Original Story written and narrated by Lynda.F.Tallis. 2010
Would you call a doctor evil and cast him into the fire, or kill the pharmacist who dispenses your pills? Yet for three centuries ( c. 1450-1750 ) European societies were consumed by a panic over Witch-hunts which resulted in the trial, torture, and execution of tens of thousands of victims, mainly women.
Traditional Folk Healers, also known as Cunning Folk, Wise Women and Witches were then as now, practitioners of midwifery, herbalism, folk medicine, folk magic and divination.
The practices of these Wise Women and Cunning men have much in common with Shamans and Witch Doctors around the world- a belief that we are surrounded by spirits and that we can commune with them, that the land is alive and must be honoured and cared for, that our actions affect the world around us and we must seek to live in harmony with it, that we are part of the ebb and flow of the seasons and must perform certain actions at the correct time. ( More here at Mercian Gathering. )
|Astral Vision © Greg Spalenka:|
Under Pagan Celtic and Saxon law, women had been priestesses, teachers, chieftains, property holders, healers and judges, but the invading Roman culture and then in an ongoing way, Christianity stripped women of these rights and left them as mere chattels of their husbands and fathers, 'intellectually like children' a belief that persists in some monotheistic patriarchal cultures to this day. Women were denied the role they had enjoyed in Pagan cultures as mothers and creators of life. Church scholars had decided that the spark of life comes from the male sperm, that women merely served as the soil in which it is planted. Nevertheless Cunning Folk and Wise Women continued to share their nature based remedies as well as provide spiritual and psychological support to their communities as they always had done.
|Samhain (October 31st) by megalith6|
In England and Wales there had been no attempt to illegalise the Cunning Folk, Wise Women and Witchcraft during the late 15thC until the Witchcraft Act of 1542 enacted under the reign of Henry VIII, which targeted both Witches and Cunning Folk, prescribing the death penalty for such crimes as using invocations and conjurations to locate lost items or to cast a love spell. This law was repealed no later than 1547, under the reign of Henry's son Edward VI; those with influence believed that either the death penalty was too harsh for such crimes and/or that the practice of the Cunning Craft was a moral issue better for the Church to deal with in ecclesiastic courts, thus empowering the Church to persue its agenda of total control.
For the following few decades, the magical practices of the Cunning Folk and Wise Women remained legal despite opposition from certain religious authorities. It was a time of great religious upheaval in the country as Edward's successor, his sister Mary I, reimposed Roman Catholicism, before Anglicanism was once again restored under Elizabeth I. In 1563, after the return of power to the Anglican Church of England, a bill was passed by parliament designed to illegalise "Conjurations, Enchantments and Witchcrafts", again aimed at both alleged Witches and Cunning Folk - the Witch Hunt that had been raging in Scotland and in many parts of continental Europe had finally arrived in England.
A Particularly Patriachal Persecution.
The first European woman executed as a Witch was Angele, Lady of Labarthe, who was burnt at the stake at Toulouse in 1275. The last European Witch burned was Bridget Cleary who, in 1894, was roasted on a kitchen fire at Clonmel in Ireland. For three centuries of early modern European history ( c. 1450-1750 ) societies were consumed by a panic over alleged Witches in their midst. Witch-hunts, especially in Central Europe, resulted in the trial, torture, and execution of tens of thousands of victims, about three-quarters of whom were women. Among the causes for persecution of Wise Women as Witches were the key issues of patriachal power and state control of the people by endorsing ostensibly Religious cleansing progroms with the aim of capturing peoperty, removing voices of dissent and disabling communal traditions of freedom - to be replaced by a terrified obedience and fear. Suppressing Witchcraft deprived medieval people of alternative medicine and estranged them from ancient Earth wisdom. In their 1973 book, Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers, feminist and environmentalist writers Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English argued that Witches were actually midwives targeted by their rivals, male physicians. "No one is more dangerous and harmful to the Catholic Faith than the midwives". Fifty years ago, one of the neopagan movement's founders, Gerald Gardner, coined the term "The Burning Times" to describe this period of persecution.
Since 395 AD, with the Codex Theodosius, Pagans have been persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church with forced conversions to Christianity, torture and death of resisters, destruction of Pagan property, sacred sites, symbols, wealth, literature, etc. - as well as Christianization - the claiming of Pagan property, symbols, celebrations and festival times. Traditional tolerant attitudes towards Witchcraft began to change more vigorously in the 14th century as central Europe was seized by a series of malign conspiracies that Jews, Moslems and Witches were attempting to destroy the Christian kingdoms through magick and poison. After the terrible devastation caused by the Black Death (Bubonic plague-1347-1349), these rumors increased in intensity and focused primarily on Witches as plague-spreaders because the Church reviled women as sinful, clear from their many ‘abominations’; women menstruate, get pregnant and give birth, all evidence of their sexual nature and activity which was reviled as a carnal sin (prostitution had also been considered an honourable profession before the arrival of Christianity). The Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), was a powerful book written by two Spanish monks. This work mixed the popular traditions of witchcraft with an explicit denial of Christian orthodoxy, and twisted it into a sado-erotic fantasy involving pacts with the Devil, the witch's Sabbat (note the association of maleficium, heresy and Judiasm) and night flight. This book which passed into the popular imagination, unchecked by Humanist learning and rational scepticism of the times was very unambiguous in its references to women's sexuality as an evil force. A woman was said to be impure "during her monthly periods.” Tertullian called women the "devil's gateway". Like Eve, all women were considered temptresses, inciting men to seek the forbidden fruit of lust. If a woman was raped, it was considered to be her own fault.... St Thomas Aquinas taught that women exerted an evil influence over men which caused them to have involuntary erections, and thus distracted them from contemplating God. Witchcraft cases increased steadily from the 14th century and the first mass trials appeared in the 15th century. Around 1550, the persecution skyrocketed. What we (now) think of as "the Burning Times" the crazes, panics, and mass hysteria, largely occurred in one century, from 1550-1650. (Gibbons, "Recent Developments in the Study of the Great European Witch Hunt''.) ( More on Witches and Gendercide Here ). (Witch Torture More details here NOT For The Fainthearted! ).
|Fritz Roeber; Walpurgisnacht|
Nobody Escaped The Inquisition.
The Inquisition in particular had targeted Witches and those accused of Witchcraft a particularly enthusiastic vehemence such that the term "Witch Hunt" became synonymous with both religious and political persecution. The Inquisition was the most elaborate extortion racket ever devised, primarily developed for profit. After the arrest, the property of the accused was instantly confiscated. Nothing seems to have been returned. The Popes publicly praised the rule of confiscation as a prime weapon against heresy. Confiscation was the organization's raison d'être - Reason of State; when the rule of confiscation was not applied, "the business of defending the faith languished lamentably." Affluent Italy made its inquisitors incredibly rich in the 14th century. Within two years, the inquisitor of Florence amassed "more than seven thousand flourins, an enormous sum." As the inquisitor Heinrich von Schultheis complacently wrote, "When I have you tortured, and by the severe means afforded by the law I bring you to confession, then I perform a work pleasing in God's sight; and it profiteth me." Confiscation took place before conviction, because it was taken for granted that no one escaped. "Officials considered themselves safe in acting upon the presumption of guilt."
On Wicked Witches
Wise Women practise an ancient and well respected craft that respects Mother Nature in all her forms. Their use of potions, charms and similar magics is neither good nor evil in and of itself but is rather a use of natural properties and energies as tools of healing and aids to divination etc. In this context the individual who creates a spell determines wether it is for good intentions such as healing an ailment or bad intentions. Both the historical accuations of Church leaders that such craft involved collaboration with their devils and to some extent that cunning men and women later sold charms to lift Witches curses - resorted to no doubt when a person suffered ill fortune and sought comfort through projecting causes, these apsects had fueled the fantasy of malevolent Witches intent on harm. Happily, Wise Women and Wiccans are increasingly disposessing a wider culture of these fears by challenging such missrepresentations and by carrying out high profile public works for the greater good.
|Susun Weed - Green Witch|
In the late 1990's in preperation for the millenium of 2000 the Pope anounced plans in a report to apologize for treatment in past centuries of victims of inquisitions and persecution, however Neither the Pope's verbal apology nor the report addressed the past maltreatment and executions of Pagans specifically. Wiccans and other neo-Pagans felt that the witches of yesteryear should have been included, so a consortium of pagan leaders demanded a special apology from Pope John Paul II on the Jubilee Day of Pardon and they mourned a "pagan Holocaust" of nine million secret nature-worshippers exterminated by Christians 500 years ago under the Inquisition. ( Who Burned The Witches - Here ).
We have been unable to locate any direct response by the Pope to this request. However his statement of apology in 2000-MAR, according to Reuters, "outlined a framework for seeking forgiveness for past errors without necessarily admitting responsibility for them." This statement contained no specific references to past events. Since Catholic theology teaches that the church itself is spotless and free of error and sin, the church itself was absolved of any blame. He assigned responsibility for past evils on individual members of the Church.
In 2009 pagan and womens activist Starhawk called again for a specific address, asking for;
"...an apology for the Papal Bull of Pope Innocent the Eighth, in 1484, that made Witchcraft an heresy and unleashed the Inquisition against traditional healers, midwives, and any woman unpopular with her neighbors for being too uppity? It's high past time to apologize for the Malleus Maleficarum, a vicious document written by two Dominican priests in 1486 that created a whole mythology of Satan worship, attributed it mostly to women, and unleashed a wave of accusations, torture, and judicial murder that have haunted us ever since. '' Whilst the response remains unchanged, events in todays wider world show all too clearly how the need remains as pressing as ever for an official reconciliation to be proclaimed......
Witch Hunts In A Modern Context.
Today fundamentalist churches of some African communities in the UK sustain the concept of demonic possession and the need to fight it by physical means. In 2005 three Londoners were convicted of cruelty to an eight-year-old Angolan girl they believed to be a witch. Her tormentors, one of them her aunt, had tried to "beat the devil out of her". Unfortunately this is not an isolated case. Kristy Bamu, a 15-year-old east London boy drowned in a bath during an exorcism Christmas Day in 2010. Such news from London is proof that the erroneous persecution of witchcraft continues in certain communities to this day. In September 2009 the UN identified witch-hunting as "a form of persecution and violence that is spreading around the globe" ( More here ).
Control over womens bodies and their reproductive powers, a key theme of earlier witchcraft motivations, has resurfaced with the recent surge in anti-abortion legislation (USA), which seeks to turn back the clock on women’s reproductive rights, lends comparisons to the witch craze of 15th century Europe. In 2013 we find ourselves living in unstable conditions marked by high unemployment, global warming and an ever increasing number of wars. Passing laws which single out women by making abortion illegal or available only under highly restricted conditions is reminiscent of the laws the Reformation passed to curtail women and to make them scapegoats for the larger social problems. The Reformation had enacted laws making it illegal for anyone without a medical degree to deliver babies and administer to the sick. These edicts ushered in medical schools open only to men. Male doctors came to supplant the village wise women. Those women who continued to practice midwifery and healing were arrested and burned at the stake. Like any repressive movement, paranoia took over. Soon almost every village woman was suspect. Anne Barstow author of 'Witch Craze' brands the Witch craze the “women’s holocaust” for the large number of women who were burned and tortured over three hundred years.
A focus on female sexuality as the source of societal problems continues today just as it did during the Reformation. Women healers were tortured until they confessed to having fornicated with the devil. Modern women who seek abortions are being punished for being sexual, even when they were raped ( More here ).
|Ray Bone, high priestess of the London witch coven 1964|
( To learn more watch Donna Read’s DVD, The Burning Times here )
Africa, India and South-East Asia.
Few people are aware that Witch-Hunts still claim thousands of lives every year, especially in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, and above all in South Africa.
Witch-hunts in South Africa have become "a national scourge," according to Phumele Ntombele-Nzimande of the country's Commission on Gender Equality. The phenomenon is centered in the country's poverty-stricken Northern Province, where "legislators counted 204 witchcraft-related killings [from 1985-95] ... Police counted 312 for the same period. Everybody agreed both numbers were gross underestimates." (Neely Tucker, "Season of the Witch Haunts Africa," The Toronto Star, August 1, 1999.) In 1996 The Observer (UK) reported that "the precise statistics are not known, but the deaths from witch-burning episodes number in the hundreds each year and the trend appears to be on the rise." (David Beresford, "Ancient superstitions, fear of witches cast spell on new nation," reprinted in The Ottawa Citizen, June 18, 1996.)
As with its European predecessor, Witch-Hunting in South Africa is closely tied not only to prevailing superstitions, but to socio-economic pressures, natural disasters, and personal jealousies. In the Northern Province, "among the poorly educated rural residents, traditional healers and clairvoyants claiming supernatural powers hold broad sway. Hunger, poverty, and unemployment create jealousies that can quickly turn to anger and vengeance." (Lewthwaite, "South Africans go on Witch Hunts.") Likewise, Peter Alexander reports that "In a region of intense poverty and little education, villagers are quick to blame any adverse act of fate on black magic." These traditional tendencies have been exacerbated by a recent hysteria (extending to Kenya and Zimbabwe) over the very real phenomenon of "ritual killings related to Witchcraft," which "include the removal of organs and limbs from the victims -- the genitals, hands or the head, all of which are believed to bring good luck." (Alexander, "'Witches' get protection from superstitious mobs," The Daily Telegraph, May 26, 1997.) Such ritual murders often bring "retribution" against innocents accused of witchcraft. The intensity of the persecution and vigilantism in South Africa has reached such levels that no fewer than ten villages have been established in the Northern Province, populated exclusively by accused "witches" whose lives are at risk in their home communities.
In Nigeria An increasing number of children in the Niger Delta are being forced to the streets and trafficked as a result of a deeply held belief in child ‘Witches’ and also due to persistent violent conflicts, poverty, abuse, torture, rape, or being orphaned by HIV/AIDS. ( More Here )
In Zimbabwe, as in neighbouring South Africa, the Witch-Hunts also seem closely related to "the black market demand for human body parts, which are used in making evil potions."
In Kenya in 1993, killings among the Gusii tribe were occurring at the rate of one a week. "In most cases ... village mobs several hundred strong locked the victims inside thatch-roof houses and set them on fire. ... According to tribal elders, the Gusii have always executed people found to be Witches.
Other reports of Witch-Hunting vigilantism have come from Congo, where "The Congolese Human Rights Observatory ... announced that more than 60 people had been burned or buried alive since 1990 -- including 40 in 1996. The victims were accused, often by members of their own family, of being Witches." (See "South Africa Witch Killings", citing Reuters dispatch, October 2, 1996.) In the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), some 14,000 children in the capital, Kinshasa, alone have been accused of sorcery and expelled from their homes; "the unlucky ones are murdered by their own family members before they escape." (See Jeremy Vine, "Congo witch-hunt's child victims", BBC News, December 22, 1999.
|Dini was accused of using black magic to kill her son. His friends dragged her to a pigsty, where she was tortured.|
In India; Sona's mother was murdered and dismembered; Kalo was attacked with a saw and scarred for life. Hundreds of other Indian women are killed or disfigured every year after being branded witches by their neighbours. ( Look here )
In Parsa, Nepal: Various human rights organisations took to the streets... protesting the murder of Parbatidevi Chaudhary from Supauli-9 village in Parsa district, who was accused of practicing Witchcraft. The protest threw light on the growing number of assaults, public humiliation and even murder of some women accused by villagers of practicing Witchcraft, which the groups say are violations of human rights and an affront to public law and order. It is believed that there are many more such cases that are yet to be reported, as the attacks are usually by large groups, sometimes entire villages, who would then hush-up the incident.
Contemporary Witch - Freedom Fighter.
The historical Witch stereotype, for Wiccans, now represents resistance to assimilation of the individual whether to patriarchy, bureaucracy or capitalism. Through Starhawk's guidance, Wicca has become an activist religion with thousands of Wiccans involved in anti-war, anti-globalization and environmental movements, to name just a few. Starhawk herself tours the world, bringing and teaching her message of spirituality and ritual as methods for enacting change. Although the early modern Witch figure, as a fellow pagan resisting the established hierarchy that is persecuting her because of her religion, is no longer historically valid, nevertheless, she has become a powerful icon for those politically active Wiccans trying to effect change today in the 21st century. ( Dana Wessell, Ph.D look here )
|sanspareille with crystal ball|
According to feminist author Germaine Greer, ''Eco-feminism is probably the modern equivalent of witchcraft in its openness to the idea of a confederacy between humans and other animals. This notion has been adopted in various mystical forms by the group of religions now called Wicca, but it has solid scientific grounds as well. Second-wave feminists are to be found wherever animal rights are being defended. Feminists struggle to keep beached whales and dolphins alive and shepherd them back to deep water, throw themselves under the wheels of lorries taking weanling calves to slaughter in mainland Europe, blockade ships transporting Australian sheep to be butchered in the Middle East. The women who turned up at the US army base at Greenham Common on September 5 1981 called themselves “Women for Life on Earth”. They would be there for 19 years.'' Clearly a force in the modern world standing for Nature's rights and against war and destruction of ourselves and of our companion co-tenants of the Earth.
''At the beginning of this year, the great physicist Stephen Hawking told the world that the Earth has only 1,000 years left – within a millennium, he said, global warming or nuclear holocaust will have made Earth uninhabitable and if humans are to survive, they must colonise space. You don’t have to believe in Gaia or that the Earth is female or that all life forms are holy to be struck by his dreadful insouciance. You don’t have to resort to mysticism – biology is enough to give you a clue that this callousness, this indifference to biodiversity is appalling''...
|Global Chain of Light Samhain 07. Photo Ken Williams Shadows and Stone|
I leave you now with The Wiccan Rede (The Counsel Of The Wise Ones) by Doreen Valiente, 1964; A statement that provides the key moral system in the Neopagan religion of Wicca and certain other related Witchcraft-based faiths. A common form of the Rede is 'An it Harm None, Do What Ye Will. ( More details here ).
Bide the Wiccan laws ye must in perfect love and perfect trust.
Live and let live – fairly take and fairly give.
Cast the Circle thrice about to keep all evil spirits out.
To bind the spell every time, let the spell be spake in rhyme.
Soft of eye and light of touch – speak little, listen much.
Deosil go by the waxing Moon – sing and dance the Wiccan rune.
Widdershins go when the Moon doth wane, and the Werewolf howls by the dread Wolfsbane.
When the Lady’s moon is new, kiss the hand to her times two.
When the Moon rides at her peak, then your heart’s desire seek.
Heed the Northwind’s mighty gale – lock the door and drop the sail.
When the wind comes from the South, love will kiss thee on the mouth.
When the wind blows from the East, expect the new and set the feast.
When the West wind blows o’er thee, departed spirits restless be.
Nine woods in the Cauldron go – burn them quick and burn them slow.
Elder be ye Lady’s tree – burn it not or cursed ye’ll be.
When the Wheel begins to turn – let the Beltane fires burn.
When the Wheel has turned a Yule, light the Log and let Pan rule.
Heed ye flower, bush and tree- by the Lady blessed be.
Where the rippling waters go, cast a stone an truth ye’ll know.
When ye have need, hearken not to other’s greed.
With the fool no season spend or be counted as his friend.
Merry meet an merry part – bright the cheeks an warm the heart.
Mind the Threefold Law ye should – three times bad and three times good.
When misfortune is enow, wear the blue star on thy brow.
True in love ever be unless thy lover’s false to thee.
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill – an it harm none, do what ye will.
Bright Blessings By Star and Stone *~