Witches were perceived as evil beings by early Christians in Europe,
inspiring the iconic Halloween figure.
Images of witches have appeared in various forms throughout
history—from evil, wart-nosed women huddling over a cauldron of
boiling liquid to hag-faced, cackling beings riding through the sky on
brooms wearing pointy hats. In pop culture, the witch has been
portrayed as a benevolent, nose-twitching suburban housewife; an
awkward teenager learning to control her powers and a trio of charmed
sisters battling the forces of evil. The real history of witches, however,
is dark and, often for the witches, deadly.
Early witches were people who practiced witchcraft, using magic spells and calling upon spirits for help or to bring about change. Most witches were thought to be pagans doing the Devil’s work. Many, however, were simply natural healers or so-called “wise women” whose choice of
profession was misunderstood.
It’s unclear exactly when witches came on the historical scene, but one of the earliest records of a witch is in the Bible in the book of 1 Samuel, thought be written between 931 B.C. and 721 B.C. It tells the story of when King Saul sought the Witch of Endor to summon the dead prophet Samuel’s spirit to help him defeat the Philistine army.
As Witch hysteria decreased in Europe, it grew in the New World, which was reeling from wars between the French and British, a smallpox epidemic and the ongoing fear of attacks from neighboring native American tribes. The tense atmosphere was ripe for finding scapegoats. Probably the best-known witch trials took place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692.
The Salem Witch Trials began when 9-year-old Elizabeth Parris and 11-year-old Abigail Williams began suffering from fits, body contortions and uncontrolled screaming (today, it is believed that they were poisoned by a fungus that caused spasms and delusions). As more young women began to exhibit symptoms, mass hysteria ensued, and three women were accused of witchcraft: Sarah Good, Sarah Osborn and Tituba, an enslaved woman owned by Parris’s father. Tituba confessed to being a witch and began accusing others of using black magic. On June 10, Bridget Bishop became the first accused witch to be put to death during the Salem Witch Trials when she was hanged at
the Salem gallows. Ultimately, around 150 people were accused and 18 were put to death.
Women weren’t the only Victims of Salem Witch trials; six men were also convicted and executed.
Massachusetts wasn’t the first of the 13 colonies to obsess about witches, though. In Windsor, Connecticut in 1647, Alse Young was the first person in America executed for witchcraft. Before Connecticut’s final witch trial took place in 1697, forty-six people were accused of witchcraft in that state and 11 were put to death for the crime.
In Virginia people were less frantic about witches. In fact, in Lower Norfolk County in 1655, a law was passed making it a crime to falsely accuse someone of witchcraft. Still, witchcraft was a concern. About two-dozen witch trials (mostly of women) took place in Virginia between 1626 and 1730. None of the accused were executed.
One of the most famous witches in Virginia’s history is Grace Sherwood, whose neighbors alleged she killed their pigs and hexed their cotton. Other accusations followed and Sherwood was brought to trial in 1706.
The court decided to use a controversial water test to determine he guilt or innocence. Sherwood’s arms and legs were bound and she was thrown into a body of water. It was thought if she sank, she was innocent; if she floated, she was guilty. Sherwood didn’t sink and was
convicted of being a witch. She wasn’t killed but put in prison and for eight years.
Being a witch today might look like a fad for some, but for others it is a way of life.
Most witches will follow the beliefs of “wicca” which this religion is based on the beliefs of magic, or are more contemporary pagan. The religion differentiates itself from more mainstream religions,
such as Christianity, by celebrating a Goddess as well as a God.
In addition, Wicca lacks a formal institutional structure such as a church and puts more emphasis on ritual and direct spiritual experience than belief. Adherents refer to themselves as practitioners not believers.
Most Wiccans practice magic, which they believe taps into a spirit world often referred to as the “otherworld.” Others think of magic as drawing on an energy field they view as surrounding all of us.
They do magic to heal themselves and others or to find a new home or job, among other things, and emphasize that magic must not cause harm. Magic is viewed as changing the practitioners as
much as their circumstances, encouraging adherents to pursue self-growth and self-empowerment.
You might hear a lot that witch’s say they study “Dark magic” Or “Light magic”. In all reality magic is magic. It all comes down to the intention behind the magic. Magic must have balance.
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