For October, I ‘ll be writing about some of the paranormal and scary things in our world, and this week I’m looking for witches. But I can’t find any.
In the 80s, I knew boys who were interested in witchcraft. They bought Ouija boards and tried to cast spells, but got nowhere. And everyone know that one guy who was studying magic and was going to learn how to cast spells. Nothing came of that, either. Then, in the 90s, I knew some older ladies who started calling themselves witches and tried to channel mystical energies. They shrugged off the old “crone with a pointed hat and a broom” notion and claimed that real witches were women who were in tune with nature and had been persecuted by Christianity in the past.
Witchcraft is fascinating, because every generation has a different idea of it. But did it exist in the past? Surely in my studies of church history I should have come across a few stories of witches being burned at the stake, right? Well, I don’t. Ever.
Let’s walk back through history, together. I’m sure the Salem Witch Trials come to mind, but there was no witchery in that Puritan town; the town’s religious fervor made it easy to drum up fear in the locals by claiming that someone was a witch. This tactic was so successful that people in power used it to persecute families in order to take their land and money. Look into for yourself – you’ll find that the charges of witchcraft were nothing but hot air.
Heard of the Basque Witch Trials of lade medieval Spain? Sounds spooky, but the judges involved in those cases failed to find any evidence of witchcraft. In the middle ages, sometimes the local Jews were accused of “witchcraft,” but it was only a buzzword used by the prosecutors in order to scare the townspeople into fearing them. Once the locals were up in arms, it was easy to force these Jews out of town and take their possessions. (Notice a trend, here?)
According to every armchair historian that I know, the Christians killed witches in the Spanish Inquisition, but that certainly didn’t happen. In fact, only Christians were persecuted in the Inquisition – someone who had never believed in Christ actually stood the best chance of avoiding it. No witches harmed, there.
Medieval Christians are known for driving Pagans out of their countries – are these Pagans the same as modern-day witches? No. Unless suburban witches build altars to local gods (like Thor, Pan, or Isis) and pray to them for luck. Today’s witches claim to channel “energies” and get in touch with the Universe; that is nothing like any ancient religion. (There are modern “neo-Pagans” who do actually pray to the old gods like this, but it’s not a form of witchcraft. Those religions never involved spell casting or magical energies. Just sacrifices.)
How about the Druids? Everyone likes to think of them as a mystical cult, but no one knows anything about them. Literally. Caesar killed all of them and left us no record of their beliefs – except for one story about sacrificing animals to cure infertility. I’ve heard of modern-day “witches” who claimed to be following the religion of the Druids, but, as far as I can tell, they don’t sacrifice animals in festivals, so I don’t know what they are doing to be authentic. Unless today’s neo-Druids have access to documents that historians have never seen, it would appear that these groups are associating themselves with older religions that they don’t understand. (OK, there is another story from Caesar’s time about Druids sacrificing babies to their gods, but it’s probably not true. And the neo-Druids claim it’s a lie.)
I’ve looked all over the history books for any tradition of witchcraft, but there’s no evidence that these groups have any historical tradition. I could give you a hundred more examples, but there’s just no way to completely cover the subject in a blog entry. Witches have long been a bed-time story for kids who wouldn’t behave and a good excuse for burning the local minority groups at the stake, but nothing more.
(I am aware that some people call themselves “witches” while acknowledging that their practices are modern and have nothing to do with old religions. Since the Western myth of the witch is nothing but Christian propaganda, I don’t know why these groups anyone would want to be associated with it.)
Happy October! Next week, I’ll be looking for Devil worshipers. Have you seen any?
UPDATE: It’s come to my attention that this blog entry is confusing because it only covers the traditions of western witches. It’s true that other cultures have traditions that we call “witchcraft,” but they are a different sort of tradition (see the comments, below) so I didn’t mention them. Sorry for the confusion. The history of witches in Eastern culture is a unique to what I’ve discussed, here , and its something that deserves of its own study.
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)