Friday, January 03, 2014

Supernatural Friday: History of Witchcraft

The word ‘Witchcraft’ has been derived from the word ‘Wicca’ meaning ‘the wise one’. Witchcraft has been seen as a magical phenomenon, a pagan worship or religion, sorcery, devil worship, and others, at different periods in our world history.

Thousands of years ago, people lived much more primitive lives than we have in our technological society today.  Without the luxury of modern medicine and treatments, when a person was sick, ill or in pain there was little that could be done about it.  Becoming ill was much more dangerous in those ancient days, and the ramifications of any sickness were frequently much more serious.  But some women and even men learned the value of healing herbs, and other types of homeopathic treatments.  These people were actually very wise when it came to their knowledge of herbal remedies.  These astute women, skilled in the art of natural medicine, also sometimes functioned as midwives and assisted in the delivery of babies, using various plant-based medicines to ease the pain and suffering experienced during childbirth.

The earliest records of the concept and practice of witchcraft can be traced to the early days of humankind when witchcraft was seen as magical a phenomenon that was invoked for magical rites which ensured good luck, protection against diseases, and other reasons.
However, it was not until 1000 AD that the practice of Witchcraft and witches invoked the wrath of priests, Christianity, and members of the society. Witchcraft, seen as a religion of the ancient and traditional pagan religion which worships the feminine, earthly, and masculine aspects of God, was considered as anti-Christian and a heresy.

Held to be against the declarations and beliefs of the Church, witches were considered as evil, making pacts and connections with the Devil. It was even believed that witches engaged in practices such as flying, invisibility, killing, taming black wolves and cats to spy on people, and others.  The belief in the existence of witches was strengthened particularly after Pope Innocent VIII issued a declaration in the 1498 confirming their existence in society, and inquisition increased, although in 1200, killing of witches had already become authorized by Pope Gregory IX. The Inquisition thus began after 1200 on orders of the Church to discover the witches or heretics who were believed to be evil and against the Church. Full-fledged killing of witches was, however, recorded in the 1500s and 1600s.  The first crusade against witches was held in 1022 AD when a witch was burned to death.

In Salem in 1692, 150 people were tried as suspects of practicing witchcraft. Unlike Europe, where those tried and convicted of witchcraft (those that survived being piled on with the increasing weight of stones or dunked in a river to see if they swam or sank), in Salem, those convicted of witchcraft and executed, were done so by hanging.
People suspected as witches were usually burned at stakes, and those pleading their innocence were either stoned to death or even sometimes thrown in water to prove their innocence. Witches usually faced severe and painful deaths or punishments.

Unlike the cases in Salem, Massachusetts, where women had been accused unjustly and declared guilty, then hung, another commonwealth, Virginia handled the witchcraft thing much better. To curb runaway charges of witchcraft like in New England, the Virginia General Assembly passed in 1662, “An Act for Punishment of Scandalous Persons.” It stated that women who acted peculiar and scandalous and caused their husbands to bring suits against those accusing their wives of witchcraft, after judgment had been passed, the woman would be punished by ducking. If the slander was enormous, the damages were adjusted at a greater amount then five hundred pounds of tobacco.
So except for Witches are as much a part of Virginia’s history and folklore as anywhere else. There were homes in Virginia that have witch doors—crosses carved on the paneled doors to keep the witches away—and people made witch bottles to protect them against witches—though the bottles were used mainly in the Tidewater area. An Indian idol, “Okee,” was considered to be a “devil-witch” by John Smith himself after the colonists landed at Jamestown and settled it. In 1654, according to author and historian Richard Beale Davis, there was a conviction of witchcraft in Virginia that resulted in an execution on a ship bound for Jamestown. This would have been long before the witchcraft trials at Salem. At that time, witches were believed to conjure up storms at sea, along with causing widespread illness among the passengers. When a severe storm happened and threatened the vessel commanded by Captain Bennett, he ordered the death of a woman named Catherine Grady, all because she was a “witch at sea.”

Today, no one is hung or burned at the stake for witchcraft. In the United States people can do whatever religion they want to believe in, long as they don’t do harm to others. We’ve came a long way from our tribal ancestors who sat around a campfire or a bonfire and huddled in fears of evil spirits, demons and witches.

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