woensdag 1 januari 2020

Wheel of the Year/Sabbat,Witches'/Witch/Witchcraft

Wheel of the Year
The Wheel of the Year is an annual cycle of seasonal festivals in contemporary Paganism. It consists primarily of eight festivals based around the solstices and equinoxes, known as the quarter days, and the midpoints between, known as the cross quarter days.
Within Paganism, many festivals are celebrated. They can vary considerably in name and date amongst specific traditions, however the eight festivals of the Wheel comprise the most adhered and important annual celebrations. They are a unifying feature of modern Paganism. The Wheel has been important to many people, both ancient and modern, and its festivals are based to varying degrees on folk tradition.[1]
The festivals are also referred to as sabbats /ˈsæbət/, the term being explained as passed down from the Middle Ages, when the terminology for Jewish Shabbats was commingled with that of other heretical celebrations.

The festivals

In Pagan cosmology, all things are considered to be cyclical — including the year. It is understood as a perpetual cycle of growth and retreat tied to the Sun's annual death and rebirth. This cycle is also viewed as a micro- and macrocosm of other life cycles in an immeasurable series of cycles composing the Universe. The days that fall on the landmarks of the yearly cycle traditionally mark the beginnings and middles of the four seasons. They are regarded with significance and host to major communal festivals. These eight festivals are the most common times for community celebrations.
While the major festivals are determined by quarter and cross-quarter days, many minor festivals are also celebrated throughout the year amongst various traditions. Additionally, festivals (major or minor) may not enjoy the same level of significance from one tradition to another.
The festivals, being tied to solar movements, have always been steeped in solar mythology and symbolism, centred around the life cycles of the sun. Similarly, the esbats are traditionally tied to the lunar cycles. Together, they represent the most common and important celebrations in modern Paganism, especially in Witchcraft.

Midwinter/Winter Solstice/Yule

The most universally celebrated festival is that of Midwinter. It has been recognized as a significant turning point in the yearly cycle since the late Stone Age. The ancient megalithic sites of Newgrange and Stonehenge, carefully aligned with the solstice sunrise and sunset, exemplify this. The reversal of the Sun's ebbing presence in the sky symbolizes the rebirth of the solar god and presages the return of fertile seasons. From Germanic to Roman tradition, this is the most important time of celebration.
Practices vary, but sacrifices, feasting, and gift giving are common elements of Midwinter festivities. Bringing sprigs and wreaths of evergreenery (such as holly, ivy, mistletoe, yew, and pine) into the home and tree decorating are also common during this time.
This liminal festival marks the last month of the old year and the first month of the new year and is followed by eleven days of extended celebration in Germanic tradition. In Roman tradition additional festivities take place during the six days leading up to Midwinter. The celebration of Christmas during approximately the same time is the result of early Christianity's adaptations of popular pre-Christian festivals concerning the winter solstice.


As the first cross-quarter day following Midwinter, this traditionally marks winter's end and spring's start. It is time for purification and spring cleaning in anticipation of the year's new life. It was historically a shepherd's holiday and among Celts associated with the onset of ewes' lactation, prior to birthing the spring lambs.
The festival is strongly associated with Brigid, daughter of The Dagda and one of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
Among Reclaiming tradition Witches, this is the traditional time for pledges and rededications for the coming year and for initiation among Dianic Wiccans.

Vernal equinox/Ostara/Spring Equinox

The vernal equinox, often called Ostara, inaugurates the new year on the Zodiacal calendar. From this point the day overcomes the night. It is widely recognized by many mythologies as the time of rebirth or return for vegetation gods (e.g. Attis) and is celebrated as a time of great fertility.
Egg decorating is a very common tradition in vernal celebration throughout Europe.
The holiday is strongly associated with fertility goddess Ostara (the eastern star). She is notably associated with the fecund symbols of the hare and egg. Her teutonic name may be etymological ancestor of the words east and Easter.

Beltane/Walpurgis Night/Floralia/May Eve

Traditionally the first day of summer, the earliest celebrations appeared in pre-Christian times with the festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, and the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the Germanic countries. It is also strongly associated with the Gaelic Beltane (bright fire).
Since the Christianization of Europe, a more secular version of the festival has continued in Europe and America. In this form, it is well known for maypole dancing and the crowning of the Queen of the May.

Midsummer/Summer solstice/Litha

Midsummer is one of the four solar holidays, and is considered the turning point at which summer reaches its height and the sun shines longest. Among the Wiccan sabbats, Midsummer is preceded by Beltane, and followed by Lammas or Lughnasadh.
Some traditions call the festival Litha, a name occurring in Bede's Reckoning of Time (De Temporum Ratione, 7th century), which preserves a list of the (then-obsolete) Anglo-Saxon names for the twelve months. Ærra Liða (first or preceding Liða) roughly corresponds to June in the Gregorian calendar, and Æfterra Liða (following Liða) to July. Bede writes that "Litha means gentle or navigable, because in both these months the calm breezes are gentle and they were wont to sail upon the smooth sea".

Lammas/Lughnasadh/August Eve

Lammas or Lughnasadh (/ˈluːnæsə/ LOO-nas-ə) is the first of the three Pagan autumn harvest festivals, the other two being the autumnal equinox (or Mabon) and Samhain. Wiccans mark the holiday by baking a figure of the god in bread and eating it, to symbolize the sanctity and importance of the harvest. Celebrations vary, as not all Pagans are Wiccans. The Celtic name Lughnasadh is used in some traditions to designate this holiday. Wiccan celebrations of this holiday are neither generally based on Celtic culture nor centered on the Celtic deity Lugh. This name seems to have been a late adoption among Wiccans. In early versions of Wiccan literature the festival is referred to as August Eve.
The name Lammas (contraction of loaf mass) implies it is an agrarian-based festival and feast of thanksgiving for grain and bread, which symbolizes the first fruits of the harvest. Pagan rituals may incorporate elements from either festival.

Autumnal equinox/Mabon/Fall Equinox

The holiday of the autumnal equinox, Harvest Home, Mabon, the Feast of the Ingathering, Meán Fómhair or Alban Elfed (in Neo-Druidic traditions), is a Pagan ritual of thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth and a recognition of the need to share them to secure the blessings of the Goddess and the God during the coming winter months. The name Mabon was coined by Aidan Kelly around 1970 as a reference to Mabon ap Modron, a character from Welsh mythology. Among the sabbats, it is the second of the three Pagan harvest festivals, preceded by Lammas / Lughnasadh and followed by Samhain.

Samhain/Hallows/November Eve

Samhain (/ˈsɑːwɪn/ SOW-in) is considered by Wiccans to be one of the four Greater Sabbats. Samhain is considered by some as a time to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on, and it often involves paying respect to ancestors, family members, elders of the faith, friends, pets, and other loved ones who have died. In some rituals the spirits of the departed are invited to attend the festivities. It is seen as a festival of darkness, which is balanced at the opposite point of the wheel by the festival of Beltane, which is celebrated as a festival of light and fertility.
Wiccans believe that at Samhain the veil between this world and the afterlife is at its thinnest point of the whole year, making it easier to communicate with those who have left this world.

Minor festivals

In addition to the eight major holidays common to most modern Pagans, there are a number of minor holidays during the year to commemorate various events.
The minor holidays common in contemporary Germanic Paganism:
Vali's Blot, celebration dedicated to the god Váli and to love — 14 February
Feast of the Einherjar, celebration to honor kin who died in battle — 11 November
Ancestors' Blot, celebration of one's own ancestry or the common ancestors of a Germanic ethnicity — 11 November
Yggdrasil Day, celebration of the world tree Yggdrasil, of the reality world it represents, of trees and nature — 22 April
Winterfinding, celebration which marks the beginning of winter, held on a date between Haustblot and Winternights (mid-October)
Summerfinding, celebration which marks the beginning of summer, held on a date between Ostara and Walpurgisnight (mid-April)

Dates of celebration

The precise dates on which festivals are celebrated are often flexible. Dates may be on the days of the quarter and cross-quarter days proper, the nearest full moon, the nearest new moon, or the nearest weekend for secular convenience. The festivals were originally celebrated by peoples in the middle latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. Consequently, the traditional times for seasonal celebrations do not agree with the seasons in the Southern Hemisphere or near the equator. Pagans in the Southern Hemisphere often advance these dates by six months to coincide with their own seasons.


Celebration commonly takes place outdoors in the form of a communal gathering.


Offerings of food, drink, various objects, the lives of animals, etc. have been central in ritual propitiation and veneration for millennia. The most notorious of these, ritual slaughter and sacrificing of animals has historically been common in any major settings that allowed for it, as blood sacrifices were known to be the most potent of all offerings. However, its use has always been tenuous and modern Pagan practice strongly avoids sacrificing animals in favour of grains, herbs, milk, wines, incense, baked goods, minerals, etc. The exception being with ritual feasts including meat, where the inedible parts of the animal are often burned as offerings while the community eats the rest.
Sacrifices are typically offered to gods and ancestors by burning them. Burying and leaving offerings in the open are also common in certain circumstances. The purpose of offering is to benefit the venerated, show gratitude, and give something back, strengthening the bonds between humans and divine and between members of a community.


The contemporary Wheel of the Year is somewhat of a modern innovation. While many historical pagan traditions celebrated various equinoxes, solstices, and even cross-quarter days for their seasonal and agricultural significances, none were known to have held all eight above all other annual, sacred times. The modern understanding of the Wheel is a result of the cross-cultural awareness that began developing by the time of Modern Europe.
Mid-20th century British Paganism had a strong influence on early adoption of an eightfold Wheel. By the late 1950s, the Wiccan Bricket Wood Coven and Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids had both adopted eightfold ritual calendars, for balance and more frequent celebrations. This also had the benefit of more closely aligning celebration between the two influential Pagan orders.
Due to early Wicca's influence on Paganism and their syncretic adoption of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic motifs, the most commonly used English festival names for the Wheel of the Year tend to be Celtic and Germanic.
The American Ásatrú movement has adopted, over time, a calendar in which the Heathen major holidays figure alongside many Days of Remembrance which celebrate heroes of the Edda and the Sagas, figures of Germanic history, and the Viking Leif Ericson, who explored and settled Vinland (North America). These festivals are not, however, as evenly distributed throughout the year as in Wicca and other Heathen denominations.


Modern Wicca and Neo-druidism

In Wicca, the narrative of the Wheel of the Year traditionally centres on the sacred marriage of the God and the Goddess and the god/goddess duality. In this cycle, the God is perpetually born from the Goddess at Yule, grows in power at the vernal equinox (as does the Goddess, now in her maiden aspect), courts and impregnates the Goddess at Beltane, reaches his peak at the summer solstice, wanes in power at Lammas, passes into the underworld at Samhain (taking with him the fertility of the Goddess/Earth, who is now in her crone aspect) until he is once again born from Her mother/crone aspect at Yule. The Goddess, in turn, ages and rejuvenates endlessly with the seasons, being courted by and giving birth to the Horned God.
Many Wiccan, Neo-Druid, and eclectic Neopagans incorporate a narrative of the Oak King and the Holly King as rulers of the waxing year and the waning year respectively. These two figures battle endlessly with the turning of the seasons. At the summer solstice, the Holly King defeates the Oak King and commences his reign. After the Autumn equinox the Oak King slowly begins to regain his power as the sun begins to wane. Come the winter solstice the Oak King in turn vanquishes the Holly King. After the spring equinox the sun begins to wax again and the Holly King slowly regains his strength until he once again defeats the Oak King at the summer solstice. The two are ultimately seen as essential parts of a whole, light and dark aspects of the male God, and would not exist without each other.
The Holly King is often portrayed as a woodsy figure, similar to the modern Santa Claus, dressed in red with sprigs of holly in his hair and the Oak King as a fertility god.


Midwinter/Winter Solstice/Yule


Norse solstitial festival, the season of the sun's rebirth, assimilated to
Christmas in the Middle Ages, along with its pagan trappings: holly, ivy,
pine boughs, lighted trees, wassail bowls, suckling pigs, Yule logs,
carols, gifts, and feasting.
Some said the god of Yule was Kris Kringle, i.e., a Christ of the
Orb, a new solar king. But most northern folk remembered the
reborn god as Frey. They said, "Yule is celebrated in honor of Frey." 1
In France it was celebrated in honor of another phallic god, like
Cernunnos, whose phallus was identified with the festive log, called
the Noel Log. Provençal folk songs mention the fertility magic of the

Noel Log, the ashes of which were traditionally mixed with cows'
fodder to help them calve.2


For its first three centuries, the Christian church knew no birthday
for its savior. During the 4th century there was much argument about
adoption of a date. Some favored the popular date of the Koreion,
when the divine Virgin gave birth to the new Aeon in Alexandria. 1 Now
called Twelfth Night or Epiphany, this date is still the official nativity
in Armenian churches, and celebrated with more pomp than Christmas
by the Greek Orthodox. 2
Roman churchmen tended to favor the Mithraic winter-solstice
festival called Dies Natalis Solis Invictus, Birthday of the Unconquered
Sun. 3 Blended with the Greek sun-festival of the Helia by the
emperor Aurelian, this December 25 nativity also honored such gods
as Attis, Dionysus, Osiris, Syrian Baal, and other versions of the solar
Son of Man who bore such titles as Light of the World, Sun of
Righteousness, and Savior.4 Most pagan Mysteries celebrated the birth
of the Divine Child at the winter solstice. Norsemen celebrated the
birthday of their Lord, Frey, at the nadir of the sun in the darkest days of
winter, known to them as Yule. The night of birth, Christmas Eve,
was called Modranect, Latin matrum noctem, the Night of the Mother-
originally a greater festival than Christmas Day.5
Early in the 4th century the Roman church adopted December 25
because the people were used to calling it a god's birthday. But
eastern churches refused to honor it until 375 A.D.6 The fiction that
some record existed in the land of Jesus's alleged birth certainly could
not be upheld, for the church of Jerusalem continued to ignore the
official date until the 7th century.7
Trappings such as Yule logs, gifts, lights, mistletoe, holly, carols,
feasts, and processions were altogether pagan. They were drawn from
worship of the Goddess as mother of the Divine Child. Christmas trees
evolved from the pinea silva, pine groves attached to temples of the
Great Mother. On the night before a holy day, Roman priests called
dendrophori or "tree-bearers" cut one of the sacred pines, decorated
it, and carried it into the temple to receive the effigy of Attis.8 Figures
and fetishes attached to such trees in later centuries seem to have
represented a whole pantheon of pagan deities on the World Tree.
Christmas celebrations remained so obviously pagan over the years
that many churchmen bitterly denounced their "carnal pomp and
jollity." Polydor Virgil said: "Dancing, masques, mummeries, stageplays,
and other such Christmas disorders now in use with Christians,
were derived from these Roman Saturnalian and Bacchanalian festivals;
which should cause all pious Christians eternally to abominate
them." 9 Puritans in 17th-century Massachusetts tried to ban Christmas
altogether because of its overt heathenism. 10 Inevitably, the attempt
A curious mistake in the Christmas mystery play of the Towneley
cycle shows a Great Mother image not fully assimilated to that of
Mary. Before their attention was arrested by the annunciatory angel,
idly chatting shepherds complained of their cruel overlords, and
prayed "Our Lady" to curse them. 11 Considering that they were not
acquainted with the Mother of Christ, a rather different "Lady" must
have been intended.
Among many other superstitions connected with Christmas were
some that were typical of pagan holy days, such as the belief that
animals could speak human words at midnight on Christmas Eve, or
that divinatory voices could be heard at crossroads at the same time. 12
Also at midnight on Christmas Eve, water in wells and springs was
supposed to turn into blood, or its sacramental equivalent, wine. The
miracle was not to be verified, however; for all who witnessed it would
die within the year.13


"Night of the Mother," Old Saxon term for Christmas Eve, the
traditional pagan winter-solstice festival, when the sun god was reborn
from the Great Goddess. 1 Mary replaced the pagan Mother, but the
Christmas Eve rituals remained much the same. See Christmas.



Because it fell forty days after Christmas, Candlemas became the
Festival of the Purification of the Virgin according to the JudeaChristian
rule that women must be "purified" forty days after
childbirth, an event which the patriarchs claimed rendered a mother
ritually unclean. The Bible specifies forty days of impurity following
the birth of a son, and eighty days following the birth of a daughter,
since females were supposed to be twice as unclean as males
(Leviticus 12:2- 5). The Christian God also considered new mothers
unclean, and would not allow a woman to enter a church until the
proper time had elapsed after her delivery. Her ritual purification was
known as "churching."
The Council ofTrullus once tried to abolish the festival of
Candlemas, on the ground that in giving birth to Christ, the Virgin
"suffered no pollution, and therefore needed no purification."
But Candlemas was not originally a Christian festival. To Roman
pagans, it was the day honoring Juno Februata as the virgin mother
of Mars. Like the Lupercalia two weeks later, the day commemorated
the Goddess who engendered the "fever" (febris) oflove. 1 Christian
authorities said the pagan people went about Rome with "candles
burning in worship of this woman Februa." Pope Sergius renamed
the holy day "to undo this foul use and custom, and turn it onto God's
worship and our Lady's ... so that now this feast is solemnly hallowed
through all Christendom." 2 Still, Candlemas was properly
considered sacred to women and to the Goddess of Love. 3 Among
Celtic pagans it was the Feast of Imbolg, which stood opposite the great
festival of Lammas in the old sacred year.
Omens were taken on Candlemas Day for the new growing
season, especially its weather. Therefore animals were said to come
out of hibernation to provide helpful predictions for the end of winter;
which is why it is now Groundhog Day. An old rhyme said, "If
Candlemas Day be fair and bright, Winter will have another flight; If
Candlemas Day be shower and rain, Winter is gone and will not
come again." 4

Brigit, Saint

Triple Goddess of the great Celtic empire of Brigantia, which
included parts of Spain, France, and the British Isles. Before she was a
saint, she was a typical feminine trinity. Brigit ruled; her two sisters
governed the arts of healing and smith craft. Cormac's Glossary called
her "Brigit the female sage .... Brigit the goddess, whom poets
adored, because her protecting care over them was veiy great and very
famous." 1
Dr. MacCulloch said Brigit "originated in a period when the Celts
worshipped goddesses rather than gods, and when knowledgeleechcraft,
agriculture, inspiration-were [sic] women's rather than
men's. She had a female priesthood and men were perhaps excluded
from her cult, as the tabooed shrine at Kildare suggests." 2 Brigit' s
priestesses at Kildare kept an ever-burning sacred fire like that of the
temple of Vesta in Rome. They called the three personae of Brigit the
"Three Blessed Ladies of Britain" or the "Three Mothers," and
always identified them with the moon.3
The number of Brigit' s priestesses at Kildare was 19, representing
the 19-year cycle of the Celtic "Great Year." Greeks said the sun god
of the north, whom they called Hyperborean Apollo, visited the northern
"temple of the moon goddess" once every 19 years, a mythic
expression of the coincidence of solar and lunar calendars.4 In reality the
period of coincidence was 18.61 years, which meant the smallest
regular unit to give a "mating" of sun and moon was 56 years, two
cycles of 19 and one of 18. This astronomical data was well known to
the builders of Stonehenge, who marked the span of Great Years with
posts around their circle.s
Brigit was older than Celtic Ireland, having come with Gaelic
Celts from their original home in Galatia. One of her earliest shrines
was Brigeto in Illyricum.6 Long before the Christian era, the Goddess
of the Brigantes was said to be the same as Juno Regina, Queen of
Heaven, and Tanit, the Dea Celestis (Heavenly Goddess).7
Finding the cult of Brigit impossible to eradicate, the Catholic
church rather unwisely canonized her as a saint, calling her Bridget
or Bride. Hagiographers declared she was a nun who founded a convent
at Kildare. But the convent was noted for its heathenish miracles and
evidences of fertility magic. Cows never went dry; flowers and shamrocks
sprang up in Brigit's footprints; eternal spring reigned in her
bower. Irish writers refused to reduce their Goddess to mere sainthood,
and insisted that she was Queen of Heaven, which meant identifying
her with Mary. She was called "Mother of my Sovereign, Mary of the
Goidels, Queen of the South, Prophetess of Christ, Mother of
Jesus." 8
An Irish charm against the evil eye suggested collusion between
the pagan and Christian heavenly-mother figures; it was "the Spell
the great white Mary sent to Bride the lovely fair." 9 She was also the
mystic mother-bride of St. Patrick, supposed to have died as one of
her sacrificial victims, and entered the underworld via her sacred grove
at Derry Down. An old distich said, "On the hill of Down, buried in
one tomb, were Bridget and Patricius." 10 Since Patrick's name meant
"father," and he was as apocryphal as other Irish saints, he may have
been a new name for Brigit's old consort the Dagda or "father."
Three churches of "St. Brigit" occupied her Triple-Goddess
territory of Hy Many, formerly Emania or Emain Macha, country of
the Moon. Baptismal fees of those churches belonged to the O'Kelly
tribes, descended from the Goddess's kelles or sacred harlots. Her
original female trinity was semi-Christianized as a "Wonder-working
Triad" consisting of Brigit, Patrick, and Columba: the Mother, the
Father, and the Holy Dove. St. Brigit's feast day was the first of
February, the first day of spring according to the pagan calendar. It
was called Oimelc, Imolg, or Imbulc, the day of union between God
and Goddess. 11
The same day was celebrated in Rome as the Lupercalia, sacred to
Venus and to women gene~ally. With unconscious irony, the church
transformed it into the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, also called
Candlemas, which kept much of its pagan symbolism and was
regarded as a major festival of witches.12
Like other versions of the Celtic Goddess, Brigit was a teacher of
the martial arts, and a patron of warfare or briga. Her soldiers were
brigands, or as Christians called them, outlaws. 13 Robin Hood's merry
men were outlaws of the same kind; so were Kali' s Thugs and the
"Assassins" who worshipped the Arabian Moon-goddess.
Brigit was canonized more than once. Besides the Irish Brigit there
was a St. Bridget of Sweden, foundress and supreme ruler of a double
monastery ofboth sexes, the Order of Brigantines. (See Convent.) A
branch of the ancient "colleges" of Brigit was a Brigantine House of
Sion established in 1420 on the bank of the Thames, where it flourished
untill589 as a center of education for ladies of noble birth. 14

Vernal equinox/Ostara/Spring Equinox


Springtime sacrificial festival named for the Saxon Goddess Eostre,
or Ostara, a northern form of Astarte. Her sacred month was Eastremonath,
the Moon of Eostre.1
Saxon poets apparently knew Eostre was the same Goddess as
India's Great Mother Kali. Beowulf spoke of "Ganges' waters, whose
flood waves ride down into an unknown sea near Eostre's far home." 2
The Easter Bunny was older than Christianity; it was the Moonhare
sacred to the Goddess in both eastern and western nations.
Recalling the myths of Hathor-Astarte who laid the Golden Egg of the
sun, Germans used to say the hare would lay eggs for good children
on Easter Eve.3 (See Cat.)
Like all the church's "movable feasts," Easter shows its pagan
origin in a dating system based on the old lunar calendar. It is fixed as
the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox,
formerly the "pregnant" phase of Eostre passing into the fertile
season. The Christian festival wasn't called Easter until the Goddess's
name was given to it in the late Middle Ages.4 (See Menstrual
The Irish kept Easter on a different date from that of the Roman
church, probably the original date of the festival of Eostre, until the
Roman calendar was imposed on them in 632 A.D. Nevertheless, the
Columban foundation and their colonies in Britain kept the old date
for another fifty years.5
The Persians began their solar New Year at the spring equinox,
and up to the middle of the 18th century they still followed the old
custom of presenting each other with colored eggs on the occasion.6
Eggs were always symbols of rebirth, which is why Easter eggs were
usually colored red-the life-color-especially in eastern Europe. Russians
used to lay red Easter eggs on graves to serve as resurrection
charms.7 In Bohemia, Christ was duly honored on Easter Sunday and
his pagan rival on Eastern Monday, which was the Moon-day
opposed to the Sun-day. Village girls like ancient priestesses sacrificed
the Lord of Death and threw him into water, singing, "Death swims
in the water, spring comes to visit us, with eggs that are red, with yellow
pancakes, we carried Death out of the village, we are carrying
Summer into the village." 8
Another remnant of the pagan sacred drama was the image of the
god buried in his tomb, then withdrawn and said to live again. The
church instituted such a custom early in the Middle Ages, apparently in
hopes of a reportable miracle. A small sepulchral building having
been erected and the consecrated host placed within, a priest was set to
watch it from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. Then the host was
taken out and displayed, and the congregation was told Christ was
A curious 16th-century Easter custom was known as "creeping to
the cross with eggs and apples," a significant use of the ancient
female symbols of birth and death, beginning and fruition, the opening
and closing of cycles. The Ceremonial of the Kings of England
ordered carpets to be laid in the church, for the comfort of the king,
queen, and courtiers as they crept down the aisle on hands and
knees. 10 The penitential implication of the creeping ceremony is clear
enough, but the female-symbolic foodstuffs are a bit mysterious.
Germany applied to Easter the same title formerly given to the
season of the sacred king's love-death, Hoch-Zeit, "the High Time."
In English too, Easter used to be called "the Hye-Tide." II From these
titles came the colloquial description of any festival holiday as "a high
old time."

Beltane/Walpurgis Night/Floralia/May Eve

Walpurga, Saint

Christianization of the pagan Goddess of Walpurgisnacht (May
Eve), the orgiastic festival of the springtime sacred marriage. Walpurga
was the May Queen whose cult remained so popular in Germany
that the church had to adopt her in its usual way, by a spurious
canonization. According to the canonical legend, she was an English woman
who became supreme abbess of the double monastery of
Heidenheim during the 8th century; but there were no contemporary
records of the time when this "abbess" was supposed to have lived and
In the 8th century, however, double monasteries largely perpetuated
the pagan traditions of the "colleges" of priests and priestesses
living together under a female ruler, and apparently carrying on the
ancient sex rites under a thin veil of Christian-pagan syncretism. 2
(See Convent.) The name of Walpurga's monastery means literally
"home of heathens."
The medieval church produced and sold vast quantities of an
allegedly miraculous Oil of St. Walpurga, which exuded-so it was
claimed-from the holy rock under which the saint's bones lay, and
which was highly recommended for the purpose of healing many
kinds of diseases. 3
The saint's day was transferred from May Eve to February,
possibly in an attempt to discourage the Walpurgisnacht revels; but
"witches" celebrated the original date of the marriage-festival anyway,
in honor of Walpurga. Therefore the church had to claim that May
Eve commemorated the transfer of St. Walpurga' s relics to Eichstatt so
the processions and dances and songs would seem to be associated
with the progress of a revered reliquary.4 May Eve, however, remained
a prime festival of witches throughout all Europe.


The month of Maya or Maia, the Virgin Goddess of Spring; in
northern Europe, Maj or Mai, the Maiden.1 This was the traditional
month of "wearing of the green" in honor of the Earth Mother's new
garment, and of fornicating in plowed fields to encourage the crops.
May was a "honey-moon" of sexual freedom throughout rural
Europe up to the 16th century.2 Marriage bonds were temporarily in
abeyance. The maxim that "only bad women" marry in the month of
May probably was a relic of earlier taboos on all marriages during the
month oflicense.3
Yet there were traces of a divine marriage ritual in the "May
riding," when knights and ladies rode in pairs into the wood, led by
the Queen of the May on a white horse and her male companion on a
dark one. They impersonated Frey and Freya, "the Lord" and "the
Lady" whose union made fertility magic each spring.4
May Eve was the great springtime festival of "witches," corresponding
to Halloween at the opposite pole of the year. May Eve was
known in Germany as Walpurgisnacht, in Ireland and Scotland as
Beltaine or Baltein, when the god Baal, Bel, or Balder was burned in
effigy. Sometimes a man chosen by lot represented him, and leaped
through the May fires still called "Balder's balefires" in rural Scandi
navia. 5 Clearly, these were customs dating back to real burning of the
man who represented the god in his love-death (Liebestod).
The May King of medieval romance inherited the customs of
Diana's sacred kings. He won the "queen of a magic wood" (the
Goddess) by combat with her previous king on the festival of Ascension
Day in May. Le Chevalier de la Charrette named him Meleagant,
prince of the land of no return (he was a Lord of Death). Le Marte
di!rthur corrupted his name to "Mellyagaunce," a lascivious May
King who became the ritual lover of Queen Guinevere and led the
sexual games of May Day.6 A 15th-century poet identified the same
May King with Christ, who was like the Holy Rose of May: "the red
flower that Mary bore." 7
The god's phallus was planted in the earth's womb in the guise of
the Maypole, which was not originally European but a direct borrowing
from India where the Maypole is still "the great lingam." 9 In
16th-century England its phallic symbolism was understood perfectly
well, as shown by the diatribe of the Puritan writer Philip Stubbes:
Young men and maids, old men and wives, run gadding overnight to the
woods, groves, hills, and mountains, where they spend all night in
pleasant pastimes; and in the morning they return, bringing with them
birch and branches of trees, to deck their assemblies withal. And no
marvel, for there is a great Lord present amongst them, as superintendent
and Lord over their pastimes and sports; namely, Satan, prince of hell.
But the chiefest jewel they bring from thence is their May-pole, which
they bring home with great veneration, as thus. They have twenty or
forty yoke of oxen, every ox having a sweet nose-gay of flowers placed on
the tip of his horns, and these oxen draw home this May-pole (this
stinking idol, rather) which is covered all over with flowers and herbs,
bound round about with strings, from the top to the bottom, and
sometimes painted with variable colors, with two or three hundred men,
women and children following it with great devotion. And this being
reared up, with handkerchiefs and flags hovering on the top, they strew
the ground round about, bind green boughs about it, set up summer
halls, bowers, and arbors hard by it. And then fall they to dance about it,
like as the heathen people did at the dedication of Idols, whereof this is
a perfect pattern, or rather the thing itself 10
Young men and maids went into the woods, and few returned
home "undefiled," as the observer said. According to Spelman, the
rustic fellows and their girl friends fell "into ditches upon one
another," for the odd reason that they were "enveloped with a mist of
wandering out of their ways." Douce had no doubt of the festival's
pagan origin: "The Queen of the May is the legitimate representative of
the Goddess Flora in the Roman Festival." 11 Stuckeley described
May celebrations in 1724:
There is a May Pole near Horn Castle, Lincolnshire, where probably
stood an Hermes {herm, phallic pillar) in Roman times. The boys
annually keep up the festival of the Floralia on May Day, making a
procession to this hill with May gads (as they call them) in their hands.
This is a white w1llow wand, the bark peeled off, tied round with cowslips,
a thyrsus of the Bacchanals. At night they have a bone/ire, and other
merriment, which is really a sacrifice, a religious festival.12
Naturally the church was opposed to this religious festival.
Bishop Eligius of Noyons begged his converts in the 7th century to stop
observing the sexual rites of May-without success.13 A thousand
years later the month was still given over to "witches." Church bells in
17-century Treves were rung all night throughout the month of
May, to "protect the city from flying witches." 14
There were a few voices raised against ecclesiastical restrictions on
the activities of the Merry Month. William Fennor' s Pasquil's Palinodia
(1619) lamented the new puritanical laws against the rites of May:
When no capricious constables disturb them,
Nor justice of the peace did seek to curb them,
Nor peevish puritan, in railing sort,
Nor over-wise church-warden, spoiled the sport,
Happy the age, and harmless were the days
(For then true love and amity were found),
When every village did a Maypole raise,
And Witson-ales and May-games did abound ...
But since the Summer poles were over-thrown,
And all good sports and merriments decay'd,
How times and men are chang'd, so well is known,
It were but labor lost if more were said.
Alas, poor May Poles; what should be the cause
That you were almost banish'd from the earth?
Who never were rebellious to the laws;
Your greatest crime was harmless, honest mirth .. .
Some fiery, zealous brother, full of spleen,
That all the world in his deep wisdom scorns,
Could not endure the May-pole should be seen
To wear a cox-comb higher than his horns:
He took it for an idol, and the feast
For sacrifice unto that painted beast.15

In Scandinavia, May
was dedicated to Maj,
the Virgin, either Mary
or the pagans' Virgin
Mother, interchangeably.
In Saxon England
the month was called
Sproutkale: the sprouting
time of virginmother
Earth with her
archaic Aryan name of
Kale, Kelle, or Kali.
Another name for the
month was Tri-Milchi,
improbably derived by
the Venerable Bede
from a theory that the
Saxon cows gave milk
three times a day in
May.8 Alternatively,
it meant the Triple
Goddess's appearance
in the form of three

Green, Wearing of

Pagan springtime custom that kept its popularity in Christian Europe,
especially through the month of May. By imitative magic, wearing of
green was supposed to encourage Mother Earth to clothe herself in
the green of abundant crops. The women described as fairies in
medieval balladry always dressed in green; and their lovers, like
Thomas Rhymer, wore green in the fairy realm. Christians opposed
these pagan traditions, associating green with the dead and with
witches, developing the "familiar superstition that green is unlucky."'
Green was also linked with the sexual promiscuity, of old rituals.


Derived from "cuckoo," the bird of May, anciently sacred to the
promiscuous May-games that medieval Europe inherited from paganism.
1 The man who became a cuckoo, or cuckold, was one who
didn't care whether his wife was faithful or not, for both of them
attended the Maytime festivities when ritual promiscuity was the
rule-or fertility charm-as late as the 16th century.2 The season of
"wearing of the green" in honor of the reborn vegetation was
announced by the cuckoo's singing "from every holt and heath," as
Chaucer put it; and marriage bonds were temporarily in abeyance.
The cuckold's horns descended from another pagan sign, that of
the Horned God, sacrificed as a stag, goat, or ram at the spring feasts.
Pagan priests used to wear the horns of the sacrificed animal on their
heads; and horned masks or headdresses were commonly worn by
participants in the rite, in the god's honor. A 16th century writer
therefore described the cuckold as "cornute," that is, "as soundly
armed for the head, as either Capricorn, or the stoutest horned sign in
the Zodiac." 3 See Horns.

"Magic," title of the Virgin Kali as the creatress of earthly appearances,
i.e., all things made of matter and perceptible to the senses. She
also gave birth to the Enlightened One, Buddha.1
The same Goddess, called Maia by the Greeks, was the virgin
mother of Hermes the Enlightened One, who had as many reincarnations
as the Buddha. Sometimes Maia's partner was Volcanus (Greek
Hephaestus, the divine smith and fire-god). This was another mythic 
mating of male fire and female water. 2 Hindus said Agni the fire-god
was the consort of Kali-Maya, though he was periodically swallowed
up and "quenched" by her. According to the Tantric phrase, the
Goddess quenched a blazing lingam in her yoni. 3
As the virgin mother of Buddha, Maya embarrassed ascetic Buddhists
and was soon written out of the script. Like ascetic Christians
speaking of Christ's birth, some Buddhists claimed.the Enlightened One
could not touch his mother's "parts of shame" and so was born
through an opening in her side. This mythic Caesarian section seems to
have been bungled, for a few days later Maya died-"of joy," as
Buddhist scriptures rather fatuously put it.4
Nevertheless, Maya remained very much alive as one of Kali's
most revered manifestations, because the very fact of "Existence"-the
material cosmos-demanded her presence. As Zimmer analyzed her:
Maya-Shakti is personified as the world-protecting, feminine, maternal
side of the Ultimate Being, and as such, stands for the spontaneous,
loving acceptance of life's tangible reality . ... [S]he affirms, she is, she
represents and enjoys, the delirium of the manifested forms . ... MayaShakti
is Eve, "the Eternal Feminine," das Ewig-Weibliche: she who ate,
and tempted her consort to eat, and was herself the apple. From the
point of view of the masculine principle of the Spirit (which is in quest of
the enduring, eternally valid, and absolutely divine) she is the preeminent
enigma. 5
In herself Maya embodied all three aspects of the maternal
Trinity. Her colors were white, red, and black, the colors of the Gunas,
or the Virgin-Mother-Crone.6 Like every other form of Kali, she was
Creator, Preserver, Destroyer. She was also a spirit dwelling perpetually
in women. A Mahayana text says, "Of all the forms of Maya, woman
is the most important." 7
Maya's son Buddha was surrounded by her symbols. He entered
his trance of meditation under her sacred fig tree, which protected
him from the weather. On his return from the soul-journey, his first
symbolic act was to accept a dish of curds from a maiden on Full
Moon Day in the month of May, the greatest of Buddhist festivals.8
Not only the month but many other traditions, names, and
concepts attest to the great age and wide distribution of the Goddess
Maya. She was more than the Maia who mothered Hermes; she was
also Maga the Grandmother-goddess who bore Cu Chulainn's
mother; and the Mandaean Christians' Almaya, called "Eternity," or
"the World," or "Beings"; and Maga or Maj the May-maiden in
Scandinavia.9 Like the Hindu Maya who brought forth earthly appearances
at creation, the Scandinavian one personified the pregnant
womb of chaos before the beginning: Ginnungagap. In this the Worldvirgin
was associated with the idea of magical illusion, creating
"appearances" like her Hindu counterpart. 10
This universal Creatress-name may have reached the western
hemisphere also. The Maya people of Yucatan offered sacrifices in
the same way as in northern India, at the same seasons, determined by
the same stars. 11 Mayan "scorpion stars" were the same as the
constellation Scorpio on Hindu and Greek charts. As in India, Mayan
divine images were painted blue and Mayan woman pierced the left
nostril for insertion of a jewel. 12 Another version of the Creatress seems
to have been the Mother Goddess Mayauel of the Mexican Agave,
called "Woman with Four Hundred Breasts," with a strong resemblance
to the world-nurturing Many-Breasted Artemis and other
eastern forms of the deity who mothered all the world's creatures.

Lammas/Lughnasadh/August Eve


Saxon Hlaf-mass, the Feast of Bread, was a major summertime
festival of the Great Goddess of the grain: Ceres, Ops, Demeter-or
Juno Augusta, ruler of the harvest month of August. Lammas was
the "Eve" of this month of ripening, often classified with May Eve and
Halloween as a festival of witches, because the church didn't succeed
in eradicating its pagan significance. 1 Sometimes Lammas was identified

with the Celtic midsummer festival of Lugnasad, celebrating the
death and resurrection of Lug as grain god. Churchmen said Lammas
was one of the witches' four annual Great Sabbaths, based on the
four seasonal festivals of the pagan year.


Celtic god, son or reincarnation of the Dagda, eponymous founder of
the cities of Lyons and London-formerly Lugdunum, the stronghold
of Lug. His temple stood on Ludgate Hill.1 "Lud' s Gate" was a great
stone called Cram Cruaich, the Bloody Crescent, apparently a symbol
of the menstruating Moon-goddess to whom Lug was married in
suggestively Tantric style.z
Lug's special festival was Lammas Eve, formerly Lugnasad, "the
Games of Lug." The pagan rites of Lugnasad were kept to a very late
date at Taillten in Ireland, where the Goddess had been worshipped as a
local Earth-mother, Tailltiu. At the annual Taillten Fair, men bought
brides in a custom reminiscent of the Goddess's ancient rites of sacred
promiscuity and defloration. The hill where payments were collected
was known as the Hill of the Buying.4
Taillten was so notorious for promiscuity that any casual sexual
affair came to be known as a Taillten marriage.5 Taillten marriages
were actually legal up to the 13th century. They were supposed to last
the period specified by the old lunar calendars, a year and a day.6
Lug's curious name may have come in some remote past time
from Mesopotamia, where the title of a sacred king, the Goddess's
spouse, was Jugal. 7


Roman month of the oracular Juno Augusta. Oracles were augustae
in the semi-matriarchal "republican" period. The term was later applied
to male priests, then to emperors. An "august" man was one filled
with the spirit of the Goddess. 1 Augur, the old name for a seer, meant
"increaser," once referring to the mother-priestess.2 The first emperor
Augustus took his title from the Great Mother of the Gods,
presumed incarnate in his wife Livia Augusta. Their house stood
opposite the temple of the Great Mother, whom Augustus honored as
the national Goddess.3
Among European pagans the month of August began with one of
the Goddess's major festivals, Lammas Eve, from Hlaf-mass, "the
Feast of Bread." The secret worship of Ops, Ceres, Demeter, or Juno
Augusta continued throughout the Middle Ages in the rites addressed
to the Lammas corn-mother who ruled the harvest-month.
"For a seventeenth-century Scot to say 'he (or she) was born in
August', was to imply high praise and recognition of a 'well-skilled
person'. August, the month of the Lammas towers, the month when
the Irish dancers moved around the female effigy, was the right time for
birth. Then the Lammas moon was at work, on behalf of new
children, and the new harvest." 4
Churchmen repeatedly tried to obliterate the Goddess's connections
with her harvest month. It was officially claimed that August
had been named for St. Augustine- "prophetically" of course, since
the name had been given to the month centuries before Augustine
was born.5

Samhain/Hallows/November Eve


All Souls' or All Hallows' Day (November 1) was the Christian
version of Samhain, the Celtic feast of the dead, named for the Aryan
Lord of Death, Samana, "the Leveller," or the Grim Reaper, leader
of ancestral ghosts. According to the pagan lunar calendar, festivals were
celebrated on the "eve" rather than the day. Therefore Halloween or
All Hallows' Eve was the original festival, later displaced to the following
day. The Irish used to call the holy night the Vigil of Saman.
Churchmen described it as a night of magic charms and divinations,
reading the future with witches' mirrors and nutshell ashes, ducking
for apples in tubs of water (representing soul-symbols in the Cauldron of
Regeneration), and other objectionable rites. Even today it is said that
a girl who peels an apple before a mirror on Halloween will see the
image of her future husband in the glass.1 Christian authorities wrote
of Halloween, "Many other superstitious ceremonies, the remains of
Druidism, are observed on this holiday, which will never be eradicated
while the name of Saman is permitted to remain." 2 The name of the
pagan deity remains in the Bible as Samuel, from the Semitic
Sammael, the same underworld god.
Of course the original divinations were oracular utterances by the
ancestral dead, who came up from their tombs on Halloween,
sometimes bringing gifts to the children of their living descendants. In
Sicilian Halloween tradition, "the dead relations have become the
good fairies of the little ones." 3 Similar customs are observed at
In Lithuania, the last European country to accept Christianity, the
pagans celebrated their New Year feast at Halloween, sacrificing
domestic animals to their god Zimiennik (Samanik; Samana). Their
prayer ran, "Accept our burnt sacrifice, O Zimiennik, and kindly
partake thereof." 4 If the lord of the underworld accepted the offering on
behalf of all the dead, the spirits were satisfied and would refrain from
doing harm. If not adequately propitiated, they might descend on the
world as vengeful ghosts, led by demons and "witches" (priestesses)
who summoned them. The witches and ghosts are still associated with
Halloween, together with such soul-symbols as owls, bats, and cats.
The pagan idea used to be that crucial joints between the seasons
opened cracks in the fabric of space-time, allowing contact between
the ghostworld and the mortal one.

Sabbat, Witches'
Some derive "sabbat" from the Moorish zabat, "an occasion of
power," at which Berber descendants of north African "Amazons" still
perform sacred dances in groups of 13-the traditional number of
the witches' coven-for the 13 annual lunations.1
The European sabbat or festival was fabricated largely by judges of
the Inquisition during the 14th and 15th centuries, on a foundation
of pagan precedents. Churchmen said witches held four Great Sabbats a
year "in derision of the four annual festivals of the Church"; but the
church had copied these from the pagans in the first place. 2 They were:
(1) Candlemas Eve; (2) May Eve, or Walpurgisnacht; (3) Lammas
Eve; and (4) Halloween. Some lists included Midsummer (the Feast of
St. John) and the solstitial festival on December 21 (the Feast of St.
Details were drawn from classical descriptions of Roman fertility
festivals, such as the Bacchanalia, Saturnalia, Lupercalia, etc. At the
ancient ceremony of purification for the New Year, in the Lupercal
grotto where Lupa the She-Wolf was said to have suckled Romulus
and Remus, he-goats were sacrificed and youths were touched with the
blood; priests in raw goatskins struck women's hands with strips of
goatskin as a fertility charm; men and women exchanged clothing and
engaged in orgiastic sex. Late in the 5th century, this Lupercalia was
adopted into the Christian calendar and renamed the Feast of Purification
of the Virgin.4
Other pagan practices supposedly incorporated into the witches'
sabbat included widdershins (counterclockwise) dancing in a ring, in
honor of the Moon-goddess; wearing masks; jumping over fires; sacrificial
feasting; worshipping trees, springs, and sacred stones; and
making lewd jokes and horseplay in a carnival atmosphere. Indeed the
Carnival, or Feast of Fools, descended from pagan holidays when the
social order was temporarily reversed, and everything was done backward,
a prototype of the "reverse Christianity" of the Black Mass.
The Saturnalia was still kept by medieval Christians in this manner:
The priests of a church elected a bishop of fools, who came in full pomp,
placing himself in the episcopal seat in the choir. High mass then
began; all the ecclesiastics assisted, their faces smeared with blacking, or
covered with a hideous or ridiculous mask. During the course of the
celebration, some of them, dressed like mountebanks or in women's
clothes, danced in the middle of the choir, singing clownish or obscene
songs. Others ate sausages or puddings from the altar, played at cards or at
dice in front of the officiating priest, incensed him with the censer, or,
burning old shoes, made him breathe the smoke. 5
Such carnival clownishness was "simply the last form which the
Priapeia and Liberalia assumed in Western Europe, and in its various
details all the incidents of those great and licentious orgies of the
Romans were reproduced."6 However, certain authorities came to
perceive such revels as profoundly evil. In 1445 the Paris Faculty of
Theology called for reform, writing to the French bishops a puritanically
shocked description of pre-Lenten customs: "Priests and clerks
may be seen wearing masks and monstrous visages at the hours of office.
They dance in the choir dressed as women, panders or minstrels.
They sing wanton songs. They eat black puddings at the horn of the
altar while the celebrant is saying Mass. They play at dice there.
They cense with stinking smoke from the soles of old shoes. They run
and leap through the church, without a blush at their own shame." 7
Copies of letters like this one, drawn from the archives, surely gave
the Inquisition's judges many ideas for details of the Sabbat that they
put in the mouths of their victims, and confirmed by torture. With only
minimal imagination, a judge could reverse any ordinary church
service and accuse his victim of kissing the devil's anus (instead of the
bishop's ring), eating children's corpses and drinking menstrual blood
(instead of bread and wine), saying the prayers backward, making the
sign of the cross with the left foot instead of the right hand, addressing
subterranean deities instead of celestial ones, and so on.
Weekly sabbats were supposed to be held on Friday, once a lunar
"Eve" of the original sabbath, the day of Saturn or of Zeus Sabazius.
Friday was the day-sacred to Venus-Freya, and after sunset it was the
Jews' sabbath day, both of which made it a bad or unlucky day in
Christian opinion. Friday the 13th was especially ill-favored.


Berber name for sacred dances performed in groups of thirteen, in
connection with the magic ceremony called "an occasion of power";
possible origin of the so-called witches' "sabbat." 1


Counterclockwise, the direction of the moon, or "left-hand path" of
pagan dances (still prevalent in folk tradition). To open the door of a
fairy hill, one must walk around it three times widdershins, as Childe
Rowland did, calling, "Open door!" The same Open Sesame appears in
other ballads: "Thrice went fair Agnes the mountain round, and
entered the cave beneath the ground." 1 As sacred caves once served as
pagan temples, the medieval church forbade their use and claimed
that walking or turning one's self widdershins was an indicium of
witchcraft.2 See Left Hand.


There were many other words for witches, such as Incantatrix,
Lamia, Saga, Maga, Malefica, Sortilega, Strix, Venefica.3 In Italy a
witch was a strega or Janara, an old title of a priestess of Jana (Juno).4
English writers called witches both "hags" and "fairies," words which
were once synonymous.5 Witches had metaphoric titles: bacularia,
"stick-rider"; fascinatrix, "one with the evil eye"; herberia, "one who
gathers herbs"; strix, "screech-owl"; pixidria, "keeper of an ointment
box"; femina saga, "wise-woman"; lamia, "night-monster"; incantator,
"worker of charms"; magus, "wise-man"; sortiariae mulier, "seeress";
veneficia, "poisoner"; maliarda, "evil-doer." Latin treatises called witches
anispex, auguris, divinator, januatica, ligator, mascara, phitonissa,
Dalmatian witches were krstaca, "crossed ones," a derivative of the
Greek Christos.7 In Holland a witch was wijsseggher, "wise-sayer,"
from which came the English "wiseacre." 8 The biblical passage that
supported centuries of persecution, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to
live" (Exodus 22:18), used the Hebrew word kasaph translated "witch"
although it means a seer or diviner.9
Early medieval England had female clan-leaders who exercised
matriarchal rights in lawgiving and law enforcement; the Magna
Carta of Chester called them iudices de wich- judges who were
witches.10 Female elders once had political power among the clans,
but patriarchal religion and law gradually took it away from them and
called them witches in order to dispose of them. In 1711 Addison
observed that "When an old woman begins to doat and grow chargeable
to a Parish, she is generally turned into a witch." 11
Scot remarked that the fate of a witch might be directly proportional
to her fortune. The pope made saints out of rich witches, but poor
witches were burned.12 Among many examples tending to support this
opinion was the famous French Chambre Ardente affair, which
involved many members of the aristocracy and the upper-class clergy in
a witch cult. Numerous male and female servants were tortured and
burned for assisting their masters in working witchcraft; but in all the
four years the affair dragged on, no noble person was tortured or
Illogically enough, the authorities persecuted poor, outcast folk as
witches, yet professed to believe witches could provide themselves
with all the wealth anyone could want. Reginald Scot, a disbeliever,
scornfully observed that witches were said to "transfer their neighbors'
corn into their own ground, and yet are perpetual beggars, and
cannot enrich themselves, either with money or otherwise: who is so
foolish as to remain longer in doubt of their supernatural powers?" 14
Witchcraft brought so little profit to Helen Jenkenson of Northants,
hanged in 1612 for bewitching a child, that the record of her execution
said: "Thus ended this woman her miserable life, after she had lived
many years poor, wretched, scorned and forsaken of the world." 15
The nursery-rhyme stereotype of the witch owed much to Scot's
Women which be commonly old, lame, blear-eyed, pale, foul, and full of
wrinkles; poor, sullen, superstitious, and papists; or such as know no
religion; in whose drowsy minds the devil hath gotten a fine seat; so as,
what mischief, mischance, calamity, or slaughter is brought to pass,
they are easily persuaded the same is done by themselves. . . . They are
lean and deformed, showing melancholy in their faces, to the horror of
all that see them. They are doting, scolds, mad, devilish; and not much
differing from them that are thought to be possessed with spirits.16
Persecutors said it was heretical to consider witches harmless.
Even in England, where witches were not burned but hanged, some
authorities fearfully cited the "received opinion" that a witch's body
should be burned to ashes to prevent ill effects arising from her blood.17
Churchmen assured the arresting officers that a witch's power was
lost the instant she was touched by an employee of the Inquisition; but
the employees themselves were not so sure.18
Numerous stories depict the persecutors' fear of their victims. It
was said in the Black Forest that a witch blew in her executioner's
face, promising him his reward; the next day he was afflicted with a fatal
leprosy. Inquisitors' handbooks directed them to wear at all times a
bag of salt consecrated on Palm Sunday; to avoid looking in a witch's
eyes; and to cross themselves constantly in the witches' prison. Peter
of Berne forgot this precaution, and a captive witch by enchantment
made him fall down a flight of stairs-which he proved later by
torturing her until she confirmed it.19
Any unusual ability in a woman instantly raised a charge of
witchcraft. The so-called Witch of Newbury was murdered by a
group of soldiers because she knew how to go "surfing" on the river.
Soldiers of the Earl of Essex saw her doing it, and were "as much
astonished as they could be," seeing that "to and fro she fleeted on the
board standing firm bolt upright ... turning and winding it which
way she pleased, making it pastime to her, as little thinking who
perceived her tricks, or that she did imagine that they were the last
she ever should show." Most of the soldiers were afraid to touch her,
but a few brave souls ambushed the board-rider as she came to shore,
slashed her head, beat her, and shot her, leaving her "detested carcass to
the worms." 20
From ruthlessly organized persecutions on the continent, witchhunts
in England became largely cases of village feuds and petty
spite. If crops failed, horses ran away, cattle sickened, wagons broke,
women miscarried, or butter wouldn't come in the churn, a witch
was always found to blame. Marion Cumlaquoy of Orkney was burned
in 1643 for turning herself three times widdershins, to make her
neighbor's barley crop rot. A tailor's wife was executed for quarrelling
with her neighbor, who afterward saw a snake on his property, and his
children fell sick. One witch was condemned for arguing with a
drunkard in an alehouse. After drinking himself into paroxysms of
vomiting, he accused her of bewitching him, and he was believed.21
A woman was convicted of witchcraft for having caused a neighbor's
lameness-by pulling off her stockings. Another was executed
for having admired a neighbor's baby, which afterward fell out of its
cradle and died. Two Glasgow witches were hanged for treating a
sick child, even though the treatment succeeded and the child was
cured. Joan Cason of Kent went to the gallows in 1586 for having dry
thatch on her roof. Her neighbor, whose child was sick, was told by an
unidentified traveler that the child was bewitched, and it could be
proved by stealing a bit of thatch from the witch's roof and throwing it
on the fire. If it crackled and sparked, witchcraft was assured. The test
came out positive, and the court was satisfied enough to convict poor
Witches were convenient scapegoats for doctors who failed to cure
their patients, for it was the "received" belief that witch-caused
illnesses were incurable. Weyer said, "Ignorant and clumsy physicians
blame all sicknesses which they are unable to cure or which they have
treated wrongly, on witchery." There were also priests and monks who
"claim to understand the healing art and they lie to those who seek
help that their sicknesses are derived from witchery." 23 Most real witch
persecutions reflect "no erotic orgies, no Sabbats or elaborate rituals;
merely the hatreds and spites of narrow peasant life assisted by vicious
laws." 24
Witches provided a focus for sexist hatred in male-dominated
society, as Stanton pointed out:
The spirit of the Church in its contempt for women, as shown in the
Scriptures, in Paul's epistles and the Pentateuch, the hatred of the
fathers, manifested in their ecclesiastical canons, and in the doctrines of
asceticism, celibacy, and witchcraft, destroyed man's respect for woman
and legalized the burning, drowning, and torturing of women. ...
Women and their duties became objects of hatred to the Christian
missionaries and of alternate scorn and fear to pious ascetics and
monks. The priestess mother became something impure, associated with
the devil, and her lore an infernal incantation, her very cooking a
brewing of poison, nay, her very existence a source of sin to man. Thus
woman, as mother and priestess, became woman as witch. ...
Here is the reason why in all the Biblical researches and higher
criticism, the scholars never touch the position of women.25
Men displayed a lively interest in the physical appearance of
witches, seeking to know how to recognize them-as men also craved
rules for recognizing other types of women from their physical
appearance. It was generally agreed that any woman with dissimilar eyes
was a witch. Where most people had dark eyes and swarthy complexions,
as in Spain and Italy, pale blue eyes were associated with
witchcraft. Many claimed any woman with red hair was a witch.26
This may have been because red-haired people are usually freckled,
and freckles were often identified as "witch marks," as were
moles, warts, birthmarks, pimples, pockmarks, cysts, liver spots, wens, or
any other blemish. Some witch-finders said the mark could resemble
an insect bite or an ulcer.27
No one ever explained how the witch mark differed from an
ordinary blemish. Since few bodies were unblemished, the search for
the mark seldom failed. Thomas Ady recognized this, and wrote: "Very
few people in the world are without privy marks upon their bodies, as
moles or stains, even such as witchmongers call the devil's privy
marks." 28 But no one paid attention to this.
Trials were conducted with as much injustice as possible. In 1629
Isabel Young was accused of crippling by magic a man who had
quarrelled with her, and causing a water mill to break down. She
protested that the man was lame before their quarrel, and water mills
can break down through neglect. The prosecutor, Sir Thomas Hope,
threw out her defense on the ground that it was "contrary to the
libel," that is, it contradicted the charge.29 When a witch is on trial, Scot
said, any "equivocal or doubtful answer is taken for a confession." 30
On the other hand, no answer at all was a confession too.
Witches who refused to speak were condemned: "Witchcraft proved by
silence of the accused." 31 Sometimes mere playfulness "proved"
witchcraft, as in the case of Mary Spencer, accused in 1634 because she
merrily set her bucket rolling downhill and ran before it, calling it to
follow her.32 Sometimes women were stigmatized as witches when they
were in fact victims of unfair laws, such as the law that accepted any
man's word in court ahead of any number of women's. A butcher in
Germany stole some silver vessels from women, then had them
prosecuted for witchcraft by claiming that he found the vessels in the
woods where the women were attending a witches' sabbat.33
Sometimes the accusation of witchcraft was a form of punishment
for women who were too vocal about their disillusionment with men
and their preference for living alone. Historical literature has many
references to "the joy with which women after widowhood set up
their own households, and to the vigor with which they resisted being
courted by amorous widowers." 34 The-solitary life, however, left a
woman even more vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft, since men
usually thought she must be somehow controlled.
Those who tortured the unfortunate defendant into admitting
witchcraft used a euphemistic language that showed the victim was
condemned a priori. One Anne Marie de Georgel denied making a
devil's pact, until by torture she was "justly forced to give an account
of herself," the record said. Catherine Delort was "forced to confess by
the means we have power to use to make people speak the truth,"
and she was "convicted of all the crimes we suspected her of committing,
although she protested her innocence for a long time." The
inquisitor Nicholas Remy professed a pious astonishment at the great
number of witches who expressed a "positive desire for death,"
pretending not to notice that they had been brought to this desire by
innumerable savage tortures.35 See Torture.
The extent to which pagan religion, as such, actually survived
among the witches of the 16th and 17th centuries has been much
discussed but never decided. Dean Church said, "Society was a long
time unlearning heathenism; it has not done so yet; but it had hardly
begun, at any rate it was only just beginning, to imagine the possibility
of such a thing in the eleventh century." In 15th-century Bohemia it
was still common practice at Christmas and other holidays to make
offerings to "the gods," rather than to God.36 European villages still
had many "wise-women" who acted as priestesses officially or unofficially.
Since church fathers declared Christian priestesses
unthinkable, all functions of the priestess were associated with paganism.37
Bishops described pagan gatherings in their dioceses, attended
by "devils ... in the form of men and women." 38 Pagan ceremonies
were allowed to survive in weddings, folk festivals, seasonal rites,
feasts of the dead, and so on.39 But when women or Goddesses played
the leading role in such ceremonies, there was more determined
suppression. John of Salisbury wrote that it was the devil, "with God's
permission," who sent people to gatherings in honor of the Queen of
the Night, a priestess impersonating the Moon-goddess under the name
of Noctiluca or Herodiade.40
The Catholic church applied the word "witch" to any woman who
criticized church policies. Women allied with the 14th-century
Reforming Franciscans, some of whom were burned for heresy, were
described as witches, daughters of Judas, and instigated of the Devil.41
Writers of the Talmud similarly tended to view nearly all women as
witches. They said things like, "Women are naturally inclined to
witchcraft," and "The more women there are, the more witchcraft
there will be." 42
Probably there were few sincere practitioners, compared with the
multitudes who were railroaded into the ecclesiastical courts and
legally murdered despite their innocence. Yet it was obvious to even the
moderately intelligent that Christian society deliberately humiliated
and discriminated against women. Some may have been resentful
enough to become defiant. "Women have had no voice in the canon
law, the catechisms, the church creeds and discipline, and why should
they obey the behests of a strictly masculine religion, that places the
sex at a disadvantage in all life's emergencies?" 43 Possibilities for
expressing their frustration and defiance were severely limited; but
voluntary adoption of the witch's reputation and behavior was surely
among such possibilities.
Marginal notes:
Skeat's Etymological
Dictionary derived
"witch" from medieval
English wicche,
formerly Anglo-Saxon
wicca, masculine, or
wicce, feminine: a
corruption of witga,
short form of witega,
a seer or diviner; from
Anglo-Saxon witan,
to see, to know. Similarly,
Icelandic vitki, a
witch, came from vita,
to know; or vizkr,
clever or knowing one.
Wizard came from
Norman French wischard,
Old French
guiscart, sagacious one. 1
The surname Whittaker
came from
Witakarlege, a wizard
or a witch.2 The
words "wit" and
"wisdom" came from
the same roots.


Artemisia absinthium, wormwood, was sacred to the Great Mother.
Trevisa wrote in 1398: "Artemisia is called mother of herbs, and was
sometime hallowed to the goddess that hight [is named] Artemis." 1
In Russia, wormwood or absinth was called an "accursed herb" because
it was sacred to the pagan nymphs (Vilas); but it had also protective
Wormwood was a corruption of Old English wermoci "spiritmother,"
which became German Wermut, French vermouth.
Absinthe was first prepared by French witches from artemisia, and
became a commercial product in the 18th century, though it proved
very dangerous. Wormwood is a habit-forming drug that can destroy
brain cells and cause delirium; furthermore, commercial absinthe was
68% alcohol by volume.3 During the 19th century, the French government
outlawed its production.4


Medieval totems of witches were frogs because ancient traditions
associated the frog with Hecate-Egypt's Hekat, Queen of the Heavenly
midwives. Egyptians made the frog a symbol of the fetus. Hekat's
sacred Amulet of the Frog bore the words, "I Am the Resurrection,"
another phrase of birth-magic copied by early Christians.1
In Rome, the frog was sacred to Venus, of whom Hecate was one
aspect. Her triple yoni sometimes was shown as a fleur-de-lis composed
of three frogs.2 To this day, a garment closure of cord shaped like
a fleur-de-lis is called a "frog." Tailors' folklore said every garment
should have exactly nine frogs, which might be traced all the way back
to Babylonian cylinder seals showing nine frogs as a fertility charm:
the Ninefold Goddess ruling the nine months of gestation.3


Aztec Goddess resembling the medieval Hecate as Queen of Witches.
Her symbol was a broomstick; she was also associated with the moon,
the snake, and the screech owl. Her sabbats were held at crossroads.
Her sacred women were Ciuateteo, "right honorable mothers," or
Ciuapipiltin, "princesses." Sahagun said they were the ghosts of
women who died in childbirth. 'They were supposed to wander
through the air, descending when they wished to earth .... They
haunted cross-;oads to practice their maleficent deeds, and they had
temples built at these places where bread offerings were made to
them, also the thunder stones which fall from the sky." 1 In other words,
in Mexico as in Europe, the missionary clergy were at pains to
diabolize the Mother-deities.


Early in the Middle Ages, almost anything women did could be
described as witchcraft because their daily lives invoked the Goddess
with a thousand small ceremonies as well as the larger ones connected
with major holidays. Martin of Braga said women must be
condemned for "decorating tables, wearing laurels, taking omens
from footsteps, putting fruit and wine on the log in the hearth, and
bread in the well, what are these but worship of the devil? For
women to call upon Minerva when they spin, and to observe the day of
Venus at weddings and to call upon her whenever they go out upon
the public highway, what is that but worship of the devil?" 1
Outside the official religion, where they were kept, women passed
down their private family recipes and charms, curses and blessings,
telling traditional tales of the past and foretelling the future from omens
and "signs." The Dominican Johann Herolt declared: "Most women
belie their catholic faith with charms and spells, after the fashion of Eve
their first mother, who believed the devil speaking through the
serpent rather than God himself. ... [A)ny woman by herself knows
more of such superstitions and charms than a hundred men." 2
Up to the 15th century, women's "charms and spells" were
virtually the only repository of practical medicine. Churchmen avoided
doctoring, on the ground that all sickness came from demonic
possession, and the only permissible cure was exorcism. 3
Europe's traditional witch doctors were women: clan mothers,
priestesses of healing shrines, midwives, nurses, vilas. In pre-Christian
Gaul and Scandinavia, medicine was entirely in the hands of women.'1
Even in the Christian era, the village wise-woman was still every
peasant's family doctor. Paracelsus said witches taught him everything
he knew about healing. 5 Dr. Lambe, the Duke of Buckingham's
famous "devil," was said to have learned secrets of medicine by
consorting with witches.6
In 1570 the gaoler of Canterbury Castle released a condemned
witch, citing the popular opinion that she did more good for the sick
with her homely remedies than all the priests' prayers and exorcisms.7
Agrippa von Nettesheim thought witches superior to male practitioners:
"Are not philosophers, mathematicians, and astrologers often
inferior to country women in their divinations and predictions, and
does not the old nurse very often beat the doctor?" 8 The men who
learned doctoring from witches were allowed to practice, but their
female teachers were persecuted. Scot observed that a male "conjurer"
was permitted to cure disease by magic arts, whereas a woman was
condemned to death for doing so.9
Ordinary folk had no doctors. Physicians were available chiefly to
the rich. The poor took their troubles to the local witch. Irish farmers
still say a "fairy doctor" is needed for charms against the evil eye. In
Greece, "both priests and witches are available for emergencies
created by the evil eye. The priest burns incense and recites appropriate
prayers. The witch also burns incense as she recites appropriate
incantations." 10
It wasn't unusual for the witches' healing charms to be preferred
to those of the church, or for the two to be regarded as identical in
essence. Ramesey wrote that the witches' cures were indistinguishable
from the "magical and juggling cures" professed by the clergy,
including "saints, images, relics, holy-waters, shrines, avemarys, crucifixes,
benedictions, charms, characters, sigils of the planets, and of the
signs ... all such cures are rather to be ascribed to the forces of the
imagination, than any virtue in them." 11
Officially, women were often forbidden to do any kind of healing.
In 1322 a woman named Jacoba Felicie was arrested and prosecuted
by the medical faculty of the University of Paris for practicing medicine,
although, the record said, "she was wiser in the art of surgery and
medicine than the greatest master or doctor in Paris." 12
Scot said witchmongers gave the witches as much power as Christ,
and even more, when they claimed witches could raise the dead, as
Christ raised Lazarus; they could turn water into other fluids, like wine
or milk; they could control the weather, the crops, animals, men; they
could see into the past and future. Reading of witches' trials, he said,
"you shall see such impossibilities confessed, as none, having his right
wits, will believe." 13 Loher also declared that the "sins" for which
witches were brought to the stake were such "that they could not
possibly commit." 14
Churchmen, however, viewed the impossibility of witches' miracles
as perfectly good ground for believing them, "because t_he
performance of the impossible proved that demons were at work." 15 It
was never explained how the performance of a miracle demonstrated
the intervention of a saint in one case and of a demon in another. For
example, Marie Bucaille was burned as a witch, though her "miracles"
were saintlike: she healed the sick, saw holy visions, displayed
stigmata, and performed many of the acts that led to canonization in
other cases. 16
The same acts were differently interpreted by churchmen in
different times. Witchcraft was allowed through the first half of the
Christian era. It was not called a "heresy" until the 14th century. In 500
A.D. the Franks' Salic Law recognized witches' right to practice. In
643, an edict declared it illegal to burn witches.l7 In 785, the Synod of
Paderborn said anyone who burned a witch must be sentenced to
death. 18 France's first trial to declare witchcraft a crime took place in
Up to a surprisingly late date, nobility and clergy alike employed
the services of witches. In 13 82 the Count of K yburg hired a witch to
stand on the battlements of his castle and raise a thunderstorm to
disperse an army of enemies.20 This practice was soundly based on
theological opinion that witches could raise storms at will, "either upon
sea or land." 21 Churchmen said witches controlled the weather "with
God's permission," and they didn't begin to punish what God permitted
until the beginning of the Renaissance.22
Witches were summoned to court by Louis d'Orleans to cure his
Scholars aren't sure how much pagan religion survived in the form
of actual group worship, at the beginning of the era of persecution. Pico
della Mirandola's La Strega (The Witch) described a cult in northern
Italy where a pagan Goddess presided over sexual orgies; she was said to
bear a close resemblance to the Mother of God. 31 Another group at
Arras was said to have centered on "a prostitute" called Demiselle, or
The Maiden. Her consort was the Abbot of Little Sense, otherwise
known as the Prince ofF ools, a composer and singer of popular
songs-in other words, it was a cult of minstrelsy.32 (See Romance.)
There is a vast body of "information" about what went on at the
witches' Sabbat-all of it worthless, because its source was the torture
chamber. The late Renaissance saw a frivolous interest in "black
masses" among the wealthy, who tried to model a new cult group on
what they had read of earlier trials. In 1610, Pierre de I' Ancre wrote of
"great Lords and Ladies and other rich and powerful ones who handle
the great matters of the Sabbath, where they appear cloaked, and the
women with masks, that they may keep themselves always hidden and
unknown." 33 In the reign of Louis XIV, half the Parisian clergy and
most of the court, including Madame de Montespan, were involved
with a society witch called La Voisin, who staged black masses for
them.34 But their rituals were based on ecclesiastical literature, not on a
true folk tradition.
It has been claimed that witchcraft constituted a coherent underground
organization from the beginning, with well-defined chains of
command and communication. "Witch books" purporting to come
from the ancient tradition speak of a Brotherhood (not Sisterhood): "If
you are condemned, fear not, the Brotherhood is powerful, they will
help you to escape if you stand steadfast. ... Be sure, if steadfast you go
to the pyre, drugs will reach you, you will feel naught. You but go to
death and what lies beyond, the Ecstasy of the Goddess."35 But during
the real persecutions, few witches seemed indifferent to their sufferings,
and virtually none escaped.
Monstrelet described a typical early example of persecution in
In this year, in the town of Arras and county of Artois, arose, through a
terrible and melancholy chance, an opinion called, I know not why, the
Religion of Vaudoisie. This sect consisted, it is said, of certain persons,
both men and women, who, under cloud of night, by the power of the
devil, repaired to some solitary spot, amid woods and deserts, where the
devil appeared before them in a human form-save that his visage is
never perfectly visible to them-read to the assembly a book of his
ordinances, informing them how he could be obeyed,· distributed a very
little money and a plentiful meal, which was concluded by a scene of
general profligacy; after which each one of the party was conveyed home
to her or his own habitation.
On accusations of access to such acts of madness, several creditable
persons of the town of Arras were seized and imprisoned along with some
foolish women and persons of little consequence. These were so horribly
tortured that some of them admitted the truth of the whole accusations,
and said, besides, that they had seen and recognized in their nocturnal
assembly many persons of rank, prelates, seigneurs, and governors of
bailliages and cities, being such names as the examiners had suggested to
the persons examined, while they constrained them by torture to impeach
the persons to whom they belonged. Several of those who had been thus
informed against were arrested, thrown into prison, and tortured for so
long a time that they also were obliged to confess what was charged
against them. After this those of mean condition were executed and
inhumanly burnt, while the richer and more powerful of the accused
ransomed themselves by sums of money, to avoid the punishment and the
shame attending it. Many even of those also confessed being persuaded to
take that course by the interrogators, who promised them indemnity for
life and fortune. Some there were, of a truth, who suffered with marvellous
patience and constancy the torments inflicted on them, and would
confess nothing imputed to their charge; but they, too, had to give large
sums to the judges, who exacted that such of them as, notwithstanding
their mishandling, were still able to move, should banish themselves from
that part of the country . . .. [J]t ought not to be concealed that the whole
accusation was a strategem of wicked men for their own covetous
purposes, and in order, by these false accusations and forced confessions,
to destroy the life, fame, and fortune of wealthy persons. 36
Those prisoners who found themselves condemned to death
immediately shrieked aloud that they h<!d been tricked; they were
promised a light sentence, such as a pilgrimage, if they confessed as
the inquisitors wanted. 37
Witchcraft persecutions picked up momentum when inquisitors
were seeking new victims to keep their organization going. In 13 75 a
French inquisitor lamented that all the rich heretics had been exterminated;
there were none left whose wealth could support the
Inquisition, and "it is a pity that so salutary an institution as ours should
be so uncertain of its future." Then Pope John XXII empowered the
Inquisition to prosecute anyone who worked magic, and "the Inquisition
slowly and unevenly developed its concept of witchcraft." 38
Soon the church was making sweeping claims, such as the claim that the
entire population of Navarre consisted of witches. 39
Witch hunting sustained itself because it became a major industry,
supporting the income of many. Local nobles, bishops, kings, judges,
courts, townships, magistrates, and other functionaries high and low all
received a share of the loot collected by inquisitors from their victims'
assets. Victims were charged for the very ropes that bound them and the
wood that burned them. Each procedure of torture carried its fee.
After the execution of a wealthy witch, officials usually treated themselves
to a banquet at the expense of the victim's estate.40
Inquisitors were no less zealous in wringing the last penny out of
their poorer victims than in helping themselves to the estates of the
rich. In 1256, a woman named Raymonde Barbaira died before her
sentence could be carried out, leaving to her heirs a chest of linens,
her clothes, several cows, and four sous in cash. The inquisitor demand-
. ed from the heirs forty sous for all the property. "Such petty and
vulgar details," Lea said, "give us a clearer insight into the spirit and
working of the Inquisition, and of the grinding oppression which it
exercised on the subject populations." 41
A history of the Inquisition written by a Catholic in 1909 had to
admit that it "invented the crime of witchcraft and ... relied on torture
as the means of proving it." At first the Inquisition encountered
skepticism everywhere. Even theologians shocked the inquisitors by
attributing natural disasters to chance, or God, rather than to witchcraft.
The public disbelieved witches' confessions, saying they were
extracted only by torture. Peasants in some subalpine valleys broke
into open rebellion against the judges' wholesale burnings. It took
decades of ceaseless propagandizing, and ruthless measures to stop
the mouths of critics, before the persecution could be said to have won
public support.42
Severe persecution dated from the bull of Pope Innocent VIII,
Summis desiderantes, wherein God's vicar "infallibly" declared that
witches could blast crops and domestic animals, cause disease, prevent
husbands and wives from copulating, and in general "outrage the
Divine Majesty and are a cause of scandal and danger to very many." 43
The Divine Majesty being apparently unable to look after its own
interests without human help, the churchmen took it upon themselves
to carry out God's vengeance, which developed into a "hideous
nightmare" as the church's mailed fist stretched over the western world
for five centuries.44
The earlier Canon Episcopi ruled that witchcraft was nothing but
a delusion, and it was heresy to believe in it. But that was before the
church discovered how to profit from the witchcraft belief. After Pope
Innocent's reign, it was heresy not to believe in witchcraft. According
to Martin Del Rio, S.J., anyone who thought witchcraft was only a
deception must be suspected of being a witch. No one was allowed to
speak against the extermination of witches. Inquisitor Heinrich von
Schultheis said, "He who opposes the extermination of the witches
with one single word can not expect to remain unscathed." 45
Superstitious belief in the "evil" of witchcraft persisted to a very
late date. The last English witch trial took place in 1712. The last
official witch burning in Scotland was in 1727, with unofficial incidents
even later. Only a century ago, an elderly woman in the Russian
village of W ratschewe was locked in her cottage and set afire for
bewitching cattle. Her murderers were tried, and sentenced only to a
light ecclesiastical penance.46 In January, 1928, a family of Hungarian
peasants beat an old woman to death, claiming she was a witch. A
court acquitted them, on the ground that they acted out of "irresistible
compulsion." 47
The real reason for persistence of the witchcraft idea was that
Christian authorities couldn't let it die, without admitting that God's
word was wrong, and God's servants had committed millions of legal
murders and tortured millions of helpless people without cause. Dr.
Blackstone, England's ultimate authority on jurisprudence, wrote: "To
deny the possibility, nay, actual existence of Witchcraft and Sorcery,
is at once flatly to contradict the revealed Word of God in various
passages both of the Old and New Testament; and the thing itself is a
truth to which every Nation in the World hath in its turn borne
testimony." When skepticism about witchcraft seemed to be on the
rise, John Wesley cried bitterly, "The giving up of witchcraft is in effect
the giving up of the Bible." 48 Calvin and Knox also protested that
denial of witchcraft meant denial of the Bible's authority.49 Joseph
Glanvill, chaplain to Charles II, said all who disbelieved in witchcraft
were atheists. 50
Despite such protests, skepticism grew with the slow advance of
the Age of Enlightenment. In 1736, Scottish laws against the
"crime" of witchcraft were formally repealed. Yet the church refused to
keep pace with the law. Forty years later, ministers of the Associated
Presbytery passed a resolution declaring their unabated belief in witchcraft.
51 As late as the 1920s a rector of four parishes in Norfolk could
still write: "If I were to take a census of opinion in all four villages I am
certain that I should find a majority of people seriously professing
belief in witchcraft, the policy of the 'evil eye,' and the efficacy of both
good and evil spells." 52 The churches .wouldn't let these beliefs die.
Christianity, then, has been chiefly responsible for the survival and
growth of witchcraft as an article of faith. It seems so still. In the
1940s, Seabrook estimated that "half the literate white population in the
world today believe in witchcraft"; and the nonliterate nonwhite
population attains a much higher proportion. 53 A Gallup poll taken in
1978 showed that ten percent of all Americans believe in witches. 54
But what is meant by "believe in"? It could mean a belief that
there are people who call themselves witches; this is self-evident
enough. It could mean a belief that such people erroneously think they
have supernatural powers. It could mean a belief that such people
really do have supernatural powers. It could mean a belief that, as the
church has always maintained, witches are agents of the devil, seeking
to destroy the world out of sheer perversity. Or, it could mean a belief
that witches preserved an older and better religion based on worship
of Nature and the female principle.
Those who now call themselves witches usually uphold some
version of the latter belief. A modern witch, Leo Louis Martello,
We worship and identify with the Horned God, Lord of the Hunt and the
Underworld, and the Mother Goddess, especially the latter (Mother
Earth, Mother Nature}. Without the female principle (women) man
wouldn't be here . ... Witchcraft is a pre-Christian faith. ... lttends to
be matriarchal whereas both Christianity and Satanism are patriarchal and
male chauvinist. The latter two are merely opposite sides of the same
coin. Witchcraft, as the Old Religion, is a coin of a different vintage,
predating both. 55
Asked how he feels about belonging to a heavily matriarchal
tradition, one male witch answered: ''I'd rather be first mate on a ship
that is solid than captain on a ship that has a rotten hull, a ship that is
sinking. Patriarchy is such a ship." Witches have defined patriarchy as
"manipulative and domineering." The matriarchal world view, on
the other hand, values "feelings of connectedness and intuition ...
nonauthoritarian and nondestructive power relationships." It is
claimed that witchcraft tends to correct what W. Holman Keith called
the fundamental religious error of our time: "to substitute force as the
divine and ruling principle in place of beauty and love, to make
destruction, in which the prowess of the male excels, more important
in life than the creativity of the female." 56
Certainly the history of witchcraft shows men persecuting women
in order to maintain a male monopoly of profitable enterprises, such
as medicine and magic. Women of outstanding reputation in any field
were at risk, since almost any woman's accomplishment could be
defined as witchcraft. When the church declared war on female healers,
healing became a crime punishable by death if it was practiced by a
woman. Women were forbidden to study medicine, and "if a woman
dare to cure without having studied, she is a witch and must die." 57
Doctors eagerly participated in witch hunts, to eliminate their competition.
It was all done very deliberately. "Given the number of
instances in which the church combined with various economic groups
from doctors to lawyers to merchant guilds, not only to make
pronouncements about the incapacities of women, but often to accomplish
the physical liquidation of women through witchcraft and heresy
trials, one can hardly say that it all happened without anyone intending
it." 58
Churchmen who availed themselves of witches' services sometimes
persecuted even those who helped them, in remarkable
examples of ingratitude. Alison Peirsoun of Byrehill was so famous as a
healing witch that the archbishop of St. Andrews sent for her when
he was sick, and she cured him. Later he not only refused to pay her fee,
but had her arrested, charged with witchcraft and burned. 59
The muddy illogic of persecutors' sexist thinking is nowhere better
illustrated than in the notion of the witch's "poppet," or wax doll,
which could be mistreated by piercing or melting in order to make a
human victim suffer corresponding stabbing pains, fevers, and other
troubles. When the witch destroyed the doll altogether, the victim
would die. Yet oddly enough, when male authorities discovered the
doll and destroyed it, the victim would not die but would recover. A
similar sexist attitude was apparent in the whole idea of traffic
between human beings and demons. Burton's Criminal Trials of
Scotland stated that a male sorcerer is the master of demons, but a
female witch is the slave of demons.60 Yet her offense was usually
considered more punishable than his.
Modern witches, male and female, seem inclined to restore the
sexual balance of old romances, where men's magical skills were
acquired under feminine instruction.61 The witches appear to be reconstructing
an old religion in a new format, gradually working out a
theology that owes more to ancient Indo-European models than to the
"reverse Christianity" associated with the idea of Satan ism. Important
points upon which this theology differs from Christianity are the
(1) The female principle is deified, equal to or greater than the
male. (2) Body and soul are seen as one and the same; one cannot exist
without the other. (3) Nature is sacred, not to be abused or
"conquered." (4) The individual will has intrinsic value and is not to
be subordinated to the "revealed" will of a deity. (5) Time is circular
and repetitive; existence is cyclic; the figures of the Triple Goddess
symbolize constant repetitions of growth and decay. (6) There is no
original sin, and no hard-and-fast separation of "good" and "evil" (for
example, a feast of fresh beef is good for the feasters but evil for the
once-living main dish). (7) Sexuality, spontaneity, humor, and play
activities may be incorporated into ritual, where the experience of
pleasure is regarded as a positive force .in life, rather than a temptation
or a sin.62
The Goddess speaks to modern witches in somewhat the same
vein as the speeches drawn from her ancient scriptures:
Mine is the secret that opens upon the door of youth and mine is the Cup
of the Wine of Life and the Cauldron of Cerridwen, which is the Holy
Grail of Immortality. I am the Gracious Goddess who gives the gift of joy
unto the heart of man upon earth. I give the knowledge of the Spirit
Eternal, and beyond death I give peace and freedom and reunion with
those that have gone before . . . . I who am the beauty of the Green
Earth, and the White Moon amongst the stars and the mystery of the
Waters, and the desire of the heart of man, I call unto thy soul to arise
and come unto me. For I am the Soul of Nature who giveth life to the
universe; from me a/1 things proceed and unto me a/1 things must
return. ... I have been with thee from the beginning, and I am that which
is attained at the end of desire. 63

Flying Ointment

A drug like aconite was probably responsible for the report that
witches flew through the air with the heathen Goddess Diana, covering
vast distances between sunset and cockcrow.1 A Dominican friar,
Father Nider, said two of his brethren witnessed a witch's trip to the
sabbat, which turned out to be a drug trip only. She rubbed her body
with an ointment, then lay down in a kneading-trough and passed into a
state of delirium, thrashing about, and muttering of Venus and the
devil. When she returned to her senses, the friars told her she had been
to a meeting of devils and witches. On another occasion, Pope Julius
III's chief astrologer experimentally rubbed a woman's body with witch-
salve composed of hemlock, mandrake, henbane, and belladonna.
She went into a coma lasting 36 hours and experienced many
hallucinations. 2
Professor H. S. Clarke recently noted that many drugs used by
witches were known to cause such effects. Aconite disturbs the
heartbeat and produces peculiar sensations, including dizziness or a
sensation of flying. Belladonna produces delirium. Hemlock causes
excitement and later paralysis. "Rubbing such ointments into the skin
would intensify any physiological properties." These drugs, not the
fat of boiled children that churchmen deemed essential, made the
"magic" of witches' flying ointment.3
Oil was the vehicle for a flying ointment of Roman witches,
according to Lucian, who described a woman transforming herself
into a night-raven by rubbing her body with holy oil, then flying away
through the window.4 The flying journey to heaven was the primary
component of any magical initiation; it could be induced by ointment,
or by eating the body of a god. By eating the flesh of Osiris in the
form of bread, an initiate could become an Osiris and ascend to heaven,
and "in one little moment pass over limitless distances which would
need millions and hundreds of thousands of years for a man to pass
over." 5
Though ascent to heaven via a god's eaten body was certainly a
central Christian doctrine, the church declared it a sin to believe it
could be done by the living, with the help of a non-Christian deity. Up
to the middle of the medieval period, the church said the flights of
witches were wholly imaginary, and it was heresy to believe them real.
After the Inquisition took shape, the church said the flights of witches
were real, and it was heresy to believe them imaginary.
The earlier opinion appeared in the Canon Episcopi, written by a
secretary of the Archbishop of Trier about 900 A.D., though it was
passed off as a canon of the 4th-century Council of Ancyra; its
fraudulence was demonstrated centuries later. It told Christians to
reject the "demonic illusions" that made women think they flew
through the night air with the pagan Goddess Diana. 6 When the
church's opinion was reversed in the 13th century, those who doubted
the witches' flights were said to "sin in the lack of true reverence to
our mother the church." 7
Supported by plenty of "evidence" from the torture chamber, the
useful theory of witches' flights could account for the fact that no one
ever saw the vast assemblages, allegedly coming together from great
distances, to the devilish sabbat.8 It could also account for the prison
suicides of victims who beat their heads against their cell walls until they
died, to avoid further torture. The inquisitor Bodin said witches left
unbound between sessions in the torture chamber often dashed themselves
against the wall and broke their necks because they tried to fly
away with Diana or Minerva.9
Many women confessed under torture that they dug up children's
corpses to make their flying ointment. On one occasion at Lindheim,
six women confessed to this crime and were sentenced to the stake. The
family of one of the women instituted an investigation of the grave in
question, where the child's body was discovered intact. The inquisitors
smoothly explained that the devil had reassembled the body to cause
confusion. The witches were burned on schedule. 10

From Barbara Walker's Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets