The Contemporary New England Witch

The Contemporary New England Witch
Ms Faith

Friday, October 15, 2010

Witches! What . . . Who are we really? Our history from Goddess to Sorceress

Hello again,

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 Human race has been on the Earth for approximately 6.5 million years, clay figurines have been found (considered to be the first works of art created by humans) depicting a Mother Goddess which have been carbon dated from between 800,000 - 1 million years B.C.E. (Before the Common Era, what archaeologists now refer to the period formally called B.C. The era formerly called A.D. is now referred to as C.E. the common era)
These Paleolithic pieces of art are believed to be examples of early man trying to fashion what they felt the Creator would look like. Since it is the female of all species, which give birth, it was a natural understanding for early man to see the Creator of all that existed, as being female. Every early culture on Earth had a female deity in its origins.

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 concept of kingship started to spread, and male dominated tribes started to overtake countries once dedicated to the Great Mother Goddess, and over time male dominant cultures had overtaken all and exists to this modern day. 
Very quickly, at this time in the Earth's people’s history, the wheels of change turned and the woman was denigrated from the highest to the lowest level of society. With the introduction of Christianity, Patriarchal rule, the Goddess and all her representatives, women, and her powers and mysteries  was taught to all to be  evil and responsible for sin and the potential downfall of man. 

She was considered by the early church to be unclean, sinful, evil, to cavort with the Christian devil, to have been responsible for luring Adam into sin in the Book of Genesis' Garden of Eden, and to be lustful and wholly responsible for sexual deviation. Soon fear and distrust was directed at any female, regardless of age. Females who were not under the control of a man, i.e. relative, father, husband, etc. Independent women who made their own way in the world were especially suspect. Many independent women supported themselves by providing midwifery services, women helping other women in a most vulnerable time. These women were targeted from almost the first days of the Inquisition.
 Laws were passed forbidding midwifery, using herbal knowledge for healing, and divining the future using natural means also became an offense punishable by death. The wise woman became known as the witch, a direct enemy of the church. The Burning Times were historically known as the Roman Catholic Inquisition, a 300-year period in which the Catholic Church was responsible for the Woman's Holocaust. A time where hundreds of thousands, if not millions of women, children and men were arrested, tortured, and put to death in the most horrendous ways to eliminate the woman's power, and to eradicate the Goddess in the people's belief.

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. 

Here in Colonial America, there were no witch burnings, as the early Puritans preferred to hang those accused, those who survived the torture. The first person put to death for the charge of witchcraft on Colonial soil, was Alse Young from Windsor, CT.,  who was accused of sickening her neighbors cow. She was hung at the green in Hartford, CT  (The site of the Old State House today), on May 26, 1647. There were 46 individuals accused, and 11 put to death in Connecticut for the charge of witchcraft. The witch craze gripped Europe and Colonial America and spread fear throughout the populace. Perhaps initially there was a fear, due to superstition and ignorance, of the so called witch, but by researching history it becomes apparent that the fear would have soon become one of self preservation in keeping oneself from being accused. For anyone could be, and often everyone was accused. During the Middle Ages, there were villages in Germany, that when the witch hunters left, everyone -  men, women, children and domesticated animals had been put to death. Everyone.

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. 

 We do not  have a devil or Satan in our belief system. our beliefs and ways predate the introduction of a devil or adversary in sacred texts by several thousands of years. We also never proselytize, that is try to convert others to our ways. Many would agree we don't want everyone to follow our path, for we understand that one path is not meant for everyone.  Everyone must find peace and comfort in the path they choose.
 This Halloween, for just a moment please consider the long, eventful and tragic history of the women, whether witches or not, who were put to death for being different, for standing out, for being strong because they wouldn't have survived otherwise. Those labeled Witch.  That is always the underlying energy for me this time of year. 

 Well, congratulations!!!Thank You for reading such a lengthy discussion.  I hope you enjoyed our little field trip into the past.   Tomorrow we'll discuss  a favorite topic of mine,  Halloween Decorating and Party Planning!   

(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

1 comment:

  1. This blog is going to be a must see for me, every chance I get. It's amazing, Faith.
    Gemma "Esmerelda Little Flame"