witch•craft (wĭch′krăft′) n.
1: magical things that are done by witches: the use of magical powers obtained especially from evil spirits
· a: the use of sorcery or magic by invoking malignant supernatural powers
· b: communication with the devil or with a familiar
2: black magic; sorcery
"All magic, all witchcraft, depends on the Devil, and is fundamentally evil.”
~ Montague Summers ~
witchcraft (ˈwɪtʃˌkrɑːft) n.
1: the art or power of bringing magical or preternatural power to bear or the act or practice of attempting to do so
2: the use of magical faculties, most commonly for religious, divinatory or medicinal purposes
3: the mystical occult practices of Earth or Nature based religions
"Witchcraft, like any science or philosophical system, must be approached from a liberal point of view. When looked at objectively, we see that Witchcraft is just another theoretical body of knowledge. It is a process, not a person. Therefore it is neutral, incapable of being either good or evil. Like all belief systems, Witchcraft is only as good or evil as the people using it."
~ Lady Sabrina ~
Sadly, we might as well begin this discourse by acknowledging the disheartening fact that ...
“it is impossible compile a true and unimpeachable history of witchcraft”!
Figuratively speaking, trying to build a universally accepted history of witchcraft is like trying to build a sand castle while arguing over which grains of sand to use.
Even amongst witches you are rarely going find two people who will agree on the derivation or even the definition of the word 'witch'. The most common modern explanation is that it comes from an Old English word“wicca”, which is purported by some to have meant witch, though there is however no evidence of the word "wicca" being used until 1920 when it first appeared in ‘An Encyclopedia of Occultism’ compiled by Lewis Spence. The word was later usurped by Gerald Gardner, around 1954, as a label for his Wicca Movement.
Wicca in itself is a modern concoction comprised of elements of ancient Kabbalistic and Egyptian mystism, mixed in with pre-Christian European folk traditions. Unfortunately the general public, (and many Wiccans themselves), misconceive Wicca as having been brewed up over the millennia in an old witch's cauldron rather than it being a mid-20th Century contrivance.
There is however a another probable origin for the term we think of today as "witch". The Old English word "wit", which meant "wisdom", is thought to have been used by the ancient Britains to refer to the wise men and women practitioners of the 'Old Religion'. This may also explain whybe why, amongst the ancient peoples, ‘witchcraft’ was referred to as the 'Craft of the Wise’.
Unfortunately, centuries ago the word “witch” stopped being used as a “name” and started being used as a “label”.
Labeling is a propaganda technique that attempts to arouse prejudices
in an audience by labeling an object as something the target audience
fears, hates, loathes, or finds undesirable.
This type of “labeling” goes back to even pre-biblical times with certain religious people calling themselves “children or the light”, while calling anyone with a contrary view of life “children of the dark". Things really went spiraling out of control for the simple living heathens when the early Christian churches began sending out their monks, (and their crusaders), to spread the gospel of their “one true God”. These colonizing propagandists needed a new label to stick on anyone they saw as being a threat to their campaign and to intensify their stigmatization of their enemies; so the former title “children of the dark” was replaced by “worshippers of Satan”. This still wasn’t a catchy enough slogan for a good propaganda campaign and so they made the European word "witch" a synonym for "devil worshipper".
Although the term witchcraft originally was applied to magical practitioners of Celtic Nature/Earth centered spiritual practices; as Christianity began to colonize the world any shaman, priest, priestess, oracle, medicine man, (or rebel), had the label of “witch” stuck on them. As we have seen in more recent history, this witch label was like the Nazis sticking yellow Stars of David on European Jews. It is a lot easier to round up and dispose of those who oppose you if the rest of society has already been conditioned to see them as bearing a mark of evil.
So, today the Mongolian shaman, the Aztec priest and the Navajo medicine man are all erroneously stamped with the label of witch. Add to this that many fundamental Christians have added “feminists” to the witchcraft pantheon and now, in the public's mind, there are so many grains of sand making up the witchcraft sand castle that there will probably never be any mutual agreement on what witchcraft truly is (or should be).
“There is no art in turning a goddess into a witch,
a virgin into a whore,
but the opposite operation,
to give dignity to what has been scorned,
to make the degraded desireable,
that calls for character.”
Witchcraft and its magic have been a part of the story of mankind from its earliest days. If we are to cast any light on the origins of witchcraft we have to go down into the darkness, deep into the ancient caves and look upon the prehistoric cave paintings. There we find recorded the images drawn by early humans. When we go down into those caves today with our floodlights we see them as works of art. But those ancient “artists”, deep in the earth, working by the dancing light of their fires, were really creating works of magic.
These ancient drawings were of the animals that the early humans not only hunted as food, but also venerated as spirits, and their presence of in the land meant the difference between life and death to the people. In time these early humans came to associate the appearance of these animals with the changing of the seasons, and in time the seasons with the movements of the Sun and the Moon and with this association came the awareness of the cycles of Nature. Before long early humans began to comprehend that there was something big, something “magical” going on and with that awareness came a desire to be a part of and to perchance be able create and even control that magic.
In reverence of Nature’s wonders the ancients told stories and painted pictures of the strange, mystical events they experienced and they sang and danced in celebration of these wonders. More importantly, in creating this of art of myth and legend, as expressed within ritual, they were creating a “language” through which they might be able to communicate with the magical forces of Nature that they were seeking to emulate. So, for all intent and purpose, it was in these ancient deep dark caves that the history of witchcraft began.
So the grains of sand started to come together to build the sand castle. At first it took form in the people's spiritual beliefs and practices, which they based on a veneration of their land and all the things native to that land. They were a deeply spiritual people, who worshiped both the god and goddess, (the male and female /yin and yang energies of the Nature). This later grew into what became known as Paganism, and that is when the labeling began.
Although it happened pretty much the same way all over the world, the early Pagan Celts, from whom the modern concept of witchcraft derives, saw the signs of change quite early on. Around 350 BC, a hieratic fraternity known as the Druids developed among the early Britians and they became not only the priests, but also the teachers, judges, and most importantly, the historians of what became the new Celtic religion.
Here is the key to understanding the story, the people stopped being spiritual and they started being religious.
“A name is a label, and as soon as there is a label, the ideas disappear
and out comes label-worship and label-bashing, and instead of living
by a theme of ideas, people begin dying for labels...
and the last thing the world needs is another religion.”
~ Richard Bach ~
Once “religions” begin the followers of that religion go looking for a label to put on their one true religion, to differentiate theirs from someone else’s one true religion. The problem is that labels do not only define what you are, but what you are not. They define not only what you should believe, but what you should not believe as well. Eventually, as people come to have disagreements about what to believe they begin to splinter off into opposing groups (or sects). Pretty soon these groups not only develop their own individualistic dogma, but their own “history” of the origin of their one true religion, which commonly is more fanciful invention than historic fact. Before long these groups became “churches” which are said to be build of stone, but are eventually revealed to only be out made of sand. These sand "churches" eventually get washed away and then rebuilt by someone else, again with shifting sand that the "new history' will portray as solid rock.
Today, modern witchcraft also has broken off into so many sects, (some prefer to call them covens), that the whole concept of witchcraft has become even more muddled than ever and with each sect offering up its own history (some prefer to call it bullshit), the truth is pretty much buried deep in the sand and most covens would prefer it stay buried.
Witchcraft is a way of life for individuals, not the masses,
and there's no point in you coming toward the Craft if you are a wimp,
a follower, a coward, or a fool, as sorcery is both a practice and a priesthood,
and it is not a garment that can be discarded when the going gets tough.
~ Ly De Angeles ~
There are many pathways to becoming a witch, so it is important for anyone who wishes to come to the Craft to remember that there is NO ONE TRUE PATH! You must seek out and follow your own path.
There is no right or wrong way to find your spiritual path. You need only step off on your journey and travel until you find a path you are comfortable with and which brings meaning to your quest and you must not be afraid to leave that path and take up another, if and when you feel you should do so.
Witchcraft is a way of life for individuals seeking to find their own magic and it is not about being one of the group, so there's no point in you coming toward the Craft if you are just looking to be one of the "cool kids" and sit at the "cool table
Therefore, someone's history of witchcraft is really not the criteria you should use to seek your path, as most of the histories are more fanciful than anything J.K. Rowling has ever written. In truth you will probably gain as much insight from Harry Potter as you will from "The History of Wicca". But, the central principle behind the true essence of traditional witchcraft has always been that you will more likely find your way to the Craft within a grove of trees than within the covers of a book and the trees won't lie to you either.
“Most books on witchcraft will tell you that witches work naked.
This is because most books on witchcraft were written by men.”
~ Neil Gaiman ~
So in the end, if you find that your personal model of a sand castle is a satisfying framework that works for you and suits your needs, then perhaps you should apply the same principle to your personal model of witchcraft. Be satisfied if that framework works for you, even if your model of witchcraft doesn't satisfy anyone else. This is what most traditional witches do anyway and no two witches will ever end up compiling the exact same 'witch's journal' or Grimore refelecting their own unique journey through the Craft.
During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumb-screws, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood.
Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry. There are no witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them remain.