Herein also known today as the 'Craft,' The old religion (pagan in origin) has historical ties that date back to Paleolithic times (approximately 35,000 years). They worshipped the Goddess of the Wild Things and Fertility, and the God of the Hunt - setting up residence in caves carved out by the glaciers. Shamans and Shamanka conducted rites within hard to reach portions of the caves, which were painted with scenes of the hunt, magical symbols and the tribes totem animals. Their survival depended on their ability to merge with the spirit of the animals they hunted ! It was also affected by animal migrations, the later domestication of horse and cattle [animal hubandry] requiring grazing land, and changes in climate - forcing them to acquire a nomadic lifestyle - becoming looseknit groups of nomadic tribes and clans! The transition from Hunter-Gatherers to agriculturists was reflected in the change of the 'Lady of the Wild Things and Fertility' to the 'Barley Mother' and the 'God of the Hunt' to the 'Lord of the Grain.' The importance of the phases of the moon and the sun was reflected in the rituals that evolved around sowing, reaping, and letting out to pasture. Mathematics, astronomy, poetry, music, medicine, and the understanding of the workings of the human mind, developed side by side with the lore of the deeper mysteries.
Wave after wave of invasions swept over Europe from the Bronze Age onward forcing them westwards, where they eventually became known as the Sidhe, the Picts or Pixies, and the Fair Folk or the Fairies. The Religious concepts of Goddess and Consort, Mother and Child, which had held sway for over 30,000 years was changed to conform to the values of the conquering patriarchies. In Canaan, Yahweh fought a bloody battle to ensure that his followers had "no other gods before me." The Goddess was given a masculine name and assigned the role of a false God. Along with the suppression of the Goddess, women lost most of the rights they had previously enjoyed. In Greece, the Goddess in Her many aspects, was "married" to the new gods resulting in the Olympic Pantheon. The Titans, whom the Olympians displaced were more in touch with the primal aspects of the Goddess.
The Druids and the Celts in Gaul and the British Isles, adopted many features of the Old Religion into their way of life, becoming part of the Druidic Mysteries. They celebrated the four feasts of the Wheel of the Year with wild processions on horseback, singing and chanting along the way and lighting ritual bonfires on the mountaintops. The College of the Druids and the Poetic Colleges of Ireland and Wales were said to have preserved many of the old mysteries.
The Reformation did not convert the people of Europe to orthodox Christianity through preaching and catechisms alone. It was the 300 year period of witch-hunting from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, what was called "the shocking nightmare, the foulest crime and deepest shame of western civilization," that ensured the European abandonment of the belief in magic. The Church created the elaborate concept of devil worship and then, used the persecution of it to wipe out dissent, subordinate the individual to authoritarian control, and openly demean women.
The witch hunts were an eruption of orthodox Christianity's vilification of women, "the weaker vessel," in St. Peter's words. The second century St. Clement of Alexandria wrote: "Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman." The Church father Tertullian explained why women deserve their status as despised and inferior human beings: And do you not know that you are an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil's gateway: you are the unsealer of that tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image, man. On account of your desert that is, death even the Son of God had to die. Others expressed the view more bluntly. The sixth century Christian philosopher, Boethius, wrote in The Consolation of Philosophy, "Woman is a temple built upon a sewer." Bishops at the sixth century Council of Macon voted as to whether women had souls. In the tenth century Odo of Cluny declared, "To embrace a woman is to embrace a sack of manure...!" The thirteenth century St. Thomas Aquinas suggested that God had made a mistake in creating woman: "nothing [deficient] or defective should have been produced in the first establishment of things; so woman ought not to have been produced then," and Lutherans at Wittenberg debated whether women were really human beings at all. Orthodox Christians held women responsible for all sin. As the Bible's Apocrypha states, "Of woman came the beginning of sin, and thanks to her, we all must die."
Women are often understood to be impediments to spirituality in a context where God reigns strictly from heaven and demands a renunciation of physical pleasure. As I Corinthians 7:1 states, "It is a good thing for a man to have nothing to do with a woman." The Inquisitors who wrote the Malleus Maleficarum, "The Hammer of the Witches," explained that women are more likely to become witches than men: 'Because the female sex is more concerned with things of the flesh than men'; because being formed from a man's rib, they are only 'imperfect animals' and 'crooked' whereas man belongs to a privileged sex from whose midst Christ emerged.
King James I estimated that the ratio of women to men who succumbed to witchcraft was twenty to one. Of those formally persecuted for witchcraft, between 80 to 90 percent were women. Christians found fault with women on all sorts of counts. An historian notes that thirteenth century preachers ...denounced women on the one hand for... the lascivious and carnal provocation of their garments, and on the other hand for being over-industrious, too occupied with children and housekeeping, too earthbound to give due thought to divine things. According to a Dominican of the same period, woman is "the confusion of man, an insatiable beast, a continuous anxiety, an incessant warfare, a daily ruin, a house of tempest ...a hindrance to devotion."
As reformational fervor spread, the feminine aspect of Christianity in the worship of Mary became suspect. Throughout the Middle Ages, Mary's powers were believed to effectively curtail those of the devil, but Protestants entirely dismissed reverence for Mary while reformed Catholics diminished her importance. Devotion to Mary often became indicative of evil. In the Canary Islands, Aldonca de Vargas was reported to the Inquisition after she smiled at hearing mention of the Virgin Mary. Inquisitors distorted an image of the Virgin Mary into a device of torture, covering the front side of a statue of Mary with sharp knives and nails. Levers would move the arms of the statue crushing the victim against the knives and nails. The witch hunts also demonstrated great fear of female sexuality. The book that served as the manual for understanding and persecuting witchcraft, the Malleus Maleficarum, describes how witches were known to "collect male organs in great numbers, as many as twenty or thirty members together, and put them in a bird's nest...!" The manual recounts a story of a man who, having lost his penis, went to a witch to have it restored: She told the afflicted man to climb a certain tree, and that he might take which he liked out of a nest in which there were several members. And when he tried to take a big one, the witch said: You must not take that one; adding, because it belonged to a parish priest. A man in 1621 lamented, "of women's unnatural, unsatiable lust... what country, what village doth not complain."
While most of what became known as witchcraft was invented by Christians, certain elements of witchcraft did represent an older pagan tradition. Witchcraft was linked and even considered to be synonymous with "divination," which means not only the art of foretelling the future, but also the discovery of knowledge by the aid of supernatural power. It suggested that there is such power available, something orthodox Christians insisted could only be the power of the devil, for God was no longer to be involved with the physical world. The word "witch" comes from the old English wicce and wicca, meaning the male and female participants in the ancient pagan tradition which holds masculine, feminine and earthly aspects of Deity in great reverence. Rather than a God which stood above the world, removed from ordinary life, divinity in the Wiccan tradition was understood to imbue both heaven and earth. This tradition also recalled a period when human society functioned without hierarchy, neither matriarchal or patriarchal, and without gender, racial or strict class rankings. It was a tradition that affirmed the potential for humanity to live without domination and fear, something orthodox Christians maintain is impossible.
The early Church had tried to eradicate the vestiges of this older nonhierarchical tradition by denying the existence of witches or magic outside of the Church. The Canon Episcopi, a Church law which first appeared in 906, decreed that belief in witchcraft was heretical. After describing pagan rituals which involved women demonstrating extraordinary powers, it declared: For an innumerable multitude, deceived by this false opinion, believe this to be true and, so believing, wander from the right faith and are involved in the error of the pagans when they think that there is anything of divinity or power except the one God. Nevertheless, the belief in magic was still so prevalent in the fourteenth century that the Council of Chartres ordered anathema to be pronounced against sorcerers each Sunday in every church.
It took the Church a long time to persuade society that women were inclined toward evil witchcraft and devil-worship. Reversing its policy of denying the existence of witches, in the thirteenth century the Church began depicting the witch as a slave of the devil. No longer was she or he to be associated with an older pagan tradition. No longer was the witch to be thought of as benevolent healer, teacher, wise woman, or one who accessed divine power. She was now to be an evil satanic agent. The Church began authorizing frightening portrayals of the devil in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Images of a witch riding a broom first appeared in 1280. Thirteenth century art also depicted the devil's pact in which demons would steal children and in which parents themselves would deliver their children to the devil. The Church now portrayed witches with the same images so frequently used to characterize heretics: "...a small clandestine society engaged in antihuman practices, including infanticide, incest, cannibalism, bestiality and orgiastic sex...!" The Church developed the concept of devil-worship as an astoundingly simplistic reversal of Christian rites and practices. Whereas God imposed divine law, the devil demanded adherence to a pact. Where Christians showed reverence to God by kneeling, witches paid homage to the devil by standing on their heads. The sacraments in the Catholic Church became excrement's in the devil's church. Communion was parodied by the Black Mass. Christian prayers could be used to work evil by being recited backwards. The eucharist bread or host was imitated in the devil's service by a turnip. The baptismal "character" or stigmata of the mysteries was parodied by the devil's mark impressed upon the witch's body by the claw of the devil's left hand. Whereas saints had the gift of tears, witches were said to be incapable of shedding tears. Devil worship was a simple parody of Christianity. Indeed, the very concept of the devil was exclusive to monotheism and had no importance within the pagan, Wiccan tradition.
The Church also projected its own hierarchical framework onto this new evil witchcraft. The devil's church was to be organized such that its dignitaries could climb the ranks to the position of bishop, just like in the Catholic Church. Julio Caro Baroja explains: ...the Devil causes churches and altars to appear with music... and devils decked out as saints. The dignitaries reach rank of bishop, and sub-deacons, deacons and priests serve Mass. Candles and incense are used for the service and water is sprinkled from a thurifer. There is an offertory, a sermon, a blessing over the equivalents of bread and wine... So that nothing should be missing there are even false martyrs in the organization. Again, such hierarchy was entirely a projection of the Church that bore no resemblance to ancient paganism. By recognizing both masculine and feminine faces of God and by understanding God to be infused throughout the physical world, the Wiccan tradition had no need for strict hierarchical rankings.
Pope John XXII formalized the persecution of witchcraft in 1320 when he authorized the Inquisition to prosecute sorcery! Thereafter papal bulls and declarations grew increasingly vehement in their condemnation of witchcraft and of all those who "made a pact with hell." In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued the bull Summis desiderantes authorizing two inquisitors, Kramer and Sprenger, to systematize the persecution of witches. Two years later their manual, Malleus Maleficarum, was published with 14 editions following between 1487-1520 and at least 16 editions between 1574-1669. A papal bull in 1488 called upon the nations of Europe to rescue the Church of Christ which was "imperiled by the arts of Satan." The papacy and the Inquisition had successfully transformed the witch from a phenomenon whose existence the Church had previously rigorously denied into a phenomenon that was deemed very real, very frightening, the antithesis of Christianity, and absolutely deserving of persecution. It was now heresy not to believe in the existence of witches. As the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum noted, "A belief that there are such things as witches is so essential a part of Catholic faith that obstinately to maintain the opposite opinion savors of heresy." Passages in the Bible such as "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" were cited to justify the persecution of witches. Both Calvin and Knox believed that to deny witchcraft was to deny the authority of the Bible. The eighteenth century founder of Methodism, John Wesley, declared to those skeptical of witchcraft, "The giving up of witchcraft is in effect the giving up of the Bible." And an eminent English lawyer 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."
The persecution of witchcraft enabled the Church to prolong the profitability of the Inquisition. The Inquisition had left regions so economically destitute that the inquisitor Eymeric complained, "In our days there are no more rich heretics... it is a pity that so salutary an institution as ours should be so uncertain of its future." By adding witchcraft to the crimes it persecuted, however, the Inquisition exposed a whole new group of people from whom to collect money. It took every advantage of this opportunity. The author Barbara Walker notes: "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." In 1592 Father Cornelius Loos wrote: "Wretched creatures are compelled by the severity of the torture to confess things they have never done... and so by the cruel butchery innocent lives are taken; and, by a new alchemy, gold and silver are coined from human blood!"
In many parts of Europe trials for witchcraft began exactly as the trials for other types of heresy stopped. The process of formally persecuting witches followed the harshest inquisitional procedure. Once accused of witchcraft, it was virtually impossible to escape conviction. After cross-examination, the victim's body was examined for the witch's mark. The historian Walter Nigg described the process: "...she was stripped naked and the executioner shaved off all her body hair in order to seek in the hidden places of the body the sign which the devil imprinted on his cohorts. Warts, freckles, and birthmarks were considered certain tokens of amorous relations with Satan." Should a woman show no sign of a witch's mark, guilt could still be established by methods such as sticking needles into the accused? In such a case, guilt was confirmed if the inquisitor could find an insensitive spot during the process. Confession was then extracted by the hideous methods of torture already developed during earlier phases of the Inquisition. "Loathe they are to confess without torture," wrote King James I in his Daemonologie. A physician serving in witch prisons spoke of women driven half mad: ...by frequent torture... kept in prolonged squalor and darkness of their dungeons... and constantly dragged out to undergo atrocious torment until they would gladly exchange at any moment this most bitter existence for death, are willing to confess whatever crimes are suggested to them rather than to be thrust back into their hideous dungeon amid ever recurring torture. Unless the witch died during torture, she was taken to the stake. Since many of the burnings took place in public squares, inquisitors prevented the victims from talking to the crowds by using wooden gags or cutting their tongue out. Unlike a heretic or a Jew who would usually be burnt alive only after they had relapsed into their heresy or Judaism, a witch would be burnt upon the first conviction.
Sexual mutilation of accused witches was not uncommon. With the orthodox understanding that divinity had little or nothing to do with the physical world, sexual desire was perceived to be ungodly. When the men persecuting the accused witches found themselves sexually aroused, they assumed that such desire emanated, not from themselves, but from the woman. They attacked breasts and genitals with pincers, pliers and red-hot irons. Some rules condoned sexual abuse by allowing men deemed "zealous Catholics" to visit female prisoners in solitary confinement! The horror of the witch hunts knew no bounds. The Church had never treated the children of persecuted parents with compassion, but its treatment of witches' children was particularly brutal. Children were liable to be prosecuted and tortured for witchcraft: girls, once they were nine and a half, and boys, once they were ten and a half. Younger children were tortured in order to elicit testimony that could be used against their parents. Even the testimony of two-year-old children was considered valid in cases of witchcraft though such testimony was never admissible in other types of trials. A famous French magistrate was known to have regretted his leniency when, instead of having young children accused of witchcraft burned, he had only sentenced them to be flogged while they watched their parents burn.
Witches were held accountable for nearly every problem. Any threat to social uniformity, any questioning of authority, and any act of rebellion could now be attributed to and prosecuted as witchcraft. Not surprisingly, areas of political turmoil and religious strife experienced the most intense witch hunts. Witch-hunting tended to be much more severe in Germany, Switzerland, France, Poland and Scotland than in more homogeneously Catholic countries such as Italy and Spain. Witch-hunters declared that "Rebellion is as the sin of Witchcraft." In 1661 Scottish royalists proclaimed that "Rebellion is the mother of witchcraft." And in England the Puritan William Perkins called the witch "The most notorious traytor and rebell that can be...!"
The Reformation played a critical role in persuading people to blame witches for their problems. Protestants and reformed Catholics taught that any magic was sinful since it indicated a belief in divine assistance in the physical world. The only supernatural energy in the physical world was to be of the devil. Without magic to counter evil or misfortune, people were left with no form of protection other than to kill the devil's agent, the witch. Particularly in Protestant countries, where protective rituals such as crossing oneself, sprinkling holy water or calling on saints or guardian angels were no longer allowed, people felt defenseless. As Shakespeare's character, Prospero, says in The Tempest:
Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's mine own,
which is most faint...
It was most often the sermons of both Catholic and Protestant preachers that would instigate a witch hunt. The terrible Basque witch hunt of 1610 began after Fray Domingo de Sardo came to preach about witchcraft. "[T]here were neither witches nor bewitched until they were talked and written about," remarked a contemporary named Salazar. The witch hunts in Salem, Massachusetts, were similarly preceded by the fearful sermons and preaching of Samuel Parris in 1692.
The climate of fear created by churchmen of the Reformation led to countless deaths of accused witches quite independently of inquisitional courts or procedure. For example, in England where there were no inquisitional courts and where witch-hunting offered little or no financial reward, many women were killed for witchcraft by mobs. Instead of following any judicial procedure, these mobs used methods to ascertain guilt of witchcraft such as "swimming a witch," where a woman would be bound and thrown into water to see if she floated. The water, as the medium of baptism, would either reject her and prove her guilty of witchcraft, or the woman would sink and be proven innocent, albeit also dead from drowning. As people adopted the new belief that the world was the terrifying realm of the devil, they blamed witches for every misfortune. Since the devil created all the ills of the world, his agents- witches- could be blamed for them. Witches were thought by some to have as much if not more power than Christ: they could raise the dead, turn water into wine or milk, control the weather and know the past and future. Witches were held accountable for everything from a failed business venture to a poor emotional state. A Scottish woman, for instance, was accused of witchcraft and burned to death because she was seen stroking a cat at the same time as a nearby batch of beer turned sour. Witches now took the role of scapegoats that had been held by Jews. Any personal misfortune, bad harvest, famine, or plague was seen as their fault. The social turmoil created by the Reformation intensified witch-hunting. The Reformation diminished the important role of community and placed a greater demand for personal moral perfection. As the communal tradition of mutual help broke down and the manorial system which had provided more generously for widows disappeared, many people were left in need of charity.
The guilt one felt after refusing to help a needy person could be easily transferred onto that needy person by accusing her of witchcraft. A contemporary writer named Thomas Ady described a likely situation resulting from a failure to perform some hitherto customary social obligation: Presently [a householder] cryeth out of some poor innocent neighbour that he or she hath bewitched him. For, saith he, such an old man or woman came lately to my door and desired some relief, and I denied it, and God forgive me, my heart did rise against her... and presently my child, my wife, myself, my horse, my cow, my sheep, my sow, my hog, my dog, my cat, or somewhat, was thus and thus handled in such a strange manner, as I dare swear she is a witch, or else how should these things be?
How many lives were lost during the centuries of witch-hunting will never be known. Some members of the clergy proudly reported the number of witches they condemned, such as the bishop of Wurtzburg who claimed 1900 lives in five years, or the Lutheran prelate Benedict Carpzov who claimed to have sentenced 20,000 devil worshippers. But the vast majority of records have been lost and it is doubtful that such documents would have recorded those killed outside of the courts. Contemporary accounts hint at the extent of the holocaust. Barbara Walker writes that "the chronicler of Treves reported that in the year 1586, the entire female population of two villages was wiped out by the inquisitors, except for only two women left alive." Around 1600 a man wrote: Germany is almost entirely occupied with building fires for the witches... Switzerland has been compelled to wipe out many of her villages on their account. Travelers in Lorraine may see thousands and thousands of the stakes to which witches are bound.
Witch-hunting secured the conversion of Europe to orthodox Christianity. Through the terror of the witch hunts, reformational Christians convinced common people to believe that a singular male God reigned from above, that he was separate from the earth, that magic was evil, that there was a powerful devil, and that women were most likely to be his agents. As a byproduct of the witch hunts, the field of medicine transferred to exclusively male hands and the Western herbal tradition was largely destroyed. The vast numbers of people brutalized and killed, as well as the impact upon the common perception of God, make the witch hunts one of the darkest chapters of human history.
While the formal persecution of witches raged from about 1450 to 1750, sporadic killing of women on the account of suspected witchcraft has continued into recent times. In 1928 a family of Hungarian peasants was acquitted of beating an old woman to death whom they claimed was a witch. The court based its decision on the ground that the family had acted out of "irresistible compulsion." In 1976 a poor spinster, Elizabeth Hahn, was suspected of witchcraft and of keeping familiars, or devil's agents, in the form of dogs. The neighbors in her small German village ostracized her, threw rocks at her, and threatened to beat her to death before burning her house, badly burning her and killing her animals. A year later in France, an old man was killed for ostensible sorcery, and in 1981, a mob in Mexico stoned a woman to death for her apparent witchcraft which they believed had incited the attack upon Pope John Paul II. Witch hunts were neither small in scope nor implemented by a few aberrant individuals; the persecution of witches was the official policy of both the Catholic and Protestant Churches. The Church invented the crime of witchcraft, established the process by which to prosecute it, and then insisted that witches be prosecuted. After much of society had rejected witchcraft as a delusion, some of the last to insist upon the validity of witchcraft were among the clergy. Under the pretext of first heresy and then witchcraft, anyone could be disposed of who questioned authority or the Christian view of the world.
The deaths due to the Persecutions is projected to be around nine million people, of which eighty-seven percent were women! It is such torture and treatment which have shown women that if they valued their lives, they must hide their sexuality. In a time when men publicly flaunted their genitals by wearing codpieces, women knew that their own overt sexuality made them evil beings. When a woman watched the public trials of witches and witnessed the stripping and mutilation of other women, she knew she was seeing her own possible future. Is it a surprise that by the 1800s, women were perceived as having little to no sex drives, as being passive and submissive? No, it is a sign of women's need to adapt in order to survive.
We the People of the old religion are earth oriented, worshipping the goddess and god , and celebrating the seasons and life! It had ever been our ways in the learning of herbal lore, helping each other survive against disease, illness, women dying during the delivery of their children, and especially because we would not worship their god ! The ruling bodies of the Catholic and Protestant Church, supported by the politics of the times - tried, tortured, and put millions of innocent men, women and children to death - the Dark ages of their own creation! The persecutions were against not only Pagan beliefs, or so called witches and heretics, but was actually a holy war against women and their gender. For Pagans, the followers of the Old Religion, were forced to 'go underground.' They broke up into small groups called Covens and, isolated from each other, formed what would later be known as the Family Traditions. Inevitably, parts of the Craft were forgotten or lost and what survived up to the 1950s was fragmentary. After nearly five centuries of persecution and terror, came the Age of Disbelief. Memory of the True Craft had faded as the old ones of the people, who could remember how they once had met openly, died and those who came after never knew of them.