The history of witchcraft goes deep into the man’s past, long before recorded history. It is thought to have originated as far back to the days when man still lived in caves and other primitive living conditions. Though early man have not have had the level of understanding of his natural environment then, he may have started to formulate a belief in a presence or power beyond his own.
The many examples in paintings on the cave walls near Lascaux, France demonstrate, early on, man’s interest in the animals and the natural setting. Some of these paintings are surprisingly detailed, given that most new anthropologists may still be astounded by the idea that they were created by primitive man upon seeing them. With such keen attention to detail, it is reasonable to guess that this attentiveness would eventually help man to further his understanding of nature in later ages.
Some of us may remember stories about the American Indian and his ceremonial dances. Many such occasions incorporated song and dance, costumary, chanting, the use of pigments ( like face-painting, etc. ), and the “smudge” ( usually comprised of aromatic native plants that were dried and bundled for later use, like an incense ). Because these early peoples relied so much on what the land produced ( whether be it the animals for hunting, or the farmers crops in the case of agrarian societies ), and how consistently it produced adequate supplies for the community, they had a healthy reverence for the land and nature. This respect and reverence was the reason for prayers and chants to the spirits of the land and sky. Prayers that a hunt would be successful. Prayers to protect and bless the hunting party. Prayers that the people would be well-fed. Prayers for healing the sick. AND Prayers for just about anything that was felt needed that the spirits could help provide.
The later agrarian cultures eventually learned by watching the seasons and the migratory patterns of animals, the best times to plant, to weed and thin, to harvest, and when to let the land fallow. This was when celebrating the change of the seasons ( the Solar “Sabbats” ) first
became a tradition ( though they were yet to be considered the traditions of today ). These “times of year” were celebrated by the whole village usually with song and dance, accompanied by a feast. The seasons also reminded the people of the changes within themselves. An early form of a priesthood came into being, whose responsibilities were primarily keeping track of the seasons, recording the history of the past harvests and seasonal conditions, and praying to the spirits on behalf of the people’s needs. After many centuries of recognizing the patterns and the natural cycles of the seasons ( also referenced by the positions of the stars and planets – used as their “calendar” ), they had built up a base of knowledge on how to tell what one year will be like from the next. Their advice became very valuable, as it often meant the difference between feast and starvation for the people.
Many of the early agrarian cultures retained much of their primal spiritual practices of prayer, ritual and ceremony, and rhythmic chants and dances well into their agrarian lifestyles. They felt that the spirits of land and sky were as important to them as they were to their ancestors. The spirits were thanked for the successes of the harvest and in battle.
The history of medicine with the use of special plants for healing, inducing visions, meditation, etc. was also common in early man’s spiritual practices since the dawn of his rise. Some recent discoveries of newly uncovered sites of Neanderthal remains have provided some compelling
evidence that they too, had profound spiritual beliefs and may have also practiced with healing and “entheogenic” herbs. These could be some of the earliest examples of “witchcraft”, in today’s understanding.
The practice of communicating with, and traveling to the realm of the spirits in search of answers and knowledge, became one of the common practices of Shamanism, a type of practice in witchcraft. Some of the earliest Shaman (wisefolk – men AND women who were considered very wise and were usually of advanced age ) were taught and practiced communicating with the spirits of animals. Some of these animal “spirit guides” were revered as having access to much hidden knowledge, and answers to many of life’s common questions. Animal spirits were often consulted for advice on healing certain illnesses, where the best hunting was, and for divination of possible future events. Some cultures even felt that every child was born with a “guardian” who would be his/her “totem animal”. A totem animal was a spirit that was expected to remain with the person until his death. Its purpose was to guide, teach, and even protect the person throughout his daily life.
There were certain other instances where one may be visited by an animal spirit for the purpose of teaching a single or a few lessons before moving on. This was a commonly-held belief in many of the early American ( “American Indian” ) nations and tribes. Every animal spirit, whether a life-long companion and guardian, or a temporary visitor for the purpose of temporary guidance, was to be respected with the highest honor. This was also part of honoring and respecting Nature.
Shamanism is considered to be the world’s oldest magical practice for healing, divination, and other special workings. It is not a specific religion in the same sense that one recognizes religion. It is a way of life, a way of “knowing”, a way of interacting with the spirits and Nature, and means to obtain knowledge and knowing himself through his divine connection and inner nature. A shaman is one who has traveled to the “other worlds” frequently, so he “knows the territory” well enough to guide others’ journeys into it. Thus, an experienced Shaman becomes teacher and guide for those seeking his guidance.
A good resource for learning more about shamanism and the many different cultures who practiced shamanism ( as well as those who still practice it today ) may be found on the Foundation for Shamanic Studies website. Michael Harner has written and published a very good book that I highly recommend called, “The Way of the Shaman”. It covers the “common core” of knowledge and symbolism that is shared by many differing cultural beliefs. ( Yes. Another “shameless plug” of mine. )
Witchcraft has existed in all parts of the world from time immemorial as an outgrowth of man’s first religion, shamanism. Today, the word “Witchcraft” is commonly translated as meaning “the Craft of the Wise,” a translation supported with the argument that the Witch was the “wise one” of his or her village and served as resident healer. However, from the Middle Ages up until fairly recently, the word “Witch” was used very differently from today. Witches were thought to work magic only for personal malice or entertainment. When someone felt they were under a Witch’s spell, they turned for help to those who were the real precursors of today’s Witch: the Wise Women and Cunning Men. These Cunning Folk specialized in working magic to help others. One of their specialties was breaking the spells of Witches. Virtually all Cunning Folk were astrologers and herbalists, and they stood out among the generally illiterate population as people who read and collected books. They often wrote their own book of spells and recipes, made from notes they took from their books. Cunning Folk were almost always solitary individuals, but there were also many hereditary family Clans of a type of village Witchcraft who often lived around standing stones and ancient earthworks.
England saw a general rise in the interest of magic in the late 1800’s, and a number of magickal societies helped to collect and disseminate the knowledge of magick to a wider audience. Far and away the greatest of these was the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (founded in 1888). The Golden Dawn collected a vast amount of occult information together into a coherent synthesis in its nine major rituals, and admitted both men and women as members (unlike many other Orders of the time). The Golden Dawn and its offshoots had hundreds of members, including many scientists, physicians, ministers, and writers, the most famous of whom was W.B. Yeats. A large number of Rosicrucians and Masons joined the Order. The Golden Dawn’s most infamous and successful initiate was Aleister Crowley, who probably had a hand in founding a new Witchcraft religion called Wicca.
It is very interesting that much of the witchcraft practiced today, is based on a mix of various traditions and cultures. It is common to see groups using practices that blend the early Egyptian Kemetism ( from the doctrines of Hermes Trismegistus, for example ), Stregheria ( old Italian and “Gypsy magic” ), and the various old Germanic and Celtic/Gaelic practices.
WE ARE THE WITCHCRAFT.
We are the oldest organization in the world. When man was born, we were. We sang the first cradle song. We healed the first wound, we comforted the first terror. We were the Guardians against the Darkness, the Helpers on the Left Hand Side. Rock drawings in the Pyrenees remember us, and little clay images, made for an old purpose when the world was new. Our hand was on the old stone circles, the monolith, the dolmen, and the druid oak. We sang the first hunting songs, we made the first crops to grow; when man stood naked before the Powers that made him, we sang the first chant of terror and wonder. We wooed among the Pyramids, watched Egypt rise and fall, ruled for a space in Chaldea and Babylon, the Magian Kings. We sat among the secret assemblies of Israel, and danced the wild and stately dances in the sacred groves of Greece.
In China and Yucatan, in Kansas and Kurdistan we are one. All organizations have known us, no organization is of us; when there is too much organization we depart. We are on the side of man, of life, and of the individual. Therefore we are against religion, morality and government. Therefore our name is Lucifer. We are on the side of freedom, of love, of joy and laughter and divine drunkenness. Therefore our name is Babalon.
Sometimes we move openly, sometimes in silence and in secret. Night and day are one to us, calm and storm, seasons and the cycles of man, all these things are one, for we are at the roots. Supplicant we stand before the Powers of Life and Death, and are heard of these Powers, and avail. Our way is the secret way, the unknown direction. Our way is the way of the serpent in the underbrush, our knowledge is in the eyes of goats and of women.
It is our own force that sometimes shifts jeweled coils and creates mighty pinions in the breast of man; our Power is one with the Power that causes the God to stir in the heart of the seed, and the bud to burst into blossom and fruit; and whenever a man and a woman are united in one substance, our power is that substance.
Merlin was of us, and Gawain and Arthur, Rabelais and Catullus, Gilles de Retz and Jehanne d’Arc, De Molensis, Johannes Dee, Cagliostro, Francis Hepburn and Gellis Duncan, Swinburne and Eliphas Levi, and many another bard, Magus, poet, martyr known and unknown that carried our banners against the enemy multiform and ubiquitous, the Church and the State. And when that vermin of Hell that is called the Christian Church held all the West in a slavery of sin and death and terror, we, and we alone, brought hope to the heart of man, despite the dungeon and the stake.
We are the Witchcraft, and although one may not know another, yet we are united by an indissoluble bond. And when the high wild cry of the eagle sounds in your mind, know that you are not alone in your desire for freedom. And when the howl of the wolf echoes in the forests of your night, know that there are those who also prowl. And when the ways of your fellows about you seem the ways of idiocy and madness, know that there are also others who have seen and judged – and acted.
Now know that the power that we serve lies in the heart of every man and woman as the tree lives in the seed. And to be with us, you have but to call upon that Power, and you are as one of us. And when our Power and Joy have come upon you, you may go forth and do your will among men, and none shall say you nay. And if it be your will, you shall do your will secretly, and if it be your will, you will do your will openly, as your will.
Therefore lift up your hearts saying, “I am a man” or “I am a woman, and the Power of Life is mine!” And in the Power of Life you shall live and love, accepting no restriction and placing no restriction, freely and granting freedom. And it may be in the bounty of life you shall see the love of life shine in the eyes of another, and the lust of life burn upon his brow, and thus you shall take great joy together. And it may be in good fortune you may find a number such; and share your joy in secret feasting and rejoicing and all manner of lovemaking and festival. Or it
may be that at hazard and danger you will teach the joyous power to men; as your wills move you.
And this is well so long as you remember one thing. There can be no restriction. The Power of Life is not restricted; it knows its own way, but no mind knows that way. Therefore in yourself practice all the giving and taking of freedom that is consistent with life, for thereby alone can you remain in our joy.
Pain is. Terror is, loss and loneliness and agony of heart and spirit, even unto Death. For this is the gateway to the kingdom of Pan.
Our way is not for all men. There are those who are so constricted and sick in themselves that the thought of their own freedom is a horror, and that of others a fierce pain; so that they would enslave all men. And these you should shun, or, if you must, destroy them as you will know how, for this also is bounty.
Nor think the life power should manifest in those who have no trouble or turmoil, for these may be mere dumb cattle, innocents out of season. Rather does the power often show the most where conflict rages, since at any time, and especially in a false civilization, the way must be won through. Surrender is disaster. The other side of the coin is a song in the sunlight and a dance in the moonlight, where all mists are dispersed. But the way must be won.
– Rev. Athauliz “Dragon’s Eye” Firestorm,
Founder and Chief-Elder Dragon of,
TEMPLE OF THE ANCIENT DRAGONS