Witchcraft a Short History

Witchcraft and Wicca (one of the major forms of witchcraft) both derive their names from the AngloSaxon
words for wisdom; ‘witch’ is from the old English word wita, meaning ‘wise’ and the Wicca
were the wise ones. Witchcraft is said to be the oldest religion in the world. It is the indigenous
shamanistic religion of Europe that has, in spite of ferocious persecution from the fifteenth to the
seventeenth centuries, survived in the folk tradition of many lands and through families who kept
alive the old beliefs and worship of the Earth and the Moon Mother.
Not so many centuries ago, our ancestors burned yule logs at Christmas as a symbolic gesture to bring
light and warmth back to the world on the mid-winter solstice at the darkest time. They danced around
the maypole on May morning, the beginning of the old Celtic summer, to stir into life the Earth
energies in a sacred spiral pattern. These rituals go back into the mists of time and appear in similar
forms in many different cultures and ages. Today, however, too many modern societies have lost the
sacred connection and scorn such gestures as superstition, treating the skies, the Earth and the seas
merely as a larder, fuel store and garbage can. Once, things were very different, as Black Elk, the
Sioux shaman, explained:
‘In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came from the sacred hoop of
the nation and, so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished. The flowering tree was the
living centre of the hoop and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The East gave peace and
light, the South gave warmth; in the West, thunder beings gave rain and the North with its cold and
mighty wind gave strength and endurance.’
And so the Earth was respected as the sacred mother, giver of life and crops, to whose womb the dead
returned. It is no accident that the Sioux Medicine Wheel and the Celtic Wheel of the Year are so
similar in formation and purpose, linking all life to the cycles of nature. So if we are to use magick in
a positive way, we must remember that it brings responsibility along with benefits.

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