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| The Realm of Witchcraft. |
The history of witchcraft is as old as the history of humanity, long andrich enough to fill several books and as complex as the human soul itself.In light of this, it's best to approach the topic here as fodder for aseries of entertaining anecdotes which utterly fail to enlighten orinspire. Fortunately, there is no shortage of lurid tales of well-endowedincubus encounters with busty free-spirit earth goddesses to support such aquest.
But first, a good faith effort to actually describe the import ofwitchcraft to society. Basically, humans have eternally sought to definetheir relationship with nature in one of two ways -- harmony or conquest.Witchcraft is a collection of wildly divergent traditions for accomplishingone of those goals.
The first witches were the primary healthcare providers for ancientpeoples, with several traditions focusing on herbs and medicinal plants. Inthe process of researching such plants, witches discovered that someplants, when ingested, made you see really wild stuff. That led toshamanism, in which the witch communes with the divine in very particularways.
The evolution of these roles went side-by-side with the evolution of magic,or "magick" as Aleister Crowley called it, in order to distinguish from thestagecraft magic involving rabbits and hats.
Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, once famously remarkedthat "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable frommagic." In primitive times, pretty much everything was indistinguishablefrom magick. Since witches and shamans were the keepers of magick, thatgave them a lot of power.
The earliest practices of witchcraft included communication with the dead,communication with spirits, weather manipulation and various medicalpursuits. And of course, the cursing and hexing.
As villages grew into cities, a new kind of power began to emerge --political power. Witches and shamans tended to be iconoclastic sorts,misfits, even sometimes mentally deranged from ingesting all those plants.That made them unsuitable tools for kings seeking to control the masses, sopoliticians invented Religion, which quickly became the mortal enemy ofwitchcraft.
There were as many forms of witchcraft as there were villages at the time.Primitive witches worked with animistic spirits and a host of minordeities, whom they beseeched for help. As religions began to takeprecedence, these spirits were classified and reclassified as "good" and"evil" according to which served the king's purposes.
The witch wars would persist throughout the remainder of human history, andthe concept of harmony increasingly gave way to conquest as a result,essentially drawing a sharp line of demarcation between those who soughtpower over people and institutions and those who sought power over theelements and individuals.
Perhaps the most famous witch of early civilization was Aaron, the brotherof Moses, who engaged in a sorcerous war against the Pharoah of Egypt,flinging enough curses and hexes to warm an Inquisitor's heart. Using amagic staff, they inflicted frogs and locusts on the people of Egypt.turned the Nile blood red and eventually summoned an otherworldly creatureto slaughter the Egyptians' firstborn sons. Ironically, it was Moses whocaused the greatest problems for later witches with a statement of Jewishlaw, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live", which would become therallying cry of later persecutions.
Although there are strong legitimate historical currents tying witchcraftand sexuality, the really lurid tales of debauchery and diablophilia werelargely concocted by the warped minds of the witch hunters, including theInquisition and later the Puritans.
The first aggressive campaigns to eradicate witchcraft began when theCatholic Church rose to political power. For a religion based on love andmeekness, the Catholics were beset by internecine battles from the verybeginning. After a campaign to wipe out "heresies" such as Gnosticism inthe 3rd and 4th centuries A.D., the Church was quite successful inestablishing a pretty monolithic monotheism by the end of the firstmillennium.
With its internal enemies reclassified as "schisms" instead of "heresies",which apparently represented some sort of moral victory, the Church turnedto external foes. These included the Knights Templar, the Cathars, andwitches. When the Catholics moved into an area, they took one of twoapproaches to dealing with local pagan practices -- either they co-optedthem into the Church, or they demonized them to extreme levels.
So while Ireland's St. Patrick got a warm welcome into Catholic mythology,the local wise women were not so fortunate. Celtic pagan legends of theGreen Man of the Forest were subverted into the Dark Man, a horned andtailed figure whose prodigious penis spewed the devil's jizz all over eagerand wanton women as an initiation into the Dark Arts.
Pope Innocent VIII was appalled to hear of these things, sorrowfullyreporting in a papal bull that "many persons of both sexes, heedless oftheir own salvation and forsaking the catholic faith, give themselves overto devils male and female, and by their incantations, charms, andconjurings, and by other abominable superstitions and sortileges, offences,crimes, and misdeeds [...]" Innocent was so distraught by these chargesthat he ordered the Inquisition to bring out the comfy chairs.
A charge of witchcraft was a pretty excellent way to get rid of someone youdidn't like, since it was difficult to defend against. As a climate of feardeepened around the Inquisitors, accused witches were ignored if theydenied the charges and rewarded if they named names, which predictably ledto a rapid escalation of Witch Trials and the burning of many people at thestake.
The inquisitors had rather lurid imaginations, and they wrote endlesstreatises on the evils of witchcraft, the ceremonies they imagined witchestook part in, the signs of witchiness and the appropriate tortures foraccused witches.
The perils of witchcraft were spelled out most famously in the MalleusMaleficarum, an infamous 15th century manual for witch hunters that hasbecome a historical watershed of misogynistic excess. For instance, thebook attempts to answer the question of why women are witches instead ofmen:
Now the wickedness of women is spoken of in Ecclesiasticus xxv: There is nohead above the head of a serpent: and there is no wrath above the wrath ofa woman. I had rather dwell with a lion and a dragon than to keep housewith a wicked woman. And among much which in that place precedes andfollows about a wicked woman, he concludes: All wickedness is but little tothe wickedness of a woman. Wherefore S. John Chrysostom says on the text,It is not good to marry: What else is woman but a foe to friendship, anunescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirablecalamity, a domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil of nature,painted with fair colours!
Therefore if it be a sin to divorce her when sheought to be kept, it is indeed a necessary torture; for either we commitadultery by divorcing her, or we must endure daily strife. Cicero in hissecond book of The Rhetorics says: The many lusts of men lead them into onesin, but the lust of women leads them into all sins; for the root of allwoman's vices is avarice. And Seneca says in his Tragedies: A woman eitherloves or hates; there is no third grade. And the tears of woman are adeception, for they may spring from true grief, or they may be a snare.When a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil.Charming, eh? Or the following:
With regard to the bewitchment of human beings by means of Incubus andSuccubus devils, it is to be noted that this can happen in three ways.First, when women voluntarily prostitute themselves to Incubus devils.Secondly, when men have connexion with Succubus devils; yet it does notappear that men thus devilishly fornicate with the same full degree ofculpability; for men, being by nature intellectually stronger than women,are more apt to abhor such practises.
There is in the town of Coblenz a poor man who is bewitched in this way. Inthe presence of his wife he is in the habit of acting after the manner ofmen with women, that is to say, of practising coition, as it were, and hecontinues to do this repeatedly, nor have the cries and urgent appeals ofhis wife any effect in making him desist. And after he has fornicated thustwo or three times, he bawls out, "We are going to start all over again";when actually there is no person visible to mortal sight lying with him.And after an incredible number of such bouts, the poor man at last sinks tothe floor utterly exhausted.
When he has recovered his strength a little and is asked how this happenedto him, and whether he has had any women with him, he answers that he sawnothing, but his mind is in some way possessed so that he can by no meansrefrain from such priapism. And indeed he harbours a great suspicion that acertain woman bewitched him in this way, because he had offended her, andshe had cursed him with threatening words, telling him what she would liketo happen to him.
So you see, when women commit sexual excesses with demons, they areprostitute-witches. When men do the same, they are the victims ofprostitute-witches. Men and women alike were eligible to end up on thereceiving end of the Inquisitor's charms, however. The book outlines thestarting procedure for eliciting a confession:
The method of beginning an examination by torture is as follows: First, thejailers prepare the implements of torture, then they strip the prisoner (ifit be a woman, she has already been stripped by other women, upright and ofgood report). This stripping is lest some means of witchcraft may have beensewed into the clothing-such as often, taught by the Devil, they preparefrom the bodies of unbaptized infants, [murdered] that they may forfeitsalvation.
And when the implements of torture have been prepared, thejudge, both in person and through other good men zealous in the faith,tries to persuade the prisoner to confess the truth freely; but, if he willnot confess, he bid attendants make the prisoner fast to the strappado orsome other implement of torture. The attendants obey forthwith, yet withfeigned agitation. Then, at the prayer of some of those present, theprisoner is loosed again and is taken aside and once more persuaded toconfess, being led to believe that he will in that case not be put todeath.
The persecution of women who may or may not have been witches is known tomodern-day New Age reconstructionists as "The Burning Times", logicallyenough, since witches were customarily burned at the stake. The phrase isnow bandied about both as a feminist credo as well a battle cry ("Neveragain the Burning Times!") among young upper-middle-class Neopagans whoapparently somehow feel they are in imminent peril of being burnedthemselves.
The persecution of witches carried over into the New World when thehideously twisted Puritans adopted witch-hunting as an outlet for the basicsexual urges which they repressed to an absurd degree. The Puritans andespecially their New England settlements became synonymous with the WitchTrials, an American inquisition which saw women dragged before tribunals,maligned and frequently executed.
While the Puritans chased phantoms, using witchcraft as a flimsy excuse topunish women for voluptuously tempting their pathetic lusts, the actualpractice of magic went entirely underground, persisting in local practices,small gatherings known as covens, and in family traditions. It emerged inforce once again in the 20th century, spearheaded by a man named GeraldGardner.
Gardner was an upper-middle class British male who saw no contradiction inclaiming to be heir to a legacy of female-empowering Celtic witchtradition. Gardner claimed to have discovered a surviving remnant of"Wicca." According to Gardner, Wicca was an "ancient religion" whosepriestesses were witches. A former Mason, he naturally claimed that he hadbeen exclusively initiated into the ways of Wicca and he drove a "revival"of the "Old Ways" in 20th Century England.
You may have noticed an overabundance of quotation marks in the precedingpassage. Gardner's claims are not without controversy. Many people havenoted the dearth of historical evidence to support Gardner's Wicca theory,and some have also noted the similarities of certain practices, beliefs andtexts to Aleister Crowley's neopagan religion of Thelema (the two werefriends). In short, a lot of people think he made the whole thing up, butWicca is at least partly based on traditional witchcraft practices,leavened with a healthy dose of Masonic trappings.
Wiccans approached witchcraft from the angle of making it so incrediblyharmless that no one would want to burn them. They get cranky if youmention hexes or curses, and many are fiercely proprietary about the word"witch". Wicca caught on in the U.S. during the 1960s as an adjunct to thefeminist revolution. There are something like hundreds of thousands ofWiccans in the U.S. and more worldwide, but it's difficult to estimatenumbers because many adherents have stayed "in the broom closet" for fearof being burned, discriminated against or even -- gasp -- becoming theobject of mild derision.
Information collected by Tammy Wood.
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