Beyond the Stereotypes – What is Witchcraft?

Witchcraft is probably the oldest and yet most misunderstood of human belief systems. Witches have been present and mostly misrepresented in many diverse forms and cultures since the beginning of recorded history and well before. What about today? Is witchcraft still practiced and is it becoming more accepted?

Janet Easson, an initiated witch living in Argyle in Scotland talks about what she believes to be the true essence of witchcraft.

Janet starts off the program by explaining her understanding of witchcraft, by talking about what it isn't. "It is not to found in books or on the internet….It is still practiced by very small groups — I personally know of four villages around Britain where ‘The Art' is held very dearly; they are secretive and protective and do not advertise their presence….The Harry Potter type idea which leapt into the public eye is a Disneyland type fantasy thing. Most people nowadays are familiar with ‘Wicca', which is actually deduced from an Anglo-Saxon word ‘wicca'. This is a growing movement but also has nothing to do with the old witchcraft of Great Britain and elsewhere which has been handed down…. Witchcraft today is really an invention of the Church as much as anything. The King James Bible introduces us to the idea of witches and the idea that you ‘shall not suffer the witch to live' etc. If you take it back to the Abrahamic period, men were witches who would lay curses, if you take it even further back to the Babylonian era, both men and women were highly respected as witches for want of a better word….So, it is a really muddy area when you use the term witchcraft."

A major source of misunderstanding with witchcraft seems to have arisen when monotheism came along and split the world up into two polarities — good and evil. Witchcraft seems to have been assigned to the latter criterion. Janet explains: "Witches do not avail to the notion of good and/or evil, for us there is no such thing. Magic in itself is neither black nor white….The recognized churches will always bear against witchcraft; they appear to accept ‘Wicca' because in that they recognize something relatively harmless, that does not really undermine the tenants of their teaching to any great extent….Most of Europe suffered tremendously because of the witchcraft persecutions, because of a combination of fear and greed which is really what is at the bottom of an awful lot of conflict."

The term ‘The Old Ways' comes up when reading about traditional witchcraft. Janet explains what her understanding is of this term: ‘The Old Ways', or old village witchcraft is a term used to differentiate the older practices and beliefs of those who were called witches, from the invention of Gerald Gardner round about 1950. Gardnerian witchcraft developed into what we call ‘Wicca'. Hamlets and small communities in Britain and across Europe contained families whose practices were called ‘The Art' or ‘The Old Ways'. Communities sought them out, in order to ask them to use their magic in ways which would be helpful. This encompasses both magic and an extensive knowledge of herbalism. Back then people obviously used herbs rather than the sort of medicines we have nowadays….These beliefs are the essence of the ‘Old Ways' that have been hidden from outsiders."

This program contains a lot of interesting information, and to get a real understanding of what Janet is talking about, it is necessary to listen to the program, the link for which is on top of this page.

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