have always been favorite themes in even the most beloved stories. If you examine many of these tales, chances are there will be
a witch featured as the villain. In Snow
White, the evil Queen turns Sorceress through the use of a magic mirror.
This mirror enables her to not only “see all” but it enables her to
transform herself into a hag thus disguising herself as a beggar. She deceives
Snow White by giving her a poison apple. The
kiss of true love, of course, breaks the spell and Snow White recovers to live happily
ever after. Additionally, it was a curse of the evil Fairy Witch that put Sleeping
Beauty to her long rest. Maleficent casts the spell of death on the child at
birth. The “Good Fairy” who lessens the effects of the spell intercepts the
spell. Sleeping Beauty is only cursed to sleep until the spell is broken by, of
course, true love’s kiss.
But Prince Charming wasn’t always the hero in these tales, sometimes he was
the victim. Witches in fairy tales often turned handsome princes into frogs or
some other beast. The prince was
then doomed to scour the land in search of a maiden to break the spell with a
In the story of Hansel and Gretel,
the Witch not only kidnapped the children, but also prepared to have them for
her dinner. These fairy tales gave way to the term Wicked
Witch. A term that has type
cast witches throughout the ages. In
spite of their negative connotations, the spell of a fairy tale witch could
always be broken.
When these stories were written, witches were believed to have had the
ability to shape-shift, fly, become invisible, and kill at a distance. They were
also believed to indulge in cannibalism and infanticide.
In folklore, witches were held responsible for the creation of creatures
such as vampires and werewolves. Vampires
were believed to be either children of witches or the product of a witch who had
died. In the 1600’s, a French Jesuit priest named Fr. Francois Richard linked
vampirism to witchcraft, using observations from the Malleus
Maleficarum, which stated that 3 things had to be present in witchcraft: the
devil, witches, and permission of God. Richard added in his works that like
witchcraft three things had to be present in vampirism: the devil, a dead body,
and the permission of God.
Werewolves on the other hand, were believed to have either been cursed by a
witch or perhaps the witch itself had the ability to transform into a wolf
through ritual. Often times, the
afflicted was born under a curse. On the night of the full moon, the victim
would transform into a wolf and roam the countryside killing and eating its
victims. In many cases, if the werewolf is injured, it is transformed back to
human form revealing its identity.
In cases where the sorcerer purposely changes into a
wolf, it was usually believed to do evil and destroy his enemies. The
practitioner would rub some sort of herbs or balm on the body, wear a wolf skin
and then recite magical incantations to make the transformation.
Werewolves were believed to be servants of the Devil. The church perpetuated
that witches often rode werewolves to attend their Sabbats, or secret meetings.
Werewolf trials and burnings plagued Europe throughout the 15th
& 16th centuries, particularly in France.
In the 20th century classic, The
Wizard of Oz, the concept of the good
witch and the bad witch were examined. Being a contemporary tale rather than
medieval, it shows how the concept of black and white magic had come into
perspective. The good witch was the beautiful, Glenda, and as she put it “only
bad witches are ugly.” The Wicked
Witch of the West is portrayed as a screeching green creature flying on a broom
that spews red smoke. She is accompanied by a legion of flying monkey demons
serve her. Refreshingly, there is
no prince’s kiss necessary in this tale. Young Dorothy destroys the witch with
the help of some friends and finds that she was empowered all along.
In the 1960’s, Hollywood later turned to a more Satanic portrayal of witches
such as in Rosemary’s Baby.
The story line contained all the essentials of what was presumed to be of
witchcraft. The witches worshipped
the devil and made pacts with him. A young, innocent woman is raped and
impregnated by the devil. The child
is later stolen from her to be taken care of by the witches who worship him as the Anti-Christ.
Television, later, in the 1960’s made witches trendy with the comedy show Bewitched.
And through the years, it has been followed by a string of others. Today,
television hosts shows such as Sabrina,
the Teenage Witch and Charmed.
Similarly, Hollywood played a part in the public’s view of Voodoo as well. Numerous movies throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s portrayed Voodoo as
demonic. The theme usually revolved around the re-animation of the dead into
zombies, the living dead. Horror films such as Candyman
and Child’s Play danced around a
Voodoo theme. Even in more contemporary films about Voodoo such as Angel
Heart and The Serpent and the Rainbow, Hollywood couldn’t resist the
temptation to add the element of evil to Voodoo. The theme of the practitioner having the ability to destroy
as well as create, and to be able to kill from afar continued.
Witches have played a significant part in folklore as well.
In Greek mythology, the goddess Hecate was the patron of magic and
witchcraft. She has been referred
to as the destroyer of life and the restorer of life as well. In ancient Greece,
believers sought to appease her by leaving chicken hearts and honey cakes on
their doorsteps, as offerings.
In contrast to witches of fairy tales, who were usually ugly, old, and
haggled, witches in folklore were often beautiful and seductive.
Circe was a sorceress in Greek mythology and was daughter to Hecate.
She was a fair-haired beauty who controlled fate and the forces of
creation and destruction with the braids of her hair.
Circe is best remembered as the enchantress who turned the Odysseus’s
men into swine.
In ancient Rome, the strix
was a night flying demon that could transform into animals and would attack
infants. The strix then became the strega
(witch) of medieval Italy and the strigoi of
Here in New Orleans, tales of witches were an integral part of our folklore.
Among the Cajuns, it was believed that when an evil witch died, she might
return as a chauchemar or nightmare
witch. This ghostly creature would attack victims in their bed as they slept. The creature would pin the victim down, causing
temporary paralysis. You can’t
scream, you can’t move. Once she has you, she’ll ride you like a horse. Many
a victim has awakened from griping nightmares to find actual whip marks on their
body as evidence of the attack! In
other parts of the country, as well as in Europe this is referred to as an
attack of the Old Hag. Today we attribute this sort of phenomena to psychic
vampirism rather than witchcraft.
The werewolf legends of
France were brought with the settlers into Louisiana. Here thrived the belief that a witch’s curse would bring about
lycanthropy. Once the soul of a man
is cursed to be the Loup Garou, he will become the dreaded creature, and will
roam the bayou tearing into and devouring whatever or whoever crosses his path.
Cajun legend says that the werewolves even gather for Loup Garou Balls. It
is said that they fly in on large bats, and dance together under the full moon.
If you go out in search of the creature and your eyes meet his red glowing eyes
then you too, will become transformed into one. Like the legendary vampire, the
werewolf can bite and drink the blood of its victim as well as devour his flesh.
Once the curse is passed on, the previous victim is freed from the spell. If the
creature becomes injured or killed, they instantly become human again. If you do
meet eyes or survive an attack of a werewolf, and if you tell no one of the
incident for one year and one day, you may be freed from the spell as well as
free the spirit of the attacker.
The word occult literally means hidden, not revealed,
secret, mysterious. Uncover it and
you have magic! Magic is much harder to define. More than parlor tricks, magic
means transformation. The art of taking thoughts, intentions and emotions and
manifesting them into reality. “The
Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft,” by Rosemary Ellen Guilley, describes
witchcraft as “…sorcery, the manipulation of supernatural forces through the
casting of spells and conjuring or invoking of spirits.”
The roots of magic go back thousands of years, predating Christianity, Judaism,
and recorded history. Ancient cultures all applied magic in their early belief
systems. God had not only a
masculine aspect but also a feminine one, the Goddess. This represented the
balance between heaven and earth, light and dark, male and female.
Ancient cultures had wise women that were honored and respected in the
community. They were the healers, the midwives, the advisors and the
priestesses. Clearly positive figures in the community. How did these beloved
and respected figures become transformed into hideous creatures that we think of
when we hear the word witch? No figure in mythology or legend has been so despised and yet
Some historians believe that when the Indo-European
Nomads, (warrior people), invaded the Middle East, they brought with them their
of war. When the Hebrews settled
there in 1300 BC, they perpetuated the one male God. In the Creation story, it
was the female who bears responsibility for the fall of mankind. Once benign
symbols, the goddess, the tree and the serpent have come to represent evil.
In the Middle Ages, the church, feeling threatened by Pagan religion invented
the link between Paganism and Satanism. Any innocent act of naturopathic
healing, herbalism, etc. were now interpreted as sinister and the practitioner
accused of consorting with the devil.
It was believed during that time that demons walked
the Earth creating disease and pestilence. If someone had the knowledge to heal,
then surely they had the power to destroy! Most of these healers were women and women were
then considered to be evil.
The church convinced followers that witches would gather in the forests at night
for secret meetings. It was believed that they would fly through the air, have
sex with the devil and plot against the church. Witchcraft had begun to be
associated with heresy. Beginning in the 11th century, heretics were
usually sentenced to death by burning. More often than not, the victims were
The Inquisition against heretics began in the beginning of the 13th
century. It lasted for the next several hundred years. It is estimated that
30,000 to nine million people were executed during that time.
Most of the activity was in Germany, France and Switzerland in the 15th
and 16th centuries.
In his Bull of December 9, 1484, Pope Innocent VIII turned the Inquisition full
force against witches in Germany. (I find it incredibly ironic that his name be Innocent!)
Two years later, Dominican Inquisitors, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Springer
published the Maleus Maleficarim
(literally translating into the Witch
Hammer) with set forth rules for identifying and punishing witches.
The book is based on the Biblical pronouncement in Exodus 22:18, “Thou
shall not suffer a witch to live.”
The inquisition focused mainly on women. Because traditional Judeo-Christian
beliefs hold women accountable for sin, the church found it easy to presume that
women were naturally predisposed to the evils of heresy.
The Maleus Maleficarum stated that,
“ all witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which in women is insatiable.”
It went on to state that women were “feeble-brained,”
“intellectually like children,” “weak in body, impressionable, lustful,
have weak memories and are liars by nature” therefore, “chiefly addicted to
Evil Superstitions.” Often the women accused of witchcraft were social
outcasts, usually spinsters and widows. Generally older and less attractive,
therefore of no use to the men who judged them. Women had few rights during this
time and no say so of their destiny. They were merely property.
The witch-hunts in England were a bit different where the Maleus
Maleficarum had little effect. It was not translated to English until 98
years after it was written. England had it’s own Protestant Demonologist who
turned witch hunting into a profitable profession. Most of the trials in England
and Scotland regarded witches who practiced black magic. Those who practiced
positive magic were spared. The
guilty were hung rather than burned.
By the 1640’s, the witch-hunts had reached America. The first recorded execution was in 1647 in Connecticut. In Salem, 150
people were accused and 31 convicted of witchcraft.
The witchcraft hysteria in America ended in the 1730’s for the most part.
But in the 1790’s, the Haitian immigrants came to New Orleans with
their own brand of magic, Voodoo.
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