Sunday, 8 July 2012

Witches of Old and Persecution

The Witch by Pen Parker

When my grandson was visiting a few days ago, he asked me a question that has been on my mind for a while.
“Grandma, why are pictures of witches ugly when you’re a witch and you’re pretty?”  Out of the mind of a young man a question for the ages, a thought lost in time and a story to unfold.  This has me losing sleep and my mind was racing and when I took pen to paper a sad tale began to unfold.

Q Why is the skin of a witch shown as an unhealthy green?
A Tis from the countless beatings and bruisings she endured by the hands of the church whom call her witch.

Q Why are her teeth missing and broken?
A Humm from being pushed and beaten (the pain she endured).

Q Why does a witch have warts?
A They are not warts, they are burns and blisters from the witch needles and heating irons used to torture her for loving the Lord and Lady the earth and moon.

Q But why are her clothes ragged and black?
A Tis from being locked in a cell with filth and no water, no sun, no moon, the black is her dried blood.

Q Why do her hands look old, crippled and her back bent?
A She had a straight back once and lovely hands as she gathered her herbs and plants to use for healing and to harm none but after being pushed into a small cart (so small she had to stoop) and to keep from falling down in the filth she had to hold onto the bars and as she was driven through the town her lovely gentle hands were beaten with sticks.

To me she (the Witch) will always be beautiful and I for one am proud to be a witch.

* Most of the bad spelling, grammar and punctuation have been fixed by me (Debbie) because I'm a bit uptight about stuff like that.

Yet again, a heart warming facebook post about how the “Church” has maligned the witches of old.  Kids know witches from stories as having green skins and warts and being ugly, and so to explain why this is inaccurate such a lovely fantasy was invented to explain it.

Gods forbid we should actually teach our children truth, that would just be wrong.  They don’t need to know the truth, they need to believe the fantasy such adults seem to keep perpetuating in order to feel more persecuted than thou.

Firstly, lets look at the word ‘Witch’.  Throughout history, a witch was an evil sorceress, often portrayed as ugly but sometimes as stunningly beautiful like Snow White’s stepmother.  Until Gerald Gardner decided to ‘reclaim’ and redefine the word in the 1950s, this is what it meant.  An ugly evil hag.

The herbwives, midwives and healers that so many aspire to (with no clues about the reality) would have been horrified and deeply offended to know that our modern generations are calling them witches.  To use ‘witch’ in such a manner is a modern invention.  It is incorrect and illogical to place any correlation with such women to the old use of the word.

Secondly, the Burning Times.  Oh Yippee, the most grossly inaccurate event modern wiccans and witches think they know anything about.

History shows that less than 150,000 people were executed as “witches, heretics or Jews”. That’s it.  And further, only a smaller percentage of those were executed by the Church, the Inquisition or any religious institution.  More commonly, secular courts and townspeople got the mob mentality and chose to punish their neighbours for their real or imagined sins.  Also please note - witches, heretics and Jews.  Not just witches.  The Cathars were a Christian sect that was almost completely wiped out for being different to Roman Catholic Orthodoxy, and Jews were blamed for everything from killing Christ to poverty.

Compare that with the “9 million witches burned at the stake” that some sources quote.  To be fair, this number wasn’t pulled out of the arse of some modern Wiccan author, but from an extrapolation of the events in one area.  An historian was trying to calculate numbers and based it on one area, multiplied by population and area base to cover the whole area affected.  Unfortunately, his sample was a particularly brutal one and not representative of the reality.  This number was repeatedly quoted as accurate by historians who should have known better.

Apparently we should feel some sort of kinship or relationship to these people.  They were our ancestors, if not in reality then in ‘the faith’ as they were our spiritual forebears.  Nobly standing up for their wonderful virtuous beliefs, wrongly punished by the evil Patriarchy in the form of the Church. 

What a crock.  For the most part, they were good Christian people who had the misfortune to say no to a Lord who wanted an easy shag, or had healthy livestock when their neighbours were having health issues with theirs - why look to our own practises when we can cast the blame elsewhere - or someone owed them something, or they were just different which has been the cause of so much misplaced fear and loathing and still happens today.

The Pagan belief system as we know it is also a modern invention.  Reconstructionists from all pantheons are frequently looked down upon by Pagan groups as being too hard and inflexible.  A good friend of mine is a Folkish Heathen - a hard core Odinist.  His belief system is reconstructed from historical accounts, from the scholars who make an effort to study (properly) the way their Gods were worshipped.  He is closer to accurate than most, but is frequently derided by others who claim to follow the same Gods in “the old ways” but are basing their worship on modern fluffy sources.  They associate a belief that you should follow the Gods of your ancestors with bigotry and Neo-Nazi ideals.  Really?  Dion Fortune said the same thing in The Mystical Qabalah, but this is overlooked.

If it’s in a book, or on the interwebs it must be true.  I can find a quote for almost anything you want to hear, and it will be sourced from the internet or a book.  There are some truly dreadful books out there, and some wonderful books filled with great and accurate information, but flawed with one chapter or sometimes even one paragraph that is complete fantasy or invention.  Sadly, for me this taints not only the whole book, but also the author.  Even sadder, with the internet, I’ve found articles of mine, attributed to someone else on their blog, side by side with the most inane drivel you have ever had the misfortune to read.  It’s important to remember that any flake can start a webpage, and with the self-publishing craze, they can also write and publish a book.

A friend of mine was telling me that she read a manuscript for someone she knew.  That person was quite a locally respected astrologer.  The manuscript was really good she tells me, but what got her was that apparently she was the first to read the manuscript, but there were already reviews of it as part of it.  The author had written her own reviews and quoted them for the cover!

Worse still, to my mind, is that the people commenting on this "beautiful poignant story" are bitching and moaning about religious intolerance, persecution and hatred of another faith that is misunderstood.  Do they truly not see their own hypocrisy?  Seriously?  They are turning what can be a wonderful and fulfilling faith to many (2000 years - and many were not converted by force or lies) into something dark and evil.  And comments like "they'd do it all again given half the chance" is not only incorrect, it's inflammatory, it's disappointing and is the kind of thing that makes me feel ashamed to call myself Pagan.
For those who want to teach our new generations history, sources must be reputable, primary sources, and backed up by more than one or two similar reputable sources.  An open mind is important, but not so open that your brains fall out.  A little common sense must be applied.  But as the saying goes, common sense is not that common.


  1. Thank you!
    I am thoroughly enjoying reading your blog!
    (I found your posts (dated last year) while recently searching for information about the specific celebrations on the Ancient Egyptian calendar.)

    Then, I had noticed there wasn't as much "blog activity" after January this year, and I was afraid you & Luana were fading from the virtual spotlight.
    (I know blogging is difficult, as I have seen so many great blog sites disappear over the years.) Anyway, I just wanted to say that I am so glad to see the new posts this month and for both of you ladies to know that your writings are cherished.

    (I have a little blog of my own I started this year. It's just for me because I love to write. I don't even share it with everyone I know...I guess maybe it's because I am afraid people will see the real me...people who know me professionally might not understand, or get offended, or just think I'm looney. LOL. The blog is quite scattered & disorganized right now, but I look forward to the days when I will be able to make it more cohesive & post more frequently.)
    Here is the link, just in case want to check it out:

    Keep up the great work!

    May this day offer you just what you need in each unfolding moment,
    Coach Mandy

    Amanda J. Sheldon
    Exercise Physiologist/Biologist, BS
    Dietetic Technician Registered (DTR)
    American College of Sports Medicine™ (ACSM), HFS
    Certified Wellcoach®

  2. Thank you for your lovely words Mandy!

    Drama caught both of us up in the early parts of this year. Luana's is hers to talk about, but mine was in the form of two challenging teenagers and a host of mental health issues. One day I may write about it, when it's not quite so raw.

    I'm a little concerned that most of my blogging is ranting at the moment but I'm sure as I work the stress and angry out, they'll go back to being (hopefully) informative and a bit more positive.

    Off to check out your blog now :)

  3. Great post. I thought you might like my machinima animation about The Wise Woman, The Witch
    Bright Blessings ~