The history of witches is a long and complicated one. No one knows exactly when witchcraft began, but many believe that its origins date back to the Stone Age. At different times, witches have been respected members of their communities or mercilessly persecuted by those who fear what they do not understand. In ancient times, witches were sought for help with illness and trouble, and respected for their knowledge and wisdom. But as Christianity spread through Europe, witches were thought to be associated with the Devil. Thousands of people, both witches and accused witches, were killed.
The roots and history of witchcraft are thought to have begun with the ancient Celtic people. Witches respected and revered the cycles of life and the Earth, including the phases of the moon, the changing seasons and birth and death. They learned to make use of the Earth's gifts and natural cycles, and thus were viewed as healers and wise women.
The notion of wicked witches with less-than-noble intentions has taken hold. Witches are condemned in the Old Testament.
Sixth to Eighth Centuries
As Christianity began to come into practice in Europe, those still practicing the age-old pagan religions began to face persecution. Witchcraft began to be seen as a threat to Christianity, as many Christians feared that witches were associated with the Devil. Around the sixth century, the Christians began to outlaw witchcraft.
The time of the Inquisition begins. Under orders from Rome, thousands of witches and others accused of heresy and blasphemy are imprisoned and executed.
15th to 17th Centuries
The history of witches continues with witch hysteria taking hold in Europe; thousands of people are tortured and killed in the interest of ridding Europe of witches. Burning witches at the stake becomes the preferred method of execution.
1692 to 1693
The notorious Salem Witch Trials occur in the American Colonies, resulting in the hanging deaths of 19 people and one death by pressing. Three others died in prison while awaiting trial. In all, more than 150 people were accused and tried.
Spiritualism and witchcraft begin to flourish in England once again. Many books on the subject were published during this time.
Laws forbidding witchcraft are finally dropped in England in 1951. During this same time, a restructuring of ancient witchcraft, called Wicca, begins in England.
History of Witches Today
Wicca, Spirituality and New Age religious practices become much more common and accepted. Laurie Cabot is named the Official Witch of Salem, Massachusetts, a town that draws tourists who want to learn more about the practice of Wicca as well as those intrigued by the witch trials of the Colonial Era.
We all know what a witch wears and uses, but how did these things come to be associated with witches? The answers lie in some well-known works of fiction.
Afraid of witches? Learning the facts about witches will help you separate the reality of the Wiccan religion from the scary stories told in fiction.
How do famous witches in history stack up against the real thing? These examples will show you how far fictional accounts are from the reality of modern Wicca.