Hello, my loves and welcome to WiccaNow! In this post, I explore the question ‘What is Witchcraft’. Join me as we find the fascinating answers to all of your witchcraft-related questions.
What is Witchcraft – When Did Witchcraft Begin?
Many people write to us wanting to know the origins of witchcraft. Where, they ask, did it come from? What is Witchcraft really? Is witchcraft a cult of devil worship? A delusion? A mass hysteria? I can honestly say that is none of the above.
The word ‘Witchcraft’ has its origins in England where was used from the 12th century until the close of the 17th century to describe a person who used spells and charms to accomplish certain ends. The term ‘witch’ appeared to be the result of an amalgamation of various components drawn from folklore.
These elements were “fused together with the conceptual glue of ‘demonic pact”. During this time, witches were assumed to have abandoned Christianity and to worship Satan. Through labelling someone as a ‘witch’, religious and political groups, as well as ill-intentioned individuals, were able to exercise a system of subjugation and control over the people whom they perceived as a threat. People were seen as threatening, due to their abilities as healers, because of their divergent beliefs or simply because they did not ‘fit’ into the roles which society had deemed as being acceptable.
Labelling a person as a ‘witch’ left them vulnerable to attack and open for persecution. The persecution of ‘witches’ often resulted in torture and death. The witch-hunts and inquisitions which took place from 1450 to 1750 are thought to have resulted in 35,000 – 100,000 deaths. Most of the people killed during this time were women. Possibly the most notorious witch trial of all is that of Joan of Arc. Joan was burned alive at the stake after having been accused of being a witch in what was later deemed to have been politically motivated and unlawful trial.
Witchcraft itself is steeped in mystery and hidden in antiquity. There are few written sources describing witchcraft and those that do exist are often obscure and difficult to make sense of. We can find traces of witchcraft and magic in old Norse legends and an Arthurian legend has it that Arthur’s half-sister, Morgan la Fay was a witch.
Much of what we now understand as ‘witchcraft’ is simplified and unsophisticated in comparison with the lost witches lore burned during the inquisitions. Witchcraft itself has long been associated with cultural stigma and even recently, to call a woman as a ‘witch’ was considered a grave insult.
Up until 1959, the ‘Witchcraft act’ which prohibited the practice of witchcraft remained in force in Britain. In 1959 the ‘witchcraft act’ was repealed by British courts. Following the repeal, witchcraft has undergone a worldwide renaissance and interest surrounding the topic seems to be following a sharp upward trend.
What is Witchcraft?
According to Gerald Gardner witchcraft can be divided into three categories:
- Those who believe that witchcraft is a mass hysteria resulting from psychological causes
- Those who believe that witchcraft is real but centred around the service to Satan
- Those who maintain that witchcraft is the remains of an old Pagan religion, dating back to the stone age and that the church’s persecution of it was because it was a dangerous rival.
Gardner claims that there are still witches practising the craft today who are direct descendants of ancient witch families. He believes that these witches have inherited ancient knowledge but that they remain highly secretive and that their knowledge remains largely hidden.
Garner also writes that witches believe in reincarnation with a common saying amongst witches being ‘once a witch always a witch’. Although much of the ancient knowledge of witchcraft has been lost or destroyed, Garner believes that the real knowledge can never be lost and that it will continue to find its way into human consciousness life after life.
“The witch is the babe in the womb and the child in the arms of the mother. She is the maiden racing through the sun-drenched fields and dancing coyly in the moonlight. She is the eternal women in the arms of her lover, the mother giving birth and caring for her young. She is the old one sharing her knowledge and love with those who follow in her footsteps, waiting with a happy heart for the cycle to start anew. The Witch is the Wise One, and to her door come those seeking to share her knowledge, love and light. Standing solidly she flows with the tides, drifts with the winds and warms herself in the flames of knowledge”
What is Witchcraft – Types of Witchcraft
We’ve also written a detailed guide about different types of witches if you want a more detailed guide.
- The Dark Witch – Deals with the darker side of magic. Works with hexes and taboos. Focus on raw primordial energy. They do not have laws like the ‘threefold law’ and do not believe in Karma
- The Grey Witch – Works with both the lighter and the darker side of magic and seeks to balance the two. For them, magic is a neutral grey, neither inherently good or bad.
- The Green Witch – Works with the energy of natural objects and the natural world such as herbs, crystals and the elements.
- The Hedge Witch – A healer or wise woman. Skilled in the use of herbs and natural plant-based medicine.
- Wiccan Witch – One who embraces the religion of Wicca
- Stregha / Stregheria – A form of witchcraft native to Italy. Its followers worship the forces of nature.
What is Witchcraft – Are Wicca and Witchcraft the Same?
Although opinions differ in regards to this question, with some people putting witchcraft and Wicca into the same ‘pot’ so to speak, I beg to differ. Whilst Wicca is a recognised religion, birthed in the 1950s by Gerald B Gardner, Witchcraft enjoys no such official recognition.
In fact, many people who call themselves ‘witches’ do not believe in any form of religion at all and may even find it irritating to be defined as ‘Wiccan’. Witches may be spiritual but non-religious, they may define themselves as Pagan or as non-Pagan. They might call themselves Wiccan or they may seek to differentiate themselves entirely from Wiccan religion.
Amaria wrote a whole article explaining the difference between Witchcraft and Wicca if your interested in learning more.
What is Witchcraft – What is the Purpose of Witchcraft?
“Witchcraft is a practical system of mysticism, whose method is known as magick” The foundation of magical beliefs, of which witchcraft is one, is that there are certain unseen powers in existence and that through performing certain rituals or actions these powers can be contacted or asked to assist in some way. Witches believe that this magical power also resides within themselves.
Witchcraft actively acknowledges and encourages a psychic dimension to life. Through the use of rituals and certain actions, this elemental and unseen power is given expression. The purpose of Witchcraft is to foster and maintain a lifelong relationship with these powers.
As such, Witchcraft itself is neither black nor white, good or bad. It is the intention or knowledge behind it which matters. As one witch said to a reporter, “What do I get out of it (witchcraft)? I get a life that holds infinite possibilities and is entirely satisfying to me on all planes of consciousness. I experience pleasure in forms unknown to most people, I have conquered fear. I have learned the unordered pattern behind apparently unrelated things”
What is Witchcraft – Can Anyone Become a Witch?
This is a question that I have been asked quite often and whilst I am aware that some opinions differ from mine, I would answer that yes, everyone can become a witch. Some people believe that you are either born a witch or not but I find this to be an outdated and elitist understanding of witchcraft.
Some people do not yet know that they are witches but they will discover it over time. If you have a natural inclination towards spellwork, found yourself engaged in magical thoughts and fantasies as a child and have sometimes or often had visions come to pass, all signs point to the fact that you may be on your way towards becoming a witch.
What is Witchcraft – What Religion is Witchcraft?
Witchcraft is not a religion. Unlike Wicca, which has been officially recognised as a religion, witchcraft enjoys no such recognition.
What is Witchcraft – What was the Mark of the Witch Really?
The mark of the witch was used as a way to identify witches during the witch trials and inquisitions which took place between the 12th and late 17th centuries. The search for the witches or Devils mark made up an important part of the examination of suspected witches. In England and America, the mark was often thought to be an extra nipple where the witch’s familiar suckled. New witches were believed to have been given the witches mark by the devil himself.
The mark is described by Reverend John Bell, minister of Gladsmuir in 1705, as being found in “secret places, as among the hair of the head, or eyebrows, within the lips, under the arm-pits, and even in the most secret parts of the body… I myself have seen it in the body of a confessing witch, like a little powder-mark, of a blea colour, somewhat hard, and with all insensible, so as it did not bleed when I pricked it”.
There is no scientific evidence to suggest that the mark of the witch exists at all. In all probability, the mark was used as a way to persecute innocent people accused of witchcraft. The mark could have been a mole, a skin lesion, an area of discoloured skin, a genetic abnormality or a tattoo.
People who confessed to having the mark of the witch often did so under extreme duress in the form of torture. During the 17th Century, so-called ‘prickers’ were employed to validate that the mark in question was indeed the mark of the witch. This was done through ‘pricking’ the mark with a needle. The mark was confirmed as being ‘of the Devil’ if the person in question did not flinch in pain when the mark was pricked or if the mark did not bleed after having been pricked. Many of the men employed as prickers were rogues who “ went about the country abusing simple and ignorant people for private gain and commodities‘.
As to the question of why some people did not flinch in pain, I offer the following excerpt as an explanation:
“Finally, some subjects may have voluntarily suppressed any display of pain in order to get the search over with … Many suspects must have come to the conclusion that the procedure would continue until the prickers found what they were looking for. Being repeatedly stabbed to the bone with a long needle could be embarrassing as well as painful … some suspects might have suppressed a flinch to a needle prick in their arm in order to avoid having their anus or vagina probed … or to simply put an end to a painful and seemingly endless search”.(Mcdonald, S. W. (1997). The Devil’s Mark and the Witch-Prickers of Scotland. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine)
You can read about the way in which witches marks were used as a way to prove guilt in this article. The story centres around Mrs Laing, who was accused of stealing a glass of milk in Scotland in 1704. After the prosecution carried out a full body search on Mrs Laing and confirmed that she did indeed carry the mark of the witch, she was brutally tortured, placed in a dungeon and died shortly thereafter.
What is Witchcraft – What Do You Call a Person Who Does Witchcraft?
A person who works with witchcraft is generally called a ‘witch’. For some people, the word ‘witch’ is a difficult one, loaded with negative connotations. The word ‘witch’ is often associated with black magic by the tabloid press and fundamentalist religious groups. Because of this, some people who practise witchcraft prefer not to go by the name of Witch. There are many other terms to describe a person who works with witchcraft including Wiccan, Pagan, Neopagan or Feri.
What is Witchcraft – Is Witchcraft Real?
The short answer is yes, witchcraft is real and these days it’s likely that someone is practising the ‘craft’ right around the corner from you. With the surge of interest in witchcraft, practising witches are everywhere. You might find them floating down the catwalk in gauzy black silk at a Valentino show, immersed in a pile of books at your local cafe or gazing at the night sky at your local rooftop bar.
The idea of witchcraft conjures powerful emotions within us. It propels us into an altered state of reality in which the magical intertwines with the mundane, where consciousness expands and possibilities become limitless. Witchcraft helps us to connect with our intuitive selves, it gives us agency over our own lives and allows us to stop playing the victim role.
The idea that the world is more than simply a collection of matter, that divinity guides us and flows within us, that we are connected and constantly in the process of becoming is highly appealing. Women especially feel drawn to the magic of witchcraft and for many, the craft has become a way of life. For all those of you who are still on the proverbial fence about magic, who question the existence of the divine and who feel trapped by the logic of the rationalist mind, I invite you to suspend your disbelief, if only for a second.
What is witchcraft in the Bible?
What is Witchcraft in the Bible? It is written in the bible and various other Christian texts that Witchcraft is punishable by death. An example of this can be found in the following verse, taken from the book of Moses which states “A man or a woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them, their blood will be on their own heads”.
The witch-hunts which took place across Europe and later on America, between the 14th and 17th centuries were largely fueled by Christian dogma. This specific set of Christian dogma saw witchcraft as Devil worship. By proxy, anyone accused of being a witch became instantly prosecutable. Those accused generally faced a terrible dilemma: either confess and be burned at the stake or stay silent and die horribly under torture.
The Biblical injunction, taken from the Ten Commandments which states that “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” was regularly cited by witch hunters during this time. Although more modern forms of Christianity positions itself as tolerant of divergent belief systems, it can be generally stated, given the historical context, that Christianity and Witchcraft are not compatible.
What is Witchcraft – Learning Witchcraft
There are some who believe that witchcraft can only be passed down generationally through a distinct lineage but I find this idea to be elitist and altogether false. If we think about witchcraft as being concerned with the manipulation of energy it makes sense that anyone with a strong enough desire could learn the craft.
Witchcraft is generally seen as a path of self-inquiry and while some may be fortunate enough to have the knowledge passed down to them directly, for most others the process of learning witchcraft begins with learning about oneself. One of the first steps that any aspiring witch can take is to learn to meditate.
Meditation is an ancient technique, used by sages, magicians, monks and witches. Meditation is the art of halting and transforming thoughts and the associated energies through a positive act of will. Through practising meditation regularly you will begin to train your mind into a tranquil space.
The state of mental tranquillity and clarity achieved through regular meditation is essential if you wish to practice the craft. If you are serious about learning witchcraft I also recommend that you read some of the following books as they will provide you with clear and actionable guidance on your path.
What is Witchcraft – Witchcraft Spells
What is Witchcraft spellwork? Witchcraft is a mystical practice concerned with the manipulation of energies. Rituals, spells and spell-work are the tools through which witchcraft is practised. If we consider thought to be a pattern of particles, moving in a similar way to light, then a spell can be conceived of as a condensed pattern of thought focused with clear intent. The spell than becomes like a sort of wave of energy moving out into material reality. It is through this manipulation of thought and energy that the magic of witchcraft takes place. Spells are simply a way to focus and contain the energy of our thoughts.
If you are interested in training your mind in preparation for spell-work I recommend the following exercise taken from the book ‘Witchcraft – Theory and Practice’ by Le de Angles.
- Do not do the following exercise in bed until you are used to the technique, as it is likely you will fall asleep.
- Have a soft dim light behind you somewhere as a direct overhead light can be distracting
- Seat yourself comfortably
- Begin (with your eyes closed) and take several deep breaths. Fill your lungs to capacity before exhaling totally. Be aware of your breathing by counting your breaths. Take no fewer than ten to begin.
- Allow your breathing to become natural again
- The aim now is to allow yourself to fall into the velvety blackness of non-thought. You will initially find that your mind will want to function in overtime. It will trick you into thoughts that seemingly enter your mind at their own volition. Firmly but gently push them out again always aiming for that state of velvety-blackness and non-thought.
- Allow just a few minutes the first time. And remember not to apply force against unwanted thoughts, just gentle pressure. The aim is to still your foreground. Your centre is somewhere within that velvety-blackness. Once you have reached a state of non-thought you will have reached your centre, which is a state of tranquillity.
- Allow yourself to drift there as long as you like or as long as nothing interferes. When you have done this, repeat the deep breathing and stretch yourself like a cat.
- Focus on maintaining this sense of tranquillity beyond the exercise.
- Do this exercise daily.
Through practising this exercise you are doing three things:
- Disciplining your will
- Discovering the sublime silence at the centre of your being and activating that centre
- Preparing the ground for active and intentional magic
If your keen to try your hand at spell work I recommend you first read our post ‘all about spells’. After that, you can learn all about how to cast a spell and maybe even try one of our love spells that work
What is Witchcraft used for?
What is Witchcraft? “Witchcraft is a spiritual path. You walk it for nourishment of the soul, to commune with the life force of the universe and to better know yourself” Christopher Penczak
Witchcraft is used to acknowledge the holistic nature of the universe, it is an acceptance of personal and social responsibility, it is a way to raise consciousness. According to Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft the ‘Craft’ is a practice centred around love and joy.
Witchcraft can be used as a tool to enhance your everyday life, to foster a deeper connection with yourself and those around you, to commune with nature and to live in a state of love and harmony. Witchcraft can be used to manipulate your own energies so that the difficulties in your life becomes easy. Witchcraft is a way of life, its a path of power, it’s an acknowledgement that there is more to reality than meets the eye!
My Loves, I hope this post reaches you with the spirit of love and light in which it was written. May your path unfold before you and the universe bless you with bountiful abundance.
As always, Blessed Be
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