A Brief Expose of Witchcraft

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A Brief Expose of Witchcraft

An estimated 9 million women and girls met death by fire between the years of 1300 and 1700 for practicing witchcraft. In the eighteenth century, 19 suspected witches were killed in Salem, Massachusetts. Despite such extreme countermeasures, the occult rituals of witchcraft are widely practiced today around the world. No longer threatened with death, witches enjoy a degree of respectability in America’s lenient New Age society. Witchcraft is officially recognized as a religion by the IRS, which has granted tax exemption to the Church and School of Wicca (“seekers of wisdom”). At one Midwestern university, 500 students enrolled in a course in witchcraft. Because some witches are reluctant to announce their pagan affiliations, estimates of those involved in organized witchcraft in the United States today range from 100,000 to 600,000.

The history of witchcraft is sketchy, since ceremonies and beliefs are orally communicated. Witchcraft rituals have been traced to worship of the Greek goddess Artemis, Diana of the Romans, the Egyptian moon goddess, and the fertility goddess of the Canaanites. Modern witches believe in two primary deities: Hecate, the Greek goddess of ghosts, and Pan (Lucifer), the god of the woods and shepherds. Witches insist their Pan, even though horned and cloven-hoofed, is not the same Lucifer condemned in Scripture.

Many cartoon images of witches are based on fact. Before Christianity, old women living on edges of villages were responsible for healing, midwifery, and counseling people. They kept cats to control mice-ridden medieval cottages and used broomsticks as weapons while gathering herbs in the forest. Dark cloaks were common dress. Toads provided a glandular secretion that was used as an anesthetic. Ancient recipes for “flying ointment” included belladonna and aconite, powerful hallucinogens.

No longer resembling the stereotypical hags in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, today’s witches are physicians, policemen, secretaries, merchants, mechanics — even ministers. Their credo is, “If it harms none, do as you will.” Witches claim they don’t practice evil magic, since they believe anything sent out will return threefold. They also adhere to tenets of reincarnation and karma.

Witches identify themselves as pagans, druids, and wiccans. Such terminology as earth or nature religion, positive magick, the craft, the craft of the wise, wisecraft, goddess worship, wimmin religion, and shamanism is also associated with witchcraft groups. Resurgence of neopagan witchcraft is partially traceable to the 1960’s feminist and the environmental protection movements. Margot Adler, author of Drawing Down the Moon, an exhaustive study on witches and druids in America, says, “Neopaganism is partly a response to a planet in crisis. People today are looking for a religion that ties in with the natural world.”

Meetings attended by 13 members (a coven) are held weekly at a covenstead, generally a leader’s home. Larger meetings, called esbats, occur on special days of celebration (sabats). (The term was first used in 1662.) Each coven is usually autonomous, except for those groups that owe their initiation to another witch’s assembly. Membership is by invitation, and progress occurs through degrees.

Some ceremonies begin with members shedding their clothing to become skyclad, believed to permit easier release of the body’s energy. An imaginary circle is drawn around the coven with a ritualistic dagger called an athame. Candles are lit, and incense is burned on an alter. A priest or priestess moves to each point of the compass to summon the four guardians, symbolic of the elements of earth, air, fire, and water. Such rituals come from the Black Book or Book of Shadows. Witches intone:

Queen of heaven, Queen of hell,
Horned Hunter or the night.
Lend your power unto the spell,
Work my will by magic rite.

Ceremonial activities include hexes and healing by the laying on of hands. Love spells can be cast upon reluctant suitors. Spirits are called upon to answer questions and speak through mediums. Animal sacrifices may end the ceremonies, though most mainstream “respectable” witches deny such activity.

Gerald Gardner, who was born in England in 1884 and died in 1964, did more than any other modern individual to revive witchcraft. Gardner was an occultist, and initiate of the secretive Ordo Templi Orientis, and a friend of British Satanist Aleister Crowley, from whom he borrowed certain practices. Though poorly educated, Gardner pursued anthropology on his own and studied occultism with the daughter of Theosophist Annie Besant. Publication of his book Witchcraft Today led to a revival of interest in the craft in England.

Witchcraft in America was revived by Dr. Raymond Buckland, and anthropologist, and his wife, Rosemary, who studied under Gerald Gardner and brought his brand of Wicca to America in the 1960’s. Witch Sybil Leek, who started with Gardnerian rituals, also came to America in the 1960’s and established several covens. The Religious Order of Witchcraft was incorporated in 1972 in New Orleans, Louisiana, by Mary Oenida Toups, its high priestess.

In the early 1970’s, Gavin and Yvonne Frost of New Bern, North Carolina, opened the Church and School of Wicca, one of the most visible and active witchcraft movements. Gavin and Yvonne pay less attention to traditional witchcraft deities, promoting instead the development of psychic powers. Their basic message is that any suppression of the body’s desires is unnatural and unwise. The Frosts also promote the Gardnerian concept of astral sex with spirit partners (incubus or succubus).

Several other witchcraft groups have gone public. The Church of the Eternal Source centers on ancient Egyptian culture and occultism. Members have been attracted by the archeological significance of Egypt, leading them to spiritual encounters with Egyptian deities. The Church of All Worlds is nature-oriented and promotes a symbiotic relationship between humans and earth through a form of pantheism. The Radical Faerie Movement consists of gays and lesbians, who connect their sexual choices with aged pagan nature religions.

Most participants of the occult don’t get involved with high-profile witchcraft. Instead, they read the books and study the ceremonies or organized witchcraft, then invent their own brand of the craft. Usually they combine elements of witchcraft with black magic and self-styled Satanism. The resulting mixture is dangerously combustible.

FOUNDER: Ancient pagan religion predating Christianity.

TEXT: Oral tradition and individually compiled Book of Shadows.

SYMBOLS: Pentagram, pentacle (five-pointed star), the ankh

APPEAL: Serious students of witchcraft are often people who feel man is out of control, unaligned with the cycles of nature. They turn to witchcraft for healing and to become one with their environment. They believe knowledge is power through which they can control their lives, destinies, and the world.

PURPOSE: Witches claim they seek to understand the connection between man and his environment. One witch has explained the craft as follows: “To obtain knowledge. To have the power and use it to achieve balance. To discover truths…possibly unleash the gods and goddesses within us all.” Reincarnation is crucial to the witchcraft idea that good and evil are returned through karma.

ERRORS: Witchcraft denies biblical doctrines of heaven and hell, original sin, and the denunciation of demons. Scripture repeatedly denounces witchcraft (Lev. 19:26, 32; Deut. 18:10-11; Gal. 5:20). The elemental forces conjured are demons, and the horned deity revered is the devil. Though white witches claim to be benevolent, all such association with the spirit world is forbidden by the Bible.

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