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The History of Witchcraft

As we enter the month of October, and begin to think of all things Halloween, we may bring to mind all the things that go bump in the night. One of the oldest traditions is that of Witchcraft. Many people love to dress up as witches for Halloween, because of all the fantastic tales of witches over the years.

There has been a long history of real witches throughout history the world over.

According to History,

It’s unclear exactly when witches came on the historical scene, but one of the earliest records of a witch is in the Bible in the book of 1 Samuel, thought be written between 931 B.C. and 721 B.C. It tells the story of when King Saul sought the Witch of Endor to summon the dead prophet Samuel’s spirit to help him defeat the Philistine army.

Witchcraft has long been condemned in mainstream society. People are afraid of witches and their supposed mystical powers. Often, we fear what we don't understand, and witchcraft is something that is still misunderstood by others.

Although traditions surrounding witchcraft are most popular in Europeans traditions, there is also a history of witches in other parts of the world as well.

According to Britanica,

The difficulty is even greater with the relevant words in African, Asian, and other languages. The problem of defining witchcraft is made more difficult because the concepts underlying these words also change according to time and place, sometimes radically. Moreover, different cultures do not share a coherent pattern of witchcraft beliefs, which often blend other concepts such as magic, sorcery, religion, folklore, theology, technology, and diabolism. Some societies regard a witch as a person with inherent supernatural powers, but in the West witchcraft has been more commonly believed to be an ordinary person’s free choice to learn and practice magic with the help of the supernatural.

Many people over the years have practiced witchcraft in all different forms. The fact that this is a common thread through different cultures over time may indicate that there is some truth to the ideas of witchcraft. It may leave all of us with questions as to whether there are people capable of tapping into supernatural powers.

Then also, we have to wonder where these supernatural powers come from. Do they come from the devil or evil spirits as Christians have told us? Or, are they inborn in some people? Are these powers available to anyone who wants them, or is there a secret initiation to become a witch?

All of these questions have been floating around in our collective psyche for centuries, and are not likely to soon be answered.

Witch Trials

In the 1300's through the 1600's, there were panics in Europe and America about witches. There were many women that were put to death because of witch hysteria. The Church fueled much of this panic, which lead to trials, and to women being burned at the stake.

According to Smithsonial Magazine,

In the medieval and early modern eras, many religions, including Christianity, taught that the devil could give people known as witches the power to harm others in return for their loyalty. A “witchcraft craze” rippled through Europe from the 1300s to the end of the 1600s. Tens of thousands of supposed witches—mostly women—were executed.

Though many women were killed after being accused of witchcraft, it is unclear if any of them were actually witches. In their panic, colonists in Salem had perhaps the most notorious of the witch trials. You have probably heard about this, even now, 300 years later.

In a relatively short period of time, there were 17 people put to death for witchcraft in Salem. The town has issued an apology in recent years for this tragedy, and pardoned those who were accused of witchcraft.

Witches Today

In modern times, there are still people who refer to themselves as witches. I have known several self-proclaimed witches in my lifetime. They were practitioners of Wicca, a modern-day nature religion that is based on forms of witchcraft from the past. It is a spiritual belief that many people practice when they want to live in tune with nature.

According to Britanica,

Although there were precursors to the movement, the origins of modern Wicca can be traced to a retired British civil servant, Gerald Brosseau Gardner (1884–1964). Gardner spent most of his career in Asia, where he became familiar with various indigenous religious traditions. He also read widely in Western esoteric literature, including the writings of the British occultist Aleister Crowley. Upon returning to Britain in the 1930s, Gardner became involved in the British occultcommunity and claimed to have discovered a group of witches operating near England’s New Forest in 1939. He later alleged that it was their teachings that provided the basis of Wicca, although historians disagree on whether the New Forest group ever existed. If it did, it likely formed earlier in the 1930s. Following the 1951 repeal of Britain’s archaicwitchcraft laws, Gardner published Witchcraft Today (1954), founded his first coven of followers, and, with the assistance of high priestess Doreen Valiente (1922–99), developed what became known as Gardnerian Wicca.

The practitioners of Wicca today harken back to the traditions of witches in the past, while putting a new spin on their beliefs. Many follow a tradition that incorporates both a god and a goddess, and they believe in use of a nature based magic.

Some Wiccans practice in a group or coven, and others are solo practitioners. There are many books in your local library or book shop that can be used to delve into spells and nature worship through Wicca.

According to Wicca Academy,

We think that the energy we create impacts what happens to us. For instance, negative magick bounces back on the perpetrator but is three times more intense. We sometimes refer to that as the “Threefold Law” or “The Rule of the Three”. Other key ethical principles claim we should always seek to harmonize with ourselves, other people, and the planet. For this reason, Wiccans are often concerned about the environment.

Wiccans today focus on ethics with the use of their magic. This makes it very different than the legends of dark magic and satanic rituals from the past.

Here, you can learn more about the history of Wicca from an actual practitioner. There is an interesting history to Wicca and this thriving religion that is being practiced today, honoring the ancient traditions of witchcraft from the past.


I hope you found this short history of witchcraft interesting and informative! Let me know if you have any additional questions in the comments, and I will be happy to answer them for you. Happy Halloween, my lovelies!

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