Wednesday, May 2, 2012

WITCHCRAFT

 The word ‘‘witchcraft’’ derives from the Saxon wicca, sometimes translated as ‘‘wise person’’ but more accurately derived from an Indo-European root, ‘‘weik,’’ that produced words in various Western languages related to magic, religion, and divination. Currently, the word is used to designate a variety of very different but vaguely related phenomena including, but not limited to, (1) the magical/religious practitioners in a variety of third world pre-industrial societies; (2) the Satanism described in the anti-witchcraft books beginning in the late  fifteenth century in Europe; (3) the Neopagan followers of Wicca, the religion started by Gerald B. Gardner in  the 1940s; and (4) individuals (primarily female) who are reputed to have psychic abilities.


INTERPRETATIONS OF HISTORIC WITCHCRAFT
Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the figure of the European witch was interpreted and reinterpreted in numerous ways, depending on the orientations of the scholars involved. They described her (typically) as variously an antisocial practitioner of malevolent magic; as a pro-social healer, midwife, and magician condemned by churches and universities; as a victim of mental illness or of accidental poisoning by mind-altering plants; or as a deliberate user of mind-altering plants who sought a shamanic ‘‘soul flight.’’ She was either the follower of a Satanic religion developed in opposition to Christianity, or she was the inheritor of pre-Christian Paganism. She was supported by her neighbors, or she was the unfortunate scapegoat for social tensions, a lonely victim with no family to protect her. These different pictures of the typical witch of the Burning Times or the Great Hunt (both terms for the persecutions that peaked in the sixteenth and seventeenth  centuries) in turn reflect the sympathies of the writers, whether pro or anti-Catholic, socially rebellious, socially conservative, feminist, or Neopagan. These different perspectives on historical European witchcraft have also influenced what is today called Neopagan Witchcraft, a new religious movement.
Since the mid-1970s, historians have more closely examined the court records of witch trials in various European countries (and in North American colonies). They have studied the verdicts, punishments, social status of accused witches, lists of goods confiscated from the accused, and other evidence. In one notable case, scholarly re-examination of older work revealed a major forgery, a portion of Etienne Leon de Lamothe- Langon’s Histoire de l’Inquisition en France (History of the French Inquisition), written in 1829. Lamothe-Langon’s description of huge 14th-century witch trials with hundreds of executions in the South of France turned out to be complete inventions by the writer—who had also written a profitable series of ‘‘gothic’’ horror novels with titles like The Monastery of the Black Friars.
Today, informed estimates of the total deaths in central and western Europe range from 40,000 to 50,000, much lower than the millions once claimed. Contrary to the picture created by writers such as Lamothe-Langon, the Inquisition (an arm of the Roman Catholic Church created in 1246 to combat heresy) did not execute many witches; secular courts were more likely to condemn accused witches than were church courts. As many or more accused witches were executed in Protestant lands as in Catholic countries, and the witch trials did not peak until 1550 -1650, a period that historians describe as ‘‘early modern’’ rather than ‘‘medieval.’’

During the early Middle Ages, Church writers were more likely to insist that witchcraft was a delusion and that priests should discourage their congregations from believing that anyone could cast spells or fly through the air in the entourage of a Pagan deity. The famous Canon Episcopi, publicized in the tenth century but possibly of earlier date, stated that it was heretical to believe in witchcraft, not to practice it. This ecclesiastical legal document, like others of its kind, urged bishops and priests to combat the practice of sorcery, but also suggested that people who believed that they were witches were deluded by the Devil. Another set of church ordinances from the late eighth century demanded the death penalty not for the witch, but for the person who murdered an alleged witch—again, because believing in witches was a Pagan superstition.
Black Death in Europe
After the Black Death swept Europe in the 1340's, mysteriously killing thousands of people, Europeans were more likely to accept conspiracy theories involving enemies of Christianity, defined variously as heretics, Muslims, Jews or possibly witches. Officers of the Inquisition now began to expand their scope from Christian dissenters and heretics, such as Cathars and Waldensians, to people who supposedly had chosen to follow a diabolical anti-Christian religion (rather than a lingering Paganism). New manuals for witch-hunters appeared, such as the infamous Malleus Maleficarum, or ‘‘Hammer of Witches,’’ a book that although authored by Dominican monks was used and reprinted equally by Protestant witch-hunters in Germany and England. By the sixteenth century, the witches’ sabbat was regarded by authorities as a parody of the Christian Sabbath, the worshipful aspect of a religion which was a distorted image of true religion, i.e., Christianity. According to the records, the sabbat was generally held in some wild and solitary spot, often in  the midst of forests or on the heights of mountains, at a great distance from the residence of most of the visitors. (The use of the word ‘‘sabbat,’’ clearly derived from the Jewish Sabbath, indicates the way in which medieval and early modern Christians tended to blur distinctions between all perceived enemies of Christianity, whether Jews, Muslims, Pagans, or perceived sorcerers and witches.)
The witches themselves told a story—usually after torture—of taking off their clothes and anointing their bodies with a special unguent or ointment. They then strode across a stick, or any similar article, and, muttering a charm, were carried through the air to the place of meeting in an incredible short space of time. Sometimes the stick was to be anointed as well as the witch. They generally left the house by the window or  by the chimney, which perhaps suggests survival of the custom of an earth-dwelling people. Sometimes the witch went out by the door, and there found a demon in the shape of a goat, or at times of some other animal, who carried her away on his back, and brought her home again after the meeting was dissolved.

In the confessions extorted from them, the witches bore testimony to the truth of all these details, but those who judged them, and who wrote upon the subject, asserted that they had many other independent proofs in corroboration.


POWERS OF WITCHES
In the eyes of the populace, the powers of witches were numerous. The most peculiar of these were: The ability to blight by means of the evil eye, the sale of winds to sailors, power over animals, and the power of witches to transform themselves into animal shapes.
Witches were also believed to possess the power of making themselves invisible, by means of a magic ointment supplied to them by the Devil, and of harming others by thrusting nails into a waxen image representing them.

New research has shown that witch trials were more likely to occur in areas of political instability and religious conflict. Hence both Germany and Switzerland, each a patchwork of small political entities and divided between Catholics and Protestants, witnessed more witch trials than did France or Spain. In late seventeenth-century Spain, after an outbreak of witchcraft accusations in the Basque region (shared with France), a lawyer for the Spanish Inquisition convinced its supreme council not to prosecute. Instead, the council ordered an ‘‘Edict of Silence’’ forbidding further discussion of witchcraft. In that Spanish case and others, local secular authorities went around the Catholic Church and appealed to the king for the right to try witches. The king agreed with their request and accused witches began to be sentenced until the Inquisition stopped the process on the grounds that this was church business only.
Voltaire
By the eighteenth century, however, fewer educated Europeans believed in spell-casting, witches flying through the sky, or other typical accusations of the Great Hunt. Thinkers of the Enlightenment such as Voltaire (1694–1778) had denounced the witch trials as the product of religious bigotry, whether Catholic or Protestant, supported by superstitious monarchs across Europe. They hoped that new, more rational attitudes would produce societies where such events could not occur.

In America, the Salem witch trials of the 1690's were similarly seen as the product of a repressive Puritan church struggling to hold onto power. Nineteenth-century American historian George Bancroft’s History of the United States used the Salem trials to condemn Puritan ‘‘superstition,’’ as did the poet and editor James Russell Lowell. As part of the nineteenth-century struggle for authority between science and religion, the witchcraft trials were entered into evidence as examples of the excesses of religion. This view tended to overlook the fact that secular courts were as likely or more likely to execute accused witches than were religious courts, producing the slightly skewed stereotype of ‘‘medieval’’ witches being hauled before the ‘‘Inquisition.’’


THE WITCH AS ROMANTIC REBEL
This anti-clerical view of the medieval and early modern witch as the victim of superstitious churchmen was strengthened by a new nineteenth-century view of the witch as a Romantic rebel or outlaw—an idea which partly underlies the new religion of Neopagan Witchcraft. It connects with the romanticization of medieval life (and of rural nineteenth century life) by writers such as Sir Walter Scott and Thomas Hardy, both of whom described fictional ‘‘cunning women’’ or solitary rural witches in their novels. A leading proponent of this new Romantic view of witches was the French writer Jules Michelet, a fervent anti-Catholic and anti-monarchist, who produced numerous books of history, natural history, and social reform. Advocating a turn from Christianity to worship of a Great Mother Goddess such as Isis, Michelet held that women were morally superior to men, and that their persecution as witches in former centuries was an attack by the elites on both the rights of women and the working classes. Michelet took the position of the Malleus Maleficarum that women were innately drawn to witchcraft and made a positive good of it. Medieval witchcraft, he declared in his 1862 book La Sorcière, had been an egalitarian rural religion led by female priestesses—a view which was to resonate with later maverick writers on witchcraft such as Charles Leland and Margaret Murray. Had the witches worshipped Satan, as their accusers claimed? Indeed they had, Michelet wrote, for ‘‘Satan’’ was merely the god of fertility and the patron deity of those persons condemned by kings and bishops and their henchmen. Although he did little actual research for La Sorcière,  Michelet succeed in introducing ideas that would be taken up by later generations of non-academic writers and by unconventional academics. One was the idea that witches were healers and midwives persecuted by a maledominated medical establishment; another was that the persecuted witches represented traces of a secret Pagan religion.

Michelet’s advocacy of a Mother Goddess religion helped reinforce a new current in nineteenth-century scholarship: that there had once been a universal matriarchal period of goddess worship, later buried by a patriarchal Paganism typified by the well-known Greco-Roman pantheon: Jupiter/Zeus, Hera/Juno, and so on. The notion of a universal ancient matriarchy appealed to thinkers as different as Karl Marx and Sigmund
Freud, both of whom incorporated parts of it in their theories of communism and psychoanalysis respectively. It also influenced the first wave of women’s rights advocates, such as the American feminist Matilda Joslyn Gage, who published her own version of the anti-clerical witch trials in 1893, Women, Church, and State. Basing her research largely on Michelet, Gage produced a figure of nine million victims of the Burning Times, a figure which although wildly inflated continues to be repeated by some persons today.


WITCHES, DRUGS AND SHAMANS
As the nineteenth century closed, two interpretations of the medieval and early modern witchcraft period were gaining adherents. One interpretation, suggested above, held that the persecuted witches were leaders and followers of an underground pre-Christian religion. The second, somewhat related to the first, was that at least some of the accused practiced an underground form of European shamanism, utilizing an ancient tradition of entheogenic plants such as Amanita mushrooms and members of the solanaceous plant genus such as henbane, mandrake, belladonna, and datura.
During the height of the Great Hunt, the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, some lawyers and physicians had made their own tests of the unguents or ‘‘flying ointments’’ seized from accused witches, attempting to learn their compositions and effects. At the time, these men were advancing a counterargument to the witch-hunters’ position that the witches worshiped Satan. No, said such men as Andrés Laguna, physician to Pope Julius III, the witches were merely ‘‘wretched ones,’’ deluded by drugs, who ‘‘firmly believe that they have done in a waking state all of that which they dreamt while sleeping.’’

Theologian Nicholas Remy, writing at the height of the trials, in the late 1500s, made numerous references to witches smearing their bodies with oils and ointments, noting, ‘‘Now if witches, after being aroused from an ‘iron’ sleep, tell of things they have seen in places so far distant as compared with the short period of their sleep, the only conclusion is that has been some unsubstantial journal like that of the soul.’’

In an account published in 1555, Laguna described one of his experiments, using ‘‘a jar half-filled with a certain green unguent’’ confiscated from some accused witches, which he believed was prepared with ‘‘cold’’ herbs such as henbane or mandrake. He took the mixture to another city, where he gave it to the wife of the public hangman. This woman suffered from insomnia, lying awake with worry because she thought her husband was unfaithful to her.

‘‘On being anointed,’’ Laguna wrote, ‘‘she suddenly slept such a profound sleep, with her eyes open like a rabbit, that I could not imagine how to wake her. By every means possible, with strong ligatures and rubbing her extremities, with effusions of oil of costus-root and officinal spurge, with fumes and smoke in her nostrils, and finally with cupping glasses, I so hurried her that at the end of thirty-six hours she regained her senses and memory: although the first words she spoke were: ‘Why do you wake me at such an inopportune time? I was surrounded by all the pleasures and delights of the world.’ And casting her eyes on her husband (who was there all stinking of hanged men), she said to him, smiling: ‘Knavish one, know that I have made you a cuckold, and with a lover younger and better than you,’ and she said many other and very strange things.’’

Such experiments led Laguna and some of his contemporaries, including some clergy, to a conclusion that the theologians and demonologists were wrong: the flights through the air, feasts and orgies, encounters with Satan and other fantastic experiences reported by (or tortured out of) the accused witches were really the results of using psychedelic drugs.

These earlier accounts of experiments with witches’ unguents led to new experiments using old recipes in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Karl Kiesewetter, a German scholar of the occult, reported dreams of flying after reproducing some of the old ointments; his later experiments were fatal. The pharmacologist Gustav Schenk wrote in The Book of Poisons that he experienced the sensations of flying through the clouds after breathing the smoke of burning henbane seeds. As interest in entheogenic or psychedelic drugs  increased in the 1950s and 1960s, anthropologists such as Michael Harner returned to the older writings about ‘‘flying ointments’’ in order to suggest that European witches took part in shamanic ‘‘soul flights,’’ projecting their consciousness into other realms of existence even while their physical bodies appeared to sleep. If parallel with the shamanism reported from other cultures around the world, these soul-journeys might be attempted to gain a cure for a sick person, for knowledge or simply for the experience.

Some of the same herbs, such as datura, have been traditionally used in India both for religious purposes, pleasure, and as poisons. Likewise, the fly agaric mushroom, Amanita muscaria, has been proposed as the source of soma, the drink of the gods in the ancient Hindu scriptures. Unlike the peyote and ayahuasca of the New World, plants such as henbane, datura or fly agaric can be fatally poisonous—they continue to  claim victims today. Therefore, if sixteenth-century witches such as Laguna’s indeed were using them, they likely were heirs to an underground tradition of safe preparation and use, although we do not know what form such a shamanic tradition might have taken.


WITCHCRAFT AS "OLD RELIGION"
The identity and motives of the witches and their accusers continue to be re-interpreted. In the period from 1890 to 1930, however, one interpretation of the trials not only blossomed but produced a genuine new religion. That was the theory that the witches followed an underground pre-Christian religion. Even though most modern scholars reject the notion, it contributed to the birth of today’s fast-growing Neopagan Witchcraft.

Charles Godfrey Leland, an American lawyer, political journalist, and folklore scholar who lived a number of years in the Italian city of Florence, produced three books in the 1890s arguing that some Italian peasants, through their innate religious conservatism, maintained not only a pre-Christian but a pre-Roman religion, dating to the days of the ancient Etruscan culture. Camouflaged with Catholic saints’ names and other details, this hidden ‘‘Old Religion’’ maintained its own deities, creation stories, prayers, and rituals, Leland wrote, describing these surviving bits of Paganism as ‘‘something more than a sorcery and something less than a faith.’’ His most influential book, Aradia: or the Gospel of the Witches, published in 1899, synthesized traditional legends with material gathered for him by a woman known as Maddalena or Margherita (her surname may have been Talenti) and translated from local dialects into standard Italian, which Leland spoke and wrote moderately well. Aradia, which Leland claims was originally a Semitic goddess name, is described as the daughter of Diana, goddess of darkness, and Lucifer, god of light. Aradia comes to earth, and in the style of Michelet, teaches her ceremonies to outlaws and outcasts, as well as the secrets of poisoning corrupt feudal lords. What remains problematic about Aradia is the source of Leland’s witchcraft gospel. Is it genuine, or did Maddalena herself concoct it to please her wealthy American patron, or did Leland shape it from a body of genuine invocations, stories, and folk practices?

Twenty years after Leland’s work, the English archaeologist Margaret Murray (1862–1963) developed her own version of the ‘‘Old Religion’’ through her reading of witch-trial records from the British Isles and France. A recognized Egyptologist, Murray turned her attention to the witch-cult problem while World War I prevented her from working in Egypt. Her 1921 book The Witch Cult in Western Europe and its two successors laid out an apparently clear picture of the Old Religion. Even though that picture has largely been refuted by more recent historians such as Russell Hope Robbins, Elliot Rose, L’Estrange Ewen, and Ronald Hutton, its evocative power threatened to overwhelm the former academically accepted idea of the medieval and early modern witches as victims of bigotry, social stresses, and mob psychology. Many followers of modern Witchcraft continue to accept large portions of Murray’s version of earlier witchcraft.

In essence, her version was this. The ‘‘witch cult’’ was a pre-Christian religion centered on a fertility god (somewhat parallel to the Greek Pan), whom Christian theologians deliberately confused with their Devil in order to persecute the witches. This god was often depicted with horns, and a man portrayed and embodied him during group rituals. (Murray had much less to say about goddesses than did Leland.) Covens of witches, ideally consisting of thirteen persons, grouped together at four major holidays—Candlemas, around 1 February; May Day; Lammas, around 1 August; and All Hallows or Hallowe’en. These large-group meetings, with their feasting and fertility rituals, alternated with smaller meetings (‘‘esbats’’) for spell casting and other local witch business.

In medieval England, Murray claimed, the Old Religion had been protected by the Plantagenet dynasty of kings, beginning with William the Conqueror in 1066. These were ‘‘sacred kings’’ who had to die as sacrificial victims or else find a substitute after they had reigned for seven years, or a multiple of seven years. Murray held that the murder in 1170 of the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas à Becket (later made a saint),
supposedly at the orders of King Henry II, his longtime friend, was actually the substitution of a voluntary victim for the king himself. Murray also maintained that the French mystical warrior maiden Joan of Arc (1412–1431) was in fact a priestess of the Old Religion. This underground religion, in Murray’s view, permeated medieval society, and its followers left traces in the carvings on Christian churches and in folklore.

Murray’s views were almost immediately attacked by historians who pointed out that she manipulated evidence, lifted quotations from witch-trial records out of context, and ignored evidence that did not fit her theory. But her picture of the ‘‘Old Religion’’ was embraced by many folklorists, occultists, and all those who wanted to believe that British rural life retained traces of ancient Paganism, even after 1500 years of Christianity.


NEOPAGAN WITCHCRAFT
Neopagan Witchcraft is the only worldwide religion to have begun in England. Its apparent birth date lies between 1939 and 1951, when the Witchcraft Act of 1735 was repealed by Parliament and reports about people claiming to follow the religion of Witchcraft began appearing in British newspapers. Contemporary Witchcraft appears to have multiple parents, and historians of religion continue to debate who exactly was present at its creation, for no solid evidence exists of a religious continuity with pre-Christian Paganism. This new religion of Witchcraft (usually capitalized it differentiate from definitions 1, 2, and 4 above) has grown rapidly in all English-speaking countries and in Western Europe, aided by its compatibility with the feminist and environmental movements. It is often referred to as Wicca, although some Neopagan Witches limit that term to the ‘‘tradition’’ founded by Gerald Gardner (see below), and as ‘‘The Craft,’’ a term borrowed from Freemasonry along with certain aspects of Masonic ritual.

The most public figure associated with the new religion of Witchcraft was Gerald Gardner (1884–1964). Gardner spent most of his adult life in Britain’s Asian colonies, owning and managing tea plantations and later working for the colonial customs service in Malaya. He and his wife retired to England in 1936. During his time in Asia, his lifelong interest in magic and the supernatural led him both to the Masonic order and to visits with Buddhists priests, tribal shamans, spiritualists, and any other practitioners he chanced across.

In 1949 Gardner published an adventure novel, High Magic’s Aid, set in the Middle Ages and incorporating much ceremonial magic. He claimed that he had met members of a surviving witches’ coven shortly before World War II, operating under the cover of the Rosicrucian Theatre at Christchurch, Hampshire, and headed by a wealthy widow. He had been accepted into the group, which performed a magical ritual during the summer of 1940 to stop the threatened German invasion of England (thus identifying the Witches with the patriotic soul of Great Britain). In 1954 his nonfiction book Witchcraft Today was published, which he wrote in the voice of a sympathetic outsider describing the modern continuation of an ancient fertility religion. Margaret Murray supplied an approving introduction.

Subsequent research suggests that it is more likely that Gardner and a female companion whose Craft name was Dafo, plus possibly other individuals, actually began the coven. They drew inspiration for their practices from ceremonial magic, from Classical Pagan religions, and from British folklore. What Gardner in 1954 described as ‘‘Wica’’ or cult of the ‘‘wise people’’ contained ‘‘no crucifixes, inverted or otherwise, no sermons, mock or otherwise, and no absolution or [eucharistic] hosts save for the cake and wine. . . . There is no praise or homage to the Devil, no liturgy, evil or otherwise, nothing is said backwards, and there are no gestures with the left hand; in fact with the exception that it is a religious service and all religious services resemble one another, the rites are not in any way an imitation of anything I have ever seen.’’

In other words, Gardner denied the reality of ‘‘Burning Times’’ witchcraft with its pacts with the Devil and  parodies of Christian ritual. For this he substituted a Murray-style ‘‘Old Religion,’’ in which the ‘‘Devil’’ was merely the ritual leader with his crown of stag’s horns—and often a nobleman in disguise. Witchcraft, he alleged, had come down from the Stone Age as a fertility religion that honored the ‘‘God of death and what comes after’’ (in other words, rest and reincarnation) and the Great Mother Goddess of nature, love, and pleasure.

These new Witches celebrated a cycle of eight festivals a year—the solstices and equinoxes and the four cross-quarter days between them: Lugnasadh or Lammas (Loaf-Mass) at the beginning of August, a harvest festival; Samhain (Hallowe’en) a festival honoring the ancestors; Brigid or Oimelc, at the beginning of February, a feast of creativity and new beginnings; and Beltane, at the beginning of May, celebrating the new growing season. New Moons and full Moons were times of magic-working as opposed to the celebration and attunement of the seasonal festivals.

They worshipped in the nude, a practice indeed claimed of medieval witches. Gardner and his first associations were ‘‘naturists,’’ people who advocated sunbathing for better health, and he and his first associates purchased land next to a naturist club north of London. While many Neopagan Witches today wear either ritual robes or other clothing, those who continue to meet nude or ‘‘skyclad’’ claim that the practice erases social distinctions, helps them to overcome the fear of aging and death, and makes magic-working easier.

Other common practices include the creation of a temporary sacred space, the circle, usually marked by candles, which may be drawn indoors or out, but which is erased at the conclusion of a ceremony. Most Neopagan Witchcraft rituals involve the use of a sacred knife, the athame, symbolizing the God, and a chalice symbolizing the Goddess.

Coven leadership typically lies with the high priestess (‘‘high’’ because all experienced Witches are  considered to be priests and priestesses themselves) who may or may not have a permanent male partner. This combination of female leadership and a powerful feminine image of deity has drawn many women to the Craft, which they see as a religion that values and sacralizes their bodies, their cycles, their ability to nurture as well as their rage and anger against other male-dominated religions.

Gardner’s coven produced a number of offshoots in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s. In addition, other Witches came forth who claimed (sometimes falsely) to have no connection with his coven but rather to represent independent traditions of Witchcraft. These included Alex Sanders (1926–1988), Robert  Cochrane (d. 1966) and Sybil Leek, who emigrated to the United States in 1965, where she continued to write books on occult topics and to lecture on Witchcraft.

Two more British Witches of Gardner’s lineage, Ray and Rosemary Buckland, moved to Long Island, New York, in the  mid-1960s and many American and Canadian ‘‘Gardnerian’’ Witches trace their initiatory lineage to them.

Meanwhile, modern Pagan religions were being developed independently in the United States and elsewhere during the 1960s, including Feraferia in Los Angeles, The Church of All Worlds in St. Louis, and others. However, as more books about Witchcraft were being published, including an edition of the basic Gardnerian ritual manual, the Book of Shadows, in 1973, followers of these new movements tended to  adopt many of the key characteristics of Gardner’s tradition—or else to define themselves in opposition to it. Those saying that they followed some other form of Witchcraft often cast it in ethnic terms such as Italian or Scottish. Other forms of Witchcraft include women-only groups (often called ‘‘Dianic’’ Witchcraft) and male-only groups, including the Radical Faeries.

By the 1980s, most elders and leaders in Witchcraft began to distance themselves from claims of an unbroken pre-Christian religious tradition, saying instead that their practices were inspired by ancient Paganism but adapted to the present times. Whether known as Wicca or Witchcraft, this new religious movement grew steadily from the 1970s to the present, typically among people in their twenties and thirties. The Cold War expansion of the American military provided one means, as Wiccan personnel shuttled between the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. Neopagan Witchcraft is now found throughout the English-speaking world and parts of Europe, particularly Germany, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia.

The historian Ronald Hutton describes these common characteristics of the ‘‘protean and ecclectic’’ varieties of Neopagan Witchcraft: They ‘‘aim to draw out and enhance divinity within human beings, abolish the traditional Western distinction between religion and magic, [are] a mystery religion or a set of mystery religions [and their essence lies] in the creative performance of ritual.’’

Estimates of total membership in North America range into the low millions, but since covens are fluid and  ever-changing (and since not all Witches belong to covens), an accurate count is impossible. While Witchcraft has no sacred scriptures, modern Witches have produced dozens of books on the practice of their religion. Notable authors, besides those named, include Stewart and Janet Farrar, Starhawk, Scott Cunningham, Vivianne Crowley, Marion Weinstein, Margot Adler, Evan John Jones, and Michael Howard.

In the early 1970s, two organizations, the Church and School of Wicca and the Council of American Witches, began holding conventions for their members and other interested people in American hotels. By 1980, outdoor festivals began at campgrounds across the United States, beginning in the Midwest and spreading to both coasts, the South, and the Rocky Mountains. These provide a venue for the exchange of songs, ritual formats, and the merchandising of clothing, jewelry, and other artifacts of the Pagan lifestyle.


Sources:
Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-
Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today. Boston: Beacon, 1979, 1981.

Buckland, Raymond. Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft.
St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1986.

Crowley, Vivianne. Wicca. London: Thorsons, 1996.

Ewen, C. l’Estrange. Witch Hunting and Witch Trials. London:
Kegan Paul, 1929.

Farrar, Stewart. What Witches Do: The Modern Coven Revealed.
New York: Coward, McGann, & Geoghegan, 1973.

Gardner, Gerald B. Witchcraft Today. London: Rider & Co., 1954.
 
Ginzburg, Carlo. Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath.
New York: Penguin Books, 1991.

———. Night Battles: Witchcraft & Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth
and Seventeen Centuries. New York: Penguin, 1983.

Glanvill, Joseph. Saducismus Triumphatus. London, 1681.

Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual
Year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

———. The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan
Witchcraft. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Jones, Evan John and Chas S. Clifton. Sacred Mask, Sacred
Dance. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1997.

Jones, Evan John and Doreen Valiente. Witchcraft: A Tradition
Renewed. Custer, Wash.: Phoenix, 1990.

Lea, Henry Charles. Materials Towards a History of Witchcraft.
3 vols. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1939.

Leland, Charles G. Aradia: or the Gospel of the Witches. London:
David Nutt, 1899.

Lewis, James R., ed. Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft.
Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

Luhrman, T. M. Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft. Cambridge,
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Melton, J. Gordon, and Isotta Poggi. Magic, Witchcraft, and
Paganism in America: A Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing, 1992.

Michelet, Jules. The Sorceress: A Study in Middle Age Superstition.
Paris, 1904. Reprint, London: Imperial Press, 1905. Reprint as: 
Satanism and Witchcraft. Wehman, 1939.

Murray, Margaret A. The Witch-Cult in Western Europe. Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1921.

Notestein, Wallace. A History of Witchcraft in England from
1558 to 1718. American Historical Association, 1911.

Orion, Loretta. Never Again the Burning Times: Paganism Revived.
Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland, 1995.

Remy, Nicolas. Demonolatry. 1595. Edited by Montague
Summers. London: John Rodker, 1930. Reprint, New Hyde
Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1974.

Rose, Elliot. A Razor for a Goat. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962.

Scot, Reginald. Discoverie of Witchcraft. London, 1584. Reprint,
New York: Dover Publications, 1974.

Sprenger, Jakob, and Heinrich Kramer. Malleus Maleficarum.
1486. Translated and edited by Montague Summers.
London: John Rodker, 1928.

Starhawk. The Spiral Dance. San Francisco: Harper, 1979.
 
Valiente, Doreen. An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present. London:
Robert Hale, 1973. Reprint, New York: St. Martin’s Press,
1974.

———. The Rebirth of Witchcraft. London: Robert Hale, 1989.


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