craft ‘Wicca’… but we might as well be honest and admit that it is in effect a new word, mistakenly derived.”

Scott Cunningham wrote “Witch: anciently a European practitioner of the remnants of Christian folk magic, particularly that relating to herbs, healing, wells, rivers and stones. One who practiced witchcraft…” (Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner)

“The most authentic and hallowed Wiccan tradition is stealing from any source that didn’t run away too fast.” Margot Adler

“By assuming that witchcraft and paganism were formerly the same phenomenon, they (Wiccans) are mixing two utterly different archaic concepts and placing themselves in a certain amount of difficulty. The advantage of the label ‘witch’ is that it has all the exciting connotations of a figure that flouts the conventions of normal society and is possessed of powers unavailable to it, at once feared and persecuted…” ‘Pagan religions of the ancient British Isles’ by Ronald Hutton

“We Neopagans now face a crisis. As new data appeared, historians altered their theories to account for it. We have not. Therefore an enormous gap has opened between the academic and the ‘average’ Pagan view of witchcraft. We continue to use of out-dated and poor writers, like Margaret Murray, Montague Summers, Gerald Gardner and Jules Michelet.” Jenny Gibbons (Wiccan writer who holds an MA in Medieval History)

PROFESSED HERITAGE

Re-appropriation – such as in reclaiming the word “Witch” – is a process by which a group or individual reclaims (re-appropriates), for example, terms that were previously used in a way disparaging of a specific group. But surely, anyone who professes to be reclaiming something must have had some ties or claims to it in the first place. Since contemporary Witchcraft in all of its forms is a modern construct, can contemporary Witches, and even other Pagans, really reclaim anything pre-dating the establishment of the modern Pagan movement and its practices?

Many contemporary Witches assert that by calling themselves Witches, they honour their “oppressed” forebears who survived centuries of intolerance – and that this identifies modern Witches more strongly with the “witches” of old. Except that it is more than likely that no contemporary Witchcraft practices are directly, or even remotely, related to any perceived “ancient witchcraft practices”. There are several versions of the basic story-line connecting modern Witchcraft(s) with ancient forms of “witchcraft” – Middle Age or otherwise. Isaac Bonewits sardonically referred to this as “the myth of the Unitarian, Universalist, White Witch-cult of Western Theosophical Brittany”.

Margaret Murray may have popularised the ancient “witch-cult hypothesis”, but she was not the first to come up with this hypothesis. In 1828 University of Berlin Prof Karl Jarcke proposed the idea that the witchcraft of European history was actually a degenerated form of pre-Christian paganism. (‘Witchcraft Goes Mainstream’ Chapter 6: Witchcraft for Real – Was There or Wasn’t There? by Brooks Alexander) Frenchman, Jules Michelet, an academic maverick who believed that Christianity itself had to give way to a new faith suited to a new age, and who toyed with the idea that the replacement religion should have a feminine focus, centered on the function of motherhood. In his 1862 treatment of “witchcraft” (“La Sorciere” – The Witch), Michelet, wrote that “witchcraft” was a surviving pagan religion of fertility and nature-worship, and he proclaim that the Renaissance had been produced when the wisdom preserved by the “witches” broke surface again to infuse members of the cultural elite. But the contemporary idea and ideal of primitive matriarchal religions, is most likely derived from the work of Swiss lawyer Johann Jakob Bachofen (1815-1887). He believed in a prehistoric matriarchy, or Mutterrecht – from the title of his seminal 1861 book ‘Mother Right: an investigation of the religious and juridical character of matriarchy in the Ancient World’.

In all fairness, it must be mentioned that the term matriarchal in this context has been set aside by most modern Goddess scholars because few seasoned Pagans, as Starhawk said, still “envision an ancient society that is the mirror image of patriarchy”. But the true vogue of occultism was actually created by a French seminarian, Alphonse-Louis Constant, born in 1810 and known by his nom de plume, Eliphas Levi. As a matter of fact, the term “occultism” was coined by this would-be priest and was used for the first time in English by the Theosophist AD Sinnet in 1881. Levi died in 1875, having brought the spirit of romanticism up to date by translating it into magic. He wrote several books between 1856 and 1861 – which Mircea Eliade (historian of religion, philosopher and professor at the University of Chicago) remarked were “met with a success difficult to understand today, for they are a mass of pretentious jumble”.

The 19th century saw a wave of occult enthusiasm. Theosophy, rooted in Asian occultism, became the rage in Europe and America. The Order of the Golden Dawn was founded in England, claiming descent from the Rosicrucians, and Spiritism experienced a revival. As the twentieth century dawned, Oriental versions of magic and religion started to preoccupy public attention. (‘Witchcraft goes mainstream’ Chapter 7: From Witchcraft to Wicca: 1700 – 2000 by Brooks Alexander)

In ‘Witches and Neighbours’ (1996), Robin Briggs, a historian at Oxford University, poured over the documents of Western European witch trials and concluded that most of them took place during a relatively short period, 1550 to 1630, and were largely confined to parts of present-day France, Switzerland and Germany that were already racked by the religious and political turmoil of the Reformation. The accused witches, far from including a large number of independent-minded women, were mostly poor and unpopular. Briggs also discovered that none of the accused witches who were found guilty and put to death had been charged specifically with practicing a pagan religion. But it seems that some contemporary Witches feel a need to continue to promote this “ancient pagan witch myth” in one form or another, and for understandable reasons:

• As a way to gain a personal feeling of spiritual connectedness and religious continuity. Every religion needs a tradition, and all believers need to feel a part of something tried and true, something with a history that is longer than their own.

• As a strategy to gain social acceptance and legal status. Partly on the basis of its claimed historical lineage, modern Witchcraft (and other forms of Paganism) asserts parity in the religious marketplace.

• As a tactic to gain a rhetorical advantage over their perceived competitor and adversary (Christianity) by claiming “victim” status.

• As a way to define their boundaries as a community and their identities as individuals.

• Contemporary Paganism began as a rejection of the main religious culture, grew as a protest against it, and has established itself as a systematic alternative to it – a genuine “counterculture”. Inevitably, Christianity (at least as perceived by Pagans) becomes the “rejected background” against which the identity of Paganism is defined.

(Adapted from ‘Witchcraft Goes Mainstream’ Chapter 5: Three Myths about Modern Witchcraft by Brooks Alexander)

To me there can be very little doubt that commonly-held beliefs about some ancient form of organised religious “witchcraft” are based on a rather ambiguous version of history, a history written and rewritten by both Pagans and Christians. In fact their versions are opposite spins on and of the same flawed assumption, namely that contemporary Witchcraft is the offspring of an ancient form European “witchcraft”, and that there is some vague historical/religious/spiritual connection or continuity between the two. I fear that belief in some ancient link to “witches of old” has become part and parcel of the religious and personal image of too many Pagans. And very few are likely to ever give it up for fear of being left without a personal feeling of spiritual connectedness and religious continuity. The irony is that by tightly holding on to the perceived “old ways”, many contemporary Pagans and Witches are trapping themselves in an uncertain past and by doing so they will delay their religion’s potential development and growth.

PERSECUTIONS

It was Murray who really promoted the idea that those persecuted by the Christian church for “witchcraft” were actually practicing some form of Pagan goddess-worship that had survived up to the Middle Ages (5th to 15th century) as an underground cult. This hypothesis remains an important component of how many Witches and especially Wiccans view their religious history. And this is still given as one of the main reasons why the words “Witch” and “Witchcraft” should be reclaimed. But too often as Pagans we tend to ignore the fact that Christians were not the only ones, or even the first, to have persecuted and killed those who they deemed to be “witches”.

Words and their perceived meanings are often fluid depending on perception within specific communities and at specific times. Although many within Paganism do indeed share the goal of reclaiming a positive meaning for the words “Witch” and “Witchcraft”, they seem to ignore the reality that for most people in ancient Europe, even prior to the advent of Christianity, the words “witch” and “witchcraft” specifically exemplified perceived destructive practices. There were many ancient pagan societies that used, what is now commonly identified as the term “witch”, in a derogatory way. Punishment for witchcraft or malevolent sorcery, are addressed in some of the earliest law codes preserved.

One of the oldest references to “witchcraft” appears in the Code of Hammurabi (about 2000 BCE). It is there prescribed that: “If a man has laid a charge of witchcraft and has not justified it, he upon whom the witchcraft is laid shall go to the holy river; he shall plunge into the holy river and if the holy river overcome him, he who accused him shall take to himself his house.” (Without a doubt a very early reference to what would later become known as “witch-dunking”.) The earliest word used by the Greeks to indicate a something akin to what is now understood by contemporary Pagans to have been a witch was probably “pharmakis”. Historian Georg Luck, in his essay ‘Imagining Greek and Roman Magic’ states that pharmakis “became one of the standard words for wise-woman/witch, used as a substantive”.

The translation “witchcraft” is used in most English versions because “pharmakeia” also referred to the witchcraft or sorcery in which drugs were used for potions, spells, etc. Later the word “pharmakis” would translate as venefica (“poisonous: the preparation of magic potions; sorcery, witchcraft, magic”) in Latin. There has for long been a corollary between the concepts of “poisoner” and “sorcerer”. The use of plant, animal and mineral toxins was seen as a strand of magic originating in antiquity and reaching the present day. Poisons have also served as gateways of religious ecstasy, occult knowledge as well as the basis of cures. (‘Veneficium: Magic, Witchcraft and the Poison Path’ by Daniel A Schulke)

“It is interesting to note that the ancient Greeks classified witches among those who practiced ‘illicit religions’.” The reason for this is that in Greek culture, and to a degree in Roman culture, a “recognised” sect had to have a temple.” (‘How the Witch became maligned’ by Raven Grimassi) Accusing someone of practicing “illicit religion” in those days was the equivalent to calling them a heretic (against the then more or less official state-approved religions). The pre-Christian Twelve Tables of pagan Roman law has provisions against evil incantations and spells intended to damage cereal crops. In 331 BCE, 170 women were executed as witches in the context of an epidemic illness. In 184 BCE, about 2000 people were executed for witchcraft (veneficium), and in 182-180 BCE another 3000 executions took place, again triggered by the outbreak of an epidemic. True, there is no way to verify the figures reported by Roman historiographers, but if they are taken at face value, the scale of the witch-hunts in the Roman Republic in relation to the population of Italy at the time far exceeded anything that took place during the classical witch-craze in Early Modern Europe. Persecution of witches continued in the Roman Empire until the late 4th century CE and in fact, and ironically, for a while abated only after the introduction of Christianity as the Roman state religion in the 390s. The Lex Cornelia de sicariis et veneficiis promulgated by Lucius Cornelius Sulla in the 2nd century BCE became an important source of late medieval and early modern European laws on witchcraft – it was a Roman law on magic named for the dictator Lucius Cornelius.

The early legal codes of most European nations contain laws directed against witchcraft. Thus, for example, the oldest document of Frankish legislation, the Salic Law (which also prohibited women from the French throne and from owning land), which was reduced to a written form and promulgated under Clovis, who died 27 November 511, punishes those who practice magic with various fines, especially when it could be proven that the accused launched a deadly curse, or had tied the “witch’s knot”. The laws of the Visigoths (5th to 8th century), which were to some extent founded upon the Roman law, punished witches who had killed any person by their spells with death; whilst long-continued and obstinate witchcraft, if fully proven, was visited with such severe sentences such as slavery for life.

It seems obvious that even the “ancient pagans” viewed what they termed and perceived at the time as “witchcraft” with more than mere apprehension. There most likely never was an original widespread pagan matriarchy (which does not mean that matriarchal societies did not exist); no widespread worship of an universal Mother Goddess matriarchy (which does not mean that mother goddesses were not worshiped) and no primal witchcraft tradition transformed over time to be finally defined (by a hostile Church) as “witchcraft”, and by contemporary Pagans as the ancient magico-religion of their forebears now known as Witchcraft.

LINKS TO SHAMANISM

Shamanism is a wide umbrella term for spiritual or ecstatic practices in the absence of organised religion. It is an experiential spirituality, and is based on the premise that the visible world is pervaded by invisible forces or spirits which affect the lives of the living. Although the causes of disease lie in the spiritual realm, inspired by “malicious spirits or witchcraft”, both spiritual and physical methods are used to heal.

There are many variations of shamanism throughout the world, but several common beliefs are shared by all forms of shamanism:

• Spirits exist and they play important roles both in individual lives and in human society.

• The shaman can communicate with the spirit world.

• Spirits can be benevolent or malevolent.

• The shaman can treat sickness caused by malevolent spirits.

• The shaman can employ trance inducing techniques to incite visionary ecstasy and go on vision quests.

• The shaman’s spirit can leave the body to enter the supernatural world to search for answers.

• The shaman evokes animal images as spirit guides, omens, and message-bearers.

• The shaman can tell the future, scry, throw bones/runes, and perform other varied forms of divination

(Adapted from common beliefs as identified by Mircea Eliade)

But did the magic of cunning folk have its roots in shamanism? I think that it is likely as early cunning folk had relationships with spiritual beings similar in many ways to those of traditional shamans.

In ‘Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic’, Emma Wilby says that “the image of the familiar spirit is not an elite fiction imposed by prosecutors, but represents the folk beliefs of magical practitioners…”.  She argues that at least some of the accounts of encounters with familiars and witches sabbaths describe the vision experiences of the British cunning folk who regarded the fairy folk as sacred spirits, and even perhaps as spirit guides. Cunning folk acted as healers and midwives, using their skills to the benefit of others. They were armed with a comprehensive knowledge of herbalism, divination, and healing methods, insight into human behavior, etc.

They were most likely the last vestiges of the shamans who used to be found throughout Europe, and who may have later become known as “hedge witches”. A few other names for these practitioners were Hedge-Rider, Night Travellers, Myrk-Riders, Gandreidh (wand-rider), Walkers on the Wind, and Cunning Folk. In Middle English, variants, such as hedge-priest, meant the local healer and root collector, living in the open and moving from village to village. “The Hedge” is a metaphor for the line drawn between this world and the next; between reality and dream – very similar to what shamans are said to have done.

Going back even to the Iron Age, the European landscape was crisscrossed by hedgerows. Crossing a hedge often meant crossing a boundary of some sort, such as walking into the wild, going from wheat field to cow pasture, or entering another person’s property. A hedgerow is not just a boundary but is also a protective home and shelter to all kinds of wildlife, as well as providing shade and acting as a windbreak. Hedgerows were also very important in keeping the herds in and the predators out, as well as marking the territorial boundaries of human settlements. (‘A new name for an ancient path’)

AN ALTERNATIVE ORIGIN

“We don’t do what witches did a hundred years ago, or five hundred years ago, or five thousand years ago… We’re not an unbroken tradition like the Native Americans.” Starhawk

If one looks at the current practices of what has been termed Witchcraft by Witches and many Pagans, and commonly understood to be the “Craft of the Wise”, it becomes obvious that these modern Witchcraft practices have very little to do with any ancient form of “ancient pagan witchcraft”. The Craft of contemporary Witches tends to be influenced by concerns for:

• a healthy planet,

• social justice,

• intellectual freedom,

• personal autonomy,

• interconnectedness,

• women’s rights,

• etc, etc

Furthermore the sources contemporary Witches tend to draw from are equally varied, and include:

• Folklore and fairy tales

• Other forms of fiction

• Archaeology

• Anthropology

• Psychology

• Western mysteries

• Eastern mysteries

• Amerindian beliefs

• Astrology

• Tarot

• Kaballah

• Feminist theory

• Environmental sciences

• Asian occultism

• Oriental magic

• Yoga

• Personal experiences of the Divine

• Ancient dances, music and songs

• A collection of pantheons and cultures

• etc, etc

But if the majority of contemporary Witchcraft practices are not really linked to the “witches of old”, what are these modern practices actually related to? It would seem that the nearest link for the modern practices of contemporary Witches is actually the folk practices of the “Cunning Folk”. The cunning folk is an English language term referring to practitioners of magic active from at least the fifteenth century up until now. These practitioners of magic were found in much of Europe under a wide range of designations.

Comparable practitioners from other parts of Western Europe include the French “devins-guérisseurs” (seer healers) and “leveurs de sorts” (lifter of spells or exorcists) and the Dutch toverdokters or duivelbanners (exorcists) and in German Hexenmeister (sorcerer) or Kräuterhexen (herb witch). In Spain they were “curanderos” (folk healer or shaman), in Portugal they were the “saludadores” (healer, or health-giver). In Denmark, they were the “kloge folk” (wise folk), whilst in Sweden they were known as a “klok gumma” (wise old woman) or a “klok gubbe” (wise old man).

In Italy, the names used for cunning-folk vary from region to region, although such names include “praticos” (wise people), “guaritori” (healers), “fattucchiere” (fixers), “donne che aiutano” (women who help) and “mago, maga or maghiardzha” (sorcerers). At times, they were sometimes even called “streghe”.

The terms “cunning man” or “cunning woman” was most widely used in southern England, the Midlands and Wales, and they were known across as “wizards”, “wise men” and “wise women”, or in southern England and Wales as “conjurers” or as “dyn(es) hysbys” (wise man or wizard) in the Welsh language. In Cornwall they were sometimes referred to as “pellars” – which may have originated from the term “expellers”, referring to the practice of expelling evil spirits.

A midwife or herbalist of Scotland was called a “howdie”. In the Orkney islands, “spae wives” were those skilled in healing, divining, spell-casting, and spirit communication right up to the late 1800s. In Ireland, they were sometimes referred to as “fairy doctors”. In other locations, they were called conjurors, herb wives, old wives, wizards, hedge witches, hedge riders, hexen, hags, crones, grannies, medicine men, gypsies and and yes, even witch doctors.

The Oxford English Dictionary states that the first record of the use of the term witchdoctor is in 1718, in a book by Francis Hutchinson. Charles Mackay’s book ‘Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds’, first published in 1841, attests to the practice of and belief in witch doctors in England at the time. “In the north of England, the superstition lingers to an almost inconceivable extent. Lancashire abounds with witch-doctors… The witch-doctor alluded to is better known by the name of the cunning man…”.

The primary role of cunning folk, wherever the practised, was apparently in healing, both through the use of herbs and through spiritual healing. British cunning folk were known to use a variety of methods in order to cure someone of malevolent sorcery (or witchcraft), including tackling the witch either physically or through the law courts, breaking the spell over the individual by magical means, and by using charms and potions to remove the witchcraft from the afflicted person’s body. As historian Owen Davies noted “Most cunning-folk employed a multi-pronged approach to curing witchcraft, using a combination of written charms, magic rituals, prayers and herbal medicines, thereby appealing to the physical, psychological and spiritual needs of the sick.” Most of the cunning folk also practiced astrology, herbalism, spell casting, but one of their specialties was breaking the spells of “witches”. As is the case in much of contemporary Paganism and Witchcraft, the cunning folk were almost always rather solitary individuals, with a dash of “hereditary” families. Amongst the common people who often went to the cunning folk for aid, but these magical practitioners were seen as being very much distinct from “witches”; as Davies noted, to the average person “witches were evil but cunning-folk were useful”.

“They practised herbalism, treasure-seeking and love magic. They revealed the identity of thieves and divined the whereabouts of lost and stolen property. The more learned cunning-folk also practised astrology, while the less learned pretended to be masters of the art. The most lucrative aspect of their business was the curing of those people and animals who were thought to be bewitched, and also the trade in charms to ward of witches and evil spirits.” (‘In Another Pagan History’ – Witchvox)

One of their practices may even explain the modern use of Books of Shadows by some contemporary Witches. “The outward sign of their accomplishment was that they possessed books, an immediate distinction…” writes Davies. These books were mainly works on astrology, herbalism, medicine, charms, ritual magic, astrological charts, etc by writers such “Cornelius Agrippa, Michel Nostradamus, Reginald Scot, William Lilley, Francis Barrett.” But “Cunning folk wrote their own notebooks”, for example “a conjuring book with large brass clasps and corners, an elaborate book of charms and recitations”.

These magical practitioners often used a mirror, crystal, vessel of water etc for the client to gaze into, until they saw who had bewitched them, stolen their goods, spread gossip and so forth. Cunning men used fire to burn a special powder or incense to purify houses, people, and animals. Amulets, charms, healing potions and poultices, horoscopes, card reading and tea-leaf reading were used. They also offered love spells and potions. “Above all, they devised spells and rites according to their own whims and creative talents, and the needs of their customers”. Furthermore, writes Ronald Hutton in ‘The Triumph of the Moon’, the beliefs of cunning folk “did not reflect a single cosmology, but was made up of the debris of many”. All of which sound rather very similar to the practices on many contemporary Witches and other Pagans.

More and more people believe that anyone who works with herbs or precious stones or simple spells, is practising Witchcraft. However, this practice is a craft – completely in line with the cunning folk which Hutton describes. “Even a Christian can practice such a craft, just like most cunning folk in past centuries were mostly Christians. To call such practice witchcraft is incorrect in the historical sense of the word. And it is also incorrect in the modern sense of the word, where practices like these are at most only half of modern Witchcraft.”

Of course, it is also possible that the folklore and the practices of the different cunning folk of Western Europe, and elsewhere, are the fragmented reflections of an older and more coherent body of knowledge and practice – something the founder of Wicca, Gerald Gardner , probably knew about. Gardner had traveled extensively all over the near and far east, and had spent many years in Ceylon and later in Indonesia. He was well versed in folk magic. If there ever had existed an old tradition that could be considered a precursor to modern witchcraft, then Gardner’s knowledge and interests would have put him in the perfect position to recognize the scattered remains of such an old pattern behind surviving remnants such as cunning folk, charmers and “witches”. In 1954 Gardner published ‘Witchcraft Today’ in which he made the claim to have encountered several members of the witch cult. One of the great influences on him seems to have been George Pickingill (c.1816-1909), a cunning man in the Essex village of Canewdon.

In his role as a cunning man, the folklorist Eric Maple noted that Pickingill unusually did not charge for his services, but did receive some money from visitors, and his recorded roles included restoring lost property and curing minor ailments, both of which were common practices amongst British cunning folk. From the sources liberally referred to by Sir Keith Thomas in ‘Religion and the Decline of Magic’ (1971), George Lyman Kittredge in ‘Witchcraft in Old and New England’ (1929), and the many English folklore studies, it is not difficult to observe a pattern of traditional magical belief and practices. So, to me, it would seem that most of contemporary Paganism’s understanding of “historical witchcraft” is likely founded on misconceptions, what may have happened is that certain historical occurrences – such as the spread of Christianity – may have led to perceived “witch-behaviour” and the response to this was “anti-witch behaviour” in parts of Europe and in north America. And it was this “perception of witchcraft” which was then misinterpreted as proof of some ancient form of “European witchcraft”.

At best I would describe what contemporary Witches practice not as “witchcraft” but as a form of folk-magic very loosely based on folk practices from all over Europe. And if there ever had existed a tradition that could be considered a precursor to modern Witchcraft, it seems likely that it was the Crafts of the Cunning Folk. A minority of people accused of “witchcraft” were likely “folk pagans”, an early form of what could now be referred to as Christo-Pagans, who combined traditional pagan rites with Christianity – however, they were not pagans practising Christianity, but rather Christians who kept certain pagan/folk practices alive, something which is still very common in large parts of Europe. I can see why it would be difficult for many contemporary Witches and Pagans to accept the possibility of a link to the cunning folk, after all the cunning folk were not only for the most Christian, but they were also renown witch-smellers and witch-hunters – something which will not sit well with modern practitioners as it may loose them their perceived advantage over their competitor and adversary Christianity, and take away their “victim” status.

As Pagans and Witches we should never feel threatened by debates on the history of Paganism and the Craft. Neither should we feel threatened by deliberations about the origins of various terms, the origins of various aspects of different traditions. We should rather be engaged with our present and our future. At best, bits and pieces of mythic and magical lore from the past can still to be found today, however, fragmentary magico-religious survivals do not constitute an ancient witchcraft tradition as such, and do not offer support for any claims of continuity. Modern Witchcraft is not a survival or recreation of an ancient witch tradition but rather the modern syncretisation of a number of old and new elements. The wise women and cunning men were the real “wicca/wicce” of our past.

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http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/16

http://witchofforestgrove.com/2010/01/29/goodwitch-badwitch/

http://www.druidry.org/druid-way/other-paths/influence-italy-wicca-and-druidry

http://www.sistersofthecraft.awebspider.com/gardnerhistory.htm

http://bissekart.zoomshare.com/files/pickingill/faq.html

http://usminc.org/oldreligion.html

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2001/01/the-scholars-and-the-goddess/5910/

http://www.shamanportal.org/shamanism_european.php

http://witchofforestgrove.com/2010/06/09/is-witchcraft-shamanism/

http://www.ladyoftheearth.com/healing/folk-medicine-healing.txt

http://witchesofthecraft.com/tag/emma-wilby/

http://the-pagan-perspective.com/page/2/)

http://www.spiritualforums.com/vb/archive/index.php?t-4753.html

http://www.scottishpf.org/hedgewitch.html

http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usmi&c=words&id=11560

Articles and books:

The Politics of Witchcraft Studies Originally published as Another View of the Witch Hunts (Response to Jenny Gibbons, in Pomegranate: A Journal of Pagan Studies, No.5) by Max Dashu

Origins of Wicca by Don Cardoza

Wicked Practises and Sorceries, A case study in the history of witchcraft by Bob Sparham.

Cunning folk by Merlin Sythove (Wiccan Rede Winter 2001)

The Triumph of the Moon, A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford University Press by Ronald Hutton

The Witch in History: Early Modern and Twentieth-Century Representations by Diane Purkiss

Witches and Neighbours: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft by Robin Briggs

Arguing History by Jason Mankey

From Fact to Fallacy: The Evolution of Margaret Alice Murray’s Witch-Cult by Eldyohr (Ben Hoshour) on The Pagan Perspective

Veneficium: Magic, Witchcraft and the Poison Path by Daniel A Schulke

Witchcraft in Old and New England by George Lyman Kittredge

Pharmako/Gnosis by Dale Pendell

Divisions of Witchcraft by Sarah Lawless

The Influence of Italy on Wicca and Druidry by Philip Carr-Gomm

Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft by James Baker

Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic by Emma Wilby

Our Many Names: Pagan, Witch, Wiccan….. by Grove

How the witch became maligned by Raven Grimassi

Cunning folk by Merlin Sythove (Wiccan Rede Winter 2001)

A new name for an ancient path on http://www.spiritualinspiration.org/t3881-new-name-for-an-ancient-path

Articles from: http://en.wikipedia.org

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2 Responses

  1. Helen says:

    “Re-appropriation – such as in reclaiming the word “Witch” – is a process by which a group or individual reclaims (re-appropriates), for example, terms that were previously used in a way disparaging of a specific group. But surely, anyone who professes to be reclaiming something must have had some ties or claims to it in the first place.”

    I believe that “reappropriation” has a wider connotation than “reclaiming”, which in any event could also be interpreted as transforming something that is negative and/or useless into something that is positive and/or useful rather than claiming something back. I wrote about this in my article “define: witch”:

    “Paganism, the international modern nature-based religious movement, has reappropriated the previously pejorative terms “pagan” and “witch”. The reappropriation of these terms is effectively a form of human rights activism, replacing prejudicial negative stereotypes with positive, dignified meanings. Once the negative stereotypes have been eliminated, the words can no longer be used as weapons.”

  1. May 29, 2012

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