Oh my! What a beautiful autumn day in New England today was. I was up early picking pumpkins and mums to decorate for the harvest season. The colorful kale is lovely this year also. It was cold and breezy enough to warrant my choice of a cloak this morning. I needed it as the first licks of winter nipped at my ankles. I love New England but the winters can be trying for me. But I determinedly pushed that thought of winter away and just lost myself in the fun, the color and excitement of the season.
I'm planning for Halloween also, no surprise its one of my favorite holidays, but again, I love celebrations. All holidays are special for me. As we get closer to the big night, I'll let you peek into my way of celebrating this special season. Maybe I'll share a spooky recipe or two, mayhaps a spell or incantation. hmmmm.
I also decided to spend the next couple of weeks discussing Halloween and all the fun, spooky and interesting facts about it. So many people love Halloween, its not just a pagan holiday. So the next few talks we have together, you and I, will cover all the popular Halloween images and their history and why the witch and cauldron are associated with Halloween. For a friend recently asked me just that the other day. I mentioned what a good topic for the new 'witch blog' and so I started to think about how I would tell this tale. After a few moments of picking and discarding story outlines it occurred to me that I can't tell that story until I tell this one first.
. Witches. What is our history, who are we today?
I'd like to say it's brief, but I'd be lying. I try not to lie, if at all possible. O.K. I'll skim a few pounds off my weight, but hey! so do you . . . seriously, I saw you, just the other day . . .
So, please make yourself comfortable, and read with me back in time to a few thousand years ago. Farther than that . . . farther still. We will start by visiting the Paleolithic Age, the early stone age and take a peek into what was the beginnings of the witch.
The earliest part of human history saw human culture as societies or clans where women served in the highest offices. The world was made up of tribes and villages organized and governed by women. Primarily women did not only rule matriarchal societies, the principal deity of such tribal groups was also female, often depicted as a Great Mother Goddess. The women's primary role was to organize and determine the structure of the tribe, teach the young, prepare food & medicine to provide nourishment and healing, to assist in births and comfort the dying, and prepare the dead. The women acted as the counselors, teachers, priestesses, judges, healers, oracles, and magi (magickal ones).
The knowledge, that was needed to keep a tribe flourishing, was the realm of the woman, whereas the men were focused on the protection of tribal lands and were often at war far from home. This knowledge of herbs, of knowing when to gather the food, the understanding of seasons & cycles, knowing natural signs, the ability to understand deep mysteries of birth and death all contributed to the woman's reputation of being wise, mysterious, magickal and powerful. The female governed societies for over 65,000 years until between approximately 5000 - 7000 years ago when the first patriarchal societies originating in Mesopotamia invaded Egypt and other countries in the Mediterranean, slowly migrating West.
The total numbers of people put to death for any number of witchcraft related charges ranges from 7-900,000 people to 7-9 million. These are educated guesses, which honestly is all we can make about a time hundreds of years in the past. We can never know how many were accused, tortured, convicted, sentenced and executed as many villages, towns and hamlets throughout Europe ofttimes wrought their medieval form of justice with no written record of the events, which people no doubt felt would last in local memory for all time.
The witch burnings, which consisted of tying a woman, often along with her children, naked onto a stake in the center of the village square, with huge piles of dried kindling, and setting it afire was common and considered entertainment for villagers oppressed by the dark ages. It was an extremely painful and horrific way to die as it could take an hour or more for the victims to perish. The death penalty was enacted after severe, horrendous torture was inflicted. The 3rd degree of torture was a level that no person could survive, and all would confess by this point or die in the third degree. It is in reference to this that we have the 3rd degree classification of burns today, which are the most severe of burns.
Most of the organized witch hunts had been abolished by the end of the 17th century, although the last woman put to death under the color of authority was in Eastern Europe in 1958, still women and men are stoned to death every week in small African villages today where fear, superstition and ignorance continue to prevail.
As an aside, warlock is not a name used in reference to magickal people. It is an ancient Scottish word that stands for betrayer, someone who brings harm and death to their family and community. Both male and female practitioners today are called witch. Some men prefer wizard or mage. Call yourself what you will. Many choose to have a magickal name, self chosen, to give their magickal selves an identity.
Today many people are stepping onto the path of the witch, or picking up the broomstick as we say. Anyone can be a witch if they choose. You do not have to be "born" a witch, or to be part of a witch family. Today witches follow a belief system that is very individual, with no religious dogma. We work with herbs, crystals, minerals, and potions, all to bring needed change into our lives. We celebrate the new and full moons. The spells we cast, are cast only on ourselves, never on another. Our spells are cast to bring loving energies, financial energies, or healing energies into our lives. Never harm.
(c) 2010 Enchantments, LLC
Portions of this blog posting may include materials from my book "Enchantments School for the Magickal Arts First Year Magickal Studies." For more information see www.enchantmentsschool.com