An excerpt from the Malleus Maleficarum written by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger reads, “Witches are so called on account of the blackness of their guilt, that is to say their deeds are more evil than those of any other malefactors. They stir up and confound the elements by the aid of the devil and arouse terrible hailstorms and tempests. They distract the minds of men driving them to madness, insane hatred, and inordinate lusts. By the terrible influence of their spells alone as it were by a draught of poison they can destroy life. ”
The mere mention of the words witch or witchcraft automatically bring to mind either the green skinned broom-riding hag of The Wizard of Oz or visions of some Devil-worshipping cult. Witchcraft is not a cult. It is a pagan earth religion that has origins dating back before any other formalized religion. Some witches prefer to worship in groups, commonly known as covens. However, since there is no single worldwide institution for the practitioners of witchcraft others are free to worship alone as solitary witches. Witchcraft in one form or another has existed longer than Christianity.
This is evidenced by the Christian holidays that have been adapted from older Pagan celebrations. Long before the world had heard of Jesus. Wiccan’s had been observing the season by bringing in the Yule log wishing on it and lighting it with the remains of the last years log. The Roman Catholic holiday of Candlemas is an adaptation of the pagan Celebration of Imbolc; this day is also known as Brigit’s Day. The Goddess Brigit symbolized the fire of birth and healing. Early pagans celebrated her day by kindling sacred fires.
The Roman Catholic Church adopted the fire symbolism and used this day to bless all the church candles that would be used during the coming year. The name Easter was taken from the name of a pagan goddess Eostre whose Symbols were the bunny and the egg. Aside from that symbolism most pagan religions speak of the goddess descending into the Underworld for a period of three days. This is reflected in the Christian tradition that Jesus died on the cross, descended to hell (during the three days he was entombed), and on the third day he arose and ascended into heaven.
Witchcraft may be the oldest religion. It is very different from all the so-called great religions. The Old Religion, as witches call it, is closer in spirit to the Native American traditions or to the Shamanism in the Arctic. It is not based on a dogma or a set of beliefs. Witchcraft takes its teachings from nature. To the witch the cycles of the seasons and movements of the sun, moon, and stars are sources of inspiration. Neither Jehovah, “the Lord”, or Satan are part of the Wiccan pantheon of Deities.
Witches worship a seemingly endless number of pre-Christian deities but these three are not included. Wiccan’s do not believe there is an absolute evil or absolute good; there are only appropriate or inappropriate actions. The Devil is a Judeo-Christian invention, most likely devised from a pagan god. The God of the Old Religion was the Horned God; therefore, Christianity associated this god with the Devil and the church deemed witches Devil worshippers. Witchcraft is a way of looking at the world just as Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism.
Unlike cults, witches do not look to a single leader to solve all their problems; instead they tend to be very individualistic and freethinking people. Witchcraft has always been a religion of poetry rather than theology. The mysteries of the unknown can never be explained, only felt. Just as some people are good at fixing cars or computers, some witches can and do, develop proficiency with spell work and healing. However, there is a universal ethic by which the Wiccan community adheres. The “Wiccan Rede” states, “An it harm none, do what you will. ”