Term Paper on Witchcraft

This essay has a total of 5535 words and 18 pages.


Witchcraft: What is it Really?
By: Anonymous

WITCHCRAFT: WHAT IS IT REALLY? For my final project, I choose the non-ordinary topic of
witchcraft. I was not and am not, interested in researching this to learn how to become a
witch and to practice the craft. My intent in doing this project stemmed from the fact
that I am a Christian. This class has showed me how to have a more open mind, and how
gaining knowledge provides understanding. I wanted to see what is fact and what is false
about the myths and stereotypes about witches and witchcraft. To fully explore this
subject I have found information on the history of witchcraft and its evolution into the
religion of Wicca that is practiced today. I have also looked into how the media today and
in the past has presented witches and the type of propaganda that they use that further in
the falsehoods that still are present about the craft. Another aspect of my project is two
interviews that I conducted with people associated with witchcraft, Meghan Lewis and Carol
Karlsen. Witchcraft the religion is quite old. Practices have said to be dated back to
Neolithic “Stone Age” cave painting, but it is hard to be completely certain
if the pictures have been interpreted properly. Witchcraft is known to have grown out of
pre-Christian pagan beliefs. The beliefs have developed over the years, being taken from
various sources. The idea of witchcraft took a major turn around the end of the mid-evil
period. Around the 1500’s the religion of witchcraft no longer become accepted. The
Catholic Church in Europe began inquisitions and the persecutions of people they believed
to be witches. Before this time the definition of a witch had a person such as a healer or
sorcerer/sorceress. Often the people who were known as witches were “wise
folk” or “good witches.” They were often old, and believed that their
knowledge of herbs used in medicine was due to their age. Starting in about the thirteenth
century the concept of what a witch was changed that a person who was called a witch was
believed to have it in with Satan and practicing evil. The idea of there being good
witches was no longer accepted, and a series of witch trials began to continued on until
around the end of the 1600’s, spreading from Europe to the New World of America.
Execution of accused witches occurred in many counties throughout Europe. Some of common
things that witches were blamed for causing were destructive storms; non-producing crops
or animals, diseases, sterility, death, possession of humans and making them do outrageous
acts. The Romans and Greeks were also known to put some people to death for being witches.
People who were in witches in those societies were believed to move around at night
causing the evils of humanity. In most of Europe, though, a witch was someone who was
conspiring with the devil, which during the mid-evil times was a great offense. The people
of this era were very devout in their religion, and the devil was highly feared. To have a
person who was supposed to be connected to the devil was something that just could not be
accepted. Some of the first executions in Europe that occurred for the crime of witchcraft
took place between the years of 1347-1400 in France. Sixty-seven were burned for being
involved with the craft. In the 1400’s, the Catholic Church became a key player and
influencer in the persecution of witches. It was declared by the church that witchcraft
was a “hostile threat” to Christianity and that a crackdown on the ending the
practice was necessary. It was at this time that the idea that witches were agents of the
devil became a common belief. They were suspected by some to be on earth to do evil on
God’s people. Much of how one would be declared a witch was based upon a book
commissioned by the Pope. It was written by two monks, Heinrich Kraemer and Jacob
Sprenger, and is entitled “malleies malificarum” or “The Witches’
Hammer.” It outlined various aspects that were considered against that were a crime
to be participating in, and defined someone as a witch. Witchcraft was be outlawed in
England in the year 1541, and in 1604, capital punishment became the ramification for a
person who was a witch or pagan. The inquisition of witches continued to occur in Europe
throughout the 1500’s and 1600’s. In 1515, more than five hundred charged
witches were executed in Geneva. In 1589, one hundred and thirty-three men, women and
children were burned in one day for being witches. Between the years of 1591 and 1600,
three hundred were put to death in Switzerland. Also, in Sweden, during the time between
1674-1677, seventy-one were burned for suspected involvement in the craft. The people who
were put to death often went through much torture before their lives were finally ended.
The mid-evil times in Europe are somewhat known for the variety of tortures and devices
used on people when accused of various crimes. Some of these punishments that accused
witches would be subjected to include: thumbscrews, the rack, and boots that were made to
break the person’s legs. The accused were often deprived sleep and food as well,
while awaiting their inevitable death. Many times the person accused of witchcraft were
subjected to these tortures because they would not confess. They would be continually put
through pain until they declared participating in witchcraft, and then they would die. The
situation was no win, many would die from torture, and if they didn’t then they
would confess and die because for that reason. Two famous trials that took place in Europe
are that of Joan of Arc and Urbain Grandier. Joan of Arc was accused of heresy and
witchcraft. She admitted to hearing voices that she claimed belonged to St. Michael, St.
Catherine of Alexandria, and St. Margaret. She also declared that these voices instructed
her to help in the Hundred Years’ War. Though her involvement actually turned the
war in Frances favor, she was put in trial for the wearing of masculine attire and for
acting on God and not for the Catholic Church. She was burned at the stake for her
“crimes.” Twenty-five years after her burning, the church revoked the
decision, declaring her innocent, and a heroine due to her assistance in the war. Urbain
Grandier was a respected priest in the town of Loudun, France. He was prosecuted for the
crime of sorcery, evil spells, and causing the possession of Ursuline nuns at a convent in
his town. The accusations by these women were the focus of his charge. They suddenly began
barking, screaming, contorting they bodies out of pain, and participating in acts of
blaspheme. When asked, they stated that Garndier was the reason for their outrageous
actions. At his trial, seventy-two people testified to have witnessed his
“witchcraft” actions, and based upon these testimonies he was burned alive.
Studying the cause after the fact, it has been stated by many that the real reason for
Garndier being accused had nothing to do with him actually being involved with witchcraft.
Many historians believe that he was highly associated with politics and was not liked, and
murdered due to this. They believe that the nuns’ actions were part of a conspiracy
with higher government officials in the town. With this snowballing effect of witchcraft
inquisitions throughout Europe, it was bound to spread across the seas to the young New
World colonies. The small village of Salem would be the one to get hit. The events that
took place in Salem are a part of American history that have lived throughout the years,
and are still studied to this day. Salem Village was the first European settlement in what
is now called Danvers, Massachusetts. Salem Village developed into its own entity and
parish from breaking off the already existing Salem Town when a group of farmers moved to
this area petitioning for its independence. This occurred in 1689, and the village became
established with its church led by the Reverend Samuel Parris. The beginning of the
accusations occurred because of the daughter and niece of Rev. Samuel Parris. In the
winter of 1692, nine-year-old Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams suddenly seemed to
fall ill. They began displaying unexplainable and frightening behaviors. The girls would
dive under furniture, contort their bodies in painful positions, claim that they were
being bit and poked by some unseen force, bark, scream gibberish, and claim to see
frightening apparitions. Other girls in the neighboring homes started experiencing these
same symptoms. These girls included eleven-year-old Ann Putman, seventeen-year-old Mercy
Lewis, Mary Walcott, Elizabeth Hubbard, Susannah Sheldon, and Mary Warren, making the
total number inflicted eight. The town called in Dr. William Griggs to examine the girls,
and hopefully get an explanation for their outrageous behaviors. Even before the
doctor’s assessment of the girls’ condition, there were rumors going around
the village that witchcraft may be the cause. These are partly attributed to a book that
had been recently published by Cotton Mather. It was entitled “Memorable
Providences,” and told the tale of a woman in Ireland that had been possessed by a
witch. The woman’s behavior in the book was similar to that displayed by the
infected girls. After Dr. Griggs fully examined the girls, and tired various methods to
cure them, he had no answer. In the meantime, the disease seemed to be spreading with some
adults being infected. He finally suggested that the supernatural might be at play in the
cases of these little girls. The individuals living the Salem Village were strict
Puritans. Some of the behaviors that the girls were exhibiting were scaring the community,
and causing many to believe somehow the devil was involved. Many of the people in the
village were convinced that witchcraft and Satan were coming to breakdown this God-fearing
town. From the assertion by the doctor, and already existing opinions that witchcraft was
the cause, the accusations began. Parris and Williams made the first allegations of
specific persons being participating in witchcraft and causing the epidemic that was
taking place in the town. The girls accused three women, Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah
Osborn. Tituba was a Caribbean woman that worked as a slave to the Parris family. She had
been suspected by many as a witch due to the different beliefs of her native culture.
Sarah Good was an old beggar woman that some would consider a social outcast. Sarah Osborn
was also an old woman known for being quarrelsome and for not attending church on a
regular basis. These three women were placed in jail and schedule for trials of witchcraft
in March. After these first condemnations, many more followed, with the jails filling up
more and more everyday. As the number of people in jail increase, the less likely it
seemed that some should be there. Others accused included the very pious and frail Rebecca
Nurse; Martha Corey, wife of a successful farm; Deliverance Hobbs; Bridget Bishop, owner
of a house of brothel; Sarah Cloyce; Goodwife Proctor, wife of a rich farmer and Mary
Easty. Also, the four-year-old daughter of Sarah Good, Dorcas, would be accused of being
tied to witchcraft as well. Three of the girls had complained that they were bitten by
Dorcas’s specter. It soon turned that it wasn’t just females being implicated,
some males were said to witches. The wealthy Phillip English and George Burroughs, a
former pastor in Salem joined the women in confinement. The first of the accused to
confess to witchcraft was the Parris’s slave Tituba. She said in her testimony that
she had met a man that sometimes would appear as a dog or hog, and he would ask her to
sign his book to do work for him (the devil). She declared that she was a witch, and that
she, Good and Osborn had flown in the air over the poles. More and more trials,
confessions, and denials followed this initial act by Tituba. When the women would come
into the courtroom the girls would scream and say that they were being hurt, or other
various horrid things by the “witch” When it was all over, nearly 25 died.
Sarah Osborn died in prison; Sarah Good, Bridget Bishop, Rebecca Nurse, George Burroughs,
Martha Corey, Mary Easty were all hanged; and the husband of Martha Corey, Giles, was
pressed to death under two heavy stones which took a period of two days. He and his wife
were the last victims of the witch-hunt that had become an epidemic in this little village
of Salem. Early Autumn of 1692 brought an ending to this awful period in American history.
Many doubts were starting to develop in people of the town due to the social stance of
some of the accused held. Increase Mather published a book entitled “Cases of
Conscience” which argued the morals behind what had been taking place over the past
few months. There are many theories that have developed since the end of the witch trials
of Salem. These ideas have also come up in the study of the witch-hunts in Europe. Where
people making this up? Where their social reasons that they wanted certain murdered and
used witchcraft as the mode? As one can see, over this period the concept of what a witch
was become skewed from the original definition. During the times between the 1300’s
to the late 1600’s, the practice of religion of witchcraft became somewhat of a
secret society. What these secret witches were practicing was not in the same form that
the church categorized witchcraft as. After the late 1600’s, witchcraft remained a
quiet practice by its followers. Then, in 1897, and book was written entitled
“Aradia” or The Gospel of the Witches,” by Godfrey Liland. Though it
went unnoticed, it was a beginning of resurgence of the true religion of witchcraft in
society. About fifteen to twenty years after Liland’s novel was publish an
Egyptologist, Dr. Margaret Alice Murray, discovered some documents on witchcraft.
Information in these records stated that witchcraft was actually a mix of ancient,
pre-Christianity, nature/fertility based religion. Murray furthered researched this
information to find it to be true. She went on to study the laws that the church had
implemented during the times of the witch-hunts. In researching the information on the
this topic she found evidence supporting the validity that witchcraft has nothing to do
with Satan, and that they churches knew this the entire time. She published her findings
in a work called “The Witch-Cult in Western Europe.” These works initiated the
reformation of the craft and its ability to be practiced by people without fearing for
their lives. Modern witchcraft, or the general term, Wicca, has many forms and has evolved
from different areas. This chart shows the basic evolution of witchcraft. Many new-age
practices of Wicca are based off the beliefs established by Aleistel Crowley. An outline
of his doctrines was presented in his biography and provided a basis for many who were
seeking a form of witchcraft to practice. From his basic concepts grew what is known as
“Gardinerian” style of Wicca. Gerald Brosseau Gardner, a follower of Crowley,
developed it. The “Alexandian” style was begun by Alex Sanders, and has many
of the same concepts that are practiced by the Gardinearian witches. Miriam Simos, or
Starhawk, is the founder of the feminist Wicca in the United States. She runs an
organization known as The Covenant of the Goddess, which combines feminism and the
Gardinerian style. Though there are many different styles of Wicca one could practice,
there are many basic concepts that are consistent in most of the different types. Many of
the basic beliefs of witchcraft counteract the myths and stereotypes the today’s
society has about what witchcraft is. A witch can be male or female, and is defined as one
who practices Wicca. Witchcraft is a nature religion, not unlike that of shamanism, and is
considered pagan religion. With this concept of worshipping nature, witches believe in the
idea of dualism. What this means is that they believe that everything in nature, including
humans, has a male and female (this can be related to Christianity’s good/evil
concept). The God and The Goddess of Wicca represent the male/female aspect of nature.
These are what witches worship; so when one asks if a witch believes in God, the answer is
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