Most books on witchcraft will tell you that witches worked naked. This is because most books on witchcraft were written by men. - Neil Gaiman
Every culture has mention of mystic and/or magical happenings from history, and where there is magic, witches tend to follow close behind. For those wishing to learn more, this blog will be a weekly source of information on the mysterious and enticing history of witches.
Witchcraft is on the rise!
Everyone’s a suspect, your neighbors, your friends, your family, even you! You say you’re not a witch? Well, that’s exactly what a witch would say!
What actually makes someone a witch? What activities are generally associated with the term “witch”? Could you yourself be considered a witch? Before we can answer that kind of question, we must first discuss the origins of the term witch and how common folk back in the day treated such people.
Most people have at least heard of the term “witch”, whether or not the definition they have for witch is actually correct. From folk tales, scary stories passed down through families, pop culture such as film and television, to the bible. What does the word “witch” actually mean?
Witch- a learned practitioner of the magical arts. Other names witches are referred to as are; wicca and wicce, brujo and bruja, hexenmeister and hexe (each set are male gendered term followed by the female gendered term respectively). It’s important to know that initial definition of the word witch was not gendered. The root word of witch, being wise, merely inferred wisdom within a person.
In the earliest years, witchcraft actually wasn’t thought to be a terrible thing unless the magic that was being practiced was doing someone harm. On the contrary, for a time, those associated with the word witch were highly regarded members of the community. People who had access to other-worldly powers were able to solve problems that others could not. Makes sense that they would be favored.
In fact, before 300 C.E., the beginning of what’s referred to as the Conversion Phase, witchcraft was well respected. It’s around this time period that witchcraft is associated with intelligent people, those of royalty, and those who are closer to the gods they worshipped.
It’s during the Conversion Phase, the start of the 4th century to the start of the 12th century, that churches begin to proclaim that some witchcraft is evil. This was first and foremost meant as a way to condemn paganism and bring in more people to the Catholic/Protestant faiths.
Now that we are getting into a time when witchcraft begins to be frowned upon, and sometimes feared, what characteristics make up a witch? While these characters shift slightly throughout the centuries, a few things remain consistent.
In nearly every European country, the majority people accused and/or prosecuted for witchcraft were females, sorry ladies. The largest exception of this is Iceland with a whopping 92% of people who were accused of witchcraft being male.
This most commonly stems back to the biblical story of Adam and Eve. With Eve being the one blamed with cursing humanity with original sin, women were initially believed to be more likely to be practicing magic.
Other reasons for being accused of witchcraft could be that you are in your post-menopausal years, if you have been unmarried or widowed, or if you were outspoken. You could even be accused simply if enough people didn’t like you very much.
It was, unfortunately, all too easy for a women to be accused of witchcraft. You might ask, “Well, what might make someone accuse a man of witchcraft?” Would you believe men were accused just by being related to a woman who was suspected? Nobody is safe!
Now at first, not all witchcraft was bad. Only after we step into the 12th century do we see local officials begin to crack down on the practice of magic. This is what we call the 12th Century Renaissance Phase.
At this time, the church has become more involved in the conversation of witchcraft, claiming a sort of High and Low form of magic. The magic performed by the elite and educated was considered High magic, typically men of course. While the magic that was easier to obtain and perform was considered Low magic, often associated with women.
As we get into the Late Middle Ages Phase, starting around 1350, witchcraft is beginning to be punished more severely. At this point, the church has decided that all magic is bad magic and is of the devil. This is also when we start to see a rise in executions from witchcraft accusations.
The severity and danger of these accusations varied from country to country, but more often than not, at this time an accusation meant a death sentence. It’s easy to say that these religious leaders were, in a sense, out for blood.
One Bishop Arundel was known for having said “We would gladly burn 100 people if just one of them were guilty.”
Back then, in some places, the only way you could get out of an accusation was if you had a close relative vouch for you, and as we discussed earlier, sometimes that would only end up with your spouse or sibling being accused as well.
This is compared to how the process worked in many places in Germany. Typically in Germany, if you were accused of witchcraft, you were thrown in a prison and tortured until you named your accomplices and confessed to witchcraft. At that point you either die in jail, or you burn at the stake.
So, if you are a women, related to a women, or are not a ranking member in a church, then thank your lucky stars that you live in the year 2017!
January 28th, 2017
And this is what comes from dabbling; I mean you can't practice witchcraft while you look down your nose at it. -Aunt Jet Owens, Practical Magic (1998)
Performing magic for dummies, and other practical uses.
So far we have tackled the descriptions that people back then typical looked for in a witch. Now, what kind of magic did these witches perform, and what made it bad?
Beginning with Medieval Europe, there were four types of magic being formed.
There was Divination.
Divination was a form of magic used to see into the future or to find something that was lost.
At first, divination was seen as a good form of witchcraft, and for a time, was highly respected by small communities. This is until around the 12th century when, as we have discussed, the church began to shame, and then later, persecute witchcraft.
A common way that a witch would perform divination would be to crack a raw egg into a cup of water and use it as a crystal ball. Another would be to balance a strainer on a pair of scissors, the witch could then interpret the message based on how/if it fell.
The second form of witchcraft was Healing Magic.
As you can assume, spells or charms were used to heal all sorts of wounds.
Like divination, healing magic was highly regarded around local communities as a respectable form of magic.
The third form of witchcraft was Destroying Magic.
Destruction magic was also known as a form of image magic, heavily based in affecting another being through an image of their likeness. NOTE: While the above picture is not entirely relevant, it is a powerful image, IMAGE MAGIC, OOOO!
Destruction magic was not a respected form of witchcraft, and is likely half of what began the descent of the reputation of witchcraft. Destruction magic typically used an object known as a Poppet, or as you might be familiar, a Voodoo Doll. Poppets were used in a similar fashion, the poppet was created in the likeness of the target and whatever was done to the poppet, would affect the person targeted.
The fourth, and last, form of witchcraft was Counter Magic.
Counter magic was commonly used to reverse the affects of other spells.
Counter magic is arguably the most well known kind of witchcraft, this is likely due to the stereotype of a witch and their witches cauldron. Something interesting about counter magic is how important bodily fluids/body parts appear to be. Counter magic utilizes the hair, blood, or urine of the victim, and these ingredients need to be burned.
The ideal behind this is that the smell or aroma from the burning ingredient would be placed upon the witch who cast the first spell. If the witch has a burn mark on their body the next day, that is a sign that it the counter magic has worked. This was also the most common form of magic because to the average person, this magic seemed logical and made sense.
While these are the most common forms of witchcraft, they are not the only types of recorded witchcraft from this time period. There's a specific type of magic from Scandinavia called Trolldomr.
The core reason why Trolldomr stands out from other typical forms of magic is that it's primarily a verbal magic. The spoken word is commonly what gets both men and women equally accused of witchcraft. Though, men were sometimes accused more because it's almost only men who speak publicly which is what leads to their likeliness of verbal witchcraft.
The core forms of magic are Luck magic, Love magic, Divination (this being the only common form of magic between the two), and Fylgjur. Luck magic is pretty self explanatory, it is magic that is used to affect the good and bad luck of the victims.
Like most European magic, Love magic does utilize bodily fluids, blood, hair, semen, and so on. But, trolldomr focuses on not just the spoken word, but also on the spirit. This is where we find Fylgjur, as well as some forms of Scandinavian Divination.
What is a Fylgjur? Ever seen the film, The Golden Compass? The animal companions are, very likely, inspired by the Scandinavian Fylgjur.
Fylgjur were guardian spirits to a single person or a persons family that takes the shape of an animal. These animals often depicted the true nature of their owner; a bear represented strength, an eagle represented high status, and a wolf represented an evil mind. It was believed that if a person had a dream that their Fylgjur had died, they would not survive much longer after that.
This shows how heavily Fylgjur were based in the power of the human spirit, showing a deep connection to the animal spirit and the human it protects.
To those of you out their who have often declared their spirit animal: a dog, a unicorn, ex Vice President Joe Biden, or a slice of pizza. What does your spirit animal say about your true nature?
February 3, 2017
Being Normal is vastly overrated- Aggie Cromwell (Debbie Reynolds) Halloweentown (1998)
This section of the blog is going to be a little different from the rest. This past week I had a conversation with my parents, Fabian and Tammy Welch, and discovered someone in my family tree was accused of witchcraft, what's more, it was my grandmother.
Before I can get into a recounting of this story, I feel like it's important to double back and explain why people were often accused of witchcraft.
As we have previously discussed, people were accused of witchcraft for many different reasons. If the accused was disliked by enough people within their settlement/village, someone was jealous of the accused, or there was a political/monetary gain behind the accusation. For example, in Spain, most people accused for witchcraft at first, were Jewish, this was in an attempt to take back money/property.
Keep in mind, the Jewish people in Spain hadn't stolen anything. In reality, there were a number of the Jewish citizens who were owed a debt by the previous king. In an attempt to wipe this debt, many Jews were accused of witchcraft and executed.
Unfortunately, while some of the witchcraft accusations in history were made purely because people were afraid, it was often due to ulterior motives. What we see the most of, in these motives, is a disagreement in religious beliefs, which brings me to the main subject today, my grandmother.
Pictured (from left to right): Blake Welch, Juanita Wright, Brent Welch
Juanita Wright, born Juanita Anderson and then later Juanita Welch, was born September 20th 1935, and passed away August 21st 2016. If there is one thing that my grandmother was, it was outspoken. In all my years of knowing her, she has always been a very loving, caring, and stubborn person.
Most importantly, she stood very firm in her beliefs. Not once have I ever heard of her backing down from a challenge. Not that she was mean or a hard-ass, but she never let anyone use her as a doormat, and she let you know that.
But this story focuses on my grandmothers time in Freedom, California, way back in the late 1960's. This is a telling of a first hand account. My father, Fabian Welch, was born July 13, 1964 and at this point in the story was a little boy, close to 5 years old.
The pastor said either that god broke a promise he made, or he lied, and [Juanita] was having none of it. -Fabian Welch
As he remembers, Juanita and her family were members of their local missionary baptist church in Freedom, California. According to Fabian, the pastor had a sermon one Sunday that began the whole event. In his sermon, he mentions that God made a promise that he broke, that or that God lied about something.
Well being the woman that she is, Juanitas faith told her that God didn't make promises or lie, so she held strong and stood up for herself. Out of a congregation of 120 people, 20 came forward to confront the pastor, Juanita included. They demanded that her either address the entire congregation and either admit that he didn't mean what he said, or apologize for what he said.
In response, not only did the pastor refuse to apologize or admit he was wrong, he then called for the removal of these 20 people from the church. Now, each of these members were removed for different reasons, but what's interesting is that Juanita was the only one removed on the accusation of witchcraft.
My mother was a straight forward woman, she wouldn't lie to you, she'd give it to you exactly how it was. The younger kids of the church liked that, it was something they couldn't get from their own parents, so they were at our house a lot. - Fabian Welch
During her time with the church, Juanita was the Sunday school teacher, which meant she was in charge of teaching the younger kids, whose ages ranged from 13-18. It wasn't unusual that after a time, her students really grew to like and trust her. According to my father, her students would often stop by her house and talk to her about personal things like boys, girls, sex, marital advice, ect.
Juanita would be very honest with them, and this troubled the other parents in the church for a multitude, but most likely because they were jealous. When the time came that the pastor was calling for her removal, certain members had something very unexpected to say. They made claims that she had, "an unnatural control" of their children.
Based on this claim, Juanita was removed from the church on the accusation of witchcraft. While we today might look at this and think it's ridiculous, especially if you knew her in life, there are many similarities to the witch trials we hear of from the 12th-14th century.
Juanita Wright was a proud and courageous woman, and if those qualities get you labeled as a witch, then let me just get my broomstick.
In loving memory: 9/20/1935-8/21/2016
February 10, 2017
Logic only gives man what he needs...Magic gives him what he wants. - Tom Robbins
If magic were used to help people, why would it be considered bad?
With the American history, mainly the Salem witch trials, it's easy for us to automatically assume that all witchcraft is bad, or does harm. While most places in the world condemned all kinds of witchcraft, there were some who did not.
As I've previously discussed, the negative connotation of witchcraft occurred, not rapidly, but over time. Before the catholic and protestant church began extending their reach across Europe, most contact with magic came from Cunningfolk. Cunningfolk are a topic that I've mentioned but haven't gone into great detail about.
In many European villages, there was often a member of the community known as one of the Cunningfolk. Cunninfolk do not necessarily have to practice witchcraft, but are knowledgable of herbs and magic itself. Heralded as healers and diviners, it was not uncommon for Cunningfolk to be among the most highly regarded members of society.
Especially during a time when medical science was not very advanced, if there was an illness or injury that nobody knew how to fix, people would look to their Cunningfolk. This is what made them such valuable members of society. Things were like this for a time, and then the church got involved.
The main reason the church had for condemning magic was to lead people away from the pagan religion and get them to join the catholic/protestant faith. Another reason as to why Cunningfolk were thrown into the witchcraft mix could be control. It's just my personal speculation, but maybe the church didn't want people depending on anyone else for any kind of guidance and Cunningfolk threatened that.
Of course, not long after the church got involved, it was a slippery slope that lead to the persecution of Cunningfolk. Believe it or not, there was a place where witchcraft wasn't believed to be evil, even as late as the mid 17th century.
During the Venitian Inquisition, the holy office sought out to prosecute protestants and find distributors of banned books. Of course, the holy office didn't make very much headway in Italy, it was met with very strange opposition, specifically in Sicily.
Sicily, colored in red, potentially could have had such a different stance on magic because they are sufficiently separated from the rest of the country.
When the holy office arrives in Sicily, about 65 people were brought in on accusations of witchcraft, 8 of them were men. What's interesting is that when questioned, most if not all those accused, admitted to witchcraft but couldn't understand why it was wrong. This is due to their belief that there's no maleficium (bad magic) and if there was, it was immediately reversed with counter magic.
How can they be so sure that there's no maleficium? Well, Sicilian magic was heavily rooted in faerie culture. This is easily summed up in a single phrase, Donna Di Fuora.
Donna Di Fuora, meaning "The Lady Outside", basically explains how witches and faeries are practically one in the same. In Sicilian culture, faeries are described as the middle man between nature and mankind. This also explains why there's no Sicilian maleficium, because in Sicilian magic, there's not really anyone making a pact with the devil.
If you want to look at it that way, Sicilian witches are just more magical Cunningfolk. By the end of their investigation, the holy office convicted nobody and left in quite a state of confusion. These were a people who believed that magic was meant to be used for good, so maybe the rest of Europe would have been better of with a little bit of faerie dust?
Feb 24, 2017
Magic, madam, is like wine and, if you are not used to it, it will make you drunk- Susanna Clarke (The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories)
Much like good and evil, you can't have God without Satan, and in the colonial south, they had plenty of both.
When you think about witch trials in the early years of colonial America, you'd probably think of the Salem witch trials. Not all places in America were as malicious in the persecution of witches.
We begin with the introduction of the Spanish in 16th century colonial Virginia. Arriving to the new world before any other settlers, their first impressions are lasting ones, specifically their depiction of Native Americans. Right from the start, the Spanish label the Native Americans as godless devil worshipers, often depicting them as demons, and even characterizing them as being black, further comparison to the devil.
Native American Ghost Witch
This was used as a justification for the occupation and purification of North America, and these reports influenced others who would colonize later. King James would go on to agree, stating that Satan is most common in savage areas of the world, even more so, a puritan minister said that Satan reigns the most in Virginia.
Now that the stage has been set, it's time to get a glimpse into the dealings of colonial settlers with witchcraft, and it may surprise you to find that there wasn't a single person executed for witchcraft. That's right, you read correctly, not one. While some folks were imprisoned for witchcraft, nobody was murdered.
For some basic ground information, Virginia had a court system for dealing with witchcraft. A case would first be brought before the county court, this was where all civil disputes would be taken, and if it was deemed serious enough, a witchcraft case would then be sent on to the general court. Though, this was more often than not, unnecessary.
Something interesting that takes place here is that there's a rising number of civil suites that are brought to the county court. Almost always, these suites were people complaining that other people were accusing them of witchcraft. Considering all we have discussed, it seems a little backwards for the "potential witch" to be taking their accuser to court, but this was a commonality during this time and place.
In order to understand this, we first must have a basic grasp at the 17th century Virginian society. The social groups were mostly made up of a large number of lower class citizens who resided beneath a small number of wealthy upper class citizens. Having little to no power, people had a tool for keeping the upper class in check, gossip.
It's very common here for people to constantly be accusing one another of being a witch, whether it be out of spite, fear, jealousy, or an actual belief of practicing witchcraft. This is nothing new compared to the rest of the world, only in Virginia, people begin to sue for being accused of such things. As the courts get involved, we get a better look at how witchcraft was dealt with in Virginia.
Something to keep in mind is that at this time, the majority of witchcraft accusations were being made by women, primarily against other women. Sounds like a lot of gossip and little action, right? Well, there a fairly imbalanced ratio of the sexes, roughly 1:6 until 1660, and even though the ratio only shrunk to 1:3.
Now, in order for an accusation of witchcraft to be taken seriously, it needed to be made on grounds of the use of maleficium. In Virginia, maleficium was indicative of harm made either to ones property or person, and who would you be surprised to hear owned a lot of land? Women did actually.
By about 1700, the average woman began to amass a fair amount of land through multiple marriages (not at the same time obviously), inheritances, and pre-nuptial agreements. Oh yes, there are reports of women getting their husbands to sign pre-nuptial agreements, and actually receiving property from it. That being said, this only makes the number of accusations being feasibly made worse.
17th century tobacco pipe
Which leads me to discuss the order of 1655. This was a law passed that stated, any person who with scandalous speeches turned women to be witches, had to prove with oath and witnesses their allegations or be fined 1,000 pounds of tobacco. If we know anything about allegations based in gossip, it is that they are hollow.
Not being able to prove the majority of their accusations, this lead to a lot of debts to the government. But since this is about half a century before women really began to gain land or property, who would be left to pay the bill? Their husbands, and if they don't personally have to pay, why would their wives stopping gossiping? They don't for awhile.
This causes the law of 1662 to be passed. It states that husbands won't be held responsible for the payment of a fine that their wives receive. So if they own no property, goods, or land, how will they pay? With a good ol' fashioned dunking of course!
If women were unable to pay the fine, they would be dunked in the river once for every 500 pounds of tobacco owed, so for every false accusation of witchcraft made, the accuser would be dunked twice. We might think to ourselves, "Ok, so what?" Something to keep in mind is that these people almost never fully submerged themselves in water, on account of them rarely bathing in the first place. Picture yourself holding a cat, dunking it under the water, and then doing it again. You'd probably get the same reaction from these people, only, they're people.
March 3, 2017
They had set forth to rid their town of evil and had managed to rid it of pleasure as well. - Angel Cox, A Day in the Dark
If men and women are susceptible to the temptation of magic, don't you think children would be just as likely?
As I was spending this week in Lexington, Kentucky, I wanted to do something a little different for this weeks blog. After doing a bit of digging, I found an old local legend about a witch hunt gone wrong, and that a little girl paid the price.
To backtrack just a bit, this is not the first time that a child has been involved in a witches trial, or has even been accused of witchcraft. This was a common practice in many European areas. Germany is a good example of this.
As previously mentioned, Germany was known for being especially brutal in their witch hunts. They allowed unlimited torture in order to acquire a confession and had one of the highest death tolls from witch hunts. They would also would allow the testimony of children as probable cause to arrest someone on witchcraft charges.
While children accused people of witchcraft, they were also accused of witchcraft. It didn't happen often, but it did happen. This includes the case of the young German boy who had been executed on charges of witchcraft and "having sex with the devil" (I discussed this in a previous post).
All of these instances are predating the 18th century. This case, however, takes place in the early 20th century in Marion, Kentucky. This is the story of Mary Evelyn Ford.
As the story goes, around 1916, Mary and her mother were accused of witchcraft. As is typical in many places, if you are related to someone who is accused of witchcraft, chances are you will be accused as well. Unlike most witch trials, especially ones involving children, Mary and her mother never made it to the trial.
Fearing that they would not be proven guilty, local townsfolk removed Mary and her mother from their home one night. The two were burned at the stake. Of course this does not align with what we typically know of American witch trials, that being they hung people and did not burn them.
Nevertheless, the story goes that Mary's mothers body was disposed of, while Mary herself was dealt with in a very special way. Fearing that she would rise from her grave, townsfolk covered Mary's grave in concrete and gravel, then erected an iron fence around her grave with crosses designed into it.
The legend states that every night, Mary would try to free herself from the iron fence, as well as try to drag anyone into her grave that got too close. Locals today report that footprints can be found, and the iron fence looks bent in certain places, like someone trying to bend the bars outward and escape.
While this is primarily an old account turned local legend by superstition, it does paint the picture that no one was safe when blame is being placed and someone's accused of witchcraft.
Mar 17, 2017
And if you get a panic attack, feel like you're at the back of the pack An opinion's exactly that. If they say that your magic is black Just do what you do when you do what you do, keep on pulling that rabbit from hat.- George Watsky
An old crone in a film, leather skin, stringy white hair, extends a finger towards you with a crooked smile.
Most people automatically appropriate this image with that of a witch, and rightly so. Witches are not a new subject for the film world to cover, why might that be?
Potentially one of the most infamous, as well as interesting aspect of American culture is our history of witchcraft, especially in Salem Village. It's no surprise that our media has continuously covered this subject in reading material, film, television, and even music. Why? It seems to be that witches of American history are the most realistic Boogeyman that we have.
Much like the German folk tales from the Brothers Grimm, not only are witches the closest things that we have to monsters in our culture, they are also the most realistic. With a nearly endless amount of source material to pull from, and many written first hand accounts, it's incredibly easy to build up an image of a hyper realistic otherworldly creature that actually existed. What better way to scare people than what could actually be standing in the room with them?
Witches have been an especially popular topic in film, movies like Hocus Pocus and The Witch.
Hocus Pocus, a children's movie about two siblings and their new friend from school who bring back three sister witches from the dead. At its base, the movie sends a messages against disobedience towards your parents and how you should respect your elders. In this film the witches mainly serve as a nightmarish horror meant to punish the main characters after they disobey their parents and disrespect the law of tradition, in this case, warning against a virgin lighting a candle which would raise the witches from the dead. The point here that witches look human, and therefore could live amongst us, look exactly like us, and be completely hidden from the common man as a supernatural threat.
Another great example would be to look at the 2015 movie, The Witch. While not actively pertaining to the witches from Salem Village, it does center around an early American puritan family. The witch in this film is a young attractive woman who rarely makes an appearance, but when she does, events always turn sour. The Witch even goes as far as to infer witches connection to the devil with the character Black Phillip (somewhere in the world right now, Thomas Moran is giving a sole, The Breakfast Club style fist in the air, cheers to you sir).
Black Phillip is a black goat that is used to symbolize the presence of Satan in the world. This goes to further reinforce the notion that modern media uses witches and witchcraft as a way to scare younger people into obedience through a tactic similar to that of the Brothers Grimm.