Witchcraft has a long and sordid history. Witches have appeared in some of the earliest known texts from the ancient world, including Greek Tragedies and even Bible verses from the Old Testament.
These stories prove the existence of witches in the imagination throughout the course of human history and evolution. But it begs the question: Are witches real?
Are Witches Real?
Yes, witches are real.
However, they aren’t what pop culture and history would have you believe. Real witches aren’t green and warty. They don’t fly on broomsticks, cackle at the moon, or eat babies.
Witches aren’t evil.
Real witches walk among us.
What Are Witches?
Witches are normal, everyday people. They practice witchcraft, a spiritual path that incorporates the use of magic and ritual. Although witchcraft is often on faith, not all witches follow the same religion. They may identify as Pagan, Wiccan, or Animist or may not identify with a religion at all. Some even consider themselves Christian or Jewish. Witches can be found in nearly every religious tradition in the world.
Some witches honor the divinity of the mother goddess, who often represents the Earth itself. Their spirituality is rooted in the gifts the Earth provides, and most of their magic is derived from the natural powers present in the universe.
Thoughts on the True Nature of Witches from a Practicing Witch
Michelle Lefler, a Jewish Witch and founder of Living Moon Meditation, considers witchcraft a path more than a religion. She reminds us that there is no god or goddess of witchcraft, and the association between witches and Satan is typically false. Most witches don’t believe in Satan or the devil.
Lefler defines witches as wise people who use magic and nature to aid in their spiritual devotion and practice. Witches are practitioners of the magical arts.
What is Magic?
When answering whether witches are real, we also need to understand the nature of magic. Lefler believes magic is a mindset, and so becomes what you make of it. The goal of magic is to manipulate your environment for a desired outcome and to transmute what you have into what you want.
She compares it to visualization. We often visualize ourselves achieving what we desire. Although many people wouldn’t consider that simple process magic, witches do. Magic is the essence we create with our minds. It’s the positive energy we put into the world, the thoughts that become a reality.
Magic is taking what life gives you and turning it into what you want.
The Truth Behind Witchcraft
Witches developed a devilish reputation over the centuries, but the truth behind witchcraft and magic spells is far more mundane. Though they suffered immeasurable persecution for their beliefs and practice, most witches throughout history weren’t evil.
Many medieval witches were healers, medicine women, leaders, and helpers. Modern-day witches use the craft to channel their inner energies and manifest positive outcomes for their lives. They use herbs, candles, amulets, symbols, crystals, and more to focus their intentions on their desires.
Although dark magic exists, most practitioners avoid it. Hexes and curses may make for great stories, but in reality, most witches seek to help. The rule of three states that anything you do will come back to you three-fold and is a powerful motivator to stick to light magic for those who may consider straying.
Witches and Misogyny
The history of witchcraft and the oppression of witches is rooted in misogyny. Powerful women were considered dangerous and rebranded as witches for daring to speak their minds. Men blamed beautiful women for their own failings and atrocious behavior. She cast a spell on him, cursed him, or hexed him with her wily womanly ways; it must be sorcery or witchcraft!
Men often blamed women for their own desires, persecuting them as witches in the process. We can find examples of this phenomenon across pop culture in legends, books, movies, and songs about witches.
The medieval witch burning is no exception. Though men were also accused of witchcraft and met similar, horrible fates, most of those accused were women. According to Wikipedia, 80% of those burned at the stake during the medieval witch scare were women. A class on witchcraft and gender from the University of Massachusetts Boston calls the medieval witch trials and subsequent death sentences gendercide on a massive scale.
Further Reading on the History of Witchcraft
Books abound showcasing the truth about real witchcraft, exploring the link between branding witchcraft as “evil” and oppressing women. Check out these fantastic works to learn more about the oppressive history of witchcraft.
Witches: The History of a Persecution by Nigel Cawthorne
Though a little dry, this data-driven book explores stories of real people persecuted during the medieval witch trials.
Missing Witches: Recovering True Histories of Feminist Magic by Amy Torok and Risa Dickens
This fantastic read explores the intersectionality of witchcraft and feminism across cultural and historical divides.
In Defense of Witches: The Legacy of Witch hunts and Why Women are Still on Trial by Mona Chollet
An exploration of the types of women most commonly accused of witchcraft and the nexus to misogyny.
Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Woman Healers by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English
Ehrenreich and English examine the connection between the persecution of witches, or female healers, and the rise of modern male medical practitioners.
Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women by Silvia Federici
Federici compares the modern war on women to the 16th and 17th-century witch trials.
The Roots of Witchcraft
Though our modern idea of witches was crafted in the Middle Ages, the history of magic and witchcraft, mysticism and ritual magic, has far deeper roots.
Evidence of witchcraft survives from the pagan religions of ancient Greece and Rome. Archaeologists have found tablets with binding spells, proof of love spells, and amulets thought to be used in ritual practices. The surviving mythology features Circe, a sorceress who turns unsuspecting men into animals, who can best be described in modern terminology as a witch.
The Druids, religious leaders in Celtic traditions, also use elements of sorcery and witchcraft in their religious rites. The ancient Druid religion was shamanistic, combining aspects of spirituality with natural remedies. They were pagans who considered many portions of the natural world, including certain trees, fields, and bodies of water, sacred. Modern Druidry seeks to embrace the connections between the natural world, humanity, and the spiritual world.
Witchcraft isn’t a western phenomenon. Many Eastern philosophies also hold strong beliefs in the supernatural. Even one of the earliest texts known to humankind, the Code of Hammurabi, mentions casting spells. Unfortunately, in the East, witchcraft is often used to oppress women, just like in the west.
Witchcraft became associated with devil worship, Lucifer, and idolatry during the witch scare of the Middle Ages. Christians labeled anyone practicing the craft as “heretics” and sought to banish magical worship.
However, many Christian practices have roots in paganism and witchcraft, such as the Christmas tree, the timing of the holidays, and the imagery of bunnies associated with the goddess Eostre.
With advances in new-age religions, including Wiccan, and more tolerance of non-Christian ideologies in western cultures, modern witches are freer than ever to practice and discuss their craft. Western women can explore their relationship with the divine feminine, worship the moon, embrace natural healing, and discover the power inherent within themselves without fear or persecution.
Modern witches may practice numerous types of witchcraft or focus on just one. New age ideas of witchcraft include meditation, crystals, and herbal healing, while older versions incorporate rituals, candle magic, alters, and incantations. Some practitioners may take what speaks to them from various methods and craft their own style of witchcraft.
Witchcraft is widely practiced because it is so personal. The only guiding rule is to do no harm. Witches can explore various natural, spiritual, and elemental components for crafting their magic.
Though the history of witchcraft focuses on women, male practitioners do exist. Aleister Crowley, an early 20th-century occultist, is renowned for exploring witchcraft and sorcery and even founded a religion, Thelema, based on ceremonial magic.
In the Middle Ages, men engaged in magic were spurned as warlocks, meaning “deceivers.” Though modern male witches may embrace the name, it was meant as a slur during the witch hunt period, and men accused of being warlocks were often executed along with their female counterparts.
Modern witchcraft doesn’t discriminate. Men and women can practice magic, channel their inner energies, cast spells, and engage in herbal healing.
Witches are Real and Aren’t Going Anywhere
Witches are real. Women (and men!) throughout history have embraced natural powers and their inner energies to heal, support, and effect change in the world around them. Though persecuted and oppressed, witches have survived and continue to work their magic.
Witches aren’t evil, and neither is magic. It’s another word for someone who embraces their inner power and sets their mind toward accomplishing their goals. Whether you call it magic, witchcraft, a positive mindset, or the psychological buzzword of the day, humankind has been practicing some form of the craft for the entirety of our existence.
Stop fearing witches and start embracing your own inner power.
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.