A Bit Of History

The exact history of Witchcraft is debatable, although we know it predates Christianity. Some of the information below is that which I have summarized from Raymond Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. This is going to be a very basic history, and I encourage you to explore the topic further.

The late Dr. Margaret Murray traced back and saw Witchcraft’s origins in Paleolithic times; 25,000 years ago. Although scholars have disputed what Murray has said, she did present some tangible information and much thought-provoking material.

Twenty-five thousand years ago, the human race depending on hunting to survive. Nature was overwhelming, and the people have a multitude of gods. There were gods of weather, the animals, the hunt, and the elements. "Most of the animals being hunted were horned so Wo/Man pictured to God of Hunting also as being horned" (Buckland p.1). Women were the ones to bear young and were depended on for their fertility. Thus the Goddess of Fertility was born. As nomads began to settle down with the start of farming, the Fertility Goddess became more apparent in the fertility of the harvest.

When Christianity entered, its followers tried to convert the Goddess worships to the ways of Christ. Pope Gregory the Great rededicated the temples people had built for the Goddess and God to Christ, or the Christian God. He thought the best way to convert people was to build his temples in the places people already gathered to worship. This is still apparent in that Witches holidays were attempted to be replaced by Christian ones – the Witches Yule in December was replaced with Christmas; Ostara with Easter, and Samhain with All Hallows Eve or All Saint’s Day.

Because the original God of Hunting was horned and the Christian Satan was also horned, it was taught that the Goddess worshipers really worshipped the Devil. The word Pagan actually comes from the Latin word "Pagani" meaning "country dweller" and was used to describe the Goddess worshippers – it was said that they were from out in the country, heathens, backward – it was actually a very derogatory term. The stereotypical pointed hats of the Witches also stems from these country dwellers whose clothing included pointed hats with wide brims.

In 1484, two German monks, Heinrich Institoris Kramer and Jakob Sprenger wrote the Malleus Maleficarum, the Witches Hammer. This book was as a manual for the Burning Times, a period during which approximately 9 million men, women and children were tortured, burned, hung, or otherwise murdered and the accusation of Witch. Not all those who died were followers of the Old Religion – the Burning Times were a time motivated by fear, ignorance, and spite. A good way to get rid of that neighbor you couldn’t stand was to cry "Witch!"

It wasn’t until 1951 that the last laws against Witchcraft in England were repealed. In 1954, Gerald Gardner became the first Witch to speak up in England. It was about the same time Witchcraft became recognized as a religion in the United States. Raymond Buckland was the first to identify himself as a Witch in the U.S. Since that time, Witchcraft has grown both publicly and privately around the world. We now enjoy the ability to have public festivals, stores, books, and classes. Witches have the same rights as Christian organizations, including church status, non-profit organization or tax-exempt status, as well as the ability to ordain their clergy to perform Handfastings (marriage) and Sainings (baptism).

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