One day you felt just just fine, and the next day, you felt like you were dying. In the days leading up to this, you had been having trouble sleeping because of terrible nightmares. You felt like somebody was watching you, and you couldn’t stop thinking about bad things. Today, most people would go to the doctor to find out what was wrong, but in times past in some parts of the world, people would seek out a human being they believed had cursed them. Belief in malevolent human beings who could use magic to harm or make marvelous things happen has been strong all over the world, but are witches really what people have said they are? Can a human being do what lore says a witch can? This article will discuss whether witches are real or not, focusing on these topics:
What is a Witch?
How to Become a Witch
Protection from Witches
Are Witches Real?
What is a Witch?
A witch is a human being who uses supernatural means to create a change on the mundane level, or magic, and this is called witchcraft. Like anything, magic is believed to be used for benevolent or malevolent means, and some people refer to witches as “good” or “bad” witches. Some people believe that all witchcraft is evil, and others refer to all malevolent magic as witchcraft, but benevolent magic as good magic. Some people believe that human beings are naturally capable of using magic, but others believe magic is an ability that is granted by supernatural beings. No two cultures of people agree on the definition of what a witch is, so to explore just what a witch is, Medieval European, African, and two modern Magical beliefs will be examined.
Medieval Europe is believed to be where the word “witch “ was first invented in the form we know it. The word comes from Old English wicca, which was a male witch, and wicce, which was a female witch. In the 9th century, the word witch appeared in writings used to describe somebody who practiced malevolent magic. This word came from German wicken, or wichelen, which meant to bewitch. People were very concerned about people, most especially women, making pacts with the Christian devil, having copious amounts of sex in ways they believed to be impure, and using the magic the devil bestowed upon them to create harm.
Witch hunter’s manuals like the Malleus Malifucirum sought malevolent magical practitioners and advocated the use of torture to get confessions. It was published in 1486 , written by Heinrich Kramer and later, it was amended by James Sprenger. Kramer had been expelled for his harsh views and attempts to prosecute and kill people he viewed as witches and it was believed he wrote the book to explain his views and justify his methods. The book was first denounced by the Catholic theologians of the Inquisition at Cologne, Germany for practices that were not approved by them, but in the 16th and 17th century the publication was reviewed by courts and accepted because it had become so popular.
Early in belief in witches, accusations ended in people paying penance fees or spending a day in the stocks for public humiliation. However, by the mid 1500’s until about 1630, things were especially harsh with the most severe trials ending by the late 1700’s in Europe. Between 1400 and 1782, it is estimated that up to 60,000 people were killed because they were accused of witchcraft. It is estimated that 75% to 85% of those accused of being witches were women. France, Germany, and Switzerland had a lot of witchcraft accusations and trials, and on a smaller scale so did Scotland, Russia, England, Portugal, and Italy. The Office of Inquisition was established by the Catholic Church to combat heresy, which was defined as anything that was against Catholicism. Witchcraft was indeed considered heretical.
The Malleus Malificarum itself was written in the form of questions the author answered. It sought to answer questions like whether incubus or succubus demons could have children with human beings, why the authors believed women were more likely to be witches than men, how witches use witchcraft, who is safe from that magic, and things like how to do exorcisms for those bewitched. It instructed how to select fair and proper judges for witchcraft trials, how to arrest and imprison the accused, when to use torture, and when to execute the accused. The book said much about how the devil gave witches strength, such as “ …we may say that it is as difficult, or more difficult. To compel a witch to tell the truth as it is to exorcise a person possessed of the devil. Therefore, the Judge ought not to be too willing or ready to proceed to such examination, unless as has been said, the death penalty is involved.”
Unlike the famous Salem Witchcraft Trials in the United States, the witchcraft trials in Europe lasted for many years. Witches were believed to be to blame for things like crop failures and bad weather, disease, death of animals, and impotence. Some believed witches could shrink a man’s genitals or remove it completely from the body to keep it as a personal pet. Midwives were especially accused, and it was believed they stood against the authority of male doctors. Women who got their work done too quickly or who had gotten into a quarrel with a neighbor would be immediately accused the moment something went wrong for said neighbor.
Witches were believed to be against Christ and the Church in general, and it was believed they worshiped the devil. It was said they rode on broomsticks through the sky to meetings at night with the devil. They were said to shapeshift into animals like cats, wolves, or rabbits, and in the case of rabbits, to sneak into their neighbor’s gardens and steal their vegetables and eat them in the night. Something called The Little Ice Age went from the 1300’s to the 1800’s, and it was noted by historians that as the temperatures cooled and created crop failures, witchcraft accusations rose. Witchcraft accusations and trials declined for various reasons in Europe. People realized anybody could be accused, and as they watched people killed, they became more reluctant to make accusations, and courts began acquitting some of the accused. Establishing a higher court to oversee local trials would ensure people were treated more humanely and not punished or executed without proof, which was difficult or impossible to get. More skepticism about human abilities to do marvelous things like summon a hailstorm contributed to the decline of witchcraft trials as well.
There has always been a belief in human ability to use magic for good and to cause harm, and in modern times, many people in different parts of Africa still believe in this. In the Zulu belief system, traditional healers called sangomas use magic, divination, teach their history and beliefs, do protective magic on warriors, and even do magic to protect against malevolent magic. They practice traditional medicine and mediumship, speaking with the spirits of ancestors. They seek to create harmony between the living and the spirits to heal the people. Their traditional medicines can be applied through a ritual bath, through inhalation, put into the body through cuts and orifices, and they heal through ritual purification as well. This good healing and magic are all done under the direction of the spirits and ancestors, and altered states of consciousness to communicate with them.
The Zande people of Congo believe the ability to use malevolent magic is located in a witch’s stomach. Their power is so great, they can do curses and cause harm just by thinking about it, although this magic can be even more powerful if these witches use rituals and potions. In Kinshasa in Congo, it is estimated that since 2006, up to 50,000 children have been accused of witchcraft and disowned by their families and have been put out in the streets. They are forced to undergo painful exorcisms that can be violent. In Congo, like Medieval Europe, it is believed witches can shrink or even steal penises, and in 2008, even the police believed in this and they arrested multiple people accused of using magic to do it. It is also believed magic can protect against these magical practitioners.
In Ghana, it is traditionally believed that some people practice magic for the purpose of healing, and that there are those who practice it malevolently. The malevolent magical practitioners are called witches. It is believed that disabled children are witches, and they are stigmatized. If it is believed they do evil magic, it is believed it is acceptable to kill them. About 100 years ago, in Ghana, six witch camps were set up so women accused of being witches could have a safe place to live. These camps were traditionally run by chiefs called tindanas who were believed to cleanse the women so they could not cause harm. The government has condemned the camps because the people who live there often have improper sanitation and no running water. Many of the accused women are widows who have no family to protect them, and they flee to the camps to avoid being lynched.
In many parts of Africa, it is believed the witches have natural urges to cause harm, and sometimes they send magic without knowing they have done so. There are trials and ordeals accused witches can be put through to test and see if they are guilty or innocent, but these tests are based on superstitions, and sometimes, torture is involved. The practice of magic is in no way forbidden but it is the practice of magic to cause harm that is. Consequences for witches that are found guilty besides having to flee for their safety to a place that is barely accommodating for life include being banished for life, being shot by a firing squad, or being burned to death. There is no one unified belief on witchcraft in Africa, as there are 54 countries, and over a billion people living there who practice both ancient and more modern religions like Islam and Christianity.
21st Century Magic
Not all witchcraft traditions are considered to be evil ones, at least not by the people who belong to them. There are two modern groups where the people openly practice magic and have always been very truthful about what they do. Voodoo and Wicca are practiced all over the world by people who want to use their magical and psychic gifts, and who remain open to educating people about what they do.
Voodoo started in Africa, and aspects of it are still practiced even in Muslim or Christian areas. It was originally practiced by the Fon, Ewe and Aja people of West Africa, and it was brought to The Americas during the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade. Originally, enslaved Africans kept their traditions alive, but the religion began to change with Christianization. Today, Voodoo is referred to as African Diaspora religions, and some people in the Southern States of North America, Latin America, and The Caribbean practice these faiths. Worship of their higher power and ancestor veneration is a big part of all the faiths that fall under this umbrella, but magic done by individuals as well as their clergy is a big part of it as well.
We have all heard of “voodoo dolls”, or poppets, used in magic. These are made in the image of somebody who you want to use magic on, and often, something that belongs to them is included in the poppet. You can sew pieces of their hair or nail clippings into this, or instead of making a doll, a photograph, or a piece of paper with their handwriting on it can be used. This item establishes a magical connection with the individual and it is believed that whatever is done to the poppet will also be done to the person. People like to joke that this is a way to “curse an enemy”, but they forget that this can be used to bless or protect somebody who you love as well.
Practitioners of Voodoo are discriminated against because people don’t understand the sacredness of Voodoo and the practices. There is strong belief in communication with spirits who interact with the living, and mambo priestesses and houngan priests lead the people in these communications. Voodoo in Louisiana in the United States is different from Vodou in Haiti, but some elements are similar such as communication with Catholic saints and the African indigenous beliefs were brought to both places and a new practice was developed combining Christianity with them. People assume that all people who practice Voodoo do is curses, and indeed, Voodoo does have some curses that can be used, but far more of Voodoo entails blessings and sacred communication with the ancestors.
Wicca is a modern religion that is a combination of pre-Christian Western European religious practices, rituals the ceremonial magician Aleister Crowley wrote, and the writings of Margaret Alice Murray. Murray believed the witch trials were simply persecution of the people who worshiped pre-Christian gods and that their religion had gone underground to escape persecution. She believed that some of the magical practices the judges and officials in the witchcraft trials said were revealed during confessions were real magical practices. She also believed that groups of witches were practicing a religion that was older than Christianity and were organized into groups called Covens. She said they met for magic during certain phases of the moon, and they worshiped a horned god and a fertility goddess.
Gerald Gardner believed what she wrote, and he started his own Coven by 1939 although he claimed it was already established by people who had been practicing Wicca for a while. No evidence of Covens prior to Gardner’s founding of Wicca has ever been found, and it is accepted by most Wiccans that he invented Wicca. Wiccans believe in more than one god, and some worship only a goddess who they believe has been called by many names. Other Wiccans follow multiple gods they personally identify with, however. There are multiple different traditions of Wicca, all of which split off from Gardner’s original Wicca, which is called Gardnerian Wicca. Like Gardner’s original group, Wiccans are organized into Covens, and they have a High Priest, and a High Priestess. It is accepted that Gerald Gardner was the first High Priest of Wicca, and it is believed that a woman he called Dafo was perhaps his first High Priestess.
Because early Wiccans belonged to a private, fraternal group, some Wiccans today practice their religion secretly with only other Wiccans. This secrecy has aroused the suspicion of people who assume that because many Wiccans also call themselves witches that Wiccans are evil people who worship the devil. Gardner, like Murray, believed those accused as witches in Europe were misunderstood and falsely accused, and the word witch was never meant to define somebody who was malevolent. Instead, Wiccans worship, do personal spiritual work, commune with nature, observe the seasons and eight high holidays per year called Sabbats, and they do practice magic, or witchcraft.
How to Become a Witch
The method for becoming a witch varies. In some parts of West Africa, it is believed somebody is born a witch, most especially if they are malevolent witches. To become a mambo, one must study for at least five years with other Voodoo clergy people, and then dedicate yourself to service as a clergy person yourself. To become a Wiccan, you seek out other Wiccans, and initiate into Wicca. Some people believe that no matter how much you study and train, if you don’t naturally have the ability to move energy, you will never succeed at being a witch. Anybody can recite prayers or rituals the way they are taught, but true witches naturally have magic within them, but what is magic?
Magic is not taking a pact with a demon to get supernatural powers. Magic is defined as the ability to move energy. This is done in different ways. It can be done on the mundane level, or it can be done in a psychic way. The easiest way to make a chair move is to either pick it up and move it or to ask somebody to move it for you. Some people, however, have the ability to send mental messages, called telepathy, and influence somebody to move the chair for them without using words or gestures to ask them to. To find out if you can do telepathy, go to some random place in public where you are surrounded by strangers, and pick one stranger out from the crowd. Without looking at them or trying to physically get their attention, try to send them a mental message to look at you. If you succeed, chances are you have the magical gift of telepathy.
Magic can be more than just telepathy, however. It can entail using herbs in healing, or natural healing like reiki, which moves energy. Burning specifically colored candles to use their energy to help with a goal is also magic. Wearing rose quartz or patchouli is used to magically draw lovers to you, but another scent can draw a lover in a surprising way. Find out what aromas the person you are attracted to favors and wear that aroma to make yourself more enticing to them. Anybody can use oils and candles and rituals in magic, but not everybody is born with the natural ability to move energy. Unless you want to be a witch in a tradition like Voodoo, to be a witch, find out what your natural gifts are, and use those to the best of your ability.
Protection from Witches
Throughout history, people have sought to ward off witches, believing them to be terrifying people who could cause harm. There are a few tried and true ways that have been used in the past, and there are methods that can be used against anybody who you feel is using their magic against you. You can bind them, ward them off, or simply tell them no.
Warding Them Off
Iron is said to ward off witches or any form of evil, as is salt. You can carry a piece of iron in your pockets or a small bag of salt for this. Sprinkling salt or holy water in doorways or windowsills is also believed to ward off evil. However, if you know a witch who happens to be allergic to something like cats, for example, either bring cats to the place you want them to stay away from, or comb cats and sprinkle their hair around so they don’t stay long. Certain symbols are said to ward off witches and all evil, and the symbol of your religion will work for that. A witch ball is a glass sphere that was originally hung in homes in the 1800’s and 1900’s in England, and it is believed to either trap evil or malevolent spirits or magic inside of it or repel it completely.
A binding is a simple spell that prevents somebody from doing something, and it is done with a poppet. Get an image of the witch you want to bind. It can be a photograph, or a doll you made representing them. If you don’t want to make anything, simply write their full name on a sheet of paper and that can serve as your poppet. Then fold the poppet within itself, and bind, or tie it up with a red cord or string. After you do this, seal the poppet with wax so it is completely contained. Talk to the poppet the whole time you do this, telling it exactly what you want the person to stop doing, and then when you have finished doing the binding, simply bury the poppet in the ground.
Saying no is perhaps the least mysterious way to do something, but it works. If a witch or anybody else is doing something to you that you want them to stop doing, have a conversation with them about it. Explain your viewpoint and tell them you want them to stop. Remember that witches are not supernatural beings, but they are just people, too. Sometimes respectfully discussing things can create a positive resolution. If they won’t respect your request, sometimes, they can be stopped anyway. If a neighbor, for example, insists on leaving their windows open while they are very loudly doing what they call “Sex Magic” with a magical working partner, the landlord can step in and make sure the window closes when they are making their lovemaking noise.
Who are these people who were said to practice witchcraft? What have they done, and what became of them? There are countless famous witches, but a few stand out. One was Agnes Waterhouse, who was executed in 1566, and another was Margaret Jones, who was hanged as a witch. Another famous witch who lived and died recently dedicated his life to doing as much as he could for witchcraft in the United States and his name was Raymond Buckland.
Agnes Waterhouse was the first woman executed as a witch in England. She was called Mother Waterhouse in her town in Essex, and she may have been somebody who was seen as kindly and helpful because of the name people called her by. That did not protect her from being accused of using witchcraft to cause illness and death, however. She, her daughter Joan, and Elizabeth Frances were accused, but her daughter was released, probably because she testified against her mother. Agnes was said to have confessed that her cat was a familiar, or a magical pet that was given to her by Elizabeth Frances, and that it taught her witchcraft.
She was said to have fed milk and blood to this cat, and that its name was Satan. She was also accused by a 12-year-old neighbor of having a black horned dog who stole milk. She was said to have confessed to stealing sheep and killing a man who refused to marry her. She was said to have killed her own baby, and to have made her husband lame because she was not happy being married to him. She denied killing anybody but was found guilty anyhow. While initially, Elizabeth Frances was given a punishment and let go, she was executed 13 years later on another accusation. Agnes was found guilty and hanged.
Margaret Jones was the first person in Massachusetts Bay Colony to be executed for witchcraft. Both she and her husband were accused, but he was found not guilty. She was a midwife in Boston, and she also practiced medicine. She was accused of using her power of touch to strike people who she was upset with deaf, or ill, and that sometimes her cures did not work at all. She was also said to be able to foretell the future accurately, and the officers did something everybody dreaded. They searched her whole body, looking for a witch’s teat. This was believed to be a special part of the body that imps, familiars, and other supernatural creatures fed from, and it was believed witches did this to gain favors from the supernatural creatures. They claimed to have found such a growth on Margaret’s body.
She was imprisoned and forced to sit for up to 24 hours cross legged and she was watched the entire time to see what supernatural creatures would approach her. The watcher testified that an imp, which looked like a child, was seen with Margaret during this 24-hour observation period, but that it ran from him. Someone in town testified they saw said imp near her and became sick immediately. A witness to the trial was John Hale, who was 12 at the time, and he wrote later that Margaret had argued with neighbors whose cattle died after the argument, so they blamed Margaret for the deaths. She was found guilty and executed. It was said that immediately after her death, there was a terrible storm that was so powerful, it blew trees down.
Unlike Margaret Jones and Agnes Waterhouse, Raymond Buckland never denied being a witch, and was not at any time brought to trial for being a witch. Born in 1934 in London, England, he became interested in the occult and the Spiritualist Movement at the age of 12 when he learned about it from an uncle. He immigrated to America in 1962, and two years later, was initiated into Wicca by Gerald Gardner’s priestess Monique Wilson, and he became Wicca’s spokesperson in America. This happened because he was granted permission to begin a Coven, which he did in Bay Shore, and Raymond would publish, make media appearances, and operate as a High Priest of Wicca for many years. He began his witchcraft museum in his own basement in 1968.
Following this, he continued to teach, although he would leave the coven in the 1970’s. He then created his own branch of witchcraft, called Seax-Wica, which he said was drawn from pre-Christian Anglo Saxon paganism, and he compiled all the information he had about this new religion into his book The Tree: Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft. He moved to multiple other states and opened multiple locations with the museum for education. He did various trips to teach, be interviewed, published, and continued his work as High Priest until his death in 2017. Today, The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft is in Cleveland, Ohio, which is operated by other members of the faith. Buckland Museum of Witchcraft Magick & Occult Cleveland, OH
Are Witches Real?
So, after reading all this, are witches actually real? Nobody can fly on a broom using the power of a supernatural bogeyman, or doing a rhyming chant to make all your crops fail, but there are plenty of people out there practicing magic, honoring the seasons, and worshiping pre-Christian gods with others. So, if you define a witch as somebody who can create devastating weather patterns or kill you in your dreams, then no, witches are not real. If you define a witch as somebody who uses oils and crystals for natural healing, then yes, witches are real. It all depends on what you believe a witch is.
Witches have been feared and admired for centuries, and the stories of their power spread far and wide. They were so believed in before, people went to great trouble to ward them off, and blamed them for weather problems, illness, and any misfortune that befell them. This was based on misunderstanding of nature, and belief that human beings had more power than they were capable of. A modern witch won’t ride a broom to a Coven meeting with other witches, but they might do a spell to bless you if you ask them to. You might have to go to Louisiana to find a great mambo, or there might be one right up the street from you. Magic is real, witches are real, and you don’t need to be afraid of them. Who knows, maybe there is a little bit of magic in you too!
About the Author: Lady Saoirse has studied magic and lore for most of her life but started walking her own Magical Path after being spiritually reborn in the desert. Today she is a High Priestess for The Temple of the Goddess, she shares her gifts as a Psychic and Content Writer and she is an admin and writes for Pagan Pages emag.