The true and hidden history of witches
Magical thinking

One of the most representative figures of Halloween is the witch, the classic stereotype of it, of course, the old woman,
full of warts, gray hair, and her typical implements such as the
broom and the pot of potions. However, behind this character, there is a whole
amount of information that covers practically all periods of human history,
from its beginnings (including prehistoric theories) to the present day.
The witch is a portent that has accompanied us practically
forever, either as a horror character, as the evil character
in fairy tales or as that rare woman in our neighbourhood to whom
we secretly discuss aspects of our lives so that she
reveal to us our future.

Basic concepts

Witches are beings or people who can use witchcraft, which is
defined in turn as a set of magical
abilities that are used to cause damage. This last idea;
however, it is not entirely clear, because witchcraft has
had different purposes beyond causing evil or at least not
directly. Skills such as divination, transformation,
telekinesis, among others, are considered part of witchcraft
although, per se, they should not be harmful to others.

In this sense, the negative connotation of the term witchcraft
comes from the relationship that was given to Satanism in
the Middle Ages, which has endured and is maintained, even
though many sorcerers advocate the eradication of the evil stereotype for certain
considerations. religious regarding modern witchcraft that we will see later in the section related to the phenomenon in today’s world.

The term is related to magic, which is defined as the art of
producing events that go against what we consider natural
acts or laws. Magic by itself has no negative or positive
connotations; it all depends on the context: if you are
talking about witchcraft, satanism, occultism, etc., it goes
without saying that the term is negative there; While
if you talk about fairies, fantastic creatures, magicians of the
courts of the ancient kings and epic in general,
there the term has positive connotations.

There may even be contexts in which the term magic has both
connotations at the same time, as is the case of the Harry
Potter saga, where some wizards and witches practice white or
good magic, and those who practice black magic
or bad. In such contexts, these differentiating terms are
usually used, generally dichotomous, such as white-black,
light-dark, angelic-demonic, good-bad magic …

The word witch, besides, is not usually exclusive to a single
type of character as the classic Halloween witch could
be, it can also be used to refer to healers and shamans of
tribes or rural towns (in this case with the word witch, in
masculine), or also to refer to the practitioners of some
neo-pagan religions or cults with magical overtones such as
the African or Romani religions.
As for what witches do, the terms used are varied, although they
are usually seen as synonyms: spells, hexes,
spells, enchantments …

Magical thinking has been around almost forever

Witchcraft has probably been around since humans first formed
into groups. The sense of the use of magic in ordinary
people, such as the belief in the power of words and sentences,
can be found in all ancient societies. Some prehistoric
works of art depict magical rites for areas of life spell, love spell, such as
hunting, in addition to the usual religious rites that
were dedicated to primitive deities.

Shamanism, which is about communicating with the spirit world
through jobs, dreams, and meditative trance, is probably
the oldest religion.

There was already witchcraft in the ancient Sumerian
civilization; specifically, in Babylon began the elaborate
the demonological study, because its mythology was quite rich. The
Sumerians believed that the world was full of
spirits and that most of them were hostile. Each person was
supposed to have a spirit that would protect him from demons and enemies, plus
a diverse array of magic spells and amulets that he could use in defence
against them.

In ancient Egypt, witches used their wisdom about magic amulets,
spells, and concoctions to twist cosmic powers in
their favour or in favour of their clients, who in this case was
those belonging to the political class. Since then,
witchcraft has been used for a commercial purpose, as is often
done today.

For their part, the Greeks had their own form of magic whose concept
revolved around a kind of religious cult known as
Theurgy, which consisted of the practice of rituals to invoke
the action of the gods and other
entities belonging to the plane divine. Another inferior
form of magic was Mageia (etymological origin of the word
the magic that we use in Latin languages), which was closer to
hidden witchcraft and was practised by individuals who
claimed to have knowledge and powers to help certain people or
to harm their enemies.

At the end of the Golden Age, during the height of the Mycenaean Civilization, the Greek pantheon adopted the Carian goddess, Hecate, and gave
her the title of goddess of witchcraft and Queen of ghosts, also giving her a
tripled image
(a three-headed woman) in its iconography. According to myth,
Hecate was the daughter of two-second generation titans,
Asteria and Perses, and obtained her powers as a gift from

In pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican civilizations, shamanism had an
important weight. Religious beliefs revolved around
powerful deities who controlled natural phenomena and aspects of
life itself and shamans were the people chosen
as the bridge between the supernatural and incomprehensible
world and the earth plane. One of the most widely used
practices in these civilizations was a human sacrifice as a
payment for blood for the gods to provide prosperity in
economic activity, although there was also a long tradition of
making amulets and healing.

Some argue, however, that the real roots of witchcraft and magic
as we envision them today stem from the Celts,
a diverse group of Iron Age tribal societies that
flourished between 700 BC and 100 AD in various areas of Europe.

Just as great metalworkers and magnificent artists themselves,
some Celtic peoples were also profusely spiritual;
their religion was pantheistic, which means that they related
the divinity with certain phenomena of nature.
Around 350 BC, a priestly class known as the Druids had
been developed who was in charge of predicting the future,
healing, and some social aspects such as basic education
and the law.

The Celts’ religious beliefs and practices, their love for the
land, and their veneration for trees
(the oak in particular) became what was later known as
paganism, although this label is also used for polytheistic
beliefs. of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. For
centuries, mixes between Celtic beliefs and rituals from
other Indo-European groups gave rise to magical practices
(potion making and spells) that were collectively known
as the witchcraft of the medieval period.

Magic in the Middle Ages

The earliest Christian traditions related to saints and divine
relics gave rise to many forms of amulets that were
allusive to magic related to early Christianity, which was used
to attract and convert pagans. However, in the 5th
century AD, the influential Christian theologian Saint Augustine
of Hippo affirmed that everything related to magic
was an invention of the devil to guide humanity away from
Christian truth; He also argued that neither Satan nor the witches could have
any real supernatural power or might be able to effectively invoke magic. of
any kind, that it was a
“mistake of the heathen” to believe in any other
supernatural power than that of God. Therefore, if witches were given
as powerless, the Church saw no need to deal with their spells
or bother to track them. In fact, it was like this for
a long time:

Between the 8th and 9th centuries several characters dismissed
their own belief in witches, such as the
influential Bishop Agobardo de Lyon repudiated the belief
that witches could rain, fly at night or change their shape;
There was also Saint Boniface, who said that one’s belief
in witches was anti-Christian. For his part, Charlemagne,
King of the Franks prohibited the burning of the supposed
witches because he considered it a pagan practice.

But at the same time, the Church was beginning to influence
civil law to create laws against witchcraft and to
establish the Latin word “maleficium”, which
originally meant doing evil, giving derogatory and satanic connotations
to magical practices.

Magic became a crime against society and heresy against God. The
Leptinnes Council of 744 drew up a list of
superstitions prohibiting sacrifices on behalf of the saints and
requiring the renunciation of demon worship
(referring to the ancient Norse gods’ Thor and Odin) as part of
the Christian baptism ceremony
(remember that there was once a relationship between Norse
mythology and Christianity when the latter came to
northern Europe).

In medieval tradition, the Tempestarii was a magician who dwelt
among ordinary people and who had the power to create or prevent storms at
will. Anyone reputed as such was the object of respect, fear, or hatred in
rural areas. Church authorities credited the belief by saying that God allowed
the devil and witches to carry out these acts as a punishment for evil in the
world. Still, the Church banned superstitious remedies against witchcraft such
as storm-dissipating
spells and protective amulets, and brought before them
prescribed prayer, the sacraments, and the invocation of the name of God.

Before the 13th and 14th centuries, witchcraft, beyond what
people believed, had come to mean a set of beliefs and
practices that included spell healing, ointments, and
concoctions; he barely ventured into the supernatural through divination
and clairvoyance.

In the 13th century, some cults related to pagan beliefs and
rituals became directly satanic. Around the year 1208,
Pope Innocent III began a persecution of a group of religious
heretics are known as the Cathars, who believed in a universe
where God and Satan were entities of equal power that were
at odds; In that sense, God had created the essence and the
heavens, while the Devil had created the Earth and the
the material world, a belief similar to that of the 1st century
Gnostics. The Church discredited the Cathars by spreading
stories about Devil worship rituals and this gave rise to
a series of conflicts that led to a crusade against heresy.

The end of this conflict came with the extermination of
practically all the Cathars in 1229. The Inquisition also originated from this,
whose objective was to search for and punish the few remaining Cathar heretics
and compel them through torture to change their beliefs or else murder them.
Pope Gregory IX assigned the Dominican Order the duty
to lead the Inquisition, it could act on its behalf and
with full authority, but it was not until 1252 when Pope
Innocent IV expressly authorized the use of torture among the
accused. Over time, both Christian churches and secular
(non-religious) organizations worked together to persecute

Also in the 13th century, the leading Christian theologian Saint
Thomas Aquinas argued that the world was full
of evil and dangerous demons who were trying to lead people down
the path of temptation, and thus began to associate
witchcraft with sex.


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