Witchcraft and Wizardry

Witchcraft and Wizardry

Bewitching Facts

Witches have been part of human culture for millennia. Famous biblical figures, such as Solomon, were said to have had supernatural powers. Their roles in classic literature and fairy tales—the “Macbeth” witches, Queen Grimhilde in “Snow White,” and the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz”— are a testament to our fascination with the practice of witchcraft. While often portrayed as evil sorcerers, witches of yore were most often herb gatherers, midwives, and medicine women or healers. More invoked spells for good than ill, but it was the possibility of malice that incited fear and contempt.

Witchcraft as occult was once a widespread belief in Europe and the Americas. Suspected witches often become scapegoats for the misfortunes that befell a town or village. Alleged witches were persecuted and executed, with the most infamous example in this country being the Salem Witch Trials held in colonial Massachusetts in 1692. During this event, more than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft, and 20 were executed.

The obsession with the idea of witchcraft continues today. Witches are still prevalent in literature, with the most notable in recent history being the characters in “Harry Potter.”
Adults and children celebrate Halloween by dressing up as witches and wizards, and decorating their homes with effigies of these macabre madams, replete with gnarled faces and hands, ominous cloaks, pointy hats, and brooms.

Did witches really ride brooms?
In rural Europe, brooms were and sometimes still are ridden in folk ceremonies. People trotted through their crop fields astride a broom in hopes of coaxing the grain to grow. Participants would leap over a broom, hoping the grain would grow to the height of the highest leap. Observations of such ceremonies could lead to tales of flying on brooms.
Do witch potions work?
Before modern medicine people had many different cures and recipes. Some were skilled at finding the most effective mixtures, and others would seek them out. We might call them herbalists, or practitioners of alternative medicine today, but earlier they were referred to as cunning or wise women.
Can a man be a witch?
In Europe and Britain between the 1400s and the 1700s, both men and women were arrested for the crime of “witchcraft,” although most historians believe no real witches existed. Male witches were often referred to as magicians, sorcerers, wizards, or warlocks.
Do witches exist today?
Today, both men and women practice a nature-based spirituality called Wicca, centered on a vision of balance and harmony in the natural world. Wicca rites are practiced in societies all around the world. Beyond that, many objects associated with witchcraft are commercially available; charms are purchased and spells are invoked for superstitious reasons, as well as to induce good and ill fortune.

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