Monday, October 31, 2005

Honor The Witches

Throughout history and intertwined in various forms among a variety of cultures, there has been the persona of what we now think of as a Witch. Put aside, for a while, the fact that modern witches are trying to reinvent the label into a new religion, and let's take a trip back through time and try to explain how the present day fairytale type of witch began.

During this ride I will not be digging into the origins of the word witch, or trying to document any sort of historical details to prove that witches are some ancient religion. I'll save that for the Wiccan sites and those who are interested in the claims that present day witches are descended from something greater. What I am offering is a rational thought process of how we arrived at viewing the fairytale witch the way we do.

Many years ago, before Christianity reared its head, there were people like medicine-men and other village wise men and women that cared for the sick and the general health of the people living in their particular cultural niche. These people often had a great deal of knowledge about the surrounding plants and about the human physiology. This information was handed down generation after generation and served to help others survive in this harsh world.

Often, the healers of a village or tribe mixed in with their healing herbs and potions stories about supernatural things. Nobody can know for sure if these people truly believed in the tales they spun, or if it was just window dressing to add to the psychological healing powers of their craft. Even today positive attitudes of both patient and doctor are huge factors in the success of many medical treatments.

It's safe to say that some stories got more out of control then others, and some healers probably claimed all manner of special abilities as handed down to them from some unseen power. In a tribe or village this would definitely place these folks in awe of the others, not realizing that their “powers” merely came from their knowledge of natural cures.

Unfortunately these claims of power and stories of mystical abilities were to be the very weapon that would later be used against them.

As civilizations grew, and became something more then small tribes or villages, people began organizing together and various gangs became more powerful then others. Power is the driving force during human history, and people are very clever in how they obtain power and use it for their own needs.

One gang, we know them today as Christians, were trying to gain more power, but were having trouble convincing others that their way was the only path people should be following. One of the more difficult stumbling blocks were the wise-men and women of the various villages. The village healers probably saw these new religious gangs for what they were, a threat on their way of life.

Within the village these healers held a lot of influence over their “flock” and the new religious gangs could not seem to be making headway into many villages. Since Christianity was not against making things up to get themselves established, they branded these healers as gaining their power from evil and Satan.

The same stereotypes were employed then as we see today. The church went after these people by ridiculing their age and appearance. The vision of what we know a fairytale witch today is simply the remarks of a power-hungry religion to frighten their followers from having anything to do with the healers that they used to rely on.

Think about the description of a village healer woman. Old, walks with a cane, ugly (of course), seen living with her cats and using her broom to sweep off her porch and her house. The church called these woman hags, or crones, and claimed their cats were used for their wicked spells which came from the devil himself. It did not take long for people to begin to believe that these healers were obviously getting their knowledge from some evil source, because they knew too much and could heal people in impossible ways.

Witches are not evil, and in fact they were probably hero's of many villages and should be hailed as the mothers of humanity. They are the early healers who kept their villages healthy, and were the first doctors. I'm certain that much of our medical research and practices today can owe their thanks to these wise women of our past.

Sure it's fun to dress up on Halloween as a witch, a hag, an old crone, and pretend to be the things that were used to scare uneducated people of our past. I would ask that as you enjoy a little escape from reality and have fun with the spirit of Halloween, stop and think about the true origin of witches. They were mothers and grandmothers and intelligent healers of their village who probably worked tirelessly to make sure that disease and medical problems did not do too much damage to the people who entrusted their well-being to them.

My own mother goes out of her way to care for others, and helps wherever she can. I can't help but think that in a village of long ago she might have also been a healer. It sickens me to think that because of a few pompous power-hungry religious types she would then be marked as a witch, taken from her home, and burned at the stake. Her crime? Helping others with her knowledge of medicine and caring for the weaker people of the village.

From this point on, Halloween will be the day my family will honor the women who were labeled as witches. These women did not deserve the label that was given to them, or the treatment by the church that went along with the misnomer. Enjoy the festivities and the fairytale witch, but do not confuse the symbol with the reality.

Happy Halloween, and thanks to all of the witches who made it possible!

7 comments:

  1. Great spin on your take of Halloween. My mother truly considers herself a witch. Sometimes I do as well. If I say or think anything negative it happens. Different huh? I don't know much about the subject. I was always told by my father to denounce those awful thoughts. It gets even more different. My father would mistakenly call himself a warlock. On the other hand he would tell me that mind over matter was demonic and should not think the things I think sometimes. He is a hypicrite(sp?) most of the time. Is it wrong for me to recognize these powers that I feel within? I see it. I really do. I have deja vu's and nightmares all the time. As of right now I have no religion. I am currently trying to find myself. I do believe in God and the Devil.

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  2. Peach, you're not alone in your loss of spiritual identity. I believe as a culture we are outgrowing our fear of the unknown, and we are starting to realize that we control our own destiny, not some supreme being from a book.

    You might find it interesting to stop by my website, Life In A Handbasket and move around these articles by the topics outlined on there.

    There is a topic on Halloween, and on Religion, both of which you may find interesting reading.

    My outlook on witches came from wanting to write something for the holiday and I decided that witches were a good starting place since they practically own the season all by themselves.

    As often happens when I write an article my mind really began to ponder what exactly Halloween type witches were and where they originated. I had no plan to slant the article in the direction it went, but it just made sense to go that way as I wrote.

    To me this line of thought seems so clear now, but I have never seen anyone write about it in just this way. Heck, I had not really thought about it until it came out of my fingers.

    I often purposely write things that will get a rise out of folks, and sometimes make them angry. Anything to get a reaction.

    I'm honored to read your comments, and hope it has got you thinking about witches in a little different light. I know I do now after I wrote that piece.

    Thank you for stopping by. Hope you choose to hang around more often.

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  3. Thank you for posting your tribute to Witches. I am a witch...solitary eclectic wiccan. If you don't mind, I would love to post what you wrote on my page...I think it's highly informative. I did a small bit on Samhain and gave some history...I loved the fact that you broke it down in a way that just about ANYONE would be able to understand. Thank you again...

    Blessed be...

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  4. Tam,

    As long as you link back to me you can use it wherever you'd like. Thank you for the kind words and I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

    Blessed be,

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  5. If you liked this post, you'll probably like my post entitled, "You Don't Know Jack.

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  6. I have always liked studying about different religions - and I don't know much about the Wiccan traditions.

    Guess I have not devoted much time to this because it seems like half of the people I know who claim to be Wiccan do it to be cool.

    Once I get through the Koran, I may pick up a book or two.

    Thanks for the post!

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  7. The Wiccan religion is very interesting, and as far as religions go, is very attractive. Once you have studied it many of the stereotypes you have heard about witches will...(poof!) vanish and you will have a whole different view on what Wiccans are all about.

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