Nine Million Murders
That's the number of executed witches Matilda Joslyn Gage published in Women, Church and State in 1893. This would make it the second largest genocide in history, exceeded only by the Holocaust, where it is estimated that 11,000,000 - 17,000,000 Jewish and non Jewish people lost their lives.
To understand the means for such a horrific persecution throughout history, one must first examine the cultural and definitive evolution surrounding the term 'Witch'.
The first recorded documentation of a 'Witch' was by the Sumerians between 6000 B.C. to 4000 B.C. The term 'Witch' was considered demonic, and exorcists liberated utilizing magic. While magic was mostly condoned for use in helping people, especially regarding healing, witches were considered the source of afflictions by virtue of demonic channeling.
One of the oldest known Egyptian texts discovered is about the Egyptian god Ptah's use of magic to create the human mind and language, followed by the god Thoth, who used words of magic to bestow the native Egyptian
language. There are several ancient texts filled with magic spells including: The Pyramid Texts, The Coffin Texts, and The Book of the Dead. Heka was the commonly used magic in Egypt from 2700 B.C. to 1500 B.C.
In 2000 B.C., Chinese Witchcraft was an accepted part of the practice of medicine. However, during the Han Dynasty (221 to 207 B.C.), the country endured horrific and bloody witch hunts. Princess Zhuyi, Princess Yangshi, and Princess Wei the Eldest ( of the Empress Wei and Emperor Wu Han ), were accused of practicing the dark arts and executed in 91 B. C. Over 300 other people involved in creating magical potions were executed during the reign of between 141–87 BC.
The ancient Sanskrit texts of India, known as the Atharvaveda ( Veda of Magical Formulas ), were written sometime between 1500 B.C. and 1000 B.C. They recorded religious rites and various magical spells, especially for ailments caused by demonic possession. In addition to the worship of spirits, ancient knowledge that pre-dated the Vedas recorded spells and divination. In his book, A History of Sanskrit Literature, Arthur Berriedale Keith writes, "Buddhists, Jains, and Brahmins all shared the belief sages could attain magical powers, such as controlling nature, through self-discipline and avoiding overindulgence."
One of the earliest references to witchcraft in the Bible was the story of King Saul taking counsel with the Witch of Endor, a woman who summoned the prophet Samuel's spirit, written between 931 B.C. and 721 B.C. Further scripture in Isaiah and Deuteronomy show that despite being condemned, witchcraft and other divination were common-place.
By the eighth century B.C. this type of consulting with the dead (necromancy) was popular and rivaled the practice of prophecy.
The practices of Druids were filled with mystique; however, without ancient texts, all there is to go on are Roman scribes documenting the practice of human sacrifices. Imagination also plays a huge part regarding the true practices of the Druids.
The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill (UNC) reminds that "Rome attempted to end the Druid religion, using the Roman Empire's common tactic of vilifying any enemy by using the term savage superstition. The Celtic society viewed women as the Mother Goddess, unlike the Roman Empire's objectification of women."
According to The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids, the first notable written documentation about the Druids was found in two works of Greek literature around 200 B.C. Unfortunately, those texts were lost to the world. Current Archaeology ( 1800's ), states that Druidism was revived around 1807, when 7,000 Druids participated in a grand meeting parade through Birmingham, England. Annual festivals were hosted and the Darvill and Wainwright Stonehenge excavations were initiated in 2008.
With a lack of historical documentation available for reference, modern Druids invented their religion on borrowed and created rituals, rites, and other witchcraft and magic practices.
Greeks viewed witches in a negative light, while Romans, believing in various superstitions, practiced and cast spells. The latter is credited with magia (magic) a generalized concept first used sometime between 23 and 79 B.C. by Virgil, a Roman poet.
Timelines are difficult to pinpoint for closed cultures as Native Americans and mixed Africa's Vodou, which evolved into Voodoo ( particularly in New Orleans ). Hoodoo combined Native American traditions/practices with African and even European magical rituals that included grimoires; add Christian based Biblical context to disguise ancient magical practices, and you have a New World hybrid religion.
Witchcraft is an ancient world practice, and America became a melting pot of cultures, religions, and beliefs, especially for witchcraft and magic. Unfortunately, that melting pot became a dark omen of fear foreshadowing many deaths to come.
Evolution of Modern Executions
That's the exact number of people estimated by modern day scholars to have been hanged, drowned, or burned for being a witch in Europe and the American colonies, particularly from the 15th–18th centuries. Data from the 14th through 17th century would suggest between 57,401 and 61,651. Archaeologist Greg Laden estimates an additional 10,000 people died in the Stedinger genocide alone in the 12th century. Most historians accept 40,000 to 100,000 based on public records.
The Stedinger ( mostly from Holland ) settled in and opened up German marshlands in the early 12th century. However, by refusing to pay tithes to the Archbishop of Bremen, a crusade was preached against them and their entire community was wiped out by 1234. “The Stedinger,” said his Holiness, “seduced by the devil, have abjured all the laws of God and man; slandered the Church–insulted the holy sacraments–consulted witches to raise evil spirits–shed blood like water–taken the lives of priests, and concocted an infernal scheme to propagate the worship of the devil, whom they adore under the name of Asmodi."
The Church accused the Knights Templar of heresy, witchcraft, devil-worship, and had them removed in the early 13th century. It's widely believed that King Philip of France ( who seized the treasury ) was jealous of the Templars' wealth and power, thus sought to eradicate his enormous debt to them. Friday, 13 October 1307, Philip arrested hundreds of the Knights Templar for torture and execution. This led to a general rise of suspicion and public distrust.
One hundred years before the witch trial mania began to sweep Europe, Petronella de Meath, a servant girl, was the first recorded witch to be executed in the British Isles at Killkenny, Ireland, on November 3, 1324. She would be Ireland's last witch to be tried and burned at
Joan of Arc, at the age of 19, was burned at the stake in 1429. A new trial ordered by Charles VII cleared her name 20 years later.
Agnes Bernauer was thrown in the Danube to drown following accusations by her father-in-law Ernest, Duke of Bavaria, Germany, October 1435. A German bishop was also executed for using sorcery in an assassination attempt against a pope. Pope Innocent VIII authorized monks to investigate suspected witches in 1484.
In England, the first recorded pre-trial for witchcraft took place in 1441, for Eleanor Cobham, the Duchess of Gloucester. She was accused of plotting to kill Henry VI by employing a magician named Roger Bolingbroke and a wise-woman named Margery Jourdemayne. The Duchess admitted to having employed Bolingbroke and Jourdemayne to assist her conceive by the Duke. Despite her pleas, they were all found guilty as a warning to others against such practices. Roger was hanged, drawn, and quartered, and Margery was burned as either a heretic or a female traitor.
The Duchess was imprisoned for life for the practice of heresy. Some believe it was a plot by the king to weaken the Duke, and the Duchess was the means. The truth remains entombed with history.
Five hundred were burned in the years 1515 and 1516, as Protestant witches in Geneva alone.
According to Charles MacKay’s Witch Mania: The History of Witchcraft , in 1520 France, "fires for the execution of witches blazed in almost every town. Danaeus, in his “Dialogues of Witches,” says they were so numerous that it would be next to impossible to tell the number of them. So deep was the thraldom of the human mind, that the friends and relatives of the accused parties looked on and approved."
"Bartolomeo de Spina has a list still more fearful. He informs us that, in the year 1524, no less than a thousand persons suffered death for witchcraft in the district of Como, and that for several years afterwards the average number of victims exceeded a hundred annually. One inquisitor, Remigius, took great credit to himself for having, during fifteen years, convicted and burned nine hundred."
Henry VIII's Witchcraft Act of 1542 ( 33 Hen. VIII c. 8 ), defined witchcraft as a crime punishable by death. This opened doors for large scale hunts and trials. It was repealed in 1547, but restored by a new Act in 1563 under his daughter, Elizabeth I. Both these Acts were significant in that they transferred witch trials from the Church to the courts. It's also interesting to note the correlation of the Elizabethan Act with the Scottish Witchcraft Act of 1563. Under the Scottish Act, capital offenses included not just the practice of witchcraft, but consulting with witches.
Despite these Acts, no one was actually sentenced to death for the crime of witchcraft until the summer of 1566. Agnes ( Mother ) Waterhouse, a 63-year-old widow, became the first convicted and hanged at Chelmsford, July 29, after being accused of bewitching William Fynne to death by illness.
James I, the first monarch to be called the king of Great Britain, was so percipient in demonology, he published the first text in a series entitled, Daemonologie ( free ebook courtesy of Project Gutenberg ), in 1597. It discussed witchcraft, necromancy, possession, demons, were-wolves, fairies and ghosts. These studies prompted him to pass an additional Act in 1604, stripping any benefit to confess or repent from those convicted. This was also the year he sponsored the Authorized King James Version (KJV) of the Christian Bible.
The KJV ( aka the King James Bible (KJB) or simply the Authorized Version (AV) ), was completed in 1611, and included the murderous translation from B.C. E. Exodus 22:18 ( 22:17 in Hebrew ): “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”; the basis for what many believe now to be the source of ensuing witch-hunts, trials, and murders for over a century to come in the United Kingdom and New England.
Scholars have debated the meaning of the Hebrew word "mekhashepha" ( translated in the KJV as 'witch' ) for centuries. Some have translated it as an herbalist, poisoner, or someone who used magic for evil. Without a definitive translation being unearthed, it's impossible for us to know conclusively what the authors of Exodus meant. We can, however, most likely conclude witch-hunts were based on superstition with no basis in the Bible or reality.
The last witch trials in the UK were held in 1717 ( alternate sources claim 1712 ) at Leicester. Though it did not end in 1700, the post 1700 numbers are small. Overall, some 500 people in England, mostly women, are believed to have been executed for witchcraft before the law was abolished.
In America, Alse (Alice) Young was the first recorded person to be executed for witchcraft in the American colonies and was hanged May 26th, 1647, in Windsor, CT. It's purported that historian Clarence F. Jewett includes a list of other people executed as early as 1630 in his book, The Memorial History of Boston: Including Suffolk County, Massachusetts. 1630-1880. Ed. by Justin Windsor, Volume 1.
The last recorded executions for witchcraft in the American colonies was the hanging of seven women and one man on September 22, 1692, in Salem, Massachusetts. Though a Tennessee man was said to have been prosecuted for witchcraft in 1833.
And, Amina Bint Abdul Halim Nassar was beheaded in Saudi Arabia for practicing witchcraft in 2011.
According to Laden, "there seems to have been times and places where the trial and execution of Witches had become a poorly documented local matter that may have gone on as a routine slowly piling up bodies but entirely under the radar of those who must see it on paper for it to exist."
Creation of Covens
The creation of covens is generally attributed to English Egyptologist Margaret Murray in her publication,
The Witch Cult in Western Europe (1921 ( free ebook courtesy of Project Gutenberg ) ). A coven was comprised of 12 witches with the devil as its leader. Murray proclaimed the witches practiced animal and child sacrifices. However, her opinion about witches and the devil seemed to have changed in her 1933 book, The God of the Witches.
In the latter, Satan is referred to as The Horned God, and the witch-cult was renamed as the religion predating Christianity.
Montague Summers, a Roman Catholic writer on witchcraft (1920s to 1930s) and Pennethorne Hughes (1952, 1965) both agreed with Murray's first book. However, many modern witches reject the "stereotypical" view of witches and their covens. Some proclaim they don't worship the devil and don't practice the dark arts. There are many witches that practice Druidism and nature worshiping, as well as the natural/supernatural laws of the universe.
The distinction was made between White Witches, who practice nature magic using the supernatural powers only for good and selfless purposes, and Black Witches, who use these same energies in a negative way for evil and selfish purposes.
According to Merriam-Webster, 'Witch' derives from the Old English nouns wicca. The Old English pronunciation: [ˈwɪttʃɑ] ('sorcerer, male witch') and wicce Old English pronunciation: [ˈwɪttʃe] ('sorceress, female witch'). The word's further origins in Proto-Germanic and Proto-Indo-European are unclear.
It defines a witch as 1 : one that is credited with usually malignant supernatural powers; especially : a woman practicing usually black witchcraft often with the aid of a devil or familiar : sorceress — compare warlock. 2 : an ugly old woman : hag. 3 : a charming or alluring girl or woman. 4 : an adherent of Wicca.
In essence, it evolves through the ages, mostly from a religious standpoint, to mean a dark and sinister practice:
The Canon Episcopi, recorded by Regino of Prümm in 910 condemned maleficium (bad-doing) and sorilegium (fortune-telling), but believed most stories of were fantasy. John of Salisbury also wrote of his skepticism about the reality of witches riding in the night in 1154.
By the late 13th century, Thomas Aquinas , a Dominican priest and Scriptural theologian ( in his Summa Theologiae, and in other writings ), briefly addressed sorcery and magic. He assumed that consulting demons included making a pact with them, which was by definition, apostasy. He accepted that demons could assume the shapes of actual people; the demons' acts are thus mistaken for those actual people.
Regardless of whose account you review, an envelope of demonology and satanic orientations seem to enshroud the term 'Witch', thus painting them dark sorcerers of magic, shedding light on the reason for hundreds of thousands ( if not millions ) of Witch hunts and executions.
Healing the Word 'Witch'
In upcoming interviews with three modern day witches, it's my hope to unearth and dispel historical misnomers regarding the term 'Witch' in the bible belt. You'll have an opportunity to learn the truth regarding their practices and intent, garner a first hand glimpse at their services, how they conduct their rituals, and what it could mean to overall healing.
Each 'Witch' considers themselves to be devout humans with a special gift. None believes their magical practice constitutes a unique religion, but a pure expression of their gifts through nature and the elements.
Anastasia Boswell ( pictured center ), Witch, Wise Woman, and owner of A Wild Path, a local Healing Arts and Urban Apothecary business, says, "Witch is a word of power, not fear." She explains her practice and ritual methods are a synergistic relationship with the liminal spaces and ethereal vibrations surrounding her. "It’s organic, ever expanding, and ever changing as the spirit moves me and need arises in my living practice. I don’t follow a formulaic program, nor do I ever stop learning and growing."
Aliesha Watson ( pictured right ), Appalachian Witch, Intuitive Healer, and co-owner of Cosmic Wisdom's Sister Craft & Intuitive Holistics, views 'Witch' as "someone who has accepted their darkness, and allowed them self to grow in that darkness. We're healers, energy manipulators, and ultimate truth seekers". She believes we are all connected and have materialized from the same physical elements.
"Truth allows us to see ourselves in everyone. The Witch sees and heals those pieces not only in them self, but inadvertently will heal those around them," adds Watson.
Laura Beth Finley ( pictured left ), Appalachian Witch, Astrologer, and Watson's partner in Cosmic Wisdom's Sister Craft & Intuitive Holistics, says most associate 'Witch' as "A feminine word, but it can be masculine. Feminine energy is dark at times (just as in astrology) and it’s something for us all to tap into, male and female." Finley further believes, "The practicing Witch accepts that we are a part of a collective consciousness; to practice is to open intuitive senses, live with intent, and manifest deepest desires through ritual and meditation."
So what is an Appalachian Witch distinguished from a Witch besides location? Certainly nothing sinister. As described in Finley's site Ditch Witch Hillfolk Hoodoo, traditional Appalachia practices do not condone the sacrifice or torture of animals. This includes rituals involving animal blood and feces. It's simply about connecting to your ancestors through family history to discover the magic path meant for you to be your authentic self.
"I usually refer to myself as an Appalachian witch to help others understand the lineage of witches that we come from in this area. Aliesha and I have slumber parties so we can stay up all night drinking coffee with spirits sometimes, and help them cross over. I’m just a woman that accepts my intuitive wild side, and make it my mission to obtain knowledge. I learn from others how to pair my Intuition with that knowledge to heal in plant medicine, crystal healing, and energy work", says Finley.
Boswell equates " 'Appalachian' to hoodoo or wise folk...and I definitely take that from my grandmaws. While my relatives are from the hills and mountains, I practice "regular" witchcraft. If I did label, it would be *hedge, spirit, kitchen, herbal, yoga, journey-work, Diana, shadow, green, circle craft, feminist-witch*, and that's too much to say...so I just say Witch."
"Ana is right." adds, Finley, "We can’t put our spirituality in a box."
So where is all this leading, other than liberating the term 'Witch' from its historical dungeon? It's restoring the good names of those executed as witches that began in Windsor, Connecticut in January 2017.
We're all familiar with Windsor, Connecticut. It's the oldest town in one of the original 13 colonies formed in America. Arsenic and Old Lace was filmed there, and both the third Chief Justice of the United States and the first African American in the U.S. House of Representatives called it home.
It was also known as the first colony to indict and hang a woman ( Alse ( Alice ) Young ) for witchcraft in 1647.
And now, 370 years later, it's also the first to apologize and adopt a Witch Resolution Act.
This historic resolution, unanimously accepted and passed by the Windsor City Council, has not only restored the good names of Alse Young, Lydia Gilbert, and others who were unjustly executed, it's brought peace to thousands of their descendants.
A leader in this movement was the oldest church in New England ( also known as the fourth oldest congregational church in the world ), the First Church of Windsor, United Church of Christ , who voted unanimously to support the resolution, thus taking the first steps in history to acknowledge a wrong doing, and publicly apologize.
Associate Pastor Charlene Corbett hopes this action encourages communities across the nation to recognize the roles their history played regarding injustices of the witch trials, even if they were almost 400 years ago:
"In our Christian practice of confession,we intentionally set aside time to recognize when our actions or non-actions have been sinful, we acknowledge that we have made mistakes and then to apologize. We take the necessary steps to do better," says Corbett.
And we should.
The time of hysteria and witch hunts belong enshrined in history. The step we must take from that experience is not a repetitious but forward one into understanding the term 'Witch'.
"A witch is someone who strives for the best in every situation. They are creators, and what they aim to accomplish will most likely be achieve because their intentions are strong, and their heart beats for the magic of manifestation. I believe the witch to be more in touch with the divine universal energy source within each of us, and have accessed memory that allows perspective of their surroundings over bigger pictures of life's meaning. Their intuition guides them, and they typically have a strong connection to nature and the energies of the earth/universe. Their sight is clearer because they shed the baggage the world and society thinks they should carry," says Watson.
We are proud and confident in our work and ourselves," she added.
Finley believes, "We each have power within us, and can wake the witch within."
"A witch is a healer of earth, spirit, and thin places. I am reclaiming the word, returning its power, and taking control of my power by owning and honoring it every day," adds Boswell.
And who knows, perhaps that child within us who still believes in magic may actually be the Witch trapped inside the fear of our adult darkness. Travel with me throughout this series if you'd like to find out.
Why? Simply put,
"There is never a wrong time to do what is right, to do what is just, and to do what is healing," concludes Corbett.
And she's right.